Spoilsport Howlin takes County Board to task

April 18th, 2015 6:36 PM

By Southern Star Team


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A MOST charming pic surfaced last week of four all-time GAA greats: Seán Sherlock, Kathleen Lynch, Jerry Buttimer and The Dear Leader, Dame Enda Kenny. There they were in the crumbling vastness of Cork’s Páirc Uí Chaoimh, clutching hurling sticks and oddly smiling like abandoned Cheshire cats.

The occasion was intended to be a reprise of last May’s announcement that Kenny & Co were donating a whopping €30 million to the County Board’s rebuilding fund for the Páirc Uí Chaoimh stadium. At that particular juncture in May, surprised observers were of the opinion that Kenny’s munificence might have something to do with the then local and European elections but, needless to say, respectable Blueshirts were horrified at the suggestion. They rejected out of hand any comparison with Squire Hockey stroke-politics.

Against that background, last week’s PR event had several purposes. It was to be a simple reminder to the public of Kenny’s close alliance with the Gaelic Athletic Association, of the government’s support and love of the national games, and of the State’s unparalleled generosity in assisting Cork County Board in the heroic task of reaching a €70m stadium-refurbishment target. Touching, really,

Sherlock, a mini-minister who belongs to one of the most despised political outfits of all times, was on the ball with the promise that the soon-to-be-revamped stadium would be ‘of the people, by the people’. It was an impressive piece of eloquence, even if totally off the wall.

Spanner in the works

For a while the Dear Leader and ministers lapped up the praise of a very grateful County Board, but the grins soon turned to grimaces when critics began to insinuate that the €30m bonanza might never be dispensed.

Because on the day before the PR glam session, news broke that a member of Kenny’s government, Brendan Howlin (Minister in charge of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform), had thrown a spanner in the works. He had announced that the Cork County Board’s ‘cost-benefit analysis’, the document underpinning the request for the loot, was not up to an acceptable standard.

In other words, the moneybags-minister was not happy with the GAA’s procedure for calculating whether or not the stadium project was a sound investment. Stories were circulating that an initial €10m wad of public cash had been held back.

Interesting too that the GAA submitted its cost-benefit analysis last December, seven months after the government first trumpeted its €30m gift to the County Board.

The sequence of events was as follows: Cork needed a refurbished GAA stadium. Price? €70m. Local elections loomed. Kenny pledged €30m. Howlin looked for the ‘cost-benefit analysis’. Months later it arrived. Howlin’s response? ‘Sorry! You’ll have to do better’. It was similar to failing the Inter Cert!

A dead mullet

Problems included ‘over-optimistic’ projected attendances for non-sporting events; over-the-top projections for employment creation and over-the-top estimates of the economic benefits for local business and tourism.

The time bomb exploded when the Dear Leader and pals should have been basking in Leeside adulation, but so forceful was the shock-horror that it must have felt like being smacked with a dead mullet.

The GAA quickly defended their ‘cost-benefit’ prophecies and declared the County Board had been engaged in an ‘ongoing dialogue’ (what else?) with the venerable Minister Howlin.

But GAA fans with penetrating mental discernment asked if the €30m stadium pledge was just another FG porkie of the sort that originally got the party into power? And, they wondered, if in its eagerness to participate in a lumpish election stunt their beloved sporting organisation had been hit with a barrel of hogwash?

Certainly not, was the response of mini-ministers Seán Sherlock and Kathleen Lynch. Here’s what Kathleen said: ‘concerns about the Cork County Board’s business plan were a routine part of the examination of large-scale projects. The money will come on stream when the issues are resolved’.

According to the local press, she even revealed ownership of a copy of the submission that was ‘based on that type of submission that the government commits. It is then up to the local authorities and the developers to sit down and work out the detail’.

We’re not exactly sure how to interpret such a cryptic comment, but it doesn’t matter. We got the drift. Kathleen has her electoral heart in the right GAA place, and means well.

Then there came a knight riding to the rescue of Kenny, Kathleen, and the other sport-loving politicos: none other than Fine Gael MEP and former GAA big shot, Seán Kelly. He told Newstalk Breakfast that he was ‘still confident Páirc Uí Chaoimh would be developed’ and that all the questions could be answered.

But, no doubt mindful of Kenny’s embarrassment in Cork, the MEP could not resist firing a poison dart at Labour’s ‘Spoilsport’ Howlin.

Why, he complained, were ‘concerns’ being raised at this late stage? Howlin and his Department should have looked at the ‘concerns’ relating to the stadium re-development before committing the Government to a massive spending plan. ‘It doesn’t reflect that well on the Department,’ he mused.

John McGuinness, chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, took a more direct line. He said it was ‘totally unsatisfactory’ that the money was pledged without the appropriate conditions, and without the Cabinet having first considered a business plan for the €70m project.

All boxed off

As for the Cork County Board, in a statement it denied that Howlin was withholding any government funding. It also said there had been no request for funds to be drawn down. What’s more, the Board was confident that the basis of its business plan was correct and that it was ready to provide any further information or clarification requested by the Department.

The statement added that it was ‘entirely appropriate and is the norm that any case being made for the expenditure of public monies would be subject to rigorous examination’.

So it’s all boxed off then? Yes! And what a relief to know that the principles of transparency and accountability are to be implemented in all aspects before a brass farthing is handed over! Oh yes! Particularly in light of the economic agony that has devastated this wretched island!

Indeed we have to admire the liberality with which Kenny gives our money away – despite the recession, the lay-offs, the job losses, the miserable wages, the mortgage crisis, the health crisis, the education crisis, the water crisis, the property crisis, the poverty crisis, etc.

The point Kenny & Co seem to be making is that thirty million euros is not much in FG-Labour eyes, a mere trifle! If indeed the geezers who ransack our pockets in order to raise our sporting spirits believe such to be the case, then their craziness deserves at least three sarcastic cheers. Hip, Hip…

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