Thursday, 11 November 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
144. To ask the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if additional funds will be allocated towards the current sports capital and equipment programme to help increase the number of successful applicants and increase the amounts each will receive; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [54834/21]
161. To ask the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if he will report on progress in relation to the 2021 sports capital programme; when an announcement will be made regarding the outcome of same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [55207/21]
There are, therefore, many opportunities to discover the date. The sports capital and equipment programme is the primary vehicle for Government support for the development of sports and recreation facilities and the purchase of non-personal sports equipment throughout the country. More than 13,000 projects have benefited from sports capital funding since 1998, bringing the total allocations in that time to over €1 billion.
On 30 November 2020, the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, and I announced that a new 2020 round of the programme was opening, with at least €40 million available to allocate. The original closing date for applications was 12 February 2021 but, in view of difficulties some applicants were encountering as a result of Covid restrictions, this deadline was extended until 1 March 2021. By this closing date, more than 3,000 applications had been submitted seeking over €200 million in funding. This is the highest number of applications ever received.
The scoring system and assessment procedures were finalised and published earlier this year and all applications are being assessed in accordance with these procedures. Approximately 1,000 of the submitted applications were for equipment-only projects. These applications were assessed first and grants with a total value of €16.6 million were announced on 6 August 2021. The letter of provisional allocation encouraged all grantees to draw down this funding before the end of the year, if possible, and in recent weeks my Department has been prioritising payment of all existing grants. Ensuring that as many older grants as possible are paid before the end of the year will maximise the funding available to allocate for the 2020 capital applications. With regard to these applications, assessment work is continuing and every effort is being made to complete it as quickly as possible. It is likely to take a number of additional weeks for these assessments to be completed.
With regard to the funding available to allocate, as already stated, the payment of as many older grants as possible before the end of this year will help increase the potential allocation amount for the remaining capital applications. I am pleased that, following completion of the 2022 budget discussions, there was an increase of €6.6 million on the 2021 allocation, bringing the total to be allocated for 2022 to at least €34.5 million. This will cover all existing allocations under the previous rounds in addition to significant new allocations for the 2020 capital applications. Every effort will be made to fund as many worthwhile projects as possible while providing a sufficient level of grant to ensure the projects are viable. We are in ongoing discussions with the Department of my colleague, the Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath, on additional allocations for this round. We will announce the results of these discussions in the coming weeks.
To clarify, questions from Deputies O'Connor, Griffin, Carey and Richmond have been grouped with Deputy Ó Ríordáin's question. I will now revert to Deputy Ó Ríordáin. We will then take the other speakers in sequence.
I hear the point about "year end". I was listening to what Damien Duff had to say on his announcement as manager of Shelbourne FC about the soccer infrastructure in Ireland being horrific. As the Minister of State outlined, every sports club, as well as local authority, is trying to get a slice of this €200 million fund, yet there is a Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund from which only one industry benefits, to the tune of about €100 million a year. Every cent on every bet placed in Ireland goes into this one fund that benefits one sport, and the majority of that funding goes to prize money. Is there not a significant imbalance between a major soccer figure saying the soccer infrastructure is horrific and the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund going in its entirety to benefit one sport, with the majority of that going towards prize money and nobody else benefiting, regardless of what the bet is placed on?
I heard what Damien Duff said. One step the FAI has taken is to maximise the number of its applications. In regard to the sports capital and equipment programme, there has been a huge increase in the number of applications from football clubs. Under the large-scale sports infrastructure fund, in which my colleague, Deputy Griffin, was involved, a significant number of football projects were announced under both streams.
I acknowledge the Deputy's point on betting. I have had feedback from various sporting organisations relating to the matter. My colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Deputy Browne, is establishing a new gambling regulator, and a fairer spread of betting tax more generally would be more equitable. We are focused, with our allocation for this year, on putting a significant injection into all sporting infrastructure. The Deputy mentioned football, but it will apply to the development of a range of sports. Moreover, we have a positive budget allocation for next year.
There is a direct correlation between the performance of the national soccer team, which we will, I hope, enjoy tonight, and conversations in houses such as this. There is a direct correlation between the priority a state, parliament or government gives to sport and the performance of the senior international team, regardless of the code. There is a complete imbalance if the levy placed on every bet supports just one industry, to the tune of €100 million a year ring-fenced in legislation, with the majority of that going towards prize money, although I am not suggesting the 20,000 jobs it supports should not be supported. There is a reason that industry is thriving, while sports such as soccer have, as Damien Duff described, infrastructure that is horrific. The Minister of State acknowledged there is an imbalance that needs to be addressed but we need to tease it out further. It is not good enough for us to celebrate sporting achievements without asking the difficult questions in Parliament.
Record levels of funding, both current and capital, are going into sport this year and did so last year. There is considerable support for our sporting system and it is important to acknowledge that. The sports capital programme will provide significant support for sporting infrastructure and communities throughout the country. If we compare what was allocated in, say, 2005 and 2006 with how we supported our Olympic athletes last year, and taking account of our national sports policy on doubling funding between 2018 and 2027, which underpins record levels of investment in our high performance system, there have been record increases. Through programmes such as the sports capital and equipment programme, it is important we ensure sporting organisations and clubs will make applications to develop that infrastructure. The State is underpinning record levels of investment in our sporting system and it is important to acknowledge that.
This is a very important topic and I thank the Minister of State for facilitating it. My question relates to the sports capital grants. Throughout my constituency, Cork East, as he will know from his visit, many clubs are hoping to get positive news on the increased investment for new capital infrastructure works. Given the two years we have had with Covid-19, investing in sports clubs and allowing them to continue their planned developments, as a type of reward given back to the communities as a consequence of what they have lost from Covid-19, would be one of the most positive impacts the Government could have. I strongly encourage both the Minister and the Minister of State to seek as much funding as possible and to consider a further round of funding in the near future once this round is complete. Will the Minister of State update the House on the process? It is crucial to my constituency and that of the Acting Chairman.
Of the capital applications that have been assessed, a significant proportion, of between 40% and 60% in certain counties, have provided insufficient documentation, giving rise to the use of the second-chance facility, and this has an impact on the speed at which we can announce the final allocations. There is an opportunity, therefore, for clubs and sporting organisations to rectify errors, and that will dictate the date on which we announce the final assessments.
We are in ongoing engagement with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and I am confident there will be an increase on the current baseline we announced in the budgetary allocation for next year in light of, as the Deputy mentioned, the great importance of investment in sporting infrastructure and the extent to which it matters to so many communities and clubs throughout the country in order that they can underpin their ambitions for their club and their considerable volunteer efforts to have that ambition fulfilled in the form of better sporting facilities for their clubs and young people. I acknowledge also the point about Covid.
It is important to take an in-depth analysis of the individual projects. Major schemes have been proposed, such as for Fermoy GAA, and the Minister of State has been in close contact with Youghal GAA and a number of soccer clubs within the constituency. It is important also to recognise on the floor of the House that Midleton FC is seeking significant investment. There are major capital developments, therefore.
The increase in construction costs is causing significant difficulty. It is important that context be given to that in the coming year, as well as additional funds that may become available from future sports capital grants.
I acknowledge the high number of applications from County Cork, as the Deputy outlined, and accept the point about increasing construction costs. In the case of many existing grantees, there is a gap between their capital allocation and the impact of increasing constructions costs. As for what we can do now for existing applications and those who will receive a grant, we must maximise the allocation in order that the funding gap for clubs will be as low as possible. That will be dictated by the quality of the application and whether the club in question is above the threshold of €150,000 for local or €300,000 for regional applications. The Minister and I are trying to maximise the allocation for sports capital this year in order that as many clubs as possible, in the Deputy's county and throughout the country, can fulfil their ambition.
I commend the Minister and the Minister of State on their work, particularly in the area of sport, where the Minister of State has been doing fine work over the past 15 months.
I acknowledge as well in this context the successful outcome for many clubs in respect of the equipment-only element of the sports capital and equipment programme. That was welcome. I am aware, however, that the demand that exists and the overall request for €200 million in funding cannot be addressed by the amounts originally allocated, and that is why the additional €6 million provided in the budget was welcome. I think I speak for most Deputies when I say that the work the Minister of State is doing to try to get extra funding through the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform for existing applicants is critically important. More money will be needed in this regard. Will he provide a breakdown of the amount remaining in the context of outstanding applications, when the equipment-only element is taken out, if that detail is available? If we want more clubs to get more funding, we will need a bigger overall budget.
I thank the Deputy for his remarks. A process is under way in respect of applications. As I said, between 40% and 60% of applications will require a second-chance opportunity in cases where insufficient documentation may have been supplied or there were errors. Applicants in such situations will have that opportunity. A percentage of applications in every round will not provide the required documentation or will be unable to do so, and that will have a consequent effect on the net overall request. Equally, a certain proportion of what some applications are seeking may not align with what can be funded by the sports capital and equipment programme. Until all the applications are fully assessed, therefore, we will not be able to provide a net overall figure. I am confident, though, that we will see an increase beyond what has been announced thus far. To conclude the discussions under way with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, we must know what the net funding request is, and that assessment process is ongoing.
I welcome that response from the Minister of State. He has my full support and I think I speak for many Deputies in that regard concerning his endeavours in this area. Since 1998, more than €1 billion has been distributed through the sports capital programme. It has transformed the landscape of Irish sport in the time it has been operating. Much more must be done, though, and a great deal of catching up must be undertaken, particularly regarding certain sporting organisations that have not availed of the programme as enthusiastically and in as organised a way as others may have. This catching up must happen and money talks. If we can get the overall budget pot increased, the other problems will tend to take care of themselves and the outcome for many more clubs will be much better. That is why the macro situation in respect of the overall pot of funding available is critically important. I commend the Minister of State on his efforts in that regard and I ask him to keep going with them, because these funds will make a massive difference on the ground for so many organisations.
I agree that the programme thus far has transformed the sporting landscape, with the improvements in the quality and quantity of sporting facilities in virtually every village, town and city. It has funded the smallest clubs in rural areas all the way up to national centres of sporting excellence, and everything in between. Another important element is that many clubs and organisations are now submitting joint applications, such as between clubs and schools. Those applications maximise the use of the investment because the schools use the facilities during the day, while the clubs use them at night. That kind of collaboration across communities provides for even better participation in sport. As the Deputy will know, having been involved in the programme previously, its focus is on overall participation in sport. Increasing female participation in sport is a major part of what we are trying to do in this round of funding, as well as focusing on participation by disadvantaged groups and encouraging the sharing of facilities. I thank him for his remarks.
I acknowledge the work of the Minister and the Minister of State on this valuable funding stream for sports. The Minister of State has visited County Clare on several occasions, where he met and spoke with representatives of clubs and in that way heard from the grassroots about the importance of this funding stream. I agree with the Deputy that it is important that more money in this regard is secured through the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. If more funding is secured for the programme, more clubs will benefit. The original figure provided in this context was €40 million. Some €16.5 million of that went to the equipment grants and then €6 million was added in the budget. A figure of approximately €29 million then remains. How much funding overall will be requested from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform? What kind of increase in funding is being sought?
I am not going to speculate on this issue. The increase is quite open-ended, let me put it that way. As the Deputy will be aware, sports capital funding is allocated on a multi-year basis. Therefore, we are not only negotiating funding for next year but for subsequent years as well. We are calculating what the potential drawdown will be overall and what the capital allocation will be under particular subheadings. This is not about securing a certain amount for next year, therefore, but for many years, and that process is under way.
We secured extra funding for next year in the budget, as the Deputy mentioned, but part of what we are trying to do in getting as much capital funding as possible paid out this year is to open up opportunities for additional capital allocations through this programme and that will help us to formulate that final calculation. Finding out what that overall net amount to be requested will be is important in the context of our engagement with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.
I reiterate that one point of concern in this area is that between 40% and 60% of applications have insufficient documentation. It will be important that we work through that aspect and that those organisations are given the opportunity to make corrections to ensure their applications can then be considered legitimate for potential funding allocations. That process will dictate what the final requested amount will be.
I thank the Minister of State for his answer. Is it safe to say, though, that allocations of funding will be made by the end of the year? Can he envisage a situation where this process might continue into next year? If it were to happen, could he find himself in a situation where he might be using money from next year’s budget along with this year’s budget to make a more rounded sports capital block grant available for clubs? In addition, when does he expect that the next sports capital and equipment programme will open for applications and will it include a large-scale sports infrastructure scheme?
There were many questions in that contribution. The programme for Government contains a commitment to running the sports capital and equipment programme regularly. We have not set a date for when the next round will be, but that commitment is in the programme for Government and it is also referred to in the national development plan, NDP.
Turning back to the current programme, it will take some weeks to try to assess what the net request to be made will be. I am hopeful that it will be done by the end of the year, but I am not going to set a date until I am presented with the final assessments. It could be the end of the year, but it will make no difference if it is the end of this year or early next year, because no capital will be drawn down in respect of any allocation made this year since successful applicants have just received formal notification of their allocations. It will, therefore, make no difference to the capital envelope whether the announcement is made at the end of this year or early next year. It would not be possible anyway to draw down funds in such a short timeframe, even if the details of awards were announced tomorrow. It would be unlikely that grantees would be able to draw down funds in the context of the documentation and protocols required to enable that process to happen.
Most of the pertinent points on this issue have been raised more than eloquently by my colleagues and, therefore, I am not going to go over old ground or focus on the status of the applications from the many individual clubs in my constituency, which the Minister knows better than I do.
I would like to tease out two or three points that were mentioned, however. One point highlighted in the opening remarks concerned encouraging the drawing down of existing allocated grants. It has been an extremely tough two years for sport. Every club has been devastated at every level and resources, including human resources, time and fundraising abilities, have been devastated. In turn, the ability to draw down funds is also now greatly reduced. Simply encouraging clubs, therefore, is not enough. What efforts are being made by the Department to work with clubs and sports associations to ensure they can realise those already-allocated grants?
Letters of allocation for the equipment-only awards were sent to all grantees.
They were all encouraged to draw down funding before the end of the year. All staff in the sports capital division have been prioritising the effort to pay out existing grants.
We are all involved in different sporting clubs and organisations so we know that fundraising has been difficult. The Department is prioritising those matters, working with clubs. That was in the formal note to all the equipment-only grantees and the Department is working with clubs. A significant number of the equipment-only grants have been paid out. A significant amount was paid out in the previous quarter to grantees who were granted payments in the two most recent sports capital rounds. Those payments were outstanding because works could not be commenced during the pandemic. There has been a lot of capital moving out to clubs.
On specific funding gaps, we are not in a position to bridge gaps in existing allocations because that would undermine the existing application process.
I fundamentally agree with the Minister of State. I am not necessarily talking about funding gaps; I am concerned with capacity gaps. The volunteers simply are not there and numbers coming out of clubs have not been there. Clubs, to a large extent, have been dormant for a considerable time.
I will tease out something he referred to regarding the influence of sports capital grants, particularly on involvement in and encouragement of women's sports. I would be interested to know what engagement, either through the sports capital programme or more generally, he and the Minister are having with the IRFU on its review of the women's game, the failure to qualify for the Rugby World Cup and the fact that the union has not met its targets. Quite frankly, the IRFU is failing female participants in the sport.
I thank the Deputy. Sport Ireland, on behalf of the Government, is engaging with all sporting organisations on our priority to maximise female participation and support our female athletes at high-performance and grassroots levels. On the sports capital programme, the Minister and I have directly prioritised clubs that are promoting female participation at grassroots level. That is central and new in this sports capital round.
With regard to women in sport funding, we have announced increases for the sporting organisations, which will be funded by Sport Ireland. That will be a two-year funding cycle and was announced earlier this year. We regularly engage with all sporting organisations about their participation and performance. Sport Ireland does that on behalf of the Government. We will certainly reflect on what the Deputy has outlined. We were all disappointed that we did not qualify for the Rugby World Cup. There has been great growth in female participation in grassroots rugby and we want to see that maximised in the coming years. We will certainly reflect that in our engagements with the union.