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Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport debate -
Wednesday, 28 Mar 2018

Funding for Minority Sports and Sports Capital Programme Expenditure

The purpose of our meeting is an engagement on funding for minority sports and expenditure on the sports capital programme. I welcome to the meeting the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, the Minister of State, Deputy Brendan Griffin, and their officials. Before we commence and in accordance with procedure I am required to remind those present of the following information. I draw attention to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of the evidence they are to give to the committee. If, however, they are directed by it to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person or an entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.

Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. I invite the Minister, Deputy Ross, to make his opening statement.

I am delighted to be here to discuss the sports capital programme, and I know the committee is also looking at funding for minority sports in the later session. I am joined by the Minister of State with responsibility for tourism and sport, Deputy Brendan Griffin, the assistant secretary with responsibility for tourism and sport, Mr. Ken Spratt, Mr. Noel Sheahan from the sports capital programme division and Mr. James Lavelle from the sports policy division in my Department. There has been a lot of focus on the sports capital programme in recent weeks and I hope that we can put the facts of the matter on the record of the committee today.

I am going to ask the Minister of State, Deputy Griffin, to now outline the background to the sports capital programme and some of the key improvements we introduced to the most recent round of the programme. I will then speak about the appeals process and our future plans for sports capital investment.

As members will be aware, the sports capital programme, SCP, is the Government's primary vehicle to support the development of sports facilities and the purchase of sports equipment. More than 10,000 projects have now benefitted from SCP funding since 1998. The programme has transformed the sporting landscape of Ireland with improvements in the quality and quantity of sporting facilities in virtually every village, town and city in the country. By the time the most recent round of the programme closed for applications on 24 February 2017, it had attracted a record number of 2,320 applications seeking €155 million in grants. Originally, it was envisaged that €30 million would be provided for the sports capital programme in 2017. However, following detailed discussions with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, the Minister and I were delighted to increase the budget. That allowed us to allocate a total of €60 million at the end of 2017 to more than 1,800 different sporting projects. That was an excellent result for Irish sport. All of the details of the allocations are available on the Department's website.

I am aware that later today the committee will discuss funding for minority sports. In that regard, the most recent round of sports capital funding did a very good job in that every single valid application under the local aspect of the programme and two thirds of all valid applications under the regional aspect of the programme received funding. More than 50 different sports benefitted. Once the applications were valid, in particular for the local scheme, funding was given, regardless of the nature of the sport.

A previous criticism of the sports capital programme, which was highlighted on many occasions by this committee, was the fact that there was always a considerable number of invalid applications submitted. It was around 48% in 2012 but by 2013 to 2015 that had dropped to approximately one third and last time we got it down to one fifth. That was as a result of a major streamlining of the application process. For example, what was a 13-page application process was reduced to six pages and that made it much easier for applicants to submit a valid application. However, we are still concerned that one in five applications were invalid and we want to reduce that to zero if possible in the future. We think it would be very important to give every opportunity to future applicants to ensure that a second chance would be provided to invalid applications and that invalidation would not happen on technical grounds. We constantly strive to improve the programme. There is a review process after every round of the sports capital programme. In order to bring about improvements for the next round I have embarked on a nationwide tour to meet with past, present and future applicants to the programme to hear from them. I want to get suggestions and feedback on what they think is working and what needs to be improved. We hope to feed that information into the process of designing the new scheme to ensure further improvement in the 2018 programme.

As the Minister of State, Deputy Griffin, has outlined, after a lot of hard work we were delighted to be in a position to provide assistance to so many worthwhile projects at the end of last year. Inevitably though, there were some disappointed applicants who were deemed invalid at assessment stage. In that regard, all applicants deemed invalid or partially invalid were invited to appeal the Department's decision if it was felt that an error had been made in the assessment process. A total of 149 appeals were submitted prior to the deadlines and, of those, 35 were upheld. All applicants under the 2017 round of the programme that remain invalid have been informed that they will be given the opportunity of simply submitting corrected documentation when the next round of the programme opens without the requirement of submitting a full new application. I think that and other measures already outlined by the Minister of State, Deputy Griffin, show our commitment to making the application process as user-friendly as possible.

We must always seek to improve further however, and I believe that we can make further progress in relation to eliminating all invalid applications and ensuring that every eligible organisation is aware that there is a programme open for applications. A particular focus in this regard will be ensuring that all schools are aware of the programme. As was done with previous rounds of the programme, a review of the 2017 round is now under way which is also examining what would be feasible in terms of the scale and timing of the next round. I expect this review to be complete shortly and an announcement regarding the next round will be made at that stage.

The recently published national development plan reaffirms the Government’s commitment to sport infrastructure in the years ahead. At least €100 million in capital funding will be provided for the sports capital programme for the coming four years. This will cover all of our existing commitments and also allow new rounds of the programme to open for applications. We will announce more details in this regard once the review of the 2017 round of the programme is complete. I am also delighted that the national development plan commits to establishing a new large-scale sports infrastructure fund for larger projects where the proposed Government contribution exceeds the amount available under the SCP. The new fund is designed to provide a more structured approach for such funding and at least €100 million is being provided. The full terms and conditions of the scheme will be finalised in the coming months.

In summary, Government investment in sport is money well spent and I believe that the sports capital programme remains an excellent example of Government supporting the voluntary sector in a way that benefits entire communities. We are committed to continuing to improve sports facilities and giving everybody who wants to get involved in sport the opportunity to do so. We look forward to seeing the many successful projects under the most recent round of the programme progressing but also seeing new applicants being given the opportunity to submit new proposals as soon as possible. We do not believe that the system is absolutely perfect as it stands. It can always be improved. A review is being undertaken, as is done every year. We welcome any suggestions made by the committee for improvements which could be made in order to benefit people and include more people in sport.

I thought it would be useful to ask Mr. Spratt to address the committee and, with the permission of the Chairman, I call on him to offer a few remarks.

Mr. Kenneth Spratt

From the Department's perspective, the fact that the 2017 round of the sports capital programme received the greatest number of applications ever presented a significant challenge. In terms of the recommended allocations, for the first time the full scoring system and assessment procedures were published prior to the assessment of applications commencing. The total amount of funding available was divided on a per capita basis and the exact amount allocated to each project was based on a formula which combined the assessment score obtained, the amount of funding sought and the total amount of funding available for that county.

While the vast majority of applicants were delighted to hear news of allocations, several applicants who had made invalid applications contacted the Department to express their disappointment. The fact that we were able to make a grant offer to every valid applicant obviously magnified the disappointment. Options for addressing the cases were considered by my colleagues and I and we believed that establishing a practical, straightforward internal appeals process would be an appropriate course of action. This suggestion was put to the Minister and Minister of State for consideration and both were agreeable to same. All applicants who had made invalid applications were contacted inviting them to appeal. The introduction of the appeals process also ensures that the sports capital programme now accords with the Department's own customer action plan, which commits to maintaining a simple to use system of appeal for any of our customers who are dissatisfied with our decisions.

Each appeal submitted was considered by an official who had not been involved in the original assessment of that application and all decisions on appeals were also reviewed by at least two more senior officials. While the final recommended allocations under the original assessment and the subsequent appeals process were formally signed off on by the Minister and Minister of State, I would like to emphasise that no changes were proposed to the recommended allocation amounts or to the decisions to make particular applications valid or invalid.

I thank the Minister, the Minister of State and the officials for their comments. Before I open up the discussion I want to say that I acknowledge the tremendous work the Department, the Minister and the Minister of State are doing. The transparency and accountability are hugely important. The appeals process is extremely welcome because people can inadvertently forget to tick a box, as does happen, and I appreciate that this process gives an opportunity to address that.

I would like to make two points. I am appreciate that the Minister did not necessarily mention it today, but I am aware that in his reply he can talk about weighting for disadvantaged areas, particularly areas which Pobal have designated as areas of significant economic disadvantage. He can also talk about how he deals with that and makes sure that money gets to communities which are disadvantaged economically. I have two other points. One is on the question of open access to the facilities of clubs which receive a lot of money. Are they available to other groups which might be able to use them, even if they are not necessarily part of that organisation? If so, when? In other words, if we are investing significant funds, people living the area should be able to use them if at all possible.

I do not know if other members have been lobbied on this, but we have a very active bridge club in Drogheda. Deputy Munster will know about this. There are recreational and social amenities which require some funding. Thousands of people play bridge and yet these clubs do not qualify for any grant in respect of sport and recreation amenities. It would be helpful if that could be looked at in the future. I particularly refer to clubs which have raised significant amounts of money to complete buildings to meet their requirements. A huge number of people are involved. Thousands of people play bridge and they would be very anxious to be admitted into some scheme in order to get some benefit.

I will open discussion to the floor. I call on Deputy O'Keeffe.

I thank the Chair. I welcome the-----

I am sorry, I made a mistake. I apologise. I should have called on Senator O'Mahony.

I thank the Chair. I will be brief. I thank the Minister, the Minister of State and the Department for outlining the issues with the sports capital funding. I think everybody acknowledges that it has played a key role in improving facilities for sports clubs for all the different sports around the country. It has really made a difference and increased participation. I am interested in the comment the Minister made about large-scale sports infrastructure. Obviously the local sports capital fund is for smaller clubs and organisations. Can it cater for all the minority sports which we will be talking about later? I acknowledge at this stage the wonderful project at Abbottstown and the way in which it caters for minority sports - cycling and fencing for example. I attended the féile hosted by the Connacht GAA centre of excellence a number of years ago. More than 10,000 people were there. The GAA put a huge amount of funding into that. I would be interested to hear the Minister's comments on funding for larger structural projects and on what might be available for facilities to cater for minority sports right around the country, not just in Abbottstown.

On the appeals process and so on, we need to refer to the recent controversies, which the Minister mentioned himself. One of the good things about the sports capital programme is that in the most recent few rounds - the Chairman emphasised this fact - the facilities funded are available at all times throughout the week and throughout the day. On the controversy around the private schools getting funding, and on the particular case that caused the controversy, did it involve a joint application from a sports club and the school? We heard in the media that other schools in disadvantaged areas had not received funding or had been turned down. I presume in many of those cases it would have been the case that applications were not made. Was that the case? It is important to fine-tune this and get it right so that those most in need get funding first. I ask the Minister for his comments on that.

The other issue I have may be more relevant to Sport Ireland. It relates to the minority sports. It is one of the good things about the sports capital programme that funding is given to minority sports in order to provide facilities.

The issue with minority sports arises where they are not under a national governing body supported by the sports council. One has situations where people win international kick-boxing or billiards competitions while representing Ireland but have to fund their own travel abroad to do so. There could be some contingency fund. I realise one cannot spread funding too thinly and support every governing body, but I might talk to Sport Ireland about it later.

I thank the witnesses for attending. I appreciate the extra funding for sport, especially minority sport. Over the years, we looked at sports funding as being for three or four major games, but there has been a rebalancing towards minority sports in the last number of years. The appeals process is a lot more open now. I remember that in our first year in government, it was kind of embarrassing that once a sports capital application was deemed invalid, one had to wait five or six months to find out why. The application system is now much more transparent and user-friendly. Thankfully, a great deal has been done by the Department in that regard.

It has been a bugbear of mine over the last number of years in relation to minority sports that we talk about "one Ireland", "all-Ireland" and "Ireland together". I was very fortunate to be at the Ireland rugby match at Twickenham. The event was a source of great pride for the island of Ireland. There are a lot of all-Ireland sports bodies, including Badminton Ireland, Judo Ireland and Rowing Ireland. I notice that there is a Republic of Ireland Billiards and Snooker Association and I wonder if that sport has gone the same as the FAI and the IFA. We could do a great deal more to provide facilities as an island. We talk about the Olympic Games and the Commonwealth Games. There was a void for a host for the Commonwealth Games in 2022. I felt the island of Ireland could have made a play for those games. It would unite the people on the island. We were very close to getting an all-Ireland hockey team to compete in the Commonwealth Games in Australia this year on the Gold Coast, but it did not happen. It is something at which we need to look. Commonwealth youth games are coming to Northern Ireland in 2021 and one has a few areas like boxing, tennis and judo which could play a role given the level of funding that has been put into them as minority sports. That would send a very powerful message. We always say we would love to have an all-Ireland soccer team, but it is a two-way street. If we want an all-Ireland soccer team, we should not be afraid to consider competing in the Commonwealth Games. These are things we need to challenge.

A great deal of funding has been invested in rowing, including at the rowing centre at Lough Rynn in my constituency, which is hugely successful. However, we could appeal to the Commonwealth Games in 2021 by opening some of our facilities for use. It would send a powerful signal, albeit not a political one. It is a signal that would result from the Good Friday Agreement. Now more than ever, it should be a two-way street. I ask for views on that subject. We look at Ireland as one island from many sports' perspectives, although there are a few exceptions. The sporting curve is ahead of the political curve.

If I can get all members to ask questions first, it might be helpful. I think Deputy O'Keeffe has priority over Deputy Troy in this matter.

I will focus on the micro and sports capitation grants as opposed to the macro scene with Senator Feighan. We welcome the Minister's positive deliberations today. My concern is the stop-go approach to the allocation of sports capital grants. I acknowledge that the previous Government re-introduced the scheme, which was very welcome during the hard times. However, 2017 followed a lull of over two years from the last allocations and many clubs have had to sit on the fence and wait before they could move on with their developments. It has already gone beyond a year before the allocations for the 2018 scheme will come into play. There is a stop-go approach and no consistency in the roll-out of the scheme. Other Government schemes, irrespective of whether the money is spent from the previous year's allocation, are still subject to announcements of new allocations for the following year on a regular basis, i.e. every 12 months. Here we are not too sure yet whether the 2018 scheme will be opened this year.

What we see is forward spending of the budget. To be fair to the Minister, he put in an extra €30 million, but that is from the budget going forward. Will the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, give him the money going forward again and when we have our budget in October? That is the concern I have, namely, consistency. The Minister of State, Deputy Griffin, has already stated he is doing another review. I am trying to be positive here. Good leeway is being given in the allocation of grants. Mention has been made of minority sports. I do not play golf myself, but I am delighted that golf clubs have benefitted given that they have been through the financial woes of the past decade also. Some of them have barely stayed open. Golf is as good a recreational sport as jogging or walking.

Could we provide a separate mechanism to provide funding to schools in disadvantaged areas? Some schools can match funding but could we provide more funding to a school with lower-income families attending which is looking for an AstroTurf pitch? It might get 80% of the grant, for example, as opposed to 50%. The evidence is the private school has more access to funding. Matching funding is a big thing.

I welcome the fact the Minister is here and that there is good news. My problem is the stop-go approach. This needs to be put in place on a regular basis. One can see that €100 million will not go far. It will be spent in two years, not four.

I welcome the Minister and his officials. I thank the officials for the work they do on the vital sports capital grant, which is vital to support sporting clubs right across the country. The Minister says there was due process and that he did not interfere with regard to Wesley College benefitting from an allocation of €150,000. It seems there is always due process. It was due process that Stepaside Garda station was on a list also.

I want to be very clear here. The Ministers are here at my request, and rightly so. It is proper that Deputy Troy asks about anything relating to the brief, which is transport and so on. Any other issues are not relevant.

If the Chairman lets me finish my question-----

Is it about sport?

-----it is about sport.

There is no restriction on questions of sport.

It is about funding for sport and a college which boasts on its website that it has four rugby pitches, one flood-lit rugby grid, one soccer pitch, two full-size hockey AstroTurf pitches, two mini-hockey pitches, two full-size hockey grid pitches, 16 tennis courts and hockey pitches during summer seasons, two cricket pitches during summer seasons, two outdoor basketball courts, one gymnasium, one sports hall, an athletics track and field facilities on its rugby pitches during the summer season.

It begs the question how an application from this institution was granted, while an application from St. Dominic's College, Ballyfermot, a DEIS band one school which applied for €180,000 to refurbish its only PE hall with windows, a floor and a roof to stop it leaking, was rejected. Ballynacargy boxing club, in my own home village, produced an all-Ireland champion. It applied for changing room facilities but the application was not approved. If the process was followed and adhered to by the Minister, then perhaps the process itself needs to change. It is coincidental that the process always seems to benefit the only two Garda stations that were named, one of which was in the constituency of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross.

Deputy Troy-----

It happens to be-----

I am the Chairman here.

I will not return to the issue of Stepaside Garda station.

I want to be fair to everybody. Any question about sport is germane and proper. However, I want to keep everything else out of this.

It is also the case that Wesley College - which was granted €150,000 - Loreto College and Three Rock Rovers were awarded some €450,000 in total. They are located within a five mile radius of each other, and the majority happen to be in the constituency of the Minister. Does the Minister accept that people are annoyed by this? Does he accept that the perception out there is that he has succumbed to the very thing he made his name on, which was rallying against politicians using their position to benefit their constituencies?

Those are very fair questions.

I have another question.

The Deputy has the floor.

The Minister and the Minister of State are here before us today. Neither has outlined the percentage of funding that is allocated for disadvantaged areas, or areas of high deprivation. Of the €56 million allocated, how much of it was ring-fenced? I recently listened to an interview that An tAire Stáit gave last week in which he alluded to the fact that not all of the money that was ring-fenced for areas of deprivation or high disadvantage was applied for and that there were not sufficient applications. The Minister of State can correct me if I am wrong, but I understand that there were not enough applications submitted to meet the amount of money that was ring-fenced. Can he identify how much was ring-fenced?

Allocations were made on a per capita basis for Dublin in general. Dublin's allocation was higher than the overall value of the value of the applications in respect of Dublin.

If not all of the moneys were allocated, can the Minister of State advise where the balance of that-----

I am trying to run this meeting. I would prefer that Deputy Munster speaks after Deputy Troy and then the Minister and Minister of State can provide answers when the whole corpus of information is available.

Perhaps the Minister can outline in his reply the percentage of the moneys which were not allocated and where that funding was spent, or indeed whether that unspent funding was held back. Will there be an opportunity for people to avail of that funding? After this session a number of representatives from the various minority sporting bodies will address us. It would be advantageous if the Minister and the Minister of State could outline specifically how much of the sports capital programme funding was spent on minority sporting bodies. Those bodies will speak later today about the financial challenges they face, and it would be helpful if we knew how much of the most recent sports capital programme was allocated to them.

The large-scale sports capital infrastructure programme was mentioned. The standard reply I have received in parliamentary questions in the past is that it will happen in the next number of months. Can the Minister or Minister of State be a little bit more specific about what "the next number of months" means? It seems to be a moveable feast. The Minister and Minister of State have said that the next round of sports allocations will be open this year, but will there be an allocation of funds this year or will it simply be opened this year with allocated funding to follow in early 2019?

I welcome the fact that the Minister is touring the constituencies and meeting with sporting bodies. Can I suggest that he should advertise it in a little bit more detail? When he came to my constituency, I was unaware that he was visiting, as was another Deputy. It just so happened that two opposition Deputies were unaware of what was going on, but of course there were no political reasons for that because there is no politics involved in sports capital programmes. Perhaps, just to be helpful, it would be courteous to drop a note to the Deputies who represent the constituencies. They too work with sporting bodies and they might be able to encourage more people to meet with the Minister and see for themselves how open and transparent the system is.

That is a very good point, and the Minister might take up the suggestion of circulating a note to all Deputies and Senators detailing when he is going to visit their constituencies.

In the Minister of State, Deputy Griffin's statement he noted:

Originally it was envisaged that €30 million would be provided for the sports capital programme in 2017. However, following discussions with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, the Minister and I were delighted to increase the budget. That allowed us to allocate a total of €60 million at the end of 2017 to more than 1,800 different sporting projects. That was an excellent result for Irish sport.

What the Minister of State failed to say was that there had been no capital grants allocations for two years. The Minister did not decide to double the amount available, but rather doubled up on two years worth of investment. There was no actual increase whatsoever. He had not delivered in 2016, so only allocations that were owed were provided. That should have been said a little bit more clearly, and the Minister of State should have been a little bit more transparent about that.

Speaking of transparency, I have to say that this is an absolute mess. I always thought of the Minister as somebody who stood on a platform of accountability and transparency, and who was totally against cronyism of any description. However, he has really bought into gombeen politics. I will explain what I mean. Deputy Troy had outlined the abundance of facilities available at Wesley College. Fair play to it. It advertises as a private school and part of that is based on the attractiveness of its facilities. I will mention the facilities again; perhaps it will resonate with people. It has four rugby pitches, one soccer pitch, two large-scale AstroTurf hockey pitches, two mini hockey pitches, 16 tennis courts, two basketball courts, two cricket pitches, track and field facilities, a sports hall and a gym. When the sports allocation grants were brought in, the idea was that they would target disadvantaged areas. It was supposed to encourage participation in sport in those areas and to steer young people in the right direction, aiming to get them involved in community and sporting activity. Perhaps the Minister can enlighten me, but I cannot figure out how Wesley College is in any way disadvantaged. Perhaps the students are choking on their silver spoons. Can the Minister please point out to me how Wesley College is disadvantaged in respect of sporting facilities? One of the Senators was asked if Wesley College qualified for the grant because it is linked with the YMCA.

Perhaps that was just an "in" that was included in order that places like private schools could apply and justify qualifying for the grant, if ever one could use the word "justify" in this instance. Thirty public schools were refused and nowhere in a million years would they have the same facilities as Wesley College. They would not have a chance or a hope. A football club with no facilities was given €600. It bought a lawnmower to cut the grass in a rented field. One could not make it up. A patronising signal was sent to that club that it could have €600. The Minister might say that is all it applied for but how could it apply for anything else when it has no facilities?


I am sorry. I am speaking.

This is a transparent, open discussion here and Deputy Munster has the floor. The Minister will have every opportunity to reply. There is no judgment here from me.

The Minister has said that is all that club applied for and that it got what it applied for. How could the club apply for anything else when it has no facilities? This is where the sports capital grant falls down. An audit has not been carried out and that is one of my suggestions for the total overhaul of this sports programme. It has never been carried out. We have waited two years to get this funding. There was ample time in those two years to carry out an audit of disadvantaged areas that were without facilities and that have nothing. People must walk up the road pushing a lawnmower to cut a rented field but the Minister does not see the inequality in that. It took two years to get to this stage. Why could it not have been done properly? Why could an audit of every area lacking in facilities not have been done? Why could those areas not have been targeted?

They will never be at the same level as some of the clubs and private schools that got the funding but they could be given some sort of advantage for their communities. I read somewhere that the Minister boasted that over 50% of the funding went to disadvantaged areas and schools. Am I correct in saying that when the Minister says "over 50%", that was actually 50.7%? Will he clarify whether I am correct? If that 50.7% is a boast, I cannot figure out what planet the Minister and his officials are on to think that is either socially or morally justified. It beggars belief. The Minister is reinforcing disadvantage and privilege. It has never been so blatant as in this allocation. I cannot figure out why the Minister does not get it. The public see and are outraged by it.

The Minister seems to be taken aback by the outcry about this. It is blatant discrimination and inequality in the distribution and allocation of sporting grants. These grants were introduced to target disadvantaged areas and ensure every community had proper facilities. We will go on to the yacht club and the golf club. The yacht club figure was €72,000. There was no €600 for the yacht club. One of the golf clubs that received €150,000 charges more than €8,000 for its annual fee. The majority of taxpayers could not afford to join that golf club, not even for a year, but the same taxpayers are forced to pick up the bill for the €150,000 grant we gave out of public money. No club or private school that is financially sufficient should come next or near qualifying for a capital sports grant. Once something is of a private nature and is financially viable and sufficient, it should not qualify while there are disadvantaged areas that do not even have a pitch.

There are school gyms where four buckets are needed in each corner of the gym to catch the rainwater. I have some suggestions. The Committee of Public Accounts needs to look into this. I am sure the Ministers would not have a problem with that. It is serious enough that the qualifying criteria for the allocations need to be looked into. They need to be totally overhauled. There needs to be an audit and support must be given for every application because there also is a kind of inequality in the competition aspect. A golf club that is financially sufficient or a private school that has the finances and the resources can ensure an application is correct and can put their full weight behind the application. A local voluntary club does not have those resources. The competition aspect of it needs to be examined and unless that is done, the sports capital grants will be a laughing stock. The evidence from this allocation shows the Minister has moved away entirely from the very reasons this grant was set up. The Minister needs a policy whereby an audit is the first thing to be carried out.

I thank Deputy Munster. I call on the Minister and then the Minister of State or officials, if the Minister wishes to call on them at any stage.

Yes, I will deal with a few myself and the Minister of State, Deputy Griffin, can deal with some as well. The objective of this scheme is to widen the number of people who can participate in sport. That includes people from all areas of society. We are concerned about the numbers. It is important to us that they increase over the years. They are specifically geared and weighted toward the disadvantaged. That is perfectly clear from some of the figures that emerged from the sports capital grants. It is fair to say that 22 out of 44 of these schools, that is 50%, that received sports capital grants, are located in disadvantaged areas and 1,000 out of 1,800 grants were allocated to disadvantaged areas. That is a fact. There is room, for sure, for improvement.

However, the weightings, which are available, will show that a heavy weighting gives disadvantaged areas a certain edge. I will outline some of the six criteria and weightings. The level of socioeconomic disadvantage in the area gets a weighting of five. The likelihood of increasing participation and or improving performance gets a weighting of seven. The sharing of facilities gets a weighting of four. The level of own funding available gets a weighting of five but that is skewed in a way that is actually in favour of disadvantaged people as well. If the Deputy wishes, I will ask my officials to explain. The level of the sports capital programme received in the past ten years gets a lower weighting because it is less likely disadvantaged areas will have had that. The whole thrust of this particular programme is to give disadvantaged areas an advantage. That is its whole purpose. That can be seen in the statistics with the number of clubs and the number of schools. That will continue and may even be accelerated. Now, it has been said-----

What are the amounts that they have benefitted from?

About 50% of the amounts.

I refer to the actual amounts allocated for the 22 schools versus the-----

I can get that. I do not have the details of the schools here but the amount for disadvantaged areas is 50%. The question of more open access and opening up the schools was raised as well. In many cases where the schools have applied, as has been said and acknowledged, they do have the assets. In every single case, private and public, where a school makes an application, that school must involve a local club as well. The idea is quite specifically that local clubs, which do not have access to such facilities, can share them with the schools.

We have seen high-profile cases, to which I will come in a minute, where clubs get use of the school facilities for 31.5 hours per week, up from zero. That gives them an open access which they did not have before. That applies to both private and public schools.

On the issue of bridge, I note that we will be looking at the eligibility criteria for sports in our review. We would be very happy to examine bridge. I do not think it comes within the definitions that we work under-----

Revenue recognises the body at issue as one that could benefit. I appreciate the Minister looking at it. Perhaps we can discuss it with his Department later.

The definition of sport used by the Council of Europe is often used as a guide and it refers to "all forms of physical activity which, through casual or organised participation, aim at expressing or improving physical fitness and mental well-being".

I think the term "mental well-being" is relevant there.

Exactly. Bridge could be considered under the mental well-being category.

That would be very helpful.

We would be happy to consider that.

Senator O'Mahony asked a question. I will deal with the schools issue. Perhaps the Minister of State will deal with the issue of large sports infrastructure and minority sports. He is better equipped to deal with those issues than I.

I presume the school to which the Senator refers is Wesley College. That was a joint application, made with the Young Men's Christian Association, YMCA. A lot of the high-profile coverage of this case emphasised that Wesley College is a private school. That is true. The school made the application because the Methodists are the registered owners. However, this point should be made clear. As a result of that particular deal, which by the way I had absolutely nothing to do with, the YMCA will have the right to use the hockey pitch for 31.5 hours per week for 15 years. Their use is at specified times but a lot of those are peak times, including Saturdays and Sundays. This opens the facility to a totally new community. While Wesley of course does benefit, the agreement requires that it opens up private grounds to a community. That is very important and it is not fully understood. In that application, which I have looked at since the controversy erupted, it is specified that the facilities will be available to Taney and Whitechurch national schools in the area, as well as a local soccer league. The community will benefit from this to a large extent.

Will it be available to those schools free of charge?

I think there will be a nominal fee. I am not sure but I think we are talking about something very small. Maybe they have to pay an overhead if they are using the lighting or that sort of thing. I do not think there is any consistent fee. They are getting the use of the facilities for 15 years. It is a huge benefit to the surrounding community. I suppose the officials who made the decision could have decided not to make this allocation but they would have been depriving the surrounding community of entry and access to the facilities.

That is what I wanted to clarify.

Deputy Kevin O'Keeffe took the Chair.

When the Minister talks about the community, he is not referring to the wider community. The YMCA and perhaps one or two schools will benefit. This does not benefit the overall wider community to a degree that justifies giving a grant of that size to a school that already had an abundance of facilities.

This is a joint application that will benefit a large number of people in the community. The facilities could not be made accessible to absolutely everybody-----

-----because it is only one pitch. However, the college is making it available to people who would never otherwise get access to it, which I think is a very worthy objective.

Is that not the point I have made about where the sports grants programme falls down? The Minister says that this gives access to people who would never otherwise have it. Heaven forbid that they would be given their own sporting facilities.

I will come to Deputy Munster's questions in a minute. Perhaps the Minister of State can deal with the questions from Senator Feighan.

Deputy O'Keeffe asked about extending the sports capital scheme for another year. I agree with him about this scheme. It is a fantastic scheme. It is phenomenal and we would like to be able to do it every single year. One of the Deputies, I think Deputy Munster, made reference to it being missed for a year. We deeply regret that and we are to some extent playing catch-up by going from €30 million to €60 million. We are very anxious to reopen this within months. We will continue so that people can expect funds to flow in the direction of sport on an annual basis. I do not want to give a time commitment but I will commit to it happening. We think it is that important for the health of the nation, including mental health, and we think that it is worth pursuing with vigour and energy. We are committed to reopening this and to allocating another round as soon as possible. We are going to carry out the 2017 revision first but the moment that is completed, we are going to reopen the sports capital programme for a new round. We will need the sanction of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform for that, but I do not anticipate that being a problem in any way. This is a great scheme. All parties approve of it. The allocations may not please some Deputies as much as others but it is absolutely going to continue.

I will now deal with some of the questions Deputy Troy raised. I want to make this clear. I make it clear very often but maybe Deputy Troy has not been able to hear. In the past, the process of this fund began with recommendations being made by officials. The recommendations went to the Minister, who then made decisions. I can tell the Deputy that those recommendations, which were made on a strict scoring basis, were not always adhered to. In other words, an applicant could have a high score but once politicians got hold of the recommendations, they were not necessarily the top priority for allocation of funds. Indeed people with very high scores sometimes got nothing and people with lower scores received grants. Perhaps the Deputy will be able to conclude how that happened. It seems to me that alterations of that sort at a political level are totally unacceptable. Let me say that I regret that this happened. As a result of the realisation that this was happening or in other words, that politicians were directing the funds, several independent analyses were carried out. They found that the main flaw in the sports capital grant system was that the money followed the Minister. Deputy Troy will be well aware of that.

I am aware of it, and it is still happening. The Minister made on apology on "Today with Sean O'Rourke".

Deputy Troy is very strong on interruption but very low on content.


Let me go on. In this case, the recommendations were made by officials. They came before the Minister of State, Deputy Griffin, and me for signature. We did not change one comma, one allocation, one place, one position or anything whatsoever, at any stage. This is unique.

The appeals also reached the Ministers and exactly the same thing happened. It was determined that we would not come before a committee and have it said one Minister interfered here and there and that the other interfered in another place. It was to take it out of the political arena and as a result we had a really good scheme. No Minister interfered, made representations or changed a single allocation of a sports capital grant. However, we came under a lot of pressure, as members will be aware. I have in front of me eight representations received from Deputy Robert Troy asking me to interfere.

I will read some of them. One states the club would benefit greatly from any funding made available to it and that the Deputy would appreciate it if I was to consider its application positively. What would happen if I was to consider it positively? What was the Deputy asking me to do? Was he asking me to sit back and consider it positively, or waste my time? I have eight letters from him asking me to consider them positively. I threw them in the bin.

The Minister must not have done so if he has them with him today.

I was not going to interfere in the way the Deputy asked me to do.

Did the Minister root them out of the bin?

The Deputy asked me continuously to meet sports clubs.

The Minister travelled the country-----

The Deputy can come back in.

The Ministers of State, Deputies Finian McGrath and Kevin Boxer Moran, and the Minister travelled the country to meet sports clubs. There were photographs of the Minister on social media after allocations had been announced.

Nobody asked me to interfere with the process.

Look at these. There are eight letters from the Deputy asking me to look favourably on clubs in his area.

To support their applications, yes.

Then he comes to me to say one in his area got through on appeal. Let me tell him other things about my area. Every appeal in my area failed, including those made by Our Lady's Grove and St. Columba's College. Let me tell the Deputy the story about it since he is making these accusations. My father was a governor of St. Columba's College which both of my children attended. One cannot have a closer connection than that. It not only made an application, it also appealed. Its application failed and it also failed in its appeal. Because one got through on appeal, the Deputy says I am interfering. I had nothing to do with it, but I received many letters from the Deputy asking me to interfere.

I supported many applications.

No, the Deputy asked me to look favourably on them. What am I going to do if I look favourably on them? This is the height of hypocrisy.

There is the matter of Stepaside Garda station.

That is the last resort, is it not?

No, it is not.

I will now talk to the Deputy about the timetable.

That is how the Minister intervenes to suit himself and processes are ignored.

I thank the Deputy. Is the Minister finished?

The general public realises it and the Minister knows it, which is why he is getting so upset.

I have already answered the question about the timetable. The issue of the allocations will be addressed in the next couple of months. It will be done as speedily as possible. If I am in office when the next allocations are made, unlike Fianna Fáil, I will ensure there is no political interference whatsoever.

I think I have probably answered Deputy Imelda Munster's questions. I understand her commitment to disadvantaged areas which I do not doubt for one moment. That is true and she has made representations on many issues many times. Her party leader, Deputy Mary Lou McDonald, asked me to go to Arbour Hill Boxing Club, which I did. It is in a disadvantaged area. It was looking for a sports grant at the time and received a grant of €150,000, but I did not interfere in that process. I went to see the club several times because it was in a disadvantaged area about which I cared. It was worthy and doing fantastic work. I am sure it has acknowledged the interest many of us have shown in it. The Minister of State, Deputy Brendan Griffin, was there too.

The Minister has quite a nerve to describe it as a disadvantaged area.

I received representations from the Deputy's party leader on its behalf. I do not know what I was expected to do. The Young Men's Christian Association, YMCA, as I think I said to Deputy John O'Mahony, was the joint applicant. It badly needed the use of the hockey pitch. I am delighted that it got it. I am also delighted that Taney national school got it, that Whitechurch school got it and that any member of the community got it. It is tremendous that it is happening. The fact is we have opened up private schools' territory.

Before the Minister goes on and in case it is overlooked, he said the YMCA badly needed the use of the facility. It comes back again to carrying out an audit to see where the money could best be spent. If it badly needed the use of a facility, the YMCA, through the Minister's Department, should have been informed of the sports capital grant scheme. It should have been given assistance to make an application. That is where the system falls down. It is my belief, whether right or wrong, that a school such as Wesley College is given an in to apply for grants by being able to link up with the local club. Given the abundance of facilities Wesley College has, there was no justification for it qualifying. If the YMCA badly needed facilities, it should have been given them or it should certainly have been brought down the path in applying for them, encouraged and given the support it needed to apply for them. It comes back to my point about carrying out an audit.

The other question I asked was about the figure of 50.7%. I know that the Minister said 50% of schools qualified. Was it 50.7% of the overall funding available? If so, that is an absolute disgrace, given that the scheme was set up primarily to target disadvantaged areas.

I do not know if the YMCA and everybody else who could have applied or did apply attended the numerous workshops, of which the Deputy is probably aware. Perhaps she is not. They were held throughout the country to inform people of the grants available. To say they were not informed is a little unfair on the officials and others who promoted the scheme. The grants were widely advertised and will be advertised more widely in the future. In the next year, when we open the next grant allocation process, we will probably advertise more widely. We will probably place advertisements in the newspapers and ask the Department of Education and Skills to write to all schools to inform them in case there is a gap which the Deputy has identified, but I am not sure there is because 2,000 applications is a lot. The YMCA applied because the rule was that it had to have a partner in order to apply. It was a good match. If any school wanted to apply, it also had to involve a club. It was a good arrangement.

On golf clubs, we need to be careful. The Deputy has made a good and fair point about rich clubs getting money. If that is what is happening, the issue should be looked at very carefully in the review. It is, however, a little easy to brand golf as a rich man's sport, in which case the Deputy would be making a good point, but it is not exclusively a rich man's sport.

Before the Minister goes on-----

Can I, please, finish without interruption? The Deputy can come back in as often as she likes. There are many golf clubs with a small membership.

Golf is played by huge numbers of children around the country in circumstances which are not ones of grandeur or richness or anything of that sort. They just enjoy the game. Those children should be helped and encouraged. Golf should not be branded in a certain way. If children in disadvantaged areas are playing golf, which they can and do, they should be helped. The Deputy has a good case about rich golf clubs. Perhaps they should not be helped unless they are doing a lot for the community. I am not sure that some of those which the Deputy has branded as elite are not actually doing quite a lot for the community. It is something we will look at.

At no stage did I say that golf is a rich man's sport. My two nephews are very keen golfers. My point is that the particular club which I mentioned charges an annual fee of €8,000. Most taxpayers could not afford such a charge and yet they are expected to foot the bill for that club. Why should taxpayers have to foot the bill when a club such as that-----

May I ask the Minister of State, Deputy Griffin, to deal with the other questions?

I thank the Minister and the Chairman. I will begin again with Senator O'Mahony.

First, we will finish dealing with how money is allocated in respect of golf clubs.

My mother was a psychiatric nurse. We would not have been considered a wealthy family. She worked very hard all her life. She took up golf in her 50s. That decision 20 years ago gave that woman a new lease of life. Are we now being told that people like her and so many others should not receive help? In the rural parish in Kerry from which I come, most of the lads who play golf are building labourers - carpenters and blocklayers. They are not the white-collar professionals that people sometimes stereotype golfers as being. Golf has a huge role in our communities and in society in terms of sport.

The Minister of State is deliberately ignoring the point I made. The question I asked was-----

May I continue without interruption?

----how does a golf club-----

The Deputy had her opportunity. I heard her question. I am answering it.

The Minister of State is deliberately ignoring the point I made.

The Deputy has asked her question.

I have already said that golf is not a rich man's sport.

I am trying to answer the question.

Will the Minister of State answer the question?

The Deputy does not like the answers, that is why----

No, the Minister of State is not answering the question. If he was answering it, I would say "Fair enough".

Will the Deputy allow me to continue? She keeps interrupting.

Will the Minister of State please get to the point? How does a club charging an annual fee of €8,000 qualify?

There are golf clubs which have large membership fees but they have junior programmes and various other programmes that do not involve that membership fee. For example, there are junior programmes for children who otherwise would not get to play golf at all. Is the Deputy saying that those children should not have the opportunity to play golf?

Every child should have such opportunities. I am asking how a golf club qualified for €150,000 of taxpayers' money-----

Where would the Deputy draw the line?

-----when it charges €8,000 as an annual fee?

Where would the Deputy draw the line?

Where is the justification for that?

Where would she draw it?

I would say, as I said earlier, that if a sports club or private school is financially self-sufficient, it should not qualify for the sports capital programme while there are applicants from areas of disadvantage which have not qualified.

What is self-sufficient?

There were 30 public schools. I have outlined just a couple of them. I could have reeled off a whole lot more, but I did not.

Should a club that is surviving-----

Some 50.7% went to disadvantaged areas-----

-----not be able to improve its facilities?

-----so 49.3% of those grants went to clubs and schools that are not in disadvantaged areas-----

Some 1,000 out of 1,700 grants went to disadvantaged areas.

-----contrary to what the whole scheme was about in the first instance. It is the blatant inequality that sticks in people's craws.

I was Chairman of this committee for a year. When the terms and conditions of this scheme were published, I do not remember the Deputy showing this outrage. I was here for over a year. I do not remember that outrage when these terms and conditions were published.

Nobody expected this sort of elitism and blatant inequality.

I have been Minister of State in the Department for nine months. I do not remember the Deputy ever raising this issue until today.

We actually thought that there was going to be a fair assessment. It turns out that there was not.

We have this outrage today.

Will Deputy Munster please let the Minister of State respond?

He is not responding.

I was the Chairman of this committee for a year. I do not remember this outrage from the Deputy about the terms and conditions of the sports capital programme.

The money had not been allocated. Two years passed before the Minister of State allocated it.

I do not remember the Deputy ever coming in-----

He kept promising it.

----and using the numerous opportunities she had----

The Minster of State without interruption.

-----day in and day out, whether through Topical Issues, oral parliamentary questions or any of the other avenues which we use to raise these matters, and yet she is outraged today.

I am raising them now.

That is great. What was happening for the past two years? Was this outrage bubbling up inside of the Deputy and is only coming out today?

It is blatant inequality and the Minister of State cannot see it. Everybody else outside can see it. He is so out of touch that he cannot see it.

Some 1,000 out of the 1,700 successful applicants were from disadvantaged areas.

The Minister of State could not even be straight in his opening statement. He said that he had given extra funding. He did not say that for two years there were no grants and that he had just doubled up.

I read it out. He could not even be upfront about it.

I do not recall the Deputy shouting from the rooftops about there not being a programme in 2016. I was Chairman of the committee for the majority of that year.

Can I just put this in perspective? Is the Deputy asking us to tell the rich people that they should not be getting children's allowance? Is that what she is saying?

It would not be the first time the Vice Chairman has come out with something like that. Will he try to keep with the programme and follow the conversation?

As the Deputy is well aware, there was an economic calamity in this country. It was not possible for the sports capital programme to happen every year. It was abandoned in 2008. The Fine Gael-led Government that included the Labour Party reintroduced it for 2012. We had programmes again in 2014 and 2015. There was no programme in 2016. We had a programme in 2017. It was hugely oversubscribed, partially because of the overall improvement in the macroeconomic situation and the ability of clubs not just to raise funds, but to be able to plan for the future again. It was indicative of an improving situation overall. What also happened was, because of that level of oversubscription, we felt that we had to take extraordinary measures to try to address the huge demands that were there. We had 2,320 applications totalling €155 million in requests for funding, but we only had €30 million at our disposal. I make no apology for the work that I and the Minister, to his huge credit, did in terms of getting that money for those clubs. Which clubs in the Deputy's constituency would she tell that we should not have had that money? How many of the clubs in County Louth would she tell that we should not have doubled up the money and that they should not have received funding?

The difference between the Deputy and me is that if there was a private school in my constituency-----

I asked the Deputy a question and she will not answer it.

-----with the same facilities, I would be as vocal about it as I am about Wesley College. Mark my words, I would be.

In County Louth about half the successful recipients of-----

It is the inequality.

----sports capital funding under the 2017 programme would not have received it but for the work the Minister and I did to raise the finance. From which half would the Deputy choose to take the funding back?

I have said nothing about the groups that have qualified. I have flagged the blatant inequality in the allocation.

Every valid applicant received funding.

I know the Minister of State and the Minister probably did put work in to get the two years' funding together. However, that money does not belong to him or to the Minister.

We never claimed it does.

It is taxpayers' money.

All the citizens of the country-----

And they are entitled to it.

-----contributed to this. That is why we were determined-----

It seems that some were more entitled than others, because that it was set up for.

-----that it would be fairly distributed.

It has been anything but fairly distributed.

If I may address that point, when one comes in here and someone questions one's integrity, which is what Deputy Munster is doing, it is important to set the record straight. Every application was adjudicated on by the very dedicated officials working in the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. They were deemed to be either valid or invalid. The breakdown was roughly 80% to 20%, which was a big improvement from the 52% to 48% breakdown we had just a few short years ago in 2012. After that, each application was given a certain number of points based on the published criteria set out by the Department. Under those criteria, four different levels of disadvantage are considered. This is linked to the Pobal deprivation index. Depending on where an applicant is on the Pobal deprivation index, points will be allocated to their application. This was applied directly to all applicants. The score which the applicants got was then used in a formula, which also reflected the amount of valid funding sought by the applicants. Using that formula, a recommended allocation was arrived at. That was the exactly the figure which was allocated to those sports capital programme applicants. There was no interference from the Minister of myself. There could not have been a fairer way of doing this. When we cast our minds back to the way in which it used to be done in the past, this was a completely new departure which was very positive for the sports capital programme.

As I said, every single valid applicant under the local aspect of the sports capital programme received funding based entirely on the points they received and the amount they sought. I do not know how any Minister could have done it any more fairly than that. It is so easy for people to say that €150,000 was allocated to the Minister's backyard. There were applicants in his backyard that did not get through the appeals system as well. There were four invalid applications in Kerry for which appeals were sought and none of them received funding.

One of them was close to my office, in the next village over in Milltown. It was a primary school which was found to be invalid. There is another, Camp United, where a man who works with me is heavily involved. They were told in black and white that they were invalid. Another school up the road, Faha national school, was also invalid. I would have loved to see all these get funding but they did not because there was no interference from the Minister. Another application in Kerry, Scoil Phobal Sliabh Luachra, also did not get funding because it was invalid. That is a black and white matter. Officials went through the review process, for the first time, which was progress, to ensure that we did not make mistakes and stand over them as happened in the past. We acknowledge that mistakes can be made, and we should be thorough and ensure that there is no overinterpretation or false interpretation of our rules. That happened, 148 applicants applied for the review process, and 35 got through. None of it was through ministerial intervention. The list was given to us, we approved it, and there were no changes.

The cheap efforts made in recent weeks to implicate one Minister or another as having interfered in this review process have been pathetic to see when what actually happened was the most progressive sports capital programme in its history going back to 1998. It stands up to scrutiny. There is nothing to see here in terms of the conspiracy theories I have heard about one intervention or another. How we did this was good work for the sports capital programme and I would stand over it any day of the week because I think what we did was fair. The applicants were awarded on the merits of their applications and for no other reasons.

I call Senator O'Mahony.

I have one final question.

No, Deputy Munster has already had too much time. She may come back afterwards. I ask her please to show respect for the other members.

I did not get an answer.

Deputy Munster is not showing respect for the other members.

I did not get an answer.

The Minister of State gave you a full outline.

I did not get an answer to my question which was given that 50.7% was allocated to disadvantaged areas, will the Minister of State give a firm commitment to carry out an audit of all disadvantaged areas that do not have facilities, so that the percentage, instead of being distributed 50-50, would be increased-----

There is a wider issue here-----

-----and to see who needs it and who does not.

We are talking about the sports capital programme here in isolation. There is a wider issue. We are about to publish a very comprehensive sports policy document. The responsibility goes beyond the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and the sports capital programme to provide funding and programmes for sport and participation in Ireland. It is a discussion we need to have and it is something that we are actively pursuing. It is very important that we have more input from local authorities and that the local sports partnerships, who do excellent work, would have a bigger role in facilitating greater involvement in sport throughout the country. There is a role for other Departments too, including Education and Skills, Health, Housing, Planning and Local Government, and Children and Youth Affairs. There could be a collaborative approach on which they could all work with the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport to ensure that this would happen. We are always looking to improve the sports capital programme. We recognise its huge value and always strive to make it better. Any application process that involves almost 2,500 very complex applications from all over the country will naturally result in examples where people are disappointed, where they may not get the amount they sought, or where applicants are unsuccessful. However, the vast majority of applicants to this round have been very happy with their outcome. For the first time ever, we were able to give funding to everyone who was valid under the local scheme and for the top two thirds who were valid under the regional scheme. That is 1,800 clubs and organisations, which is an enormous achievement.

For balance, I want to return to the schools issue again. In a previous career, I was a teacher in a school where there was no funding or one could not apply for sports capital funding as a school. That was changed a few years ago, which was a good move. It meant that the facilities are available 12 hours a day, that is, they do not close at 4 p.m. when the school closes. Schools got better facilities, the children who were at the schools got better facilities and it also benefited local clubs. In response to the controversy of whether it is a private or public school, schools should be able to tie up with local clubs regardless. It should then be open to every person in the community to join whatever clubs are linked up with the school and benefit from the facilities. I want to record my support for the continuation of that. There must always be fine-tuning and reviews must be undertaken, but it is important that schools facilities would be eligible for sports capital funding and that they would, in turn, make them available for their local clubs and organisations. That is a better use of facilities and money, better value for money and should continue.

Before the Minister of State comes back in, I fully support Senator O'Mahony. The Minister of State referred to the local organisations that applied from his own constituency. In my own backyard there is a school that was being incorporated into the overall sports plan but it did not get through because of a legal issue.

Can I respond to the earlier questioners?

Which question?

I have not responded to Senators O'Mahony or Feighan or to Deputy Troy because there was a little interaction that distracted me. If I might return to Senator O'Mahony-----

May I make one quick intervention? I am delighted to hear the Minister, Deputy Ross, and the Minister of State, Deputy Griffin, and the officials explain a system that, thankfully, after 30 years, is now open, transparent and fair. I remember when the lottery was launched 30 years ago. I returned from Australia and saw what lottery funding could do and applied on behalf of my local soccer club. I was the second in the file to apply from a local soccer club. I remember coming to Dublin and we were told in the bar that we were getting money for the club. We were delighted but there was no huge application process at the time. Things have changed and I am delighted. I have seen other Governments where Ministers delivered ten times more for their constituents as what Dublin might receive. I want to record that I am delighted the process has changed, that it has been taken out of the political domain and that we can all make our submissions. I thank the officials for the work they have done. It has established a template for the future of fairness, openness and transparency.

I will go around the members with the answers to their questions.

I presume we will have the opportunity to come back in. I am conscious that there are a lot of guests here from the minority sports, if the Minister of State wishes to finish.

I will respond very briefly. Senator O'Mahony referred to the large-scale scheme. This is something that will be put in place for projects that will typically require a higher level of State funding than the €150,000 available under the local scheme or the €200,000 under the regional scheme, which are available under the sports capital programme. We hope to invite expressions of interest in the near future. We are also looking to involving the national governing bodies heavily in that process also so that we may have a strategic approach to planning our large-scale infrastructure. We have a provision of more than €100 million for that in coming years. While that is a lot of money, in the context of large-scale projects it is not a huge amount, so we must be very careful about how we spend it and how it is distributed. I hope that it will be moving for the summer. I am very anxious to get it moving, as is the Minister, Deputy Ross, because we have a huge backlog of large-scale schemes that require investment as a result of the overall situation over the past decade.

For clarity, there is a 30 hour a week licence agreement requirement on schools facilities being open to the public. That is something that works very well as it ensures that projects that otherwise would not have happened at all do happen because of the school involvement. The schoolchildren get the benefit of it during the day and the wider public gets the benefit of it at night, regardless of whether they go to that school or whether it is fee-paying. It is non-discriminatory. That is something that is often overlooked.

Senator Feighan asked about national governing bodies. It is a matter for the individual national governing bodies in the context of the whole island or the Republic and Northern Ireland. I think we have 45 all-island national governing bodies.

The Irish rugby team is the prime example of one such body that works well. Again, there are sensitivities and issues surrounding this sometimes. There are various reasons people do not go down that route. We need to be respectful of everyone involved in that discussion. Sport Ireland is willing to work with everyone regardless of circumstances.

Reference was made to facilities to be used in this jurisdiction for events that might be taking place in Northern Ireland. That is a matter for the people involved. Certainly, I do not know of anyone who has not been willing to make their facilities available. As a result of the sports capital programme, we have been able to build up our infrastructure to be world class in some cases, and that is positive.

A question was asked about the Commonwealth Games, an issue that has been raised many times. From a sporting perspective, the games represent another avenue for athletes and a big stage on which to perform. In that sense the opportunity helps in the development of athletes. Some of our Northern Ireland based athletes have the benefit of European, world and Commonwealth competition whereas other athletes representing Ireland only compete at European and world level. There is a dimension to that. Obviously, we are not part of the Commonwealth, so it is something around which there are sensitivities. It is more than simply about sports.

The Vice Chairman raised a question about the sports capital programme, and the Minister answered it. We are looking to move to an annual basis because it gives certainty to clubs. It would probably reduce the level of oversubscription. Since we have been unable to run an annualised sports capital programme in recent years, we encounter organisations applying even when they are not ready because they are unsure whether there will be another round for two years. If we can give clubs and those at the coalface an opportunity to plan better, that would be better. Certainly, an annualised scheme would be good. It would also help phased development rather than have everyone putting in for everything all at the one time. Clubs could choose to do phased development. That would make it easier on the Department in matching the expectations. It is a goal for us and we are very much on track. We have a 2018 programme and I am confident that we will have a 2019 programme. That would mean successive programmes for 2017, 2018 and 2019. Let us keep that going in the future.

The question of disadvantage was raised. More than 1,000 of the 1,700 clubs were from disadvantaged areas. We have four categories relating to disadvantage: not disadvantaged, disadvantaged, moderately disadvantaged, and extremely disadvantaged. We use the Pobal HP deprivation index. Previously, the programme was based on the CLÁR and RAPID programmes. This is more targeted and focused and it takes in more data in determining the level of disadvantage.

Deputy Troy mentioned a review. Each sports capital programme has been reviewed upon conclusion. This assessment is not any different in terms of the pros and cons, what could be done better and what is working well. The consultation process with the recipients and the applicants is feeding into that process as well and that is healthy.

Deputy Troy asked about Longford-Westmeath. The local sports partnership would have been informed and would have informed all its registered bodies. Every club that was registered on the online sports capital register, OSCAR, used by the sports capital division would have been informed. Moreover, the national governing bodies would have been informed in respect of Deputy Troy's constituency. In future, we will ensure that each public representative is made aware of the details. Certainly, there was a good turn-out. We had a full room in Galway. We are looking to try to meet as many people as we can because these are the people at the coalface. They show up. They have been through the system and know how it works. We have received some good suggestions following the engagements and these will feed into the next programme.

I do not like the phrase "minority sports". Each person's respective sport is the most important sport for that person. Everyone involved in sport, especially the volunteers, should be commended on what they do for their country and communities.

As I said earlier, every valid application received funding under the local scheme and two thirds were funded under the regional scheme. I have before me a breakdown of the information on who got what by sport and I can circulate it afterwards. The information relating to who got what is already on the website. All applications are on the website but there is a breakdown of who got what in more than 50 sports categories. The amount received was directly proportionate to the score and the amount sought. I heard someone complaining – the Deputy has left now - about €600. If we were to give €10,000 to a club that looked for €600, then we would be before the Committee of Public Accounts. It seems that by giving what clubs have asked for or giving the amounts merited by the application proportionate to the amount sought, we are the bad guys all of a sudden. It seems we cannot win. We have tried to be entirely fair in how we have allocated the funding. I can circulate the figures. We have a list of everyone who got funding. I can give committee members all of the information on all the sports, the total amounts they got and the number of grants that made up the total. We can circulate the information afterwards.

Deputy Murphy is also a member of the committee. I ask her to be brief, please, because we have other guests waiting to come in.

I understand that. We had duplication because of a simultaneous Committee of Public Accounts event. I apologise for not being here for most of the session.

I wish to deal with two issues. The Minister described disadvantage. It is right that we look at things from the bottom up. Sport plays an important role in all of our lives. These grants are particularly important. I understand the methodology for determining disadvantage. However, there is also another disadvantage that sometimes does not get counted. How does the Department consider new areas? These areas are really collections of houses. Often, there is little disposable income because of mortgages and so on. It is difficult to try to build facilities from scratch where people are trying to organise community building. Is there any mapping of needs as we develop new communities with regard to the provision of sports? Most of our facilities have come about by virtue of raffles and various fundraising activities. It is incredibly difficult to build everything from scratch. How is that considered in particular?

The point about the optics has been made. I am referring to the perception of assistance from the inside. I understand there is a process and that the process is rigorous, but damage is done when there is the appearance of assistance from the inside, even if it is only in filling out forms. What can be done to ensure this process is as publicly inclusive as possible? What can be done to ensure this is the case even more than has been the case to date? I realise workshops are carried out, but the very fact that forms are not properly filled in and so on tends to suggest that some people are better able to cope with the process than others.

I will come back to Deputy Troy on the allocations by county and how the funding is distributed. I will answer Deputy Murphy first and then come back to Deputy Troy on that specific question that I did not answer.

Is the Minister of State going to go through the whole process of replying? Many of the questions Deputy Murphy has raised have been answered. The Minister of State can see that from his notes.

You are the Chairman.

Can the Minister of State give a written answer?

I will touch quickly on the points. The first question was about new developments. What was the second question about?

I specifically wanted the Minister of State to deal with the issue of disadvantage in new communities. The second question was about optics and how the Department can make the process more inclusive.

With regard to optics, we cannot stop because people are jumping up and down and crying that there was interference. All we can do is be as fair as possible, which we were. We cannot control what people will say about it. We feel there was not a more transparent and fairer way of doing sports capital than the way we did it in 2017. It could not possibly have been fairer. There are two things an applicant can do to ensure it does not have invalidation in the future and has as good a chance as possible to get all the relevant information into its application. The workshops we had prior to the closure of the 2017 programme were very helpful. There was huge attendance at them. To their great credit, the officials went through the application process and how points are scored. It is something we envisage repeating and we might have more of them for the next time. We will give everyone the best possible chance to have the best possible application. We did it already and it worked well. I hope we can repeat and intensify it. Never again will we have a situation where people will be invalidated without a second chance. The weakest aspect of the sports capital programme has been that clubs were excluded on a technicality such as not ticking a box or not putting a folio number in a certain box or because the name on a bank statement did not correspond to the name of the club even though it is the bank statement of the trustees. We want to try to avoid that scenario in the future. In the 2018 round we envisage that when clubs make applications, if there are items of further information required, rather than just being invalidated as would have happened in the past, they will be written to and asked for particular items so their applications can be validated. That is important.

While the Deputy was absent from the committee room, I spoke about collaborative approaches to sports and facilities planning and I referred to the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. There is a role to be played in terms of new developments and the provision of sports facilities. It is something in the sports policy that we want to try to touch on. It is important that we look at that, bearing in mind that technology is becoming more affordable such as AstroTurf, 3G and 4G pitches. They are not as expensive as they used to be. In a country where it rains for so many days in the year, green areas are really important. AstroTurf and all-weather areas are hugely important for our children and all members of our community. We can incorporate that into future housing policy. It would be a very good day's work if we were to do that.

Deputy Troy asked about how the funding is distributed. To move away from the years when Donegal or south Kerry, for example, got a disproportionate amount, what we have tried to do is have a system in place in which the money follows the people. Based on census population figures for a county, the county receives a directly proportionate amount of the sports capital budget for distribution within that county. Clubs get larger or smaller allocations depending on what points they score. That is how it works. The €30 million was split into €26 million and €4 million for local and regional schemes. That means the amount of funding that was available to each county ranged from 12% in Cavan to 56% of the overall value sought in Dublin. That was with regard to valid applications. When we got the increase in the budget, we were able to get €56 million to distribute to all counties, which meant that Dublin's figure went up to in excess of €15 million, even though €13 million was valid at that stage. There was funding to redistribute. Dublin was the only county where 100% of the amount sought was available for distribution in the county. Cavan went from 12% to 29%. My county of Kerry went from 16% to 37%. That happened because a portion of a larger amount of €30 million was added on to €25 million. The surplus from Dublin was redistributed among the other 25 counties on a per capita basis, excluding Dublin. That is exactly how we arrived at the allocation to each county. What each county got was distributed based purely on the points that each application scored. That is how it was done. There could not have been a fairer way of doing it so long as we stuck with the per county per capita system.

There are flaws with the per county per capita system. One of them is that when we are dealing with some counties, there is a heavy level of oversubscription, for example, in Cavan. In Dublin, everyone who is valid gets whatever is looked for. The points system does not count there because there is the full amount to meet the requirement. With the regional scheme, we had €4 million to meet about €8.5 million worth of valid applications across 82 different applications. That is the top two thirds of applicants. We could not spread that €4 million across €13.5 million worth of applications. It would have been spread too thinly. What we did there was based on the points. We had a national league table and we applied the formula in the same way we did internally in each county to determine the outcome for each applicant under the regional scheme. It has merits in that a club is not getting less because of what county it is in or as a result of the level of oversubscription in a particular county. It also means the allocation will always be reflective of the score an applicant gets. That was the case for 25 out of 26 counties in the local scheme. One of the flaws is that some counties might not have received anything in the regional scheme because they were not in the top two thirds of applications in terms of scoring. It is worth considering whether it is a way of doing the future round for the local scheme as well as the regional one. There are arguments for and against that. The per county per capita system was introduced in the first place to stop some counties getting more than others based on who was doing the administration of the grants. There is no system that seems to be perfect but we are trying to find the fairest way and I think what we did this time around based on what we were dealing with was as fair as we could possibly have been under the circumstances.

Normally when questions are asked and the Minister, Minister of State or officials give their reply, we are given an opportunity to come in very briefly at the end. I wanted to come back in briefly because the Minister, Deputy Ross, made a charge against me and I wanted to clarify a point I made in my opening statement. I thank the Minister for acknowledging the eight representations I made on behalf of the clubs in my constituency. I appreciate that. I looked very quickly on and found that I have raised this seven times in the past 12 months by way of written and oral questions to the Minister of State. It is not for me to adjudicate. The Minister of State said a process was adhered to. I accept that but the perception is that it was not and the Minister of State did not help that perception when he put a tweet up a morning or two after the school received that funding. If the process delivered that result, the question I asked the Minister of State is relevant. Does he think we need to change the process? I outlined the facilities that are available in that school and I outlined some of the other applications that were not eligible for funding. The reason I asked the Minister of State a question about the point he made in a radio interview last week is because there were not enough applicants from disadvantaged areas in Dublin for the money that was available. That is not right. That is the point I was making when I asked about changing the process. I am sorry if the Minister of State was offended. He is very sensitive. It is not for me to adjudicate on whether he influenced it. Let the wider public adjudicate on whether the Minister of State had a role to play in it. I do not care that much about it. What I do care about, and it is the reason I asked about it on seven occasions in the past 12 months, is ensuring that less well-off, disadvantaged clubs get the support they deserve. Unfortunately, on this occasion they did not, with the best will in the world, according to the Minister of State's adjudication on the matter.

The disadvantaged clubs that applied got funding. Every valid application under the local scheme in Dublin got funding. Not only did they get funding but they got 100% of what they sought and what was valid. Other counties would kill for that sort of a regime. In my county, we had 37% of the amount sought available and we distributed it proportionately based on the points system.

However, Dublin had 100% available to it.

It is up to clubs to apply for the scheme. That aspect has to be improved as part of the overall network and system of planning. As I said earlier, local authorities and other Departments need to become more involved in providing facilities. It should not only be a matter for the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport because sport, physical activity, recreation and participation have far broader consequences for all of our communities. Within sports policy I am keen to emphasise that requirement and I believe it would be progressive.

Something needs to change in order to ensure that wider disadvantaged communities are supported. There is something wrong if those involved do not believe that they can even apply for funding. That is what we need to change and address.

The workshops were well attended. There was standing room only in some. For the 2018 programme, we need to place greater emphasis on the workshops. They were a great success for the 2017 programme. We should co-ordinate more closely with the partnerships already working with disadvantaged areas and target elements of the community with lower participation. That would be a good way to ensure the Department has a broader spread in terms of the level of disadvantage represented in the applications. Over 1,000 disadvantaged clubs received funding out of the 1,700 applications - well over half of the applications - under the local scheme.

I was amused by how the Minister handled Deputy Troy's representations. When I was making a representation to him, I inadvertently wrote on behalf of a club that had not actually applied. In fairness, he acknowledged that he was examining the application. Obviously, it does not go beyond his desk when we write to him. Is that what the Minister is saying?

I think the Vice Chairman wrote 16 representations.

I was grateful for them but I am afraid they did not have any influence on the decision.

That is the point I am making. I wrote on behalf of a club that did not apply and the Minister still acknowledged the representation.

Before we conclude the session, I thank the Minister and the Minister of State. Before we take a sos, I have a request for our guests coming in for the next session. They have given us opening statements. However, for the sake of time, can they arrange to synopsise them in the next 15 minutes or so in order that we can get through to the question-and-answer session? We will take a break until 4 p.m.

Sitting suspended at 3.45 p.m. and resumed at 4 p.m.