Tuesday, 21 November 2017
Sports Capital Programme
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit go dtí an Teach. Tá áthas orm deis a bheith agam labhairt ar an ábhar seo. It relates to the sports capital allocations and other governmental allocations from the Minister of State's Department, specifically the matter of a bond being held against the allocation of funding made to sporting and other organisations by Fáilte Ireland. I have two examples to share. I raise the first on behalf of Councillor Sorcha O'Neill of Kildare County Council who is in the Public Gallery this afternoon.
In 2002, a capital allocation of €640,000 was given by Fáilte Ireland to Kill International Equestrian Centre, one of the conditions of the funding being that a charge in favour of the State body be placed on the property for a period of at least ten years. That ten-year period expired in 2013 and a release was executed. Shortly thereafter, miraculously, the facility, having benefitted from this significant State investment, was sold at a huge profit. That is not right and should not be allowed to happen. The second instance involves a project in my own county of Donegal where Fáilte Ireland provided funding in the region of €1 million to a development that was sold earlier this year, inside the ten-year bond execution.
I hope the Minister of State will agree to review the existing provisions. Councillor O'Neill informs me that in the case of the lotto grants given by Rehab, the bond condition extends to any point in the future rather than expiring after ten years. The sports capital grant programme and, by extension, the Fáilte Ireland grant programme, was introduced by the then Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation, Dr. James McDaid, in 1998. It has been hugely successful but, 19 years later, there is a need to review this particular clause. Sporting, charitable organisations and community organisations that draw down funding under the scheme may subsequently find themselves in financial difficulty and having to sell their projects on. The problem, however, is that as a result of the State investment, those projects are worth more money.
In conjunction with reviewing the bond clause, consideration might also be given to providing additional departmental assistance to sporting and community organisations that find themselves in difficulty to find more efficient and effective ways of managing their operations.
Will the Minister of State indicate whether any asset tracking is done by his Department in respect of the number of projects that have received State funding and were subsequently sold for private gain? Is any type of score card kept showing those figures?
Gabhaim buíochas leis an Seanadóir Ó Domhnaill as ucht an t-ábhar seo a ardú inniu. I am currently up to my eyes in sports capital applications and, all going well, will be in a position to begin allocating funding by the end of the week. This year we had 2,320 applications from across the country, the largest number we have ever had, with a total value of €155 million. Initially we had a budget of only €30 million, which would have made it extremely difficult to meet the demand. Fortunately, the Government was able to increase that allocation in the budget to €60 million in total.That is an additional €30 million. We expect that to break down into €56 million for local projects and €4 million for the regional non-local projects. It is the main vehicle for the Government to assist grassroots sport with capital projects. We also, of course, fund Sport Ireland to the tune of almost €50 million per annum. The sports capital programme is very important. Since the Senator's fellow county man introduced the scheme in 1998, some €911 million has been distributed to clubs throughout the country, and this current round will bring the amount to almost €1 billion. It is a very impressive amount of money.
In answer to the Senator's final question, I am not currently aware of the number of organisations that have been subsequently sold into private hands, but I will seek them out. It is something I would be interested in knowing about, and of course I would share the Senator's concern about protecting the public finances and public money.
Technically, in order to secure the State's investment in facilities aided by sports capital programme grants, a deed of covenant and charge is put in place once accumulated grants to a particular club or organisation exceed a certain threshold. Currently the threshold is set at €300,000. This creates a charge over the property in favour of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport up to the value of the total sports capital programme grants allocated to the club or organisation. The charge comes into effect in the event that the property ceases to be used for the purposes for which the grant was awarded within 15 years. This period can be extended in cases of larger grants. That is something that I think is positive, however the threshold is perhaps something we could look at. The figure of €300,000 is a lot of money, particularly in the current context, where €150,000 is the maximum amount available to any applicant in the local scheme. That is worthy of review, and I will seek such a review to see if there can be a change. However, I do note that the 15-year period is five years longer than the period that is in place with Fáilte Ireland.
Regarding Fáilte Ireland grants, my role and the role of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, does not particularly involve the administration of grants, but rather the setting of general policy. We are not directly involved in setting the terms and conditions for grants allocated by Fáilte Ireland. However, I can confirm that like the charge required under the sports capital programme, Fáilte Ireland requires a legal agreement incorporating a charge over a portion of grant-aided lands. This period is normally ten years, as it was in the case of the example cited by the Senator just now.
For larger capital grants, it is Fáilte Ireland's policy to acquire a charge on the grant-aided property, and Fáilte Ireland's permission is required for any sale while the charge is in place. During the ten-year period of the grant, Fáilte Ireland would only consider agreeing to a sale where the prospective purchaser consents to adhere to the terms and conditions of the original letter of offer for the remaining term of the grant period. The prospective purchaser would also be required to provide appropriate security to Fáilte Ireland during that period. In the event of a breach of the original agreement, Fáilte Ireland would be entitled to seek repayment of the grant.
In the case referred to by the Senator, I am informed by Fáilte Ireland that a deed of discharge was executed by Fáilte Ireland in August 2013 as the grant conditions had been fully complied with. Again, however, I would be very open to reviewing the period of time required, and to ensuring that the thresholds are such that public moneys are protected to the optimum level.
I thank the Senator for raising this matter. It is something that is particularly pertinent at the moment, given where we are in the sports capital programme cycle, and it is something that I will certainly pursue further.
I want to thank the Minister of State, because he has been very constructive, engaging and open this afternoon. That is the sign of a good Minister of State, and I wish him well in the future.
I agree that there seems to be an anomaly within the Department whereby a 15-year period is specified in the Minister of State's own sports capital programme, but a ten-year period is specified for Fáilte Ireland grants. Something certainly needs to be done immediately to bring them both into line and have 15-year periods for both. I agree that the €300,000 threshold is too high. I will come back to the Minister of State with some suggestions of things he could look at, or have his officials look at, in this area. I would be very happy to work with him in any capacity to progress this issue, because it is an issue which is causing concern in various communities around the country. Go raibh maith agat.
I thank the Senator. I would also be open to looking at that 15-year period to see if it does enough to protect public moneys.The Senator asked about current funding for sports organisations and, in an ideal world, I would love to have a sports current funding round, in which a little bit of finance would be made available to help clubs pay their bills. Perhaps it is something we could do in the future. We are looking at sports policy at the moment and it would cost a lot of money but it is something I would like to see. At the moment, too many volunteers are having to do far too much outside sport to help keep clubs open. We cannot question the benefit of having sports clubs throughout the country.