Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Questions (7)

Bernard J. Durkan


7. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport when he expects to be in a position to identify his priorities in respect of the sports capital programme, major or minor; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42152/17]

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(Question to Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport)

This question relates to the extent to which the Minister is hopeful of being able to expand on the sports capital grants and when he is likely to be in a position to make an announcement on allocations.

I acknowledge Deputy Durkan has previously raised this matter and it is one of serious interest to him, as it probably is to every Member of the House.

The sports capital programme is the primary means of providing Government funding to sport and community organisations at local, regional and national level throughout the country. More than 10,000 projects have benefitted from sports capital funding since 1998, and €911 million of expenditure has gone into sports capital. The fruits of the sports capital programme can be seen in every community throughout the country. It has left a very positive footprint and we certainly want to continue that trend.

The programme was opened at the start of the year and closed on 23 February. By that stage, 2,320 applications had been received and the total value of the applications was €155 million. With a budget of €30 million, this means it is very difficult to make a successful application. With this in mind, my plan was to try to increase the amount available. At present, we hope to be able to allocate more than the €30 million to ensure as many clubs as possible are as successful as possible.

Departmental officials have been working very hard on the programme and are going through the applications. As the Deputy can appreciate, the 3,320 local and regional applications make this a very difficult task, but the process is nearing finalisation.

It is important to point out that in making capital investment in sports facilities, we are trying to find a way to cater for large-scale projects. The Deputy is aware there is a cap of €150,000 on the local sports capital programme and a cap of €200,000 on the regional programme. In the case of many projects, this is just not enough to enable them to be completed and consequently we are trying to find a mechanism to facilitate such projects in the future.

I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive reply. In the context of the evaluation now taking place, to what extent does he foresee an ability to respond to the major requirements, as well as to the smaller projects with the limited cap on them? I do not want the Minister of State to make the announcement just now, but at the same time, is he able to give some indication to those who have made applications under the two headings as to whether they will be in for reasonably fair consideration in the current year?

The larger projects have been done on an ad hoc basis to date, and we are trying to find a more streamlined system and a more definite mechanism for progressing them. A large-scale scheme would be a far better way of doing things and there is capital provision for this. This is positive and will give organisations the certainty of planning and give them the ability to look at their long-term plans in a more certain way.

We are nearing completion of the current programme and I hope in the coming weeks it will be completed. I can tell the Deputy there has been progress on the rate of invalidation. In the 2012 programme, the rate was approximately 48% and that dropped by 14% and 15% in those programmes so it was around one third. We are now down at around 20%, which is positive. It is still too much and very disappointing for people who find themselves in that scenario. Over the years, the people I have met in my constituency who were most disappointed with regard to the sports capital programme have not been the people who were unsuccessful but those who were deemed to be invalid. This time around, the officials tried very hard to streamline the process, and it did have results and reduced the rate of invalidation from roughly one third to one fifth. It is still too much and we would like to try to streamline further any future programme to make it as simple as possible for the volunteers, who are availing of this very popular and very worthwhile project.

My next question was the degree to which the application system can be refined further, with a view to eliminating the pitfalls that have been the cause of the most obvious disqualifications in the past. That type of disappointment has caused a lot of concern among local communities. There is another allocation in respect of swimming pools. To what extent does of this come under the Minister of State's remit?

In compliance with Standing Orders, I call Deputy Troy.

Will those who have made invalid applications only be made aware their application was invalid at the time the scheme is announced or have they already been made aware that they are invalid? There were some rumours going around that potentially there would be an increase in the funding envelope subsequent to yesterday's budget. Will the Minister of State confirm whether there has been an increase in the overall budget? If there is an increase in funding, the Minister of State will be able to look after more applications.

The local authority swimming pool programme is a separate programme, and it is a very positive one, and there is provision for that. I was in Dunmanway in County Cork recently to see one of the projects that has been recently completed. It is a really good programme and very positive. The nature of swimming pools is they are very expensive, so we do not get as many projects for the same amount of money, unfortunately.

To answer Deputy Troy's question, one of the big problems with the sports capital programme over the years is that it has not been annualised, so the clubs have a difficulty in planning. It is like when a bus comes along and everybody tries to get on it because they are not quite sure when the next one will arrive. We are trying to annualise the programme, but it is not quite as simple as one might think to do so because an awful lot of money being drawn down at present is from previous rounds from two or three years ago. That backlog is a concern I am trying to address. If we were to allocate the €30 million to the €155 million worth of applications, we would leave a lot of people without an allocation. These same people will apply again in the next round. There is an awful lot of duplication in terms of the Department dealing with the same applications, and the volunteers themselves completing the applications again. There is an awful lot of repetition. We are looking at finding a way of trying to clear as many outstanding applications as possible. I hope we will have a very positive outcome from the budget in this regard, to cater for more applicants than we had originally intended. This would be good in terms of getting those people out of the way in respect of duplicating applications.