Ross mounts spirited defence of grant to Wesley College
Minister for Sports denies any political interference in the relevant allocation process
Shane Ross: “We were determined that we wouldn’t be coming out in front of a committee today and hear that ‘the Minister interfered here’ or ‘the Minister interfered there’. Photograph: Barbara Lindberg.
Sports Minister Shane Ross’s spectacles slid down to the end of his nose as he rose up in his seat, waving a sheaf of papers across the floor.
Minister Ross had tweeted his delight at the time. Wesley College, Three Rock Rovers Hockey Club and Loreto Beaufort had all received money. Loreto was in the constituency of Katherine Zappone. But details, details.
Mr Troy had asked how Wesley College, located in Deputy Ross’s constituency, managed to get the money when St Dominic’s College in Ballyfermot had failed. He wanted to know if due process had been followed.
He wasn’t the only one in room two of the House of The Oireachtas who wanted to know. Imelda Munster (SF), another member on the Transport, Tourism & Sport Committee asked the Minister why 30 public schools were refused money when they didn’t have the fine facilities Wesley College had. She then listed the facilities.
Four rugby pitches, one soccer pitch two astroturf hockey pitches, 15 tennis courts, cricket, basketball, sports hall, gym . . . She then asked about the golf club that charges an €8,000 annual fee and which received €150,000 in the grants.
“What a mess,” said Munster. “You’ve really bought into gombeen politics. For the life of me point out where the disadvantages are in Wesley College. It’s a blatant inequality. That’s what it is, an inequality.”
Minister Ross, still with his spectacles placed mid-nose and thumbing through his papers, began to explain the process, the weighted scoring system, the six different criteria they used and how Wesley made a joint application with a sports club, YMCA, which had rights to facilities for over 31 hours a week for 15 years.
“This opens it to a totally new community. It opens a private ground to the community,” said the Minister adding that primary schools in Taney and Whitechurch, as well as a soccer club, also used the school grounds.
“They are making it available to people who would never have access to it,” he added, launching into a historical reprise of how things were done in the past with no transparency and politicians corrupting the funding process by directly interfering.
“You’d be aware of it [political interference,” said Minister Ross.
“I am,” quipped an animated Mr Troy. “It’s happening still.”
At that point Minister Ross straightened his back and rose, the papers clenched tightly in his fist.
“We did not change one comma, one allocation,” he said in a measured voice. “We were determined that we wouldn’t be coming out in front of a committee today and hear that ‘the Minister interfered here’ or ‘the Minister interfered there’.
“Although,” he added shaking the paper, “I’ve eight representations from Deputy Troy asking me to interfere.”
He had annexed the high ground. It was now a solo run. Reading a line from one of Fianna Fáil TD Troy’s letters, he continued.
“The club would like you to view the application positively.”
It was heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali shaking his forefinger at an opponent, metaphorically beating them on the head with a large stick. So Minister Ross thrashed his papers towards Troy.
“I wasn’t going to interfere in the way you wanted me to,” he thundered. “Eight letters from you asking me to interfere for clubs in your area.”
He continued with a short contextual explanation of a failed application where he had direct connections. His father was a former governor of St Columba’s College, also in his constituency. Both his children attended the college. But they did not succeed in their application and they failed in their appeal and he repeated, he did not have anything to do with it.
Turning to Sinn Féin TD Munster, he pointed out that the leader of her party Mary Lou McDonald had asked him to have a look at a boxing club in her area, Arbour Hill Boxing Club, which received €150,000.
“They were a worthy club,” said Minister Ross. “I didn’t interfere. The idea they shouldn’t get it is not true. I received a representation on behalf of your party leader . . . the fact of the matter is we opened up private schools.”
The theme of the day was the optics of equality and, at the end, Kevin O’Keeffe (FF), the acting chair, bent over towards Minister Ross.
“I wrote an application for a club that didn’t even apply,” he confessed.
“You wrote 60 applications,” roared the Minister to bouts of laughter. Then everyone filed out satisfied that there is no political interference in the allocation of Sports Capital Grants.