Thursday, 31 January 2008
Seanad Eireann Debate
Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill: I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I have raised this matter on the Adjournment to highlight the opportunities presented to Ireland by the 2012 Olympic Games in London, which is only a short distance away. There is a major potential to be derived from the Olympics in that various teams will wish to train in a climate similar to that of London prior to the games, particularly in the 18 months leading up to 2012. The London Olympics will be held from 27 July to 12 August 2012, with the subsequent Paralympic Games being held there from 29 August to 9 September 2012. That is just over 1,640 days hence.
While I appreciate the work being done by the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism in this respect through the task force established by the previous Minister, Deputy John O’Donoghue, a more urgent approach is required in working with local authorities to earmark suitable facilities. My local authority in Donegal has taken the initiative to compile a comprehensive list of all such facilities available in the county. In conjunction with the local sports partnership, the council is promoting Donegal venues internationally via national Olympic committees and Paralympic committees. There are approximately 400 such committees worldwide and it is important for us to approach them with a view to attracting Olympic teams here. It might be difficult to attract major teams such as those from the United States but Ireland has the potential to attract teams from developing nations.
What efforts are being made in this respect by the task force? When can we expect the findings of the task force and its recommendations to be made available? Is the task force looking at one or two centres of population, or is it open to suggestions from all parts of the country? Would it be in the interests of the task force to work with local authorities and, if so, what kind of assistance will be provided by the Department to local authorities who wish to bid for teams to stay in their own regions prior to the 2012 Olympics?
A major sporting, cultural and economic dividend could be gained from such initiatives. We may have to raise facilities up to a certain standard but the investment aimed at attracting Olympic teams here would provide long-term benefits both nationally and for local communities also. We should grasp this opportunity with both hands.
Having spoken to the Irish Olympic team manager, Patsy McGonagle, who will be leading the Irish charge in Beijing this year, it is critically important to make such bids and liaise with national Olympic bodies as quickly as possible, otherwise the opportunity may be lost. I urge the Minister of State to raise this matter with the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy Séamus Brennan. An excellent task force has been established but it is important for us to be aware of where it is going and when we can expect to see some results.
Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Michael Ahern): On behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy Séamus Brennan, I thank Senator Ó Domhnaill for raising this matter. I am grateful for the opportunity to outline the current position regarding the work being carried out by the London 2012 Olympics task force.
Deputy Michael Ahern: Our similar climate, proximity and good transport links, common language and strong business and tourism links with the UK present many opportunities for Ireland to benefit from the London games. Sport has the capacity to unite and excite the whole country like nothing else and the Olympics remain the biggest sporting event of them all. London 2012 is a once in a lifetime opportunity for the people of Ireland to experience the Olympics up close.
The Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism established the London 2012 Olympics task force in August 2006 to ensure that Ireland can identify and maximise the complete range of opportunities arising from our proximity to the Olympic and Paralympic games in London. The task force includes experts from the sport, tourism, cultural and business sectors and is supported by staff within the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism. The group was asked to examine all possible opportunities, identify the priority areas of interest and map out a strategy to ensure that Ireland will benefit from its proximity to London in 2012.
One of the first pieces of work that the task force carried out was an audit of high quality sports facilities suitable to attract international athletes to train in the years leading up to the London 2012 Olympic Games. In parallel with this audit and better to inform the future work of the task force, the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism appointed Indecon International Economic Consultants to carry out an economic evaluation of the benefit to the island of Ireland of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games. This evaluation has now been completed and the task force is considering the findings and recommendations. It is important that any expenditure on facilities will be aimed not only at attracting teams but primarily at ensuring a lasting legacy for Irish athletes and communities.
I understand that the task force will shortly be submitting recommendations to my colleague, the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, on the work that it has carried out and the Minister looks forward to receiving the report in due course.
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