Request for 'Your Country' scheme funding withdrawn

 

GOVERNMENT FUNDING of €300,000 promised to the Your Country Your Call Competition will not be paid after the initiator of the contest, Dr Martin McAleese, husband of President Mary McAleese, said it was no longer needed.

The competition, when it opened in February last year, aimed to find two proposals that, when implemented, would “transform our economy or significant elements of it” and provide Ireland with opportunities for employment and prosperity. Mrs McAleese was patron of the initiative.

Scriptwriter and digital media consultant Neil Leyden won the competition with his proposal to make Ireland a global media hub for the production and distribution of digital content.

The other winning project was submitted by father and son Colm Mac Fhlannachadha and Cianán Clancy, who proposed making Ireland a “data island”, with the creation of giant, environmentally friendly data centres.

When the project was launched, chairman Dr Laurence Crowley said the then government was “fully behind the project” and had provided a “small amount of money” towards it.

Documents released to The Irish Timesshow that while funding was promised by then tánaiste Mary Coughlan to Dr McAleese and the competition organisers, it was never available for disbursement.

Correspondence between officials in the Department of Enterprise – then headed by Ms Coughlan – reveals Dr McAleese told them he had also raised the question of funding with then taoiseach Brian Cowen.

Department officials believed a promise had been made “at political level” to give the money.

The department had publicly maintained the position that it was examining “a mechanism” by which the payment might be made but an internal document reveals Dr McAleese has withdrawn the request for funding.

A briefing note for then minister Batt O’Keeffe by the department’s secretary general on December 16th last noted the minister’s predecessor had undertaken to provide up to €300,000 to the initiative.

“No additional funds were provided in the vote for this purpose.”

The secretary general said he had “deferred consideration of the matter until the autumn, pending clarification of the position on our vote”.

“In the meantime Mr Martin McAleese has confirmed to me that adequate funding for this initiative was secured from non-exchequer sources.

“On that basis I agreed with Mr McAleese that there was no need for any exchequer contribution and that monies from this department were not needed. Accordingly, the question of payment of monies to this initiative does not arise.”

In other documents released under the Freedom of Information Act, the department’s finance officer stated that if financial support was to be made available, the department “must ensure that appropriate financial controls are put in place to ensure appropriate management and accountability of public funds”.

Allocation of funds to the initiative would “essentially constitute a grant to the organising body, An Smaoineamh Mór”, the finance officer stated.

About 13 private organisations or individuals donated sums of up to €150,000 to the competition.

Dozens more gave either goods or services free.

The winners, who were chosen last September were paid €100,000 each, with access to a development fund of “up to” €500,000 each.

The competition organisers have said they also ran up between €100,000 and €150,000 in “hard costs”, including for taxis and couriers.