Despite the Arctic conditions, there was a healthy attendance in Garrison on Monday evening for the Fermanagh GAA county convention.
On an evening where proceedings were largely free of drama and contention, it was arguably the county finances which generated most talking points.
After years of toing and froing, a one off payment of £220,000 regarding the windmill at Lissan went a long way to papering over some significant cracks in Fermanagh GAA’s finances.
That windfall of almost a quarter of million put a handsome gloss on the income figure for the year, but it was practically all soaked up in reducing the County’s outstanding liabilities.
However even after paying down a massive amount of debt in 2017 Fermanagh still has outstanding liabilities of £64,608. With the picture painted in the expenditure column one of escalating costs, worries about how sustainable the county’s finances are in the longer term is very real.
Des Crudden took convention through the numbers with the headline figures looking pretty rosy. Income was up to £1,092,320 from £740,588 in 2016. Expenditure was well under that number, rising from £710,903 to £864,448, an increase of 21.5 percent.
However the income figures were pump-primed with a one off £220,000 payment from the windmill at Lissan. Stripping that contribution out, county income only increased by 17.8 percent.
The state of affairs was crystallised most succinctly by Assistant Treasurer Sean Burns.
“On the overall figures, if you take out the figure for Lissan and the wind turbine for next year we are showing a small surplus of £7,000. But in any accounts, your surplus is what pays your repayments on your debts. We are presently paying the guts of £50,000 a year in repayments.
“Whilst we have had a reasonable result, I think if it was a business, it wouldn’t be running.
“The bottom line is we still have to do a lot better in future to make Fermanagh and its county finances viable. We can’t rest on our laurels, because if you look closely at the accounts we are still not making enough to pay our debts.”
A major boon in terms of putting a floor under the counties finances has been the performance of Club Éirne. The fund-raising body once again recorded a year of impressive growth with income topping the £150,000 mark, up from £107,000 last year.
However with expenses likely to continue increasing, there is pressure for income to keep pace.
A major component in the increase in expenditure in the past year arose from the employment of dedicated coaching personnel. That has already yielded results in the shape of much improved performances in schools football. However spending under the heading of Coaching and Games Development rose from £110,133 in 2016 to £201,991 in the past year.
Some other expenditure headings were queried from the floor. Ciaran Carey challenged the rise in spending on county teams.
“County expenses increased to nearly £70,000, yet we didn’t qualify from the National League, we went out in the first round of Ulster and first qualifier, and in the first round of the u21s and minors. The second point is that 2018 will probably be double that, will we be able to afford it,” asked the Aghadrumsee delegate.
Treasurer Patricia Durnien answered, “I have managed this under Malachy O’Rourke, Peter Canavan, Pete McGrath and this is tight, but most of those people bring in the same set of expertise, although they do always seem to find one other thing I have never heard of and they are convinced they can’t do without.”
Des Crudden added that increases in mileage allowances as well as new nutrition expenses has also served to increase spending on county teams. Greg Kelly noted that Fermanagh had also fielded two extra teams, the u17s and the Celtic Challenge team.