Thursday, 19 February 1998
Dáil Éireann Debate
Portarlington swimming pool opened in 1974, some 25 years ago. Since then it has received no funding from the State. It is run by a most efficient and competent group of local people and it is non-profit making. As it has received no funding since it opened, it is important that funding is now provided to upgrade and improve the pool. Grants of up to 100 per cent are available from the Department of the Environment and Local Government for the refurbishment of existing pools, provided the proposed works comply with the standards laid down in the Department's procedures for the planning approval and financing of swimming pools.
The pool is run by a private organisation so any work it submits to the Department of the Environment and Local Government must be approved by the local authority, Laois County Council. The council is happy to approve the work and it will make a submission in the next two weeks showing its support for the proposal The local swimming pool committee submitted grant applications for re-roofing of the pool and renovation of the office and dressing room area some considerable time ago. The pool requires re-roofing and a two-story office. Once the two-story office is built, the existing office space can be used to enlarge the two dressing rooms. They also propose to provide ten  showers in a semicircle on the pool bank. Further works proposed are a steam room and a jacuzzi, all of which are essential in a town of that size with an increasing population.
The pool measures 25 metres by nine metres and its depth is one metre to two metres. The pool is open for nine months of the year and the cost of running it each year for the past few years has been £96,000. There is quite a sizeable staff attached to the pool, including a manager, two permanent lifeguards and temporary lifeguards, and swimming instructors. At one time there were 13 people employed at the pool. It is a wonderful facility for people of all age groups and particularly young people. They need the money to be provided at the earliest possible date.
The Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, wrote to me outlining the fact that the 1998 allocation for swimming pool projects has been increased to £4 million but that the money for 1998 had been allocated and the money for 1999 is also largely committed. Previously we had problems in Birr, Clara and Edenderry and the then Minister provided funding for those towns. In this instance a strong case will be made by Laois County Council and by the local swimming pool committee. I am certain that all the local public representatives will be anxious that this issue be treated as one of priority.
Laois County Council are in the final stages of submitting plans to the Department. The Department should have them within the next two weeks. This area has received no funding for a long time. The committee is an excellent one and it is in the interests of everyone that the Department be seen to support this proposal. I highly commend it and congratulate the local voluntary committee on their efforts to date in providing such an amenity in their town. It is wonderful to see people working so hard for their local community. The Department can show its support and goodwill by supporting this proposal.
Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food (Mr. E. O'Keeffe): My colleague, the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Noel Dempsey, is unable to be here this afternoon and he has asked me to reply on his behalf.
The Portarlington swimming pool was opened in 1974, jointly financed by Portarlington Swimming Pool Association, Laois and Offaly County Councils and the Department of the Environment. The local association has been running the pool since then with some assistance from Laois County Council by way of a full subsidy on rates and water charges, together with the provision of chlorine for the pool. I understand that the association has spent a considerable amount of money over recent years in replacing the filter and heating systems, refurbishing the dressing rooms and providing an energy saving cover for the pool.  In August 1996, the swimming pool association applied to the Department of the Environment and Local Government for a grant to re-roof the swimming pool. They were informed that their application should be re-routed through the county council which fully supports the application.
Following a visit by the Department's inspector, the county council was asked to submit detailed plans, specifications and a cost estimate for the work involved. It was also suggested that the existing glazing be fully examined and that consideration be given to reducing the overall area of windows and to installing double glazing throughout the pool building in the interests of heat conservation. They were also advised to pay close attention to insulation of the roof and to ensure that the overall project specification would comply with the relevant standards set out in the Department's guideline specification for swimming pools and in the building regulations. These plans, specifications etc. have not yet been received from Laois County Council. In the meantime a further application has been received from the swimming pool association seeking an additional grant for the reconstruction and upgrading of the office and dressing room areas.
There is a provision of £4 million in the Department's Estimates for 1998 for the swimming pool programme. While this represents a significant increase on the 1996 provision of £2 million and the 1997 provision of £3.5 million, it must be made clear that, notwithstanding the increased allocation, the 1998 provision will be largely required to meet expenditure on projects already under construction or which are fully approved and on which work is expected to commence later in the year. Accordingly, the scope available to release new projects in 1998 is very limited.
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