It was a standard day in the Dáil yesterday as the deputies filed in for leaders’ questions.
The Taoiseach dealt with questions, suggestions and scrutiny from various TD’s from different parties on a wide variety of topics.
Among those pressing Leo Varadkar for answers was Galway TD Noel Grealish.
Independent TD Noel Grealish began by emphasizing the “growing regional imbalance between Dublin and rural Ireland”.
The TD, who is elected to the Galway West – South Mayo constituency, declared that people living in rural areas feel they have been forgotten by successive governments.
Grealish criticized the Dublin-centric approach to investment while proceeding to list the numerous enormous investments that Dublin has received.
He made reference to the €750 million spent on the port tunnel, €728 million on the red and green Luas lines, €368 million on the Luas cross city, and upwards of €3 billion to be spent on metro north.
The veteran TD acknowledged that the Government invested €300 million on the N17-N18 Gort to Tuam motorway but indicated to the Taoiseach that this shouldn’t be seen to satisfy the west for “another few decades”.
The TD turned his attention specifically to Connacht Rugby describing the “ambitious project”to build a state-of-the-art facility costing €34 million.
He declared this facility would be for the west as a whole and not limited to Galway.
The former Progressive Democrat heaped praise Connacht Rugby describing them as having been “very successful in recent years, reaching new heights, including winning the Pro 12 title in 2016”.
He labelled the rugby club as “unique in a sporting context in the west” due to their efforts throughout the province to develop the game in local communities and schools.
He drew the Taoiseach’s attention to this season where Connacht earned a place at the top level of European club rugby.
Grealish highlighted Vadadkar’s recent visit to Galway to see Connacht Rugby’s facilities at the Sportsground on College Road.
“The Taoiseach personally has seen the facilities of Connacht Rugby, as has Deputy Micheál Martin, the leader of Fianna Fáil. He knows they are not suitable for the calibre of team Connacht Rugby has become”.
With regard to funding, Grealish stated that Connacht Rugby applied for €20 million from the large-scale sports infrastructure fund. He compared this to the €103 million Croke Park received along with the €191 million allocated to the Aviva Stadium.
The Independent TD didn’t stop with Connacht Rugby as he brought the development at Oranmore-Maree GAA club to the attention of Varadkar. Oranmore-Maree is currently embarking on a €4 million project.
The club is proposing to construct a sports centre of excellence in Renvyle and expand existing facilities on a 34-acre site that will include four new playing pitches.
Noel Grealish labelled The two above projects as of “major importance to the west”.
He asked Varadkar if he would commit to allocating Connacht Rugby €20 million and Oranmore-Maree the €2.4 million from the sports capital fund?
Varadkar agreed with Grealish that there has been under-investment in sports infrastructure in Connacht, including Galway.
“The kind of investment we have seen in Croke Park and the Aviva Stadium in Dublin, and which we saw at Thomond Park, Limerick, and Páirc Uí Chaoimh, Cork, has not happened in Galway or the west”.
The Taoiseach declared that funding for major sports infrastructure in the west, including Galway, was “long overdue”.
He stated that Connacht’s ambitious plan was really exciting and there was more to it than a simple stadium project.
“It is also about meeting facilities and conference facilities that will be of benefit to Galway. There ought to be performance spaces”.
Despite the praise attributed to the project by Varadkar he stated that he could not give Noel Grealish a commitment on the funding “right here and now” but reassured him that there is €100 million set aside in the major infrastructure sports fund.
“The applications are in. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, and the Minister of State, Deputy Griffin, will make the allocations before the end of the year”.
What Varadkar could say with certainty was that there will not be an increase to the €100 million major infrastructure sports fund.
The reason for this is due to the criticisms that have been levied at the current Government by the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council, IFAC.
“The Government increased spending last year by 6% when the council suggested spending should have increased by 5% or less. We need to take that criticism on board, think about it and respond to it”.
Varadkar referenced the requests for more public spending by the opposition as “part of the problem”.
“Fianna Fáil is demanding more money for pay and pensions for the Defence Forces and it is not the case that Fianna Fáil has particular regard for the Defence Forces because it will be asking the same things for another group next week”.
“An Independent Deputy is looking for more money for sport. Sinn Féin is looking for more money for home care. This Government is holding the line on spending and it is difficult”.
Leo Varadkar finished off his jibe at the opposition parties by proclaiming the Government is “keeping the barbarians from the gates”.