What does Government’s ‘strong emphasis on swimming’ look like?

Doubts over future of two Galway pools highlight years of underinvestment by State

An illustration of a simple pleasure placed in long-term peril by the Covid-19 crisis surfaced at Thursday's meeting of the Oireachtas budget oversight committee, where Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe was asked about the threatened closure of two swimming pools owned by Galway County Council.

Seán Canney, Independent TD for Galway East, raised the financial difficulties faced by the pools in Tuam and Ballinasloe since the pandemic began and wondered where the support was for local authorities to provide services "that we expect and take for granted".

The two pools are operated by a private contractor, Coral Leisure, but it is understood its contract is due to expire at the end of 2020 and additional public funding may now be required to keep the facilities open.

Donohoe said he could “well imagine the upset” that would be caused by the pools’ closure and hope the council and the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government could “engage” on their future. He said it was “really important facilities like swimming pools can be maintained and kept open”.

Local funding

Still, this is clearly a dismal pinch point for local services. For much of 2020, the Minister noted, the exchequer has been covering the rates waived for businesses throughout the pandemic – “a huge intervention” – but it would “not be able to meet every need that we are asked for meet”.

Notwithstanding the popularity of swimming across generations, its public health benefits and its capacity to boost enjoyment of life, the State’s track record of investment in public pools has been miserably underwhelming.

Donohoe will have encountered these woes among voters in his own Dublin Central constituency. He sounded supportive and, as recently as June, the Coalition promised in its programme for government to "place a strong emphasis on swimming", whatever that means. Swimmers and would-be swimmers may soon find out.