Government called on to reinstate funding for Special Olympics Ireland

Chief executive Matt English warns organisation may be forced to send fewer athletes to 2015 World Games in Los Angeles

  Lucy Best from Lisburn, Co. Antrim, with Matt English, at the  2013 Special Olympics World Winter Games.

Lucy Best from Lisburn, Co. Antrim, with Matt English, at the 2013 Special Olympics World Winter Games.


Ten years after the Special Olympics was the toast of Ireland when the opening ceremony of the World Summer Games took place in Croke Park, the movement has warned it is facing “stark choices” because of cuts in Government funding.

Government Ministers lined up to be associated with the events and numerous corporate entities contributed to the €63 million fund raised to run the Games.

However, chief executive Matt English has said its funding from the State had been cut by 59 per cent since 2008 and this was no longer sustainable.


“We don’t have to close down clubs right now but in the next year we’re faced with having to make stark choices unless the funding is reinstated,” he said. “We might have to send fewer athletes to competition events. We’re having to cut our cloth accordingly.”

It costs about €24 million to run Special Olympics Ireland over a four-year cycle between World Games, an average of €6 million per year. “In 2008 we received €3 million, which would be 50 per cent of the cost of running the programme,” Mr English said.

“This year we received €1.2 million, which is effectively about 20 per cent of the cost of running the programme. And obviously that’s not sustainable because it’s not possible for us to raise the balance from the public.”

Special Olympics Ireland receives funding from the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, through the Irish Sports Council, but doesn’t receive anything from the Department of Health. “Some €1.2 billion of the health budget, I understand, is directed towards people with disabilities and Special Olympics isn’t receiving anything from that pot,” Mr English said.

“So, more and more we are having to put energy into fundraising to make up for the ever-growing gap. And obviously we’ve taken all the prudent steps ourselves to reduce costs. But there are so many areas in Special Olympics that we cannot afford to take shortcuts on.”

Grateful to the public
Mr English said the organisation was very grateful to the public for its support “but we need the Government to reinstate the level of funding we had. We definitely need €2.5 million funding regularly to support the programme”.

The organisation is now planning next year’s Ireland Games in Limerick and is also looking towards the 2015 World Summer Games in Los Angeles but he said it was very difficult to do this without the funding.

Special Olympics Ireland has attracted 5,500 new athletes since the 2003 Games. It also opened 17 new clubs around the State last year.

“There are 42,000 people on the island with an intellectual disability. We’re delighted to have 11,000 training with us but our job is far from done,” Mr English said.