Tuesday, 27 June 2006
Seanad Eireann Debate
Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Mr. O’Donoghue): This Bill provides for the establishment of the national sports campus development authority, which will succeed in function and responsibility the present limited company, Campus and Stadium Ireland Development Limited, CSID, and continue the role of overseeing, planning and developing a sports campus at Abbotstown. I wish to address the context in which the Bill is being presented. Sport is very important to the Irish people and it is good for us. An active interest in sport promotes good health and well-being and provides essential exercise when we lead an increasingly sedentary lifestyle. Sport also provides a sense of identity in our parish, our county and our country or even our continent as we will find when the Ryder Cup comes to Ireland. Following the efforts of elite sportsmen and women allows us to rise above the day-to-day pressures, affords us a positive rush of good feeling, allows us to cheer out loud and even if our hopes are dashed we recover and look forward to striving again on another day. It has become an important objective of this Government to promote sport and the participation in sport and to deliver top-class sporting facilities.
Over the past few years Irish sportsmen and women have shown that they can scale the heights in many fields of sporting endeavour. The achievements this year of Ireland’s Triple Crown winning team, Munster’s Heineken Cup winning performance, Ulster’s winning of the Celtic League and Derval O’Rourke’s gold medal winning performance serve as a boost for our identity as a great sporting nation.
Since taking office in 1997, the Government has recognised the importance of sport and has appointed the first Minister with responsibility for sport to the Cabinet. The Government continues to believe in the value of sport and provided funding and support to back this up. The budget for sport this year is €243 million including horse and greyhound funding. To put this in context, the total funding for sport in 1997, capital and current, was just €17.5 million. By the end of 2006, the Government will have invested more than €900 million in sport since 1997.
The Government has made a considerable effort to bring our sporting infrastructure into line with best international standards. This legislation is a step towards the development of the Abbotstown campus which provides modern and well-equipped sporting facilities, giving our sportsmen and women the edge in preparation for international competition.
I draw the attention of Senators to the background to the campus at Abbotstown. On 15 November 2005 the Government approved the development of phase 1 of the sports campus at Abbotstown as set out in the development control plan prepared by CSID, which consulted widely when drawing up this plan. Phase 1 of the development control plan will provide a national field sports training centre for rugby, soccer, Gaelic games and hockey and a national indoor training centre that will provide world-class training facilities for over 30 governing bodies of sport, such as badminton, basketball, bowling, boxing, judo and table tennis. Accommodation for sportsmen and women, sports science and medical facilities, and all-weather synthetic pitches for community use will also be provided. Existing buildings will be renovated to cater for needs identified by sports bodies. This phase of the sports campus is part of a large complex of sporting facilities that will be located at Abbotstown in the future.
A multifunctional national indoor training centre will be provided. It will have changing facilities, a sports hall with 1,500 spectator seats and an ancillary hall suitable for a wide range of indoor sports. It is intended that the training requirements of up to 30 national governing bodies will be met in this indoor centre.
This is not the only development of infrastructure on a national level. Senators will also be aware that the Government is contributing €191 million to the joint IRFU-FAI project for the redevelopment of the Lansdowne Road stadium. We are also developing a network of top-quality facilities around the country designed to meet the training, coaching and competition needs of our elite competitors in a wide spectrum of sports. Among the major projects supported are the Croke Park stadium, the National Aquatic Centre, the National Rowing Centre at Inniscarra, the National Tennis Centre, the National Boxing Stadium and the National Hockey Stadium at UCD.
In tandem with developments at a national level, we have also been conscious of developments at a local level. In this regard, the sports capital programme has made a substantial contribution. I recently announced the allocation of €53,745,200 to over 700 sports projects around the country under this scheme. More than 5,600 projects have benefited from sports capital funding since 1998, providing a range of essential sports facilities and bringing the total allocation of sports capital funding in that period to €448.63 million. The unprecedented level of investment in sport is clear evidence of the importance the Government attaches to the provision of modern, well-equipped and well-managed sporting facilities supported by a wide range of programmes that have a real benefit in our communities.
The facilities at Abbotstown will be available to the public as well as elite athletes. It will be available to those who wish to participate in sport simply for enjoyment or exercise or for those who wish to avail of Abbotstown as a recreational amenity. As part of the development plan a number of synthetic pitches will be provided whose primary purpose is to serve clubs and the local community. Any downtime that is available in the elite facilities will be made available to clubs and individuals.
The Bill contains three parts. Part 1, preliminary and general, covers sections 1 to 4 and contains standard provisions regarding short title and definitions of key terms used in the Bill. Part 2 covers sections 5 to 31 and deals with the establishment of the authority, describes the authority’s functions and provides for the transfer of the Abbotstown site.
Sections 5 and 6 provide for the establishment of the authority and the power to acquire, hold and dispose of land and other property. Section 7 describes the authority’s functions. The primary functions of the authority will be to develop a sports campus on the site and promote its use by professional and amateur sportspeople and members of the public. It also provides for the conveyance of the site currently owned by the Minister for Agriculture and Food to the authority. Sections 9 and 13 deal with the board and the appointment of a chief executive. The powers given to the authority are provided for in part two.
Under section 8 the authority is empowered to enter into agreements with others to perform its functions, recover debts and engage consultants. Section 11 provides for the right to establish committees. Sections 14 and 15 provide for the appointment and superannuation of staff. Section 25 gives the authority the power to withhold consent to renewal of a lease or tenancy. Section 28 provides for the establishment of subsidiaries, a company, or entering a joint venture. Section 29 allows the authority to borrow with the approval of the Minister given with the consent of the Minister for Finance. Section 31 gives the authority the power to compulsorily acquire land adjoining the site for access purposes. Schedule 2 sets out the procedures that shall apply in this limited case of compulsory acquisition.
Section 18 contains the standard prohibitions on members of the authority holding public office. Section 19 empowers the Minister, with the consent of the Minister for Finance, to advance funding to the authority. Sections 20 and 22 contain standard provisions for the submission of audited accounts and annual reports to the Minister. Section 24 allows the Minister to give general policy directions to the authority. Part 3 deals with transitional provisions and covers sections 32 to 39. This part provides for the dissolution of CSID and the transfer of existing staff to the new authority.
The Bill marks a further step in the on-going development of a network of infrastructure across the country. A considerable amount of effort has been put into the planning of the sports campus. The establishment of the legislation puts the developing authority on a firm statutory footing. I look forward to further developments at Abbotstown and I commend this Bill to the House.
Mr. Browne: I apologise for the absence of my colleague Senator Feighan who cannot be here for the start of the debate. Fine Gael welcomes the establishment of the national sports campus development authority on a statutory basis. It is appropriate that Ireland has such a facility, given our great love of sport.
A day or two after the 2002 general election, which was not a good one for Fine Gael, people got on with life as normal. It was forgotten that an election had been held. Two weeks later, the Roy Keane saga unfolded in Saipan and the country came to a standstill. I realised the difference between what one may think is important and what is important. I also realised that Irish people are fanatical about sport when I saw people stop work to hear hourly radio bulletins about the story. The entire country watched Tommy Gorman’s interview with Roy Keane to find out what was happening. The country is obviously suffering now because it is not taking part in this World Cup. There would be a great atmosphere if it were.
There is an onus on us to provide facilities to encourage maximum participation in sports both at amateur level and at top class events such as the World Cup, Ryder Cup, Tours de France and the Olympic Games, including the Winter Olympic Games. We must provide the facilities that will allow people who have an ability in sport to perform better and excel. Unfortunately, our record in the Olympics is not what it should be. We must improve on it and, hopefully, the new sports campus in Abbotstown will allow top-class athletes to develop their skills and yield the dividend of improved performance and gold medals. Hopefully, too, the Minister or his successors will be out at Dublin Airport welcoming home gold medal winners in years to come. That would bring the country great joy and hope.
However, hard questions must be asked about the National Aquatic Centre. Fine Gael believes that the first job this new authority should do is conduct an audit of the National Aquatic Centre and find out how much damage has been done. I was in Dubai lately and visited an indoor ski resort. This is something that should be considered for Abbotstown. If the Minister is in Dubai in the near future, he should visit this resort. Hundreds of thousands of Irish people go skiing each year. Dubai has shown how skiing facilities can be provided and hopes to compete in the Winter Olympics; this is a country where the usual outdoor temperature is 42°C. This is something we should consider. We should encourage maximum participation in sport at every level.
There are major problems at present at the National Aquatic Centre. The Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan, will be aware of that given that it is in his constituency. A few months ago part of the roof of the centre was blown off. A report on the incident, by Kavanagh, Mansfield and Partners, consulting engineers, found that the damage to the competition hall was caused by the failure of elements within the roof assembly and that the failure could have occurred at wind speeds within normal design parameters for a building of this size and location. Exceptional storm conditions need not have been present for this damage to occur, although I understand it did occur during a storm.
Mr. Browne: That may well be the case but, according to the report, exceptional storm conditions need not have been present for this damage to occur. I am simply referring to what is stated in the report. The report found that the roof failed due to lack of resistance to the wind suction forces which were exerted on the day of the storm. Those forces did not exceed those which can be estimated for design purposes as possible to occur by reference to normal design code.
In addition, the roof decking did not comply with the normal design codes or with building regulations. These are matters of serious concern. There was also a leak in the swimming pool. The new development authority should examine these issues when it has been appointed.
We need to improve our performance in sport. Our recent record in the Olympic Games and other top class sports events is bad. The only exception is the equine industry, which has had great success. This is particularly so in County Carlow where the triangle of Leighlinbridge, Paulstown and Bagenalstown has produced some of the best horses in the country. These horses have competed in Ireland and the UK. This shows that even though Ireland is a small country, it can compete at the top level abroad. There is no reason this cannot be extended to include athletics through a new generation of athletes similar to John Treacy and other top class athletes. Hopefully, the new centre at Abbotstown will allow that to happen.
This is the first step in a long process. I urge the Minister to ensure that the authority investigates the National Aquatic Centre as a matter of urgency and rectifies whatever problems exist there. Given that there will be further development on the Abbotstown site, it is important that we go forward having learned from the past.
Fine Gael welcomes this Bill and looks forward to a Fine Gael Taoiseach or Minister with responsibility for sport welcoming home many top class athletes bearing gold and silver medals from top international sports events as a result of this development.
Mr. K. Phelan: I am delighted to speak on the National Sports Campus Development Authority Bill 2006. This legislation has been brought forward by the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism and I welcome it. The Bill will create a new national sports campus development authority, which will replace the existing company, Campus and Stadium Ireland Development Limited, known as CSID. The new national sports development authority will take over the job of overseeing, planning and developing a sports campus at Abbotstown, County Dublin.
As members of the arts, sport and tourism committee, I and my colleagues have heard various sporting organisations and experts tell us about the great benefit of having top-class sporting facilities. Not alone is it important to have great sporting facilities because of the great love of Irish people for a range of sports but also because sport has been shown in every study to be a healthy activity which should be promoted. The Minister, Deputy O’Donoghue, has said previously that the role of our great sports men and women in promoting sports and healthy living can have a great impact. This is very true.
Success at local, national or international level can help lift our communities. My local second level school, St. Fergal’s in Rathdowney, County Laois, was successful in All-Ireland senior hurling and senior camogie this year. This will do more to help and promote these two sports in the local area than anything else. However, there must also be good facilities if we are serious about keeping our young people involved in sports. The work done by mentors and coaches on a voluntary basis is what has helped create many of the sports stars of today.
There is no doubt that our young people need role models and heroes who will inspire and encourage them. I am always delighted when GAA intercounty players take the time to visit under-age clubs and schools for various presentations. This inspires many young people to stay active in sport or to help with coaching and training or the administration of the local and national sports organisations.
Related to this issue is the need to give the necessary resources and funding to our sports organisations. I am happy with the very significant amount of funding the Minister, Deputy O’Donoghue, manages to secure for sports each year. Sports funding for 2006 exceeds €243.295 million. That is having a great impact on sport and I compliment the Minister on it. The funding provided for organisations and clubs throughout the country has been a fantastic help.
However, along with local facilities we need top-class national facilities, such as Croke Park and the National Aquatic Centre in Abbotstown. Top-class facilities mean that our best sportsmen and women can train, play or perform at the highest level here in Ireland. We should not be shy about saying we want top class sporting facilities throughout the country. With the Taoiseach at the helm priority will be given to sport and sports facilities. The Taoiseach is right in this approach. Like me, he comes from a sporting background and we know that every euro invested in youth facilities will yield a result in different ways.
I should mention what has been invested by this Government in sport since 1997. The total spend has been €750 million. Between 1998 and 2004, a total of almost €331 million was allocated to more than 4,721 projects throughout the country under the sports capital programme. In addition, 18 swimming pool projects have been completed in the past number of years. These were funded under the local authority swimming pools programme. Many more swimming pool projects are under way throughout the country, for example, in Portlaoise and Portarlington, County Laois.
Getting back to the Bill, I was glad to learn in November of last year that the Cabinet had decided to proceed with the development of phase 1 of the sports campus at Abbotstown over a five year period. Phase 1 of the plan will provide a national field sports training centre catering for rugby, soccer, Gaelic games and hockey; a national indoor training centre which will provide world class training facilities for more than 30 governing bodies of sport, such as badminton, basketball, bowling, boxing, judo and table tennis; accommodation for sportsmen and women; sports science and medical facilities; and all-weather synthetic pitches for community use. These will all be located at Abbotstown in addition to the existing National Aquatic Centre there.
The annual sports budget has increased from €17 million in 1997 to €243 million in 2006 and I commend the Minister and his colleagues in the Cabinet for this great investment. We have made considerable progress in bringing our sporting facilities into line with best international standards. I fully support the legislation before us today because this Bill, and the further development of sports facilities at the Abbotstown sports campus, will provide top of the range facilities for our sports stars of the future.
All involved in sport in this country hope that such developments and the provision of better sporting facilities will attract many more people into sport and indeed help us to keep existing sportsmen and women involved in it. Just as we demand the best facilities in our schools and sports clubs, we should also not be shy about calling for top class national facilities which are as good as in any other country. If we fail to invest at this high level, our top Irish sportsmen and women will have to look elsewhere. This would be a shame and the plans laid out to develop top-class facilities at Abbotstown will rival those available anywhere else in Europe or beyond.
The selection of London for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games can have benefits for Ireland. This is a great opportunity for us to have world class athletes training here before the Olympics and I hope that all the facilities in Abbotstown as laid out in the Government plan will be in place by then.
I fully support the Bill. I commend the involvement of the Minister for Agriculture and Food and the Minister for Finance for their support for this project; their Departments have been heavily involved with it. I look forward to the further development of the facilities at Abbotstown and believe strongly that this is the right decision to proceed with the sports campus. I also acknowledge the €191 million that has been provided for Lansdowne Road.
Mr. Quinn: I welcome the Minister and I found his speech interesting. I intend, however, to oppose this Bill. It is completely unnecessary. I wish the Abbotstown sports campus every success but I fail to see what this new statutory authority, with all its bells and whistles, can do that the existing, perfectly adequate limited company cannot.
My opposition should not be seen as a protest against this project, I am enthusiastic about it, but I protest against the excessive proliferation of statutory authorities, supported by the full panoply of their own legislation and all that goes with it, that we have seen over the past decade. It is time for someone to shout “Stop” and since no one else seems to care, I will take on that responsibility. I have no objection to the notion of semi-State bodies as there will always be many things we want to happen under the aegis of the State but outside the smothering embrace of the Civil Service. The full panoply of a statutory body should be reserved for only the largest, most important and far-reaching of these activities.
For lesser matters, and I suggest this is one of them, less pretentious and expensive vehicles are available. There are many semi-State activities that can be carried out perfectly efficiently with a satisfactory level of public accountability through the vehicle of an ordinary limited company where the shares are owned by the sponsoring Minister. That is how the Abbotstown project has been handled until now and I doubt that has hampered its activities in any way. We could criticise some of the things that have happened in Abbotstown in the past few years, and I am sure much of this debate will be devoted to that, but if we are honest, we will admit that the difficulties arose not because of the nature of the corporate vehicle but because of the overly hasty and ad hoc manner in which the project was managed.
We should be concentrating on ensuring such mistakes are not made again. I see nothing in this Bill that will achieve that. A statutory body can be inadequately managed as easily as a limited company. I see no safeguards or quality controls in the mechanism proposed in the Bill that are a whit better than the existing safeguards in ordinary company law.
What do we think we are achieving by passing this Bill? Will it make the smallest difference to the young athletes of Ireland who will benefit from the campus in the years ahead? I doubt it. Will it make the smallest difference to the level of scrutiny by the Oireachtas of what goes on in our name at Abbotstown? I doubt it very much. It will produce an annual report that will be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas. Does that mean either of these Houses will ever pay the least attention to the publication of the report? If the way we deal with the many hundreds of similar reports that clog our pigeon holes every year is any guide to it, the answer is “No”.
The truth is that the only need satisfied by this legislation is that of self-aggrandisement. The title, National Sports Campus Development Authority, rolls nicely off the tongue and will look well on business cards. The costly annual report of the authority will be a glossy, state-of-the-art publication that no one will read. When I was chairman of An Post, there were only two shareholders, the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Communications. I had a rule that there would be no photographs or colour in the annual report because only two people would read it. We produced annual reports that gave all the information on plain paper. Something has happened to make us think we must add to the costs and paraphernalia in such publications.
Is the production of such reports what we are about in this day and age? Over the last year, I have become involved in the better regulation movement, the aim of which is to cut back on the thicket of unnecessary rules and regulations that get in the way of people doing things. From a business point of view it makes sense because we have hindered our ability to be competitive by introducing regulations and costs that are unnecessary. Some countries have wiped them away. The President of the European Commission, Mr. Barroso, when he entered office, did away with 70 regulations that had been introduced in recent years. He said that they were slowing down Europe’s competitiveness. We have got into the habit of adding costs and structures that are not needed. Under a regulation impact assessment, of which I have often spoken in this House, we hope to bring about a situation in which every new regulation, statutory instrument or law must be justified on the grounds of necessity and on the basis of a proper cost benefit analysis. I cannot help feeling that we should extend this concept to the likes of this Bill. There should be some mechanism that always asks a number of simple questions. Do we really need this? Does this Bill serve any useful purpose in advancing the march of the Irish people? If the answers to those questions is, as I believe in this case, a resounding “No”, then a home for this Bill should be quickly found in the nearest waste paper basket. As I stated at the outset, I wish the Abbotstown project all the success in the world, but I will vote against the passage of this Bill, which is just a waste of the House’s time, of effort and of the country’s money.
I must be careful. I am an energetic enthusiast for sport and for what it can do for Ireland. I had the good fortune to attend the Olympic Games in Barcelona, Atlanta and Sydney. I can see the spur and the enthusiasm that is created by such events. After four days in Barcelona, I remember meeting some Americans who asked me how Ireland was doing in the Olympic Games. I replied that we had won four gold medals and one of them responded by asking, “That is okay, is it not?” I said, “Yes, that is since 1896.” It had taken us 100 years to win them. We have won another four since then.
The enthusiasm that sport can create in the nation is well worth the Abbotstown project and the campus. What I am opposed to is the considerable backup of a statutory authority rather than an ordinary limited company. I hope the Minister will consider this point.
Mr. Dardis: I welcome the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy O’Donoghue, to the House. The Minister’s title indicates how much importance the Government attaches to sport. The Minister, like other speakers, referred to the way sport improves the health of the nation. That is not something new. The Romans had the phrase mens sana in corpore sano— healthy body, healthy mind. Sometimes I just wonder how true that is.
For anybody, like the Minister, who was in Cardiff, perhaps it was not all that good for our health until the match was won. I am sure the Minister has been involved in a few close finishes in Listowel, Tralee, Punchestown and the Curragh, that might not have been the best for his health, or even his pocket. Of course sport is beneficial to the nation. There is also the aspect of our national well-being, of which Senator Quinn has spoken, that the nation is given a boost when our international competitors do well, whether in team events, in the Olympic Games or elsewhere, and that is good.
Another important aspect of sport is that it produces role models. Obviously important international sportspersons are significant role models for young people and they can have either a beneficial or negative effect. It often strikes me as odd that people who earn such enormous amounts of money, particularly in association football, are not more aware of their responsibilities to younger people and to conduct themselves properly so they are good role models. By and large, our international soccer players and other international sporting personalities are an entirely beneficial influence on young people but there are one or two unfortunate exceptions.
I disagree with Senator Quinn on the need for the national sports campus development authority. We are all agreed that we need the campus and the centres of excellence, which are the way of promoting success on the playing fields, in athletics and in sport generally. There must be some body that takes control and that body needs to be at arm’s length from the entire area. It is an extremely complex operation and it is appropriate that the authority takes over from Campus and Stadium Ireland Development Limited. The Minister is correct in what he is doing and the history of the entire project would underline how correct he is.
The centres of excellence operate at a national and a local level. Probably the best example is the Australian system, which has produced top-class athletes. It also has been beneficial in rugby, football and other team sports in Australia. There is a requirement at that level of elite athlete and sportsperson for these facilities and the full range of monitoring supports. It has become a scientific activity at the highest level of sport, in terms of metabolism, fitness and even warming down. I am sure the Minister would recall when people got into a car at the end of a match in the corner of a wet field in Kerry and now they seem to go off to a hotel where ice is packed around them, and they must warm down as well as warm up. We have come a long way and, unfortunately, that is what competing at an international level involves. That said, I am conscious of the achievements of athletes such as Herb Elliott, who became one of the greatest middle distance runners of all time just by running up and down the sand dunes in News Zealand. There is something that must be in the make-up of the individual, particularly in solo events. The young girl who recently sailed around the world solo is another such example.
There is also the local aspect of sport and that is where the sports capital programme has made a significant impact. It has been enormously beneficial in providing facilities for clubs and communities who help to foster the original seeds, which we hope will finish up in the national centre of excellence and become persons of international standing within their sports or at the top levels within domestic sport in the case of Gaelic football or hurling.
Unfortunately, participation does not seem to be enough any more. The great example to the contrary, and I suppose one of the significant positives, was the Special Olympics, where participation was enough and where young people went out and enjoyed what they were doing. That also gave a considerable boost to the nation. However, winning now seems to be everything and I suppose that is because of money. Sport has become professional, which leads me to the point that there must be extreme vigilance by the sporting authorities, with the support of the Government, to ensure the use of performance-enhancing drugs does not become prevalent within sport. The Minister will be aware of the rigorous controls in horse racing, for instance, to detect illegal substances to the point where it is almost possible to detect one grain of coffee in the feed of a horse, and this can cause problems. We must be at such a leading edge in terms of the technology available to detect these substances and to deal effectively with them.
Like all Members, I welcome the decision to open Croke Park to allow the national rugby and soccer teams play there during the development of Lansdowne Road. It would have been unfortunate to have to go to the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, even though it is wonderful, the new Wembley stadium, if it is ever built, or wherever. It is obvious that those games should take place in Ireland and I made the point to the Cathaoirleach, on a previous occasion when we discussed it, that I am really looking forward to going to Croke Park and Michael Cusack would approve when we stuff the English there in a Triple Crown match. There will be a certain applause from the people who went before.
I hope the Lansdowne Road project will go smoothly. I accept that the planning system must be gone through. I am conscious that the Government has put nearly €200 million into this project and I am sure it will be money well spent. It is unfortunate that one of the oldest and most distinguished rugby clubs in the country seems to be trying to delay this project or at least make progress more difficult. Given the club’s history and ethos, this is not consistent with how it should behave. I say this by way of an aside.
Another lesson from all of this relates to the keeping of public lands in public ownership. When I was a local authority member and land became expensive, I wondered why local authorities did not cash in on the landbank when I considered how much could be done with the money. That was right on one level but, on another, it was wrong. Unless lands are retained in public ownership, it becomes extremely difficult to acquire sites of the scale of Abbotstown.
Mr. Dardis: Abbotstown is well established in the psyche of agricultural Ireland. Anybody who studied agriculture in the 1960s, as I did, or who farmed in the 1970s and 1980s was aware of the importance of Abbotstown and the work of the laboratories to the industry. It is a reflection of the changing times that it is being developed as a special sports campus, which is welcome.
When zoning lands, local authorities should be very conscious of the location of prime sites that could be developed to provide a sports facility and result in a significant community gain. When I was a member of Kildare County Council, we tried to do that with one particular zoning. We hoped to make land available so that the GAA could move from its town centre stadium in Newbridge to a new facility outside the town. One of the great hopes of the late Michael Osborne was that the project would come to fruition. I hope it will but the main issue is to reserve a site. If somebody gains significantly from the rezoning of land for industrial purposes, a site should be reserved for sporting or community use, as that is important.
The Minister stated that between 1997 and the end of the this year almost €900 million will have been provided in sports capital funding. The question arises as to why that amount should be invested in sport, which leads us to the wider issue of the health of the nation and enabling individuals to compete at the highest level internationally or even on a county or provincial basis. While health spending was raised in a different context on the Order of Business, investment in sport results in an unseen gain.
Both the Olympic Council of Ireland and the Irish Sports Council have roles in this area. I have argued with the chief executive of the sports council that it should cast its net as widely as possible to support all sports. I regard field sports and angling, for example, as sports and they should come within the ambit of the council. The OCI has an important and crucial role in making sure the conditions exist to help young people who have the potential to win a gold medal at the Olympic Games to come through the system, to give them the supports they need and to make sure they are properly looked after.
I wish the Bill well. While it is important that world-class facilities should be provided so that people can compete successfully at the highest level internationally, participation is the most important issue. We should never lose sight of the person who takes to the field on a wet Sunday morning in rural Ireland to play his or her heart out, as he or she also deserves support.
Mr. Ryan: I am always rude about welcoming Ministers. I miss Deputy O’Donoghue as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform because, while he was every bit as argumentative as his successor, he was much more good humoured in the process. That is a backhanded compliment, which he cannot repeat around the Cabinet table. I was spokesperson on justice issues when the Minister held the portfolio and I enjoyed our encounters. I could not fight with him as seriously about this legislation as I did about many issues we debated in the past.
The principle underpinning the legislation is fine. I was never in the Ceaucescu school of criticism of the Abbotstown project. I believe in the idea of using affluence to provide high quality publicly owned and controlled facilities. I have reservations about the concentration of resources in our capital city but resources alone should not be a constraint. Many questions are worth discussing. I am a sports enthusiast who attempted to play Gaelic football from a young age until I was too old to play. I ended up with a few dislocated joints because I played when I was too old to do so but I enjoyed every second of it.
I am not sure I enjoy watching games in which I have a passionate interest in one team. The stress and tension takes more out of me than the outcome. I enjoy a match such as last Sunday’s Munster final more because I have a geographical allegiance to Cork and long-established familial allegiances to Tipperary. The outcome was, therefore, not as critical and I enjoyed the spectacle. I am sure I am not alone in wondering about those who use the term “the beautiful game” to describe association football because what we witnessed in Thurles last Sunday was a quantum leap beyond “the beautiful game” both in terms of skill and sportsmanship in comparison with the disgusting and dirty World Cup match on Sunday evening. The Munster final was a hard, tough game but I am not accustomed to the spectacle of the captain of an international team head butting an opposition player, whatever about the rough side of Gaelic games. There was an outcry over the so-called “battle of Omagh” between Tyrone and Dublin last year, during which many grown men, who should have had more sense, pushed each other. Nobody was hurt, no blood was spilled, no bones were broken and nobody was flattened on the ground by a head butt. The beautiful game was played out in Thurles last Sunday as far as many people, including myself, are concerned. The game on the other channel was a painful contrast, not only because of who was involved but because it was pathetically slow and indifferent.
Sport is of great importance. A study should be undertaken in which the career development of young children from poor areas with limited backgrounds who get involved in a sport is compared with that of children from similar backgrounds who do not. While I do not have evidence to support this, I predict a significant divergence. Young men, in particular, are interested in sports and cars. A youngster who has a passionate interest in something during his or her teenage years will overwhelmingly not have encounters with the law and so on. Sport keeps people busy and fit, helps them to maintain an interest in their physical well-being and gives them a reason to look after themselves.
Like everyone else, I remember surreptitiously having my first cigarette when I was 11 years old. While it is probably more like six years old nowadays, when I started, ten or 11 was the age at which most people began to smoke. Subsequently, I took up football seriously and decided that it was hard to reconcile both activities. Playing football served me well, if it did nothing more than keeping me from that habit.
I have no problem with the investment of large sums of money in sports facilities. However, I wish to raise some queries with the Minister in respect of this project. They pertain to potential exclusions from it, rather than its function. For example, the Minister referred to team sports, to elite players in team sports as well as to elite teams. I envisage the latter to be the national soccer, hockey and rugby teams. While I do not begrudge anything to any of them, how can such measures be available to the same degree to Gaelic football, hurling, camogie, women’s football or any other sport without an elite national team? Such sports do not have a single team. While the international series with Australia is great and I appreciate it, it only lasts for a couple of weeks per year. The other sports do not have a serious year-round international competition and do not have professionals.
Members must be extremely careful not to create institutions, structures or physical facilities which in any way add to the pressure to professionalise Gaelic games. Anything which footballers and hurlers can earn from their image from outside the sport is fair game. I do not have a problem with any extra funds they can acquire from appearances, etc. However, as rugby people will affirm, getting paid for playing nearly destroyed rugby. Although one acquires a paid elite, in a country as small as Ireland, such players remain dependent on many voluntary workers. The existence of a paid elite makes it much more difficult to motivate volunteers. Ultimately, one ends up with a withering of the voluntary aspect. However, Members must wait and see what will happen.
The enormous popularity of soccer internationally has maintained its level of voluntary activity. However, soccer’s huge international profile makes it unique. Despite the intense domestic support enjoyed by other games with a lower international profile such as rugby, hockey and Gaelic games in particular, the evolution of a position in which players were to be paid would eat away quickly at the ethos of the organisation involved. Hence, while I accept that players should not be paid, they should be rewarded and there are many ways of so doing. In some ways, such players are rewarded.
I want the Minister to clarify a point regarding Gaelic games. I support the Lansdowne Road project in principle and welcome the Government’s commitment of large-scale funds as a decent stadium for international rugby and soccer is long overdue. While it was originally mooted that it would be suitable for playing Gaelic games, various stories have been floated subsequently to suggest otherwise. I want to know whether this is true, because my understanding was that during the soccer and rugby off-seasons, some of the smaller Gaelic games could be played there. In part, this was to pay for its development, to conserve Croke Park, as well as to provide a stadium of intermediate size between Parnell Park and Croke Park.
It should be noted that a bigger crowd attended Croke Park last Sunday than has attended any World Cup match thus far. This is because it is a bigger stadium than any of the stadia which have been used. The attendance of 70,000 people at a semi-final of a provincial championship between two amateur teams constitutes an extraordinary statement of the way we are. Hence, I wish to hear the Minister’s comments in this regard.
The Minister referred to swimming pools. During the rough times of the late 1980s and early 1990s, a sizeable number of local authorities felt compelled to close down municipal swimming pools. What progress has been made in ensuring that such swimming pools in towns and small towns have been restored? The Minister does not require information in respect of the controversy concerning Douglas swimming pool in Cork and I imagine he is sick of representations in this regard. However, the issue of community facilities is critical. While I will not attempt to use this speech to lobby about the aforementioned swimming pool, the idea of large-scale, publically accessible facilities which are provided for people at an affordable price must be maintained. This matter is extremely important.
I am in a position to be a member of a private swimming pool in Cork for €600 or €700 per year. As my girth indicates, I do not use it nearly as much as I should. Nevertheless, if one uses such a pool for an hour or two per week, it works out as being cheaper than the amount someone with less access to liquid cash than me would pay to swim for two 40-minute periods in a municipal pool. This is unfair. There is nothing wrong with the private pool’s price. It runs on a profit-making basis and consequently can afford to charge me €700. However, it is unfair that someone who swims two hours a week in a municipal pool nearly ends up paying more. In Cork, such people would pay close to €400 or €500 per year, whereas I pay €700 per year for limitless access from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. This is unfair and inequitable. We must ensure the provision of facilities which are accessible, available and affordable. The Minister should discuss this issue, if he has time and is in the humour for speculating.
Although everyone else appears to be in favour of the measure, I am not happy that amateur sportspersons face the same drugs regime as that which is imposed on professionals, or that intercounty GAA players can be tested out of season in the same manner as professional sportspersons. While I have no one in mind, young fellows who are found to have used cannabis in the previous week could have seriously jeopardised their sporting careers. Although I do not advocate such activity, there is a difference between someone who plays a game for love and fun and for the sake of the team to whom he or she is loyal, and those who are full-time professional athletes. I refer to the obligation of amateurs to be subjected to similar regimes off-season as those who are professionals, particularly regarding the overlap of illegal substances with performance enhancing substances. Any serious sportsperson who smokes dope on a regular basis is a dope and will not succeed because he or she does not show the requisite respect for his or own physical well-being. However, this is a valid issue for all athletes and probably for amateur athletes in particular. While I am aware that the GAA was somewhat slow in this respect and was criticised for it, there are genuine issues involved. Moreover, I will not omit the fact that the players sought — it is a pity the Government did not grant it — a special tax allowance to reflect the extra expenditure involved.
The GAA has done remarkably well, sometimes because of itself and sometimes despite itself. However, these games are the national games of a small country and constitute a small minority of the games played in the world. Hence, they are very precious. At present, they are very strong and in recent years, women’s Gaelic football has been one of the GAA’s great successes. I urge the Minister and his officials, regardless of whatever Government is in power, to avoid modelling our systems overly rigidly on those of countries in which the dominant team sports are professional worldwide sports. Our dominant team sports are not professional worldwide sports. We must continue to revisit models of how to support sport in that context.
I do not believe I have reached my disputed 15 minutes, but I am about to conclude. Before I do, I wish to discuss a detail I have raised on a number of occasions. Schedule 1 contains a long description in words of the land in Abbotstown. Surely we can organise it so we can use maps in legislation instead of long lists of words, such as those contained in Schedule 1, which include, “the land conveyed by an Indenture of Conveyance dated the 2nd day of January 1951 made between the Right Honourable James Hans Baron Holmpatrick”.
In terms of the action the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reforms is taking on sorting out land ownership, it is time we were able to use properly marked, identified and registered maps as a description in legislation instead of, in this case, a page-long written description. The Bill establishing the digital hub contained a two page list of names of little townlands, areas and parishes in the centre of Dublin which could have been described far more coherently in a one page map.
In principle, I welcome the Bill. I did not bother to discuss the more colourful events of recent years. Hopefully, they are history. I have only one piece of advice for the Minister, namely, given the level of public expenditure, the Government could do with as high a level of project management skills in its possession as it has accountancy skills. The public service has many accountants but no project management team of the same skill and capacity. Project management is as important during the event as accountancy is before and after it.
Mr. Dooley: I join with other Senators in welcoming the Minister to the House. I also welcome the Bill. While I share some of the sentiments expressed by Senator Quinn on the establishment of State authorities, on many occasions in the past I criticised the establishment of such authorities, particularly the NRA and the HSE. Often, we devolve responsibility away from the political environment and yet, politically, we are held accountable.
However, in this instance we need to devolve away from the political environment. In my view the involvement of various political parties has brought about the sad situation whereby today we will not discuss the development of the national stadium proposed at the outset of this legislation. Perhaps in the future the authority to be established by this Bill will request from the State certain clearances and finance to consider the development of a national stadium on this site.
Many of the arguments advanced on the other side clearly show the necessity to continue to spend on sporting activities. I congratulate the Minister and his officials on the investment in sports since he came to office, the successive sports capital programmes in which he was involved and the money he continues to invest.
The Minister takes a strategic approach to investment and it is not only about responding to applications. He examines the core and basic facility requirements of various clubs and tries in so far as he can to ensure every club is brought to a base level of facilities before others advance to a higher level. Investment has brought advances in various sports. The Minister’s investment in community and regional facilities which are not sport-specific is welcome. On a parochial level, the investment made by the Department through the sports capital programme in the Lees Road facility in Ennis comes to mind.
A number of Senators discussed the necessity of municipal facilities and the Lees Road facility is a fine example of such, with various playing pitches, all-weather facilities and, hopefully, with the Minister’s ongoing support a running track in the not too distant future. Such facilities provide a great level of service to the many growing towns we now have. The issue of the lack of green space and facilities as a result of planning decisions in growing county towns is raised. Municipal parks which cater for an array of sporting activities with shared car parking and dressing room facilities is the way to go. The Minister’s promotion of these has been most welcome and we must continue to fund them.
The sports campus development authority, which this Bill will establish, is an important part of the Minister’s strategic approach to the development of sport. It is a twin-track approach as it targets amateur sport and improving professionalism including the scientific approach to sport. Up to now, we have not seen that strategic approach from central government. The promotion of sporting excellence will contribute to participation. We all recognise the important role that amateur sports play in terms of participation at local level. The growth of soccer and the popularity of the Premiership in England encourages young people to get involved in the sport. By creating professional streams in sports suited to it we will see a greater level of participation.
Participation in sport is necessary because even clubs in rural areas which have not experienced a fall in population find it difficult to field teams. Two local rival clubs must come together to be in a position to field a team. Through the funding put in place by the Minister, we have better facilities than ever before. However, we see a decline in participation which must be examined and addressed by the authority and Irish Sports Council working together.
It is also critical that smaller sports are catered for and I know the Minister intends to do so in this campus. It will be of great help to them because they may not have the facilities in their own locations to make advances. Sharing the services the authority intends to provide will be helpful. For example, sports medicine is a critical component of modernising sport, particularly in terms of professionalism. Comments were made during the Order of Business today about cardiac failure in young people who participate in sports. Any research done in sports medicine will be welcome to both amateur and professional sports. We all want to see that happen. The campus will provide various sporting activities access to specialist research in training methods. That will benefit all concerned.
It is disappointing our discussions on the Bill will not include consideration of the development of a new stadium. Perhaps the Minister will be able to address the issue on a future date. On a specific point, section 18 lists people who will be excluded from membership of the authority, including Members of either House of the Oireachtas, the European Parliament and local authorities. It is right that Members of both Houses of the Oireachtas and the European Parliament should be excluded from involvement in any State authority. However, I do not believe members of local authorities should be excluded. The role of a councillor is unique because of his or her involvement in local sports partnerships and the delivery of services through local authorities. Councillors could bring a useful insight to the authority. I am not requesting a legislative prescription that a councillor must be appointed to the board but that councillors not be excluded from participation on the board by virtue of their being members of a local authority. Will the Minister examine section 18 with a view to amending the existing provision in this regard? There is a very good reason Members of both Houses of the Oireachtas or the European Parliament should not be excluded, but there is a special case for not excluding councillors, particularly because of their involvement in the delivery of services on the ground through the sports partnership programmes. Councillors from both Ennis Town Council and Clare County Council pioneered the very fine Lees Road sports and amenity park through their involvement with local communities and their insight into what was needed on the ground. I appeal to the Minister to consider this, perhaps before Committee Stage.
I welcome the Bill. It provides a very useful framework for dealing with the development of sport at one remove from the game of politics, the latter of which scuppered what would have been a flagship project for this country, not just on the national stage but also on the world stage. I hope that, in this instance, the national sports campus development authority will set itself apart in delivering badly-needed facilities in a non-politicised environment.
Mr. Cummins: I welcome the Minister to the House. I fully support the idea of sport for all and the provision of proper facilities for sportspeople. The development of sports campus Ireland is certainly significant. There is no doubt that Ireland lags some way behind many of its competitors in the provision of training facilities and coaching expertise for our elite and emerging athletes. Ten or 12 years ago, when I was president of the FAI schoolboys and youth committees, I visited countries that were poorer than Ireland and saw the wonderful facilities they had for their sportspeople. When I went to France, I visited a development in Clairefontaine for athletes of various sports and noted that it is an example for all. I therefore welcome the establishment of the National Coaching and Training Centre in Limerick, the National Aquatic Centre in Abbotstown, the National Rowing Centre in Inniscarra and the hockey arena in UCD, to name but a few. These have certainly been positive and the Minister would agree that much more sports infrastructure is required.
Senator Dooley raised the issue of sudden cardiac arrest among sportspeople. This has happened on a number of occasions and there was an incident in this regard only last night. Our thoughts go out to the parents of the man who died and all those involved with the club concerned. Research in the area of sports medicine should be considered and funded, be it through the Department of Health and Children or the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism. There is no doubt that sports capital grants have made a tremendous difference to many sports clubs throughout the country and we welcome them.
Senator Kieran Phelan stated that Ireland may benefit from the hosting of the Olympic Games in the United Kingdom in 2012. I hope all our facilities will be in place by then and that they can serve as showpieces for competitors from other countries who may wish to base themselves here prior to the games.
Although I welcome the Bill, it must be placed in the context of a longer-term national plan or vision for the development of elite sport in Ireland. The campus, when developed, must be regarded as part of our overall national sports infrastructure and not as an end in itself. It should be linked to the National Training and Coaching Centre in Limerick and other designated regional centres so all our elite athletes and those with potential, including pupils in primary and post-primary schools, will have access to the training facilities, coaching personnel and other supports they require within a reasonable distance from their homes.
We welcome the development of the Waterford Regional Sports Centre, which the local authority developed in 1979 without very much funding. The funding has increased significantly in recent times and a private developer has been commissioned to help provide the facilities. This is the way we should develop similar regional centres.
Other countries have dedicated schools for exceptionally talented students. Ireland is probably too small to go down this route but it can provide a better structure to nurture talent. Thus, better supports would be provided at local and regional levels. Talented young people cannot travel around the country on a regular basis to gain access to the services they need and it is very important, therefore, that we develop regional centres in addition to the site at Abbotstown.
We support a spatial strategy for the provision of sports facilities to nurture elite sportspeople. We need to establish one-stop shops at local level where sportspeople can receive coaching, regular monitoring of training, information on nutrition and, especially, advice on how to balance sport and other activities so as not to impede opportunities to earn a living that may arise at the conclusion of their careers in sport. In this regard, we could all learn from countries such as the Netherlands, where elite athletes are provided with a structured support system that ensures there is suitable employment at the other end of what is often only a few years at the elite end of sport. The Dutch manage to do this by encouraging companies to adopt elite sportspeople. There is a payback for both the companies and the athletes in such a system and it should be encouraged in Ireland through modest changes in the tax system.
Senator Quinn made a point on which I would welcome the Minister’s response, namely, the need for a statutory authority rather than a limited company to run sports campus Ireland. Perhaps the Minister will deal with this in his response to the debate. Senator Quinn felt very strongly about it.
Senator Dooley touched on the exclusion of local authority members from serving on boards, an issue which also arose in respect of the Road Safety Authority Bill. I cannot understand the logic of excluding local authority members in legislation such as that under discussion. Oireachtas Members are excluded but one should consider the position of members of local authorities who are involved voluntarily with sports bodies throughout the country and who give so much of their time and are experts in their various spheres. The exclusion of local authority members from boards seems to be arising in one Bill after another. I do not know whether there is a witch-hunt on the part of officials from various Departments against local authority members to exclude them or if it is a drafting issue that has come into being where every local authority member is seen as not worthy of being a representative on such bodies. Members on the other side of the House share that view, particularly in regard to the Road Safety Authority Bill. The Minister considered it but could not change it at that late stage. I ask the Minister to examine that because I am aware he knows many local authority members from his side of the House and from other parties who are actively involved in sports and would be qualified to sit on such an authority. I hope he will introduce an amendment on Committee Stage removing this section which excludes local authority members.
Dr. Mansergh: I warmly welcome the Minister to the House and I welcome the legislation. In the earlier part of his contribution the Minister rightly reminded us of some of our recent international achievements in various fields. I know the Minister in other contexts would not forget this but I would put an emphasis also on our outstanding racing and international horse breeding industry. As an act of solidarity last Saturday, a number of Oireachtas Members from all parties went to the races at Down Royal, which have been cancelled from time to time because of dissident threats, but looking at the jockeys getting up on the horses, obesity is the least of their problems.
Tremendous progress has been made over the past 25 years in the area of State promotion of sport. In 1981, the then Minister of State, Jim Tunney, got a few hundred thousand pounds to provide seed money for sports clubs throughout the country. That was considered a significant political achievement at the time and it was carried on by successive Governments.
The sports capital programme is one of the most successful and appreciated Government programmes. I would like to thank the Minister personally for all he has put into it. His period as Minister for this area will be looked back on as one when sport had champions in Government.
Dr. Mansergh: The Taoiseach, with the very able participation and support of the Minister, Deputy O’Donoghue, knows the amount of pleasure it brings clubs when their applications are successful and the difference it makes when one goes back a year or two later and they are able to outline all they have done with both the Government money and the money they have raised themselves.
A valid point was made earlier about the need for sports centres to be spaced out throughout the country. Extra support is being given to regional centres. The Duneske project in Cahir, County Tipperary, is an obvious example the Minister has supported regularly during his term of office.
I am glad the tension and controversy has been taken out of the subject of the national sports campus development authority. I was happy with the decision to locate the principal rugby and soccer stadium in Lansdowne Road because visitors coming here for international matches like stadiums within easy reach of the city centre. It adds to the enjoyment of the weekend. Also, there is a great tradition built up at Lansdowne Road.
I hope the planning difficulties will be overcome with some mutual give and take between residents and the owners of the stadium. I accept that if one lives in the vicinity, whether it is Croke Park or Lansdowne Road, there is significant noise and disruption for a few days but on the other hand, people who live there live in a prime location. Obviously, there will be much more space at Abbotstown and presumably, in tandem with its development, public transport will need to be developed in that direction also. I understand the Luas is planned to operate nearby.
One problem, and this always happens when the responsibility borders two Departments, is the question of sports facilities in schools. The Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism believes, I am sure rightly, that this is primarily a matter for the Department of Education and Science although in many instances in towns and villages there might be a communal facility close by to which schools have ready access. It is a problem, however, that will have to be tacked. Many schools need sports halls and dedicated facilities. The education of the whole person includes a physical as well as an intellectual dimension and that is something that must be further developed by the next Government.
In the meantime, the Minister recently decided that applications can be invited by the Irish Sports Council for another eight county-related sports companies. The Minister is aware, as I have written to him on the subject, that south Tipperary is keenly interested in getting involved in this as the county has shown great prowess in a number of different fields. I take the opportunity, therefore, of publicly recommending to him — I appreciate the decision will be taken by the Irish Sports Council but I am sure he has some influence with it——
Dr. Mansergh: The Minister will not be accused by anybody of neglecting south Kerry except The Kerryman which, if he does not provide 105% of what is asked for, will bitterly attack him over the missing 5%. That happened to him last year, if I remember rightly, as I happened to be in Kerry at the time.
International competitions in what are called elite sports are important because they encourage interest in sport. When I was younger one might be watching the finals of Wimbledon on a Saturday afternoon. Then one would go to the local club and bash away at the ball. Obviously aspirations to achieve anything remotely like Wimbledon standards did not materialise. Nonetheless, such displays encourage and inspire and it is important to have excellence in different fields of sport to provide standards and example. To encourage people however modest their expertise is worthwhile.
Mr. O’Toole: I welcome the Minister to the House. He missed one of those magic moments on the Order of Business earlier when our esteemed colleague, Senator Mansergh, pointed out that life expectancy had increased significantly in this country since 1997, a fact with which everyone must concur. However, he implied that this was due to the current Government. I am sure the Minister will not dispute this, but the rest of us are wondering whether it is true. If the current Government continues for another ten years, perhaps we might all live to be 100.
In terms of the Irish person’s interest in sport, tá TG4, faoi láthair, ag taispeáint Wimbledon. That is a superb feature of Irish life. Before TG4 was established, people regarded it as something that might be relevant to the backwoods people of Kerry, my county and the Minister’s, and other people would not be using it much. However, they have seen it cater for sports interests of all kinds. It is great to see that TG4 can take something like the Tour de France or Wimbledon, go to the trouble to introduce new terminology and bring a whole new audience to an Irish language broadcast. This is interesting in showing how sport is central to our culture in all types of ways.
I must congratulate the Minister and his officials on the legislation, which I very much welcome. I do not share the reservations of my colleague, Senator Quinn, in this regard. He has raised relevant questions and I look forward to the Minister’s response. However, I am happy to go along with the Bill as outlined. It is most important that this is focused on professionals, amateurs and the general public. If we are to get value from involvement in sport, apart from life expectancy, this legislation should bring about better quality of life and a greater appreciation and love of living which comes from sport. In terms of a centre of excellence, one of the problems is that we do not encourage sport early enough. If I was to take an oppositional line on this and recall what has happened in the past ten years, we have gone backwards, as the Minister has said many times, in terms of international success, although we are starting to come back
When this country was on the ropes in 1987-88, there were major cutbacks in primary education. One of those cutbacks which the Government felt obliged to initiate, targeted what was considered to be the least important part of the school building, the general purpose room, as the centre for games, etc. I believe we lost out during that period of time. Most schools are now getting those areas back again, and in the context of our weather it is crucial to have indoor access to sport. For that reason, I ask the Minister to reflect carefully on what Senator Cummins had to say. The biggest single influence on Irish sporting activity and achievement is the weather. We need all-weather access to sports facilities and we are very slow to recognise that. Senator Mansergh mentioned horse racing, for which there is a great love throughout Ireland. However, we do not have an all-weather racing track, although one is being built in Dundalk; the sooner it is completed, the better. One is not enough, however, for an industry that is so central to many aspects of Irish life and agri-industry, and we should have been on the ball much earlier.
Over the years I have seen many former all-Ireland medalists from our county in poor shape with their hips, knees, etc. The reason is very simple. When amateurs became almost professional in their approach the game, in the 1970s in particular, we did not know enough. We did not have warm-ups, cool-downs or whatever. Many of our elite athletes in the area of Gaelic games and other areas suffered accordingly. It was nobody’s fault — we simply did not have the information we required. That is why it is important to get ahead in this now. A number of speakers referred to diet. Sporting success hinges on the approach to exercise, diet and issues that were not discussed in the context of sport two decades ago.
I would like the Bill to look beyond the elite athletes and to provide for what happens to them when they have reached their peak and retired from professional international or intercounty competition. There should be more opportunities for them, apart from golf. Every former athlete I meet seems to be golfing. There must be a host of other activities in which they can participate — sailing, walking, etc. — which we should also support. I raised with the Minister before my belief that Ireland should be the European home of sailing. If counties were equipped with marinas, particularly along the west coast, it would bode well for that particular sport. This is an area that should be examined, getting people into the water, including the inland waterways. Fishing is an area in which there is continuing development. It is one of the mass sports in Ireland at the moment. I saw the figures involved recently and they were very high.
An interesting area in which the Cathaoirleach would be interested was highlighted in the newspapers over the weekend. An article referred to what would happen when Gaelic sports and the World Cup collided. The reality is that there were more people in Thurles last Sunday, for the Munster final, never mind Croke Park, than there were at the England versus Ecuador match. Here we have the most popular sport in the world, but it drew fewer people to the world series of games than the Munster final attracted in Thurles. Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh often refers to the 70,000 or more people in Croke Park and last weekend’s attendance figure was probably the highest sporting attendance figure in the world. We do not think about these things, but it proves the point the Minister made, that we have an extraordinary interest in sport, and that people will follow, support and be part of it. It is the reason the GAA need never worry.
I disagree, fundamentally — and will be prepared to have a small wager afterwards with the Minister — that Lansdowne Road will be up and running some time in 2009. I am prepared to wager a good deal on that and I am not sure what will happen in that situation. Already, a 29-month construction period only leaves seven months for the whole planning process and the endless series of objections and hearings before An Bord Pleanála, the High Court, etc. I certainly do not see that happening, but I wish the Minister well anyway. As someone who has been attending international soccer matches for the past 30 years, I look forward to the first one next year in Croke Park.
Section 18 is an issue for all of us in the House. The Minister’s speech states that the section contains the standard prohibitions on members of the authority holding political office at local, national or European level. However, these are not standard prohibitions, but are put in by the Parliamentary Counsel. Every time I ask a Minister if a particular section is his or her idea, I am told it is put in by the Parliamentary Counsel on his or her own initiative.
It is worthwhile considering why the section is there, which is to stop a Minister putting people from his or her own party into various positions. Nonetheless, it does much more than that. I have no difficulty with a prohibition on a Minister or Department promoting a member of a local authority or the Oireachtas. However, the section also prohibits those who happen to be members of a local authority or the Oireachtas being nominated by other organisations. For example, the IRFU cannot nominate Deputy Glennon and the GAA cannot nominate Deputy Deenihan, our esteemed county colleague. Who could argue with those nominations? I could see why people would object if the nomination was made by the Minister or through a political process, but why should an organisation be deprived the experience of such people?
The Minister should ask himself this question every time a Bill is brought forward. It is demeaning to members of local authorities and the Oireachtas and it gives the impression they cannot be trusted. It feeds into the anti-public representative feeling that is widespread. There is no reason for this section as written. There may be a reason for it if it prevents nomination by political parties and Ministers. I ask the Minister to reconsider it.
Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Mr. O’Donoghue): I thank the Senators who contributed to this very interesting debate. It was mentioned that Ireland does not have a great record of success in the Olympic Games and the establishment of the sports campus at Abbotstown will be an important step in that respect. It will provide well-equipped sports facilities which will give our sportsmen and women the edge in preparation for international events in the future. However, sport is not all about winning medals. It was acknowledged more than once today that participation in sport contributes to physical and mental well-being.
Reference was made to the storm damage to the National Aquatic Centre in January 2005 when the roof of the swimming pool was damaged by high winds. Repair work on the centre was completed on 20 May 2005 and the centre reopened to the public immediately. The consulting engineers, Kavanagh, Mansfield and Partners, certified the repair work carried out. To date, no State expenditure has been incurred on this repair work. The cost of repairing the roof is a matter for the insurance company involved.
There were misleading media reports in 2005 about leaks at the aquatic centre. Arising from these reports, CSID arranged that Rohcon Limited, the company that constructed the centre, carry out an inspection. The inspection team conducted a technical examination of the entire centre, with particular reference to the structural integrity of the concrete works. The inspection team consisted of experts in the field. It was led by Rohcon and included S & P Architects, URS structural engineers, Europools specialists subcontractors, David Langdon PKS project managers and Kavanagh, Mansfield and Partners consultant structural and civil engineers. Rohcon found there was no evidence of any structural defects or of any water leaking into the plant room, despite what had been alleged in the media. Rohcon found some leakage in pipe joints and vales which, in its view, were operational rather than structural matters.
In addition, a test was carried out and confirmed that there were no leaks from the swimming pools. URS structural engineers confirmed that the concrete works were designed and constructed to meet the British Standard 8007. It confirmed that any cracks that existed were not leaking, were not of a structural nature and were entirely normal for a building of this type. If one were to tell that to people on the street, they would say it cannot be true. This is because they read in big, bold print that it was true, but they never read in big, bold print that it was not true. Let me repeat; it was not true. Rohcon published the results of its findings on 7 July. CSID received a separate report from its own structural engineers, Kavanagh, Mansfield and Partners, which supported the Rohcon findings, but these reports got little or no coverage in the media.
Kavanagh, Mansfield and Partners produced a report, in two sections, on the damage to the roof, namely, the schedule of the repair of the roof and the condition of the pool area. While public statements have been made about the findings contained in the report, it has not yet been put into the public arena because there were legal and contractual matters to resolve regarding the work on the National Aquatic Centre. That matter is now close to being resolved, so there is no reason not to make the report public. The report will be published at an early date.
Senator Quinn felt there was no need for a statutory authority and that a company would suffice. We are anxious that the body would be underpinned by legislation and this advice was given to us by the Attorney General. The statutory authority itself will hold land and will be charged with the spending of a considerable amount of State money. In the next four to five years, it is anticipated that the first phase will cost around €119 million and that has been agreed in my Department’s capital envelope with the Minister for Finance. Much work is involved and it was felt that it would be better to proceed on the basis which I have outlined.
Senator Quinn was also concerned about the additional cost, but I can put his mind to rest. The authority will not involve any additional cost, over and above that required for the operation of the existing company. The Attorney General recommended putting the company on a statutory basis as a means of providing a better regulatory framework. This would provide a more accountable structure as the responsibilities and the functions of the authority would be clearly spelled out in legislation.
Senator Ryan and others raised the possibility of Lansdowne Road being used by the GAA. The pitch in Lansdowne Road currently measures
125 m by 80 m and this is inadequate for major GAA games. The GAA has been advised of this. The new stadium at Lansdowne Road will be available to the GAA, should it suit the organisation to use it. A full GAA pitch measures 137 m by 82 m. Discussions have been held with the Ladies Gaelic Football Association and Cumann Camógaíochta na nGael and both organisations have indicated an interest in the option of using the new stadium.
Senator O’Toole mentioned that membership of the Houses of the Oireachtas, the European Parliament or local authorities disqualified an individual from membership of the board. This is currently a standard provision for membership of State agencies. While no express legal impediment to the appointment of a Deputy or Senator exists, the provision is in line with long-established practice.
On Committee Stage in the Dáil, the Bill was amended to treat the chief executive in the same manner as a member of the authority, committee or a director of a subsidiary. In other words, a chief executive would need to resign if he or she became a Member of the Dáil, Seanad, the European Parliament or a local authority. Senator Dooley, among others, referred to local authority membership. Some legislation, for example the Residential Tenancies Act 2004, requires people to cease to serve on boards upon attaining membership of a local authority. The provisions of the Health Act 2004 relate to members of boards and committees and not to staff. A section of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board Act 2003 relates to members of staff and the Taxi Regulation Act 2003 has a similar provision.
In this case I do not consider that it would be good practice to appoint members of local authorities to the authority. It might be best if the authority were to be removed from public life in so far as that is possible. The accounts of bodies, including the existing Bord na gCon and other similar boards, such as Horse Racing Ireland and presumably this authority, may be examined by a Dáil committee. The danger exists that the membership of the Dáil committee could include a member of the authority which was being examined or at least his or her colleagues might be examining the accounts of the authority concerned. The Attorney General has been of the view for many years that it is not desirable for a Member of the Houses of the Oireachtas to be a member of a statutory authority.
A number of speakers referred to the tragic early deaths of young sportspeople. The present phase of the development at Abbotstown will involve a facility to provide fitness and recovery areas and will be a centre for the development of sports medicine. In future years I would envisage the development of cutting-edge sports medicine knowledge which I hope in time will contribute to ruling out such tragic loss of young life.
Senator Mansergh and others mentioned the value and benefit of sport to young people in schools. I see the importance of encouraging young people into sport given all the other attractions available to them. While responsibility for the provision of facilities in national and secondary schools rests with the Department of Education and Science, applications from schools and colleges may be considered under the sports capital programme in circumstances where those facilities are made available to the wider community. This issue of encouraging schools to come together with local communities and sports clubs to develop sports facilities is being examined in the context of the development of a sports facility strategy by the Department.
Clearly sports facilities that are used during the day by schools and by the wider community in the evenings represent the best value for money. Of course issues regarding staffing, security, insurance and running costs need to be addressed. However, it is heartening that a close relationship already exists between schools and local sports clubs. The 2005 ESRI report on the participation of children and young people in sport, reported that 79% of post-primary schools and 90% of primary schools acknowledged some degree of help with facilities provided by local sports clubs. Two programmes specifically operated by the Irish Sports Council aim to encourage young people to participate in
We have made substantial progress in sport in recent years. I am particularly pleased that the amount of money we are now spending on sport has increased from approximately €17 million in 1997, when the Taoiseach first brought sport to the Cabinet table, to approximately €243 million in 2006. Since its statutory inception, the Irish Sports Council, which received funding of €13.7 million in 2000, has seen its funding increased to €40.09 million in the current year, which allows it to provide a service that was hitherto unknown here. We now have enhancement programmes for our elite athletes. We have a carding scheme, whereby our elite athletes are paid a certain amount each year to enable them to discharge their living expenses. The great oarsman, Sam Lynch, said that only in recent years has he been in a position to concentrate on his sport and not need to worry about who would pay the hotel bills.
This progress has been reflected in other areas of sport across the country. Senator Kieran Phelan and others mentioned the swimming pool programme. We have made considerable progress in recent years in this regard. In 2005 we spent approximately €14 million and this year we will spend approximately €32.3 million. We recently grant aided four new pools at Portarlington, Portlaoise, Longford and Thurles. We have also approved the contracts for six more pools. Last night I opened a new facility in Drogheda, County Louth, where we invested €3.8 million and the cost of the project was approximately €9 million. Further funding for the pool has been sought from the Department. The facility is a joy to behold and it expects approximately 200,000 visits in 2006 alone, which indicates the success of the programme.
For a small amount of money we are succeeding in building swimming pools and dry facilities in many towns. Unfortunately we cannot do so everywhere. It is estimated that a population of 20,000 within a five-mile radius is needed for a pool to be viable. I hope we can negotiate a new swimming pool programme to enable even more towns to avail of this programme. Regardless of which Government is in office, this is a worthwhile scheme, which is providing wonderful facilities for young and old people. Swimming like golf, at neither of which I am proficient, are sports in which people can participate from a young age to a relatively old age.
Several Senators, including Opposition spokespersons, mentioned the sports capital programme, which is highly successful. We are proud that since 1998 we have grant aided 5,600 different projects in every city, town, village and parish. Few members of our young population have not been positively affected by the programme. The spend has not been enormous.
The issue of women in sport was mentioned and it remains a problem. It is estimated that the number of women actively engaged in sport is approximately 11%, which is extremely low and we are trying to rectify the problem. This year we again made a special provision in addition to the provision we made last year to encourage women into sport. Funding has been provided through the Irish Sports Council with a view to bringing more women into sport. I hope our investment of €2.25 million will ensure that more women will take part in sport and we can continue to increase this kind of investment.
Senator Ryan referred to a tax allowance for GAA players, which is a complex issue. The former Minister for Finance introduced a tax allowance scheme for professional sportsmen and sportswomen. This is different from providing a tax allowance for amateur sportsmen and sportswomen, and is very complex. I have indicated to the GAA that the question of having a grant scheme is in the first instance a matter for that association. If it indicates that it is willing to approve such a scheme, the Government would then give it consideration. No more than I would tell the GAA that it should open or close Croke Park for other games, I am not in a position to instruct the GAA on a matter as fundamental as this. We are waiting to hear from the GAA and no doubt we will hear relatively shortly.
A number of contributors referred to the important area of volunteerism. The real heroes and heroines of Irish sports are the people who bring the children out on Sunday mornings to coach and manage them and who line the pitches, put up the flags and hang the nets. They are not often given the acclaim they deserve, so I acknowledge the pivotal role played by these heroic volunteers of Irish sport.
With regard to the future of sport in Ireland, we have made a number of advances. The Lansdowne Road stadium is an exciting development, although it is regrettable that objections have been made in that respect. I would prefer a world class stadium to a concrete jungle but we can be sure that, if planning permission is not obtained for a new stadium, a concrete jungle will be built on Lansdowne Road. It is important for the future that we continue to catch up with our European neighbours. We are almost there and the strategy is in place. An institute of sport is the necessary next step in order to develop elite athletes. When we have elite athletes, we will have role models and heroes and heroines who will be looked up to by young people. That will foster a greater level of participation which, in turn, will result in more elite athletes.
It is hoped that the FAI will be the first tenants of the office accommodation and administrative facilities at the sports campus at Abbotstown, followed by other NGOs. I hope future Governments, irrespective of political orientation, will continue to expand Abbotstown. We are just stringing the first pearls onto the necklace and, if pearls are added by different Governments as the years pass, Ireland will have a world class facility capable of hosting the best and biggest international sporting competitions. There is no reason that goal cannot be achieved if the proper facilities are put in place. We have embarked upon an irreversible journey which will benefit future generations even more than Senators can envisage.
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