During a two-hour Dáil debate on the funding of football, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin expressed support for increased state support in the game. The debate was initiated by a Labour Party motion calling for full backing of the Football Association of Ireland’s (FAI) €863 million infrastructural plan. One of the proposals put forward was the raising of the betting tax from 2% to 3%, a recommendation also made by the FAI. However, this recommendation has been met with controversy following an independent report commissioned by the FAI, which raised questions about the injection of state funds into horse racing and greyhound racing through the Horse and Greyhound Fund.
The Horse and Greyhound Fund is linked to betting tax income, although the government maintains that the official link was broken in 2009. The funding for horse and greyhound racing is now determined by the Minister for Agriculture on an annual basis. However, it is acknowledged that funding decisions have been influenced by betting income, and the Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) has previously lobbied for an increase in betting tax to further support racing. Last year, Martin had pushed for a rise in the betting tax to benefit all sports, but the proposal was rejected by then Minister for Finance Paschal Donohue.
In response to a passionate speech from Labour TD Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Martin reiterated her support for measures such as an increase in the betting levy to increase funding for sport. However, she stated that the matter was beyond her control. Fianna Fáil’s Thomas Byrne, the Junior Minister for Sport, also expressed support for increased funding for all sports but did not commit to additional support for football specifically. He described the FAI’s infrastructural plan as ambitious, noting that their request for €517 million over 15 years would essentially equate to the current budget for all sports.
Opposition spokespeople argued that football urgently needed increased support to compensate for years of neglect. Ó Ríordáin paraphrased former Republic of Ireland manager Jack Charlton, stating that Labour would keep the government under pressure in this area. Duncan Smith of the Labour Party stated that the era of mismanagement in Abbotstown, where the FAI is based, had ended. Sinn Féin’s Chris Andrews highlighted the fact that a high percentage of football clubs cannot apply for the existing sports capital programme because they do not own their own facilities, which is a result of historical failings.
Louise O’Reilly of Sinn Féin described the football debate as being about politics and class, while Richard Barrett of People Before Profit claimed that Ireland ranked poorly in terms of general investment in sport at EU level. Ged Nash of the Labour Party referenced the political support for Vera Pauw’s Women’s World Cup team but argued that football needed sustained backing over a longer period of time, as it had been disregarded and looked down upon in official circles for many years.
“The government needs to move away from ‘ole, ole, ole’ to ‘ok, ok, ok’ when it comes to backing the game,” Nash said.