Tuesday, 8 May 2012
Surge in Lotto cash grants for Kenny's home county
TAOISEACH Enda Kenny’s home county has hit the jackpot with funding from the National Lottery since he became Taoiseach, an Irish Independent investigation can reveal.
The constituency was the biggest winner of Lottery-funded capital sports grants last year – getting double the allocation of Dublin city.
Lotto grants to Mayo surged by 70pc to €1.8m – leading to accusations that the funding scheme is open to being operated as a political slush fund.
Mayo moved from ninth to fourth in the rankings of total Lottery grants paid per head of population after Mr Kenny became Taoiseach.
The funding covers sports, youth, education, environment,health and Irish language projects.
It jumped from the equivalent of €8.36 for every person living in Co Mayo in 2010 to €14.03 per head last year.
And €678,000 of the €1.8m the county received was channelled through the department of Mr Kenny's constituency colleague – junior tourism and sport minister Michael Ring.
The biggest Lotto bonanza was bestowed on Westport, which is Mr Ring's home town.
The junior minister's department approved three sizeable grants totalling €230,000 for the town last year, a bigger allocation than the whole of south county Dublin.
Meanwhile, some other counties received no grants from the sports fund at all.
A spokesman for the minister last night denied he had favoured Mayo and his home town or that the capital sports programme was used as a slush fund. Although his department approved them, the spokesman said: "Minister Ring did not have responsibility for selecting individual projects.''
The Westport sports grants have been gleefully announced by Mr Ring in local media, where he was recently dubbed the "Minister for Fun".
- €85,000 for an outdoor fitness trail.
- €70,000 for the upgrade of sports facilities at Westport Leisure park.
- A further grant of €75,000 for the minister's local park.
Castlebar, the home town of the Taoiseach, has also received grants of more than €100,000 for an outdoor gym and games area. The Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht approved a grant of €120,000 to Gno Mhaigh Eo, a Mayo group supporting local businesses that want to use the Irish language.
The revelations last night sparked a political row, with Fianna Fail's spokesman on sport Timmy Dooley saying the grants raised questions about whether Lotto funds were being distributed fairly.
"Fine Gael came into office promising more transparency and that they would do business in a different way, but this shows that it is politics as usual."
The last sports minister accused of favouring their own county was Fianna Fail's John O'Donoghue.
He was subjected to a storm of criticism after his native Kerry benefited from millions of euro in Lotto funding while he was Minister for Arts, Sports and Tourism.
Meanwhile, figures obtained by the Irish Independent show the constituency of Health Minister James Reilly has also benefited from a sharp rise in grants in the past year.
The grants going from his department to his base in Dublin North shot up to €208,000 in 2011, from just €10,000 in the previous year when Fianna Fail was in power. Mr Reilly personally approved grants to causes close to his home in Donabate.
These include a grant of more than €125,000 to Prosper Fingal, a group that helps local people with intellectual disabilities.
He gave a lottery health grant of €5,000 to a little-known station, Fingal Community Television, as well as other groups in his constituency.
A spokesman for Dr Reilly said: "All of the projects do very important work related to the care of citizens and the minister was pleased to be able to provide assistance."
He said the grant to the TV station was to make a DVD about children with special needs.
The revelations about sports funding raise fears that lottery grants are still being used to favour ministers' constituencies.
UCC economist Dr John Considine, who has studied sports lottery grants, said last night that the constituencies of ministers had frequently enjoyed higher grants. He called for a cap on the amount of money going to each constituency to prevent favouritism.
"The funding to each constituency should be no more than one-and-a-half times the national average on a per capita basis."
The Irish Independent's county-by-county analysis of National Lottery grants channelled through ministers' departments showed that Sligo received the most money with the equivalent of €23.35 allocated for each person in the county.
Its position at the top of the pile can be explained by its small population and two substantial grants for voluntary housing schemes from the Department of Environment.
Meath fared the worst for the second year in a row with funding equivalent to just €1.51 per head of population.