Sports Capital and Equipment Funding and Access to Participation

Sports Capital and Equipment Funding and Access to Participation

Sports Capital and Equipment Funding

Dep. Ó Cathasaigh: A very welcome signal went out to clubs this week about their applications. I welcome the Minister of State’s very strong focus on equality of participation. There is an outdated attitude evident which, thankfully, I think is disappearing. “Keep those girls off the good grass” is one of the things we hear in some of the more outdated places.

To return to Deputy Stanton’s query, Tramore is a case in point in that the availability of land is incredibly tight. I have a rugby club that is dying to get its hands on a sporting facility. I also have an athletics club that would happily co-locate with it. We have some brilliant initiatives in terms of our AFC and GAA clubs in particular. In places that have an expanding population – Tramore is certainly one of those – and where local authority land becomes very limited as a result, there is a need for some way to help these clubs to get their foot onto the first rung of the ladder because without that, it is very difficult for them to get the ball rolling.

Deputy Thomas Byrne

A wide range of very important issues were raised. The purchase of land is a key issue. Let us be straight – we all have a role to play at every level of government.

Local authorities have a role to play in this. Councillors of all parties should be really focusing on this issue when zoning land. There are no restrictions on zoning land for sports facilities and making certain things conditional when housing is provided. That is really important. Acknowledging there is a problem, we all, as I said, have a role to play. I have had discussions with the Minister, Deputy Darragh O’Brien, on this issue and what we can do at Government level. Clearly, there is significant pressure on funding to build houses. However, we recognise very much that there is also a need to equip local authorities, in some cases, to purchase land. That is something on which we continue to work.

Regarding training support for the application process, we engage significantly with the national governing bodies, NGBs, in this regard. They provide their own training and the local sports partnerships, LSPs, provide help as well. Clubs can get all the information they need from those organisations and, indeed, from local politicians of all parties, who are well used to supporting them. We have tried to make the application process as easy as possible.

On women’s facilities, Deputy Ó Cathasaigh acknowledged there is an issue. In fact, he slightly underplayed it. I meet members of women’s clubs all the time who tell me they do not have access to facilities on a similar basis to men. Some people take the view it is okay that the men’s club does not pay a fee to use facilities but the women’s teams must pay a fee. That day is over from a funding point of view. That type of situation will disqualify applicants from drawing down sports capital funding. We will award the grants and give people a chance to change things. For any grant at regional level or above, we will now require a written policy demonstrating that the similar access policy is in place.

Deputy Marc Ó Cathasaigh

The Minister of State has sent out an extremely strong signal about equality of participation. Clubs will be very wise to listen carefully to what he is saying to ensure they can draw down the full funding available to them.

Deputy Durkan referred to capacity within clubs. We all have helped to review application forms for sports clubs applying for funding. The difference is clear between those clubs that have somebody who is very good at filling in application forms, who leaves no scoring criterion behind, versus the clubs that do not have the same capacity and could do with a bit of training. When we read the forms, we see the person filling it in has not hit box B or whatever. Those clubs are not maximising the potential of their application to achieve success. There is work to be done in this regard. The Department is very helpful. Work is needed on capacity-building, focusing particularly on clubs that have not been successful in the past, to ensure they can share in the funding.

Deputy Thomas Byrne

In terms of checking whether funding is delivering the intended benefits, the Department does check. There is a rigorous process and we take a very hardline view on it. I do not get involved. I let our officials make sure the applications are done properly. The benefits of the funding are clear to see. I am visiting clubs around the country at the moment, seeing all the projects and sports facilities that have come through the sports capital programme, together with local fundraising and voluntary effort. That is important to acknowledge. The number of facilities that have been put together around the country is absolutely astonishing. Last week, I visited Bandon Athletic Club’s track. It is an incredible construction project in a relatively small rural town, driven by and fundraised for by the local athletics club, and with significant funding from the Government. There are examples of that right across the country. Kilmessan hurling and camogie club in my county has an absolutely fabulous facility that has been supported by sports capital funding but very much driven by local fundraising.

We have put a special effort into making sure applications are successful. I focused particularly on football and boxing last summer to ensure they had their own procedures in place to help clubs with applications. We want them to be successful. We will not invalidate applications immediately. Each club will be given a chance to rectify any issues. I urge clubs to seek assistance from their NGB, local Oireachtas Member or LSP if any queries arise. They will get a number of chances to rectify issues during the summer. That in itself delays the process a little, which is why the allocations are made towards the end of the summer. We are giving people a second chance. Even under the equipment grants, there were one or two invalid applications in every county for various reasons. Sometimes, they involved relatively simple mistakes.