Minister of State for Tourism and Sport, Michael Ring, was back on his old stomping ground on Monday when he was back in the chamber of Mayo County Council to give a presentation on his work, with a particular emphasis on tourism in the county. The Minister, who was a member of the council until the dual mandate was got rid of in 2004, took his seat at the top bench of the chamber alongside the council officials rather than in the on the right flank of the chamber where he sat as a councillor.
Minister Ring got sincere praise from across the chamber for his efforts at promoting tourism and driving it towards the county as part of his brief. But he did hit back at one councillor who brought up the issue of the new swimming pool in Castlebar being 25m instead of 50m. Fianna Fáil councillor Blackie Gavin told the meeting: "I'm a big sporting man myself and one of the things that most disappoints me in this town and this county, Minister, was that we never constructed the 50m pool. Now we built the airport [Ireland West Airport Knock] and if we had our way Minister we would have constructed that 50m pool for Castlebar, a world class facility. Now I've been to UL and people are coming from all over the world and it would have filled up the B&Bs in Castlebar right down for a 20 mile radius of the town. It would have been huge. I know we have provided in the plan it can be extended at some stage, but this is something that would have had the whole west of Ireland behind it, it is one thing that disappoints me here in Castlebar."
Minister Ring hit back at the criticism from Cllr Gavin saying: "I have to say to you today, you talk about the 50m pool and I want to put this to bed for once and for all. Because there's no point being daft, that's why the country was in the state it was in, we spent money that we didn't have for 20 years before that. That's why we inherited the problem that we inherited and I will explain to you about the pools.
"As Minister with responsibility for pools in this country, first of all the swimming pool in Castlebar would not be going ahead without the support from the Taoiseach and the funding I got. I want to put this on the record today, the County Managers Assocation came into me and I could name 10 pools that in this country that were all in difficulty, and they came to me, what was I going to do to save the pools? They asked me to bring in some kind of a scheme, where we could bring in an enhancement scheme to try to upgrade the pools and I did that, and I saved a number of pools throughout the country.
"I'll tell you about the two 50m pools and what's happening with them. The campus is one [National Aquatic Centre], in serious, serious, difficulty financially and the only thing about the campus is that it's getting State funding all the time, and it's the national campus, that's why. Limerick has a 50m pool and they are getting €300,000 of a subsidy every year, and that subsidy is going to go shortly and they can't run it with the €300,000 subsidy, what is going to go when the €300,000 subsidy goes?"
Continuing his rebuke of the criticism of the decision he said: "I'm sick and tired as Minister of Sport for this country, we're all on about the elite athletes. I believe in the grass roots sports. Look after your 25m pool and make sure that the people of Castlebar and the surrounding areas use it, and look after it and try and keep it heated so they can use that pool. We look after the 50m pool, if we have athletes that are fit to go, if they are on high performance they get funding from the State and they can go up to Dublin or they can go to Limerick. But we can not afford to a 50m pool in this county. The County Managers Assocation came into me two years and they want no more pools in the country, because they can't afford them. I'm delighted that the Castlebar pool is going ahead and I'm very proud that it's going ahead. Now that's just to put that to be bed, because I'm sick and tired of reading about it and I should have done this sooner, this about a 50m pool, there's no way we can afford a 50m pool [in Castlebar]."