'You don't want to throw the baby out of the pram until we have something else to put into the pram'
Sport in the recession Part 5:As Michael Ring prepares to distribute the latest grants under the Capital Sports Programme, the Minister of State shares his views on sport in Ireland
When all the club lotto tickets are sold and the Texas Hold ’Em nights are dealt, sports clubs in every county still turn their lonely eyes to the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport to see if there’s any crumb of help left on the table for them.
At some point in the coming fortnight, junior minister Michael Ring will announce the latest of grants to be handed out under the Sports Capital Programme. It’s the first time since 2008 that a new round of funding will be made available and a flavour of the need for them is clear from the fact that although the department only has €30 million to award, it has received over 12 times that amount in applications.On the back of our week-long series on sports clubs in the recession, The Irish Times sat down with Ring in his Kildare Street office.
Malachy Clerkin: Was there an agreement from early on that you would take the sport side of things because you have more interest in it than Minister Varadkar?
Michael Ring: When the Taoiseach offered me the job you have to sit down with the senior Minister and break up the duties. Leo cannot run the whole thing, you just wouldn’t be able to. The Department of Transport alone is massive and then on top of that you have Tourism which is another massive department for a Government whose number one commitment is to create employment in the country. It wouldn’t be possible for one man to do the whole thing.
So what happens is certain parts get delegated and I got delegated the sport side of things. Leo attends some events if they’re in Dublin and I have no problem with that. But then I deal with the rest of sport.
MC: Looking through the applications for the Sports Capital Programme, you have a budget of €30 million but you’ve received applications for projects totalling €369 million. In deciding who gets what, where do you start?
MR: We brought this programme back after four years of not having. The last government used to run it every year but the money isn’t there to do that. So we’re bringing it back this year and we will do so again in 2015. The €30 million is small money is the overall context but it’s big money in bad days.
We won’t have another scheme again until 2015 as I say but because we’ve had so many applications this year, I’m going to go back to Government and Leo will support me on the basis that we might get a bit of funding next year. We won’t open it next year but we might try to deal with some of the unsuccessful applications.
You ask how will we split it up. It won’t be easy. In my own county alone, we have applications for around €18.5 million. I will make this very clear – I won’t be doing what other Ministers did. Each county will get whatever is agreed pro-rata.
MC: Didn’t you take some heat last year because of lottery funding, when you brought in €1.78 million for Mayo?
MR: Well, that was misconstrued. We had had no scheme since 2008. So what was happening was that we set up a scheme in relation to facilities for local authorities. A number of local authorities came in with applications for land they didn’t own but one of the criteria set down was that you have to own the land. So we couldn’t facilitate them when they didn’t qualify.
Everybody who applied for swimming pool money got it. They mightn’t have got it straight away but they got it eventually. And the same with local authorities. Every single local authority that applied and that fit the criteria got money.
But there was a problem in the reporting of it. We sent out information to every paper – including your own and the Independent – but what it was was journalists being mischievous. I don’t mind of it’s the truth but it wasn’t the truth. I was actually going to make a complaint to the Press Ombudsman but I didn’t bother in the end.
MC: What wasn’t truthful in the reporting?
MR: They were trying to make out that Mayo got more than they were entitled to. Mayo made the applications, as did Cork and Kerry and all the other counties. Dublin got the most money, Cork got the next most and if you take it per capita, Sligo was the number one and Leitrim number two. Mayo was number four on that list yet the media tried to make it that Mayo got more than anybody else.
MC: Yet you were in the Mayo News afterwards taking credit for it. Here’s what you said: “There’s grant aid available for my county and I am happy to allocate it. People will say the money could have been better spent nationally but we have money that has to be spent this year and it aims to create employment and badly-needed facilities . . . We have big plans for the region and we are looking out for it. Enda has a lot to watch but we have a great working relationship and I needed his support to get some of the tranches of funding approved and he wasn’t found wanting for his own county.”