December 2011        

Blowing the whistle

While 2011 will be remembered as a year of further imposition of harsh austerity measures that will have a severe impact on the less well off, the infirm and elderly, and those seeking to get an education, we can all take solace from the fact that June 2012 will provide a week of cheer and celebration.
     The national rejoicing that will erupt when our soccer heroes grace the stadiums of Poland in the Euro 2012 championship will provide for many people a welcome respite from the daily grind that has become the custom of Irish lives of late.
     The justifiable bitterness and disillusionment of the Irish masses will be parked for at least a week as they will their team to heroics.
     Thankfully the philanthropic good will of a certain Mr O’Brien, of recent tribunal fame, has ensured that his paymaster exploits and influences on the FAI, which has reaped the services of a wily Italian management team, paved the way for this latest success.
     Well, so says the chief executive of the FAI, John Delaney.
     There is something quite amazing about the Irish sporting public that allows them to forgive and forget at will. Given O’Brien’s recent “trials and tribulations,” widely covered by the national media, he is shortly afterwards paraded as some sort of sporting saviour because he dips into his huge pockets, while living as a tax exile, to “dig out” one of our illustrious sporting organisations.
     But even if we were to accept O’Brien’s generosity at a surface level and resist the temptation to scratch even a little bit, the recent awarding of €20,000 by Donegal County Council to the local Division 1 team, Finn Harps, really takes the biscuit.
     As hospital beds are closing every day, as schools are robbed of their teachers and special-needs assistants, as nursing homes and small rural hospitals are due to close, as social welfare recipients are pillaged of their meagre state supports, the cash-strapped Donegal county councillors voted—unanimously—to award an FAI club that was facing licensing difficulties €20,000 for the coming 2012 season.
     In an attempt to offset the justifiable public outcry, we are told that the Finn Harps soccer club employs a staff of twenty or so, who would all face unemployment if it were allowed to close, and that it further acts as a “window for tourism and inward investment for the county,” thus justifying the grant allocation.
     This is reasonably laudable, but it has the potential to be countered by all future Donegal employers who face similar business closures and could do with a hand-out to protect employment. And further, if the Finn Harps soccer club was of such potential to the county’s tourism and investment, then why was it in such a precarious position in the first place?
     True, €20,000 represents but the spore of a pimple on the backside of Ireland’s burgeoning debt, and, taken in the round, everything should be done to protect Irish sporting, social and cultural outlets and dimensions.
     But as the very organisation that Finn Harps belongs to, the FAI, looks forward to a cash bonanza in 2012, it really does stick in the craw that elected representatives use ever-dwindling taxpayers’ money to save the same club from possible extinction.
     That said, the hue and cry that followed the announcement of the county council’s decision didn’t exactly have the councillors or the FAI quaking in their boots!

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