By Paul O’Malley
Mayo GAA received a six-figure sum from the Health Service Executive (HSE) for allowing Hastings Insurance MacHale Park to be used as a Covid-19 test centre.
Figures released to the Western People under the Freedom of Information Act 2014 reveal that the HSE paid a total of €148,173.71 to Mayo GAA for the use of MacHale Park for the duration of the pandemic.
A spokesperson for Mayo GAA said the majority of the money was used to pay for utility costs such as electricity, gas and water associated with the test centre.
The home of Mayo football in Castlebar became one of several sports venues in Ireland to be used as coronavirus test centres during the first lockdown in March 2020, opening as a drive-through testing service on March 31, 2020.
The facility at MacHale Park was open seven days a week from 9am to 5pm and it was very busy with the number of tests over the 22-month period exceeding the entire population of Co Mayo.
According to figures from the HSE, a total of 139,098 Covid tests were carried out at the facility until it closed in late January 2022. It means that an average of 209 people were tested per day at MacHale Park for the duration of the pandemic.
On the first day of operations on March 31, 2020, some 60 tests were carried out and the highest number of tests were conducted on December 30, 2021, when 918 people used the facility. November 2021 was the busiest month when 18,624 tests were carried out amid the emergence of the Omicron variant. It was similarly busy in December 2021 when 17,270 tests were carried out.
The monthly figures for tests at MacHale Park reflect the trajectory of the pandemic. In December 2020, during the outbreak of the Alpha variant, some 6,418 tests were carried out with a further 7,829 tests in January 2021 as Mayo and, in particular, Erris were badly impacted by Covid.
There was then a lull when the number of tests per month did not exceed 4,000 until July when the total soared to 9,031. August 2021 saw 11,175 Covid tests carried out at MacHale Park followed by 12,369 in September. The figure dropped to 9,388 in October before soaring again as the Omicron variant took hold late last year.
The busiest seven-day period of testing was between December 27, 2021, and January 2, 2022. Some 11,882 tests were carried out in January, which was the final month of testing at MacHale Park.
The test centre ceased operations on January 29, with all testing relocated to the nearby Breaffy Woods Hotel.
Mayo GAA told the Western People: “All monies received from the HSE during the two-year period were used to meet the non-attributable GAA costs incurred as a result of using MacHale Park as a Covid-19 testing centre. Monies received were deposited in Mayo GAA main bank account.
“Mayo GAA incurred utility costs for the stadium which were directly attributable to Covid testing, and 67% of the money received was directly attributable to utility costs such as electricity, gas, and water.
“There was also a charge based on the estimated wear and tear of facilities which would not have been part of direct monthly utility costs. Wear-and-tear costs not attributable to GAA activities were charged at a reasonable level based on the areas directly used by the Covid testing centre.
“When our teams returned to training, following public health guidelines, we incurred resettlement costs.
“Such situations arose when HSE Covid testing coincided with team training. We worked closely with the HSE on such matters, and on occasions when Mayo GAA teams had to train in locations other than Hastings MacHale Park, costs were incurred by Mayo GAA to facilitate pitch hire for all our teams.”