Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 1 February 2017
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport
Sport in Ireland - Challenges, Strategies and Governance: Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport
We will now turn to considering the issues affecting sport in Ireland. This is the third hearing on the subject which we have included in our work programme for 2017. Today we will continue our examination of a number of areas, including how governance is supported and promoted by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. We will also continue the discussion on the issue of gender quotas on the boards of State-sponsored governing bodies of sport by seeking the views of the Minister, Deputy Shane Ross, and the Minister of State, Deputy Patrick O'Donovan, on how it should be managed. We have previously heard from the GAA, the IRFU, the FAI, Sport Ireland and the Federation of Irish Sport. Today the Minister and the Minister of State will have an opportunity to respond to some of their expressed concerns. I am delighted to welcome the Minister and the Minister of State. I invite the Minister to make his opening statement.
I thank members for their invitation to appear before the joint committee and giving me this opportunity to engage in a productive discussion on sport related issues. Before I address the issues outlined by the committee, as this is the first occasion on which I have exclusively addressed sport related issues, I take the opportunity to congratulate all of our sportsmen and women who performed with great success at home and abroad in 2016. The accomplishments of our athletes at the Olympic and Paralympic Games last summer must be commended. As well as the two silver medals won by Annalise Murphy and Paul and Gary O'Donovan, Irish Olympians achieved 16 top ten and 14 top 20 finishes. Our Paralympians won 11 medals and achieved 22 top eight finishes. Overall, 2016 was an excellent year for elite Irish athletes, with 54 medals won at world and European level in sports supported by Sport Ireland.
I will now address the issues outlined by the committee. I will be pleased to have a broader discussion on these and other sport related issues. I thank the committee for giving us advance notice of the topics it wanted to discuss.
It is vital that the highest standards of governance be in place at all levels of Irish sport to ensure accountability, fairness and transparency across organisational activities and to support the integrity of sport, both at home and abroad. The committee will be aware that Sport Ireland is the statutory body with responsibility for the governance of national governing bodies of sport. Sport Ireland has an important role to play in governance issues and ensuring taxpayers' money is used to best effect. It has strong procedures in place for dealing with governance issues and ensuring financial oversight of the national governing bodies funded by it. In an effort to strengthen good governance practices, we have engaged with Sport Ireland to introduce a mandatory requirement for all national governing bodies in receipt of Government funding through Sport Ireland to adopt the governance code for community, voluntary and charitable organisations. It will now be mandatory for all national governing bodies funded by Sport Ireland to begin the process of adopting the code during 2017. The timeframe for progress on a comply or explain basis for the larger sports organisations will be 2019, with 2020 being the timeline for smaller organisations.
Ensuring gender equality in the governance of sport in Ireland is an important objective. In that regard, a consultation process has commenced with national governing bodies of sport on how best to ensure women's involvement in leadership roles in sport, including the option to require national governing bodies to meet a gender balance target. A very successful meeting took place on 16 December with representatives from close to 50 sports organisations. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss approaches to advancing the participation of women in positions of leadership in sport. This matter is still at discussion stage and a period of consultation is just concluding. Sport Ireland invited views from the governing bodies of sport, with a deadline of Friday last for the receipt of submissions. We expect to receive a report from Sport Ireland shortly outlining the findings from the consultation process. We will then consider the inputs and observations received before decisions are made on how to proceed.
The total amount available for spending on sport this year is just over €112 million. This includes €6 million in unspent capital which has been carried over from 2016.
On the current side, the budget for Sport Ireland is €49.8 million, an increase of €2.5 million on the 2016 allocation. This funding will allow Sport Ireland to continue to support participation and high performance programmes in 2017. In addition, €5 million has been allocated from the dormant accounts fund to my Department to support measures to promote sport in disadvantaged areas.
Sport Ireland's capital funding allocation is for the development of the National Sports Campus. The allocation of €2.9 million in 2017 is to meet existing commitments. Members will be aware that the Taoiseach officially opened the National Indoor Arena at the National Sports Campus last week. The National Indoor Arena is a very significant and welcome addition to the existing facilities at the campus, providing world-class indoor facilities for athletics, gymnastics and a variety of other sports.
The sports capital programme is the Government's primary vehicle to support the development of sports facilities and the purchase of sports equipment. It aims to foster an integrated and planned approach to developing sports and physical recreational facilities throughout the country. In particular, its stated objectives are to assist voluntary and community organisations, national governing bodies of sport, local authorities and schools to develop high quality, safe, well designed, sustainable facilities in appropriate locations; to provide appropriate equipment to help to maximise participation in sport and physical recreation; to prioritise the needs of disadvantaged areas in the provision of sports facilities; and to encourage the sharing of local, regional and national sports facilities by clubs, community organisations and national governing bodies of sport.
On 21 December we announced that €30 million would be be made available under the 2017 sports capital programme. The application process opened on 23 January and will remain open until 24 February. A previous criticism of the scheme was the number of invalid applications received. In this regard, a significant effort has been made to simplify and streamline the application process. Most members will be familiar with the form, but I will spell it out briefly. The form has been reduced from 14 pages to six. Other supports for applicants include comprehensive written and video guides, both of which are available on my Department's website. For the first time, we have also arranged a series of regional workshops to provide guidance for potential applicants on how to complete the form. The workshops will commence next week and I understand there is a significant level of interest in attending. Based on previous rounds of the programme, the assessment process takes a number of months to complete and I expect the actual grant allocations to be made some time towards the end of the summer. The programme has transformed the sport landscape of Ireland with improvements in the quality and quantity of sports facilities in virtually every village, town and city. We are committed to ensuring this progress will continue. In this regard, we will be engaging with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform as part of the mid–term review of the capital plan to ensure the sports capital programme will be opened for applications on an annual basis in the future.
In terms of the challenges we have to face and the possible strategies we might usefully deploy to successfully overcome them, the committee will be aware that in November my Department launched a major consultation process for the development of a new national sports policy framework. By the mid-January deadline for the submission of comments, almost 50 responses had been received. The up-to-date figure is 55. I am very happy with this response level. We are in the process of examining the submissions and I am confident that the new policy will benefit greatly from the insights of the various sports stakeholders. Even though the deadline has passed, we will not turn away anyone else who might wish to make a submission even at this late stage. I am pleased to have the opportunity to extend that invitation, both publicly and to members.
There are several key challenges which we will have to address and I will briefly run through a few of those. However, there is one challenge that I would consider should be to the forefront in our thinking, and that concerns how to increase the numbers participating in sport and physical activity generally. There are worrying trends that point clearly to declining numbers overall. In the most recent Irish Sports Monitor Report, it was found that 45% of the population participate regularly in sport, which represents a small decline in participation levels in both genders. A continuation of a situation whereby more than half the population is not participating in sport on a regular basis would have significant consequences for Irish society as a whole in the future in terms of adverse impacts on the health of the nation. Although other lifestyle choices such as improving diet are important factors that can contribute to a solution, increasing participation rates in sport and physical activity is certainly part of that solution and we will be giving that challenge a particular priority in the period ahead.
Sports policy overlaps with other Departments and agencies through initiatives such as Healthy Ireland, education, social policy and issues such as regional planning. Cross-sectoral engagement and a more joined up approach by Government, working closely with key stakeholders, will be one of our priorities for the new sports policy.
Everyone, regardless of age or ability, should be able to participate in sport. We will aim, therefore, to ensure that sports policy should support everyone from early childhood play through education and adult life. For this to happen there needs to be sustained investment in sport. We will need, therefore, to define the parameters of such an investment programme over the long term, bearing in mind the importance of current investment in people as well as capital facilities.
There is also the challenge of competing and succeeding on the international stage. There is an undoubted inspirational effect among young people in particular of seeing their sporting heroes being successful at the major international sporting events, and we will have to consider how best to drive forward. While we have come a long way in recent times in terms of the world-class facilities at the National Sports Campus, there will be a need for continued commitment to our high performance sector.
The work of the national governing bodies and local sports partnerships also warrants particular consideration. They each play an absolutely vital role in the Irish sports landscape. Ensuring good governance throughout all organisations involved in sport in order to maintain public confidence in sporting bodies is accordingly a key policy objective.
I have mentioned just a few of our challenges today, and we will be working hard over the next few months to set a clear strategic direction for engagement by Government and Sport Ireland with the sporting sector. I hope to finalise the new sports policy framework around the middle of this year. For now, we are looking forward to hearing the views and priorities of this committee, which will help form part of my overall considerations.
I welcome the Ministers. I understand that should any of the national governing bodies funded by Sport Ireland make a loss or be in a net liability situation they are requested to detail what action their boards are taking to ensure that there will be no loss the following year. Can the Minister confirm to the committee if this situation has occurred at any time in the past, and if so is he satisfied that the appropriate action was taken?
I am sorry but I will have to check that. I would not really know that because it is a matter for Sport Ireland, and our role is not to actually interfere in the operations of the national governing bodies. However, I will check it.
Can the Minister ask his officials to clarify that and get back to me as soon as possible? In regard to the funding of the Olympic Council of Ireland, OCI, I understand that the policy was that all expenditure was to be vouched, and should actual expenditure be lower than the budget amount then the final balance payment will be reduced accordingly. Can the Minister confirm if this situation has arisen at any stage in the past and if the final balance payment was reduced in these circumstances?
I thank the committee for the invitation. I was a member of this committee in the last Dáil and I am delighted to be here to address some of the questions. The board of Sport Ireland approved the grant of €520,000 for the Olympic Council of Ireland for administration and programme spending in 2016. Some €390,000 of this was paid to the OCI in 2016. The balance was not transferred. From our point of view, Sport Ireland is the funding body for national governing bodies. The Olympic Council of Ireland is not a national governing body. There are 56 national governing bodies for whom the code of governance would extend to. To answer the Deputy's question, €130,000 has been retained from the 2016 allocation.
I understand that prior to the closing date for the application for the sports capital programme an updated assessment manual will be published. Can the Minister confirm when this will be available, as the closing date is fast approaching?
The assessment manual is under way at the moment. Our officials in Killarney have spent much time on this. Last June or July we started looking at a 2016-2017 programme. We wanted to change the criteria to make it, as the Minister, Deputy Ross, said, as easy as possible for people in terms of the qualifications. Mindful of that, we have decided that in advance of the closing date the assessment manual for our officials in Killarney would also be finalised. To be honest, I do not envisage massive change from the last assessment manual in terms of scoring. The Department is very anxious to make sure that our sporting facilities at local and regional level have a particular emphasis on as wide a code as possible, so if there are codes that can share facilities and can demonstrate that they are available to local organisations and local schools, have access programmes for people with disabilities, have clear objectives in terms of participation for minorities, new Irish communities, women and so on, obviously that will be taken into consideration. It can be taken at face value that the assessment manual the Department will use for validation will not deviate much from the last time. We have made it as simple as we can. We have reduced the application process considerably.
This will create huge challenges for the Department because the last time around we had in excess of €150 million worth of valid applications. Based on the fact that we have reduced the criteria considerably and made it easier we are now engaging with people to an extent we did not before. We are meeting people in workshops. We have a YouTube channel. The Department is receiving a huge number of calls on a regular basis. I imagine that the number of valid applications we receive will dramatically increase, and that creates its own pressure then in terms of being able to distribute what is essentially a smaller amount of money.
The one positive that can be taken from that is that we have agreement from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, and it is in the programme for Government that this will be annualised. Every January from now on we will be in a position where we will be able to reopen this, so the element of uncertainty that was there before is removed. When I was a backbench Deputy I was inundated with people asking if there would be a sports capital programme each year. We are very conscious of the value of it and we want to maximise it. The €30 million we have this year is a baseline, and we will try to grow it with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.
The numbers are overwhelming but we still expect to be able to make decisions by mid-summer because I think it is important for everybody that the delay is not too long. The efficiency has improved immensely. Out of 1,592 applications last time, approximately one third were ruled out. However, the Department has made extraordinarily detailed arrangements around the country, with workshops, helplines and other information being communicated to people so that will not happen this time. There will be a massive number of applications but the number of invalid applications will be much lower. The assessment process has to be agreed among the two Ministers fairly shortly.
I am sharing time with my other two colleagues.
I understand that the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, has requested a meeting with Dr. Wu, who is president of the International Boxing Association, AIBA, to discuss issues arising from the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games. Can the Minister of State confirm if a date has been set and outline what issue he intends to raise with Dr. Wu? Can the Minister give an update on the nomination of a new chairperson for Horse Sport Ireland?
The Minister, Deputy Ross, will answer the second question. I have requested a meeting with Dr. Wu based on Ireland's experience in the Olympic Games. I have done so in response to commentary in the media and my own interest in it. As somebody who has a passing interest in boxing, I was left in no doubt that there were serious questions to ask from an Irish point of view in the aftermath of the Olympic Games. The first thing one would have to ask about Ireland's participation in boxing is whether our boxers were treated fairly. There was one clear example to most people whereby we all thought our man had won and then, to absolute disbelief, our man had not won. An explanation is owed to us, because as a Government in the first instance, we fund the Irish Amateur Boxing Association, IABA. It is channelled through Sport Ireland after being voted by the Oireachtas to the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. There is a clear line of responsibility in terms of accountability for what happens to our athletes.
There is an element of fairness. These are people who are representative of the State. When they go out there, they are under the Irish tricolour. We have to be satisfied that they are treated fairly. I was left in major doubt that our people were being treated fairly. I have no problem in stating that publicly and have done so previously. I have requested a meeting with Dr. Wu. There was one originally scheduled but unfortunately, due to his engagements, it had to be deferred. I have made it clear that I am prepared to go to Lausanne or if it can be accommodated in Dublin, so be it. We have to get back to a situation where we can trust, without any element of doubt, that when somebody goes out under the Irish tricolour, they are treated the very same as everybody else. That is owed to our athletes. In the aftermath of the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games, a very sour taste was left in the mouths of our participating athletes. In advance of further international competition, we as a Government, Sport Ireland, and the IABA want assurances that our people are going to be treated fairly. It beggars belief that when the bout was over, the person who won it was as shocked as the rest of us and could not continue on.
I welcome that this has been brought up in this forum because it comes in under governance. The IABA have recently gone down the road of looking at its own strategic development. It is funded by our Department. The association must be satisfied that when it puts young men and women out into the ring on behalf of Ireland, they are being treated fairly. I have a big cloud of suspicion there at the moment. I want assurances. They are owed to our athletes in the first instance. Assurances that this is being done properly are also owed to the people who fund the IABA, who ultimately are the taxpayers of Ireland. That is why I have looked for it.
As the Deputy probably knows, the term of the current chair, Professor Pat Wall, ends on 17 February. I was anxious that there should be an open process about this and I wanted to get it past the Public Appointments Service. The Public Appointments Service said that it was outside its remit to do this because Horse Sport Ireland does not come within it. There was a further proposal that a Mr. Jim Beecher, who was proposed by Sport Ireland as the interim chairman, should be accepted. He was approached and agreed to do that. I had to get the permission of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to do that. The Public Appointments Service has now advised that although it will not do it, it will assist the Department in appointing a new chair. Work has commenced in the division of the development of an advertisement in line with my instruction.
Having 50 minutes will bring us up to about 2.50 p.m. We need to be finished for 2.55 p.m. As I explained previously, it is up to the groupings to share and manage their time. The Senator can continue in the four minutes remaining.
I will address the issue of phase two of the Abbotstown sports campus. It is a brilliant development. There is no funding for 2017 in the Estimates. Will it be funded in 2018? I seek the comments of both the Minister and the Minister of State on the deal on funding with the Gaelic Players Association, GPA, and the Gaelic Athletics Association, GAA, before Christmas because I presume that they are high-performance athletes as well. However, I presume programmes have been worked out. On what is the €6.7 million being spent? In respect of governance, the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, mentioned the OCI. With all that happened in recent events, both the Minister and Minister of State stated that its funding would be reviewed. Has that happened?
The issue of boxing was mentioned. One could not make up what happened. Last week, I asked Sport Ireland how much day-to-day governance it has in this regard. I note one boxer did not train with the rest of the team and ended up failing a drug test when he arrived in Rio de Janeiro. From a management perspective, if somebody is not training with the group, why should he or she travel? I did not get an answer. I was told many years ago that when drug testing started at GAA level, funding would be withdrawn if the GAA did not co-operate. There still seems to be a lack of co-operation by some governing bodies.
Where are we at in recognising or regulating mixed martial arts, MMA, as a sport? We lost a world leader in the boxing area two years ago. Since the Irish Sports Council appeared before the committee, it has been announced that the high-performance director of rowing is leaving. Have we developed a habit of losing winning managements?
I will take a couple and perhaps Deputy O'Donovan can take a couple as well.
A proposal was made for the second part of the funding of the indoor arena. It is quite a long saga. I will read out what I have. A proposal has been made. There is no agreement on the funding yet. Sport Ireland submitted a proposal to the Department on 12 June 2015 and again in January 2016 for the development of phase two. The proposal involves Sport Ireland part-funding the capital cost of the project from the proceeds of the sale of two areas of land at the national sports campus, estimated to achieve €8.5 million after capital gains tax, with the balance of capital funding to be provided by the Exchequer. This contribution is estimated in the region of €16 million. The total amount involved is €24 million. Sport Ireland proposes to secure a bank loan to pay the construction costs pending the sale of land and allocation of Exchequer funding. They are going to look for the State to fund the balance. We intend to look for the funding for that in the mid-term capital review.
The matter of MMA was raised. After the death of Mr. Joao Carvalho in 2016, the then Minister of State, Deputy Ring engaged with the MMA community to attempt to get them under an umbrella and maybe even to become a national governing body, NGB. They formed a group called the Irish Mixed Martial Arts Association, IMMMA, which is now talking to a Sport Ireland recognised body, the Irish Martial Arts Commission, IMAC, but bringing them under that umbrella has been slow.
The Department has brought in an expert on this area, Professor Jack Anderson, who is liaising with Sport Ireland.
If it would be helpful, I have no problem with coming back before the committee on another day. The Minister, Deputy Ross, has the Bus Éireann issue to deal with but if it would be helpful, I could come back in on another day.
If there is time at the very end of the meeting I will ask the Minister for the answers. If not, he might furnish them in writing and we will make alternative arrangements. The Fianna Fáil grouping has 15 minutes for questions and answers.
I will get straight to the point. I congratulate all the people who represented our country in the past 12 months. It is a great honour and privilege for them to represent the Tricolour and it was a great honour and privilege for us to watch them in their various sporting fields.
On the Olympic Council of Ireland, OCI, months after the Rio debacle, what reports does the Minister have on his desk? Has anything been published since that debacle, and what actions are in train? It may not even be a report but a memorandum or any correspondence on the debacle in Rio.
With regard to the OCI, has the Minister any thoughts on the election of a new president of the OCI? The process was first opened to the media. It was then closed to the media. It is back open to the media again. How can we have confidence that this election process will be open and transparent? We are talking about an organisation in which the general public has very little confidence. Why was €130,000 of the 2016 funding to the OCI retained?
As our athletes prepare to represent our country at the 2020 Olympic Games, how can we ensure that the taxpayers' money that is given to the OCI is spent on player welfare and not on administrative costs? How much of the OCI budget is dedicated to player welfare as opposed to administration? That is my first question.
I will say a few words on the Olympics. The Olympics was an event far different from what we expected but I hope the 2020 Olympics to which the Deputy refers, and the Deputy might be in my place then representing the country-----
I hope the Deputy does not have the same experience I did, but it was a very successful event for Ireland and underestimated in many ways. The fact that we got fewer medals than we did in London does not mean that the high performance was not good. The top 10s and 20s were very good indeed, and we should celebrate that.
On the reports, I presume the Deputy is referring to the Moran report. As he knows, we set up that inquiry and we have had no contact, certainly not in a verbal way, with it of any sort.
None at all; no verbal contact. We had a request for an extension, which we gave to it until 31 March. I understand the Deputy has tabled a parliamentary question on this also. There is no report, and I have had no contact with Judge Moran at any stage, and do not intend to have until his report lands on my desk.
On the OCI, the election will be on 8 February. Obviously, we will not interfere with that election in any way.
To take the last point first, it is very important that the Olympic Council of Ireland presidency election be as open and accountable as possible. I wish the contenders well. No more than is the case for the people who come into these Houses, it is not easy to put one's name on a ballot paper. I welcome the fact that the election will be held in an open forum.
On the amounts yet to be drawn down, we will get a detailed answer for the Deputy but my understanding is that those amounts are paid on receipt of vouched expenses so if there is an amount that has yet to be drawn down, it is awaiting correspondence perhaps from the OCI to Sport Ireland. We will get clarification on that for the Deputy and forward it to him.
Everybody will understand that the Olympic Council of Ireland would have to contend with an element of expenses, but nobody would disagree with Deputy Troy's sentiments about player and athlete welfare.
In the aftermath of the Olympic Games and the Paralympics, and it is important we would not forget the Paralympics because our athletes were hugely successful in Rio and did the country proud, we had an athletes forum in Farmleigh for the first time, which I convened, to give athletes from the Paralympics and the Olympic Games an opportunity to come in and give their views on their experience of the Olympics. Some of the issues raised were not what I would have expected. They raised issues such as tax implications, access to third level and the way college courses are structured in terms of the cycle of athletes and the Olympic cycle. The event was not what we, as non-athletes, would have expected or what would have been in the media. That has fed into the Rio review by Sport Ireland, the report of which it is due to publish shortly. It will also publish a review of Ireland's performance in boxing and a review of Ireland's participation in the Paralympics. Those reports are being commissioned under the auspices of Sport Ireland but for the Department, and they will be published. Once those reports are completed I would encourage the committee members to invite us to come before it again.
If I might ask another question, with regard to governance within the Department, what orders have been made relating to delegated functions for the Minister of State? What exactly is the job of Minister of State in terms of specific responsibilities? What delegated powers does he have? I ask the question in terms of the sports capital programme. I welcome the clarity that has been brought to that and the fact that the process will be simplified, with regional seminars, but what I do not welcome are the reports that it will be done on a system similar to that of a previous Minister where it will be weighted on a one, two and three basis in preference of the local Fine Gael TD in a particular constituency. If any organisation puts a huge effort into compiling an application for funding to upgrade its facilities for that community, that should be done in an open and transparent manner.
I can tell the Deputy what will happen. He asked me a question and I would like him to afford me the opportunity to answer it because it is a loaded question. The Deputy is making an insinuation that either myself or the Minister, Deputy Ross, would not treat this matter with the utmost seriousness. I take that very seriously. We are taking this matter very seriously. That is why we spent so much time on it. That is why I opened the discussions with the Department as early as last June. We have also made it clear that the assessment manual we will employ will be very clear. It will be finished and ready before the final date for receipt of all of the applications. The scoring mechanism that will be attributed will be based on the criteria in the assessment manual. Some applications will be invalid and others will be valid. Depending on the score they get, the files will come to the Department and the Minister will make the assessment. It is a function for the Minister because it is the Minister who is ultimately responsible to the Dáil on this matter.
I believe most people across the political spectrum would believe that the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, did his utmost to try to rebalance the division of money on the basis of population.
The Deputy will recall that prior to his appointment, money was not distributed on the basis of population and funding was allocated in a lopsided fashion. The Deputy will probably find that his county did not do as well as it would have done on the basis of population. My county certainly did not do as well as it would have done on the basis of population. Following his appointment, the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, also built in a redress mechanism to allow counties which had performed poorly in respect of allocations prior to his appointment to recover some of the funding they would otherwise have received.
In some counties, the number of applications will exceed the money available. This obviously presents a challenge and means we will have to make decisions in the most clear and practicable manner possible. The money available will be small relative to demand, which will probably be in excess of €200 million. The Deputy asked a detailed question and I am providing a detailed answer, irrespective of whether he likes it. We want to ensure the process is as fair, open and transparent as possible. Since my appointment, this responsibility has been delegated to me.
I will respond to the question on the sports capital programme because it is an important issue in which people are very interested and about which some people may be uneasy. Deputy Troy expressed a certain amount of unease about the programme and it is fair enough to do so. I want to ensure this programme is utterly fair and that no one will come to the conclusion that there has been political favouritism or interference in the process. The assessment manuals will be made available to everybody in order that they can see the basis on which decisions are made, which is without fear or favour. All activities under this programme will be subject to freedom of information, which will help make the process more transparent. There is an absolute determination that this will be done in a completely upfront and above board process. The Deputy should not have any doubt about that.
I do not know exactly how the process worked in the past because I was not involved in it. However, if there are worries about the past, I ask Deputies to tell me what they are and I will do all I can to ensure cases that people may have found disturbing are not repeated.
I welcome the Minister and Minister of State. They appear to have forgotten that they addressed the committee on the issue of sport in the middle of the previous session.
The Minister referred to governance and women in sport. He introduced a timeframe for his decisions in this regard while consultations with women's groups and so forth are ongoing. Is he not putting the cart before the horse? Should he not await the various reports on gender balance and from women's groups? Should we not wait another few months to find out what emerges from the Olympic Council of Ireland, OCI, investigation in which governance will also be a feature before introducing an overall timeframe in respect of governance?
The Deputy has confused a couple of issues. The first issue, the timeframe on governance, has been set out and all of the national governing bodies are fine with it. They know that they must move from a voluntary to a mandatory code of governance and this is being done to protect them as much as to protect taxpayers. When I was a member of the Committee of Public Accounts, governance was an issue that arose constantly in reports from the Comptroller and Auditor General. Departments are often criticised for engaging with external bodies that have voluntary codes of governance. The decision to move from voluntary to mandatory codes was made in advance of the Olympics and does not only relate to governance.
On women in sport, 17 national governing bodies do not have any women members, seven have more than 90% male members, 20 have more than 80% male members, five have 70% or more male members and 14 barely meet gender balance requirements if these are based on the global norm of having approximately 30% female members.
The Minister referred to female participation in sport. There is no doubt that we have a problem with the perception of sport among women and access to sport for women. While a figure of 45% participation in sport among women is grand, it is not good enough and must be increased. One of the ways to achieve this is to have role models both on and off the field. This issue has arisen in other jurisdictions where it has provoked considerable debate. It is important to note that in the immediate aftermath of the public commentary on this issue in December last, research carried out by a reputable company was provided to Sport Ireland which found that 60% of respondents believed it was time action was taken on women's participation in sport and agreed with the idea of moving in the direction we had proposed.
Yes, and furthermore, did the Minister of State consult Sport Ireland? While I welcome his initiative, my concern is the timeframe involved. I have heard ladies involved in sports say that while the Minister of State's initiative was fine, time would be needed to get the process up and running. The timeframe is very tight.
I do not know whether Deputy O'Keeffe is familiar with the aftermath of the discussion. The job of a Minister is to initiate debate and discussion and lead policy formation. It is doubtful whether the tried and tested route of placing an advertisement on the Department's website or on the back page of a broadsheet newspaper would have resulted in a national debate on this issue. We have a process in place and the national governing bodies are reporting their views to Sport Ireland. We have, however, a major problem which we cannot run away from, nor are we of a mind to run away from it.
I will reply to the specific question addressed to me. While I did not bring the matter before the Cabinet, I do not need to do so because the promotion of women in sport is Government policy. We are engaging in significant consultation. We formed a sports leadership body, which includes 50 of the national governing bodies already, to consider the issue. We want to hurry up the process rather than slow it down.
In the middle of this discussion on gender quotas and the promotion of women in sport, I was beginning to wonder whether the two female Deputies present would get an opportunity to speak. Will the Minister explain the selection process used in the Olympic Council of Ireland for president, vice president and other roles on the executive committee? Nobody seems to know what is the precise process involved.
I had intended to ask whether any details were available from the OCI inquiry but the Minister indicated that nothing had been heard, seen or said since it commenced. We were originally informed that a non-statutory inquiry would take 12 weeks to complete. This type of inquiry was selected because of the much shorter timeframe involved but it has subsequently stretched out to seven months. Perhaps we should have opted to have a statutory inquiry given that the non-statutory inquiry will take seven months to complete.
The Minister of State spoke about the move from voluntary to mandatory codes of governance. Will he furnish members with the relevant documentation? Has someone been appointed to oversee this move and ensure mandatory codes are adopted? If so, who is this person and how often will this work be done?
I will answer the question on the OCI. The latter runs its own selection process.
I have no reason for believing that it is doing anything of which we would disapprove. People must be remember that it is an independent body. Just because we give it a small amount of funds does not mean that we can control everything it does.
I am sorry for interrupting but I asked the Minister to explain the selection process for positions such as president or vice president. Is he saying he has no idea of how the selection process operates for those positions?
Yes, absolutely. I have no hesitation whatsoever about doing that. The Deputy asked whether the investigation is statutory or non-statutory. We decided that it should be non-statutory. That was really because there was going to be co-operation among the key players. I assume that has happened. If there was any reluctance for them to come forward we left it open to the judge to make the investigation statutory. I have not heard anything from him since about anything to do with that so I assume he is going ahead on that basis and it is working for him.
On the governance issue Deputy Munster raised, we decided to go with a mandatory basis for national governing bodies, as much to protect them as everybody else. Sport Ireland is the statutory agency with which the national governing bodies liaise and it is from Sport Ireland that they derive their funding. Under the Sport Ireland Act, once a policy statement is made by the Government on specific aspects of the administration of Sport Ireland it then carries out that function through its board and chief executive. That is the manner in which it is being done. The bodies have been given a timeframe and they are working towards it. Many of them have already completed the process. Some of the larger ones have already moved to the mandatory code. It is likely that some of the smaller national governing bodies will encounter difficulties because of the lack of human resources available to them and Sport Ireland will mentor them and assist them through the process to ensure they can complete it as quickly as possible within the timeframe. We have a staggered timeframe. Those bodies with 25 employees and above will be first and the smaller ones are being given a longer lead-in.
Yes. Sport Ireland is already in charge, as it were, because it is a statutory agency established by the Oireachtas. It is a combination of the old Irish Sports Council and the National Sports Campus Development Authority. It has power in terms of how funds are distributed and it can also distribute funds according to policy decisions of the Government. The policy decision in this case is that we move from voluntary code to a mandatory code and the bodies are reacting to that. In fairness to them, I chaired the grouping in Castleknock on the night when the policy change was brought to the attention of the national governing bodies and there was a broad welcome for it because they view it is a form of insurance policy for themselves. They do not want to be in a situation where they are before this committee or the Committee of Public Accounts about failures of governance. They want the assurance that they are being mentored and assisted as well, and that is what we are doing.
I thank the Minister of State. My next question is about funding for Sport Ireland. It corresponds to pages 12 and 30 of the briefing document. Is it correct that the Department told Sport Ireland that it cannot pay the final €1 million in outstanding legal fees from the astronomical bill of €3.9 million in the Dublin Waterworld case, yet it seems to have granted €1.4 million in additional funding for 2017 for that very purpose?
I welcome the fact that the Minister has given a commitment to annualise sports capital grants from this year. The grants were not available last year. Am I correct in saying that, for example, a boxing club that leases or rents rather than owns its property cannot avail of the grant? I would welcome clarification on that. In the previous year issues arose to the effect that a club does not qualify for a grant unless it has a particular type of lease or owns the property. That affects sporting groups in disadvantaged areas in particular and one would imagine it is important to ensure they are included in the process. Reference was also made to the workshops but I did not hear or see any advertised in County Louth? Does the Minister know when or where they will take place?
One question relates to the sports policy consultation but the Minister has given a timeframe for the end of the year so that is okay.
The other question relates to television rights for Gaelic games that are not available on Irish television channels. People are either forced to go to the pub or to pay to view them. When I raised the issue previously, some lip-service was paid to it but could the Minister tell me whether there are any plans to rectify the situation because it is extremely annoying for many? It seems very unfair that the television rights are sold and that people have to leave the house to watch a big match. Has the Minister begun to examine how matters might be rectified?
I will try to respond very quickly. In terms of legal fees for Dublin Waterworld, I wrote a letter to Kieran Mulvey, chairman of Sport Ireland, saying that we would not pay any more in legal costs. We paid an enormous amount in legal fees and we have reached our limit. We put it to Sport Ireland that we will not pay that extra €1 million.
The Deputy said there are two vacancies on the board of Sport Ireland.
The money was provided in respect of the Rio Olympics last year but Sport Ireland still has it. What we have said is that if there are any outstanding fees - I think there are - we will not pay them. If there is a bill for another €1 million, it will not come out of our allocation and Sport Ireland will be on its own in that regard.
There are two vacancies on the board of Sport Ireland and they will be filled under a new system which we have made public. It will ensure that I do not get 33 names thrown at me from which I have to choose two from people I have no idea about who were selected without interview or any sophisticated process in place. A new system has been initiated and we will select people under that now and the process will be completed shortly.
The timeframe will be slightly longer because those who are selected under the PAS system will have to undergo interviews as well. It will be the first time interviews have been a part of the process.
Deputy Munster asked about the sports capital grant workshops in County Louth. Not every county will have a workshop. We have limited resources and a very small unit in Killarney. I encourage the Opposition spokespersons to go to the Department's office in Killarney and to see the work of the sports capital programme because we have a very small staff. They do not have the resources. Following my request, the unit has divided the country up. There will be three workshops in Dublin. Dublin was oversubscribed so we have added a third workshop at the Aviva Stadium. Athlone, Cork, Sligo and Limerick will each have one workshop. There is also a YouTube channel. As well as that, local sports partnerships are being empowered to engage with the Department's sports capital section. If there is an issue in Louth, Monaghan, Cavan or anywhere in the north east, there is no reason the sports partnerships cannot engage with the Department's officials and they can provide the expertise and support.
In respect of television rights, the listing is there and the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment is the line Minister with responsibility for free to air. The matter is outside the scope of the games and events listed. It is entirely a matter for the national governing body as to how it wants to deal with it in terms of broadcasting and broadcast rights. In this case, the body is the GAA. It is not a matter for the Department.
In respect of boxing clubs, local authorities can make applications but the reason we require specific leases is to make sure that if things happen in the future, we do not put capital money into a property that can then be recouped by a landlord. This is why we have strict criteria for leases. It is important to point out that where there is an issue regarding leases, boxing clubs can apply for equipment grants. We are under-subscribed in terms of equipment grants so we would encourage people to do that.
The Minister appeared on "The Late Late Show" last September and said that he would have to be worried about any organisation where one person was in charge for a long time and that any scenario where a little kingdom existed that was being run by one person with too much power was concerning. Could I get a very succinct reply from the Minister in respect of the actions he has taken since September on that issue?
I must be careful in what I say here because of the ongoing inquiry. The code of governance we set up was in direct response to that. The Moran inquiry was set up on top of that, and I am choosing my words very carefully here, in response to the issues raised by the Deputy. One of the reasons it was set up was the situation where one person appeared at the time to exert too much influence. I do not want to say anything that would prejudice the Moran inquiry in any way.
Does it worry the Minister that an organisation like the FAI, which governs the largest participative sport in the country, still blatantly ignores the recommendation from the independent Genesis report from about 13 years ago that it have independent directors on its board. What the FAI did was extend the age at which somebody could be on the board to facilitate a person on the board. There is very little turnover. What can the Minister do about that? Will there be sanctions in respect of this mandatory code? What would those sanctions be or does the Minister have an input into them?
I think the Deputy is right. All sporting organisations of that sort, specifically those that get Government funding and that have such a large public following, should have independent directors on their boards. This is certainly something that ought to happen.
One cannot have accountability without transparency. That same organisation had two different amounts of €5 million, one of which came from Goldman Sachs while the other came from the Thierry Henry affair and was almost compensation for not being there. They were revealed in a way that did not come through the organisation's accounts. Is the Minister satisfied about that arrangement? What does he think about it?
By way of clarification, the strong legal advice at the time, which related to the €5 million for the Thierry Henry case, was that we could not question it because it was not Government funding. There was a request to bring in the CEO of the FAI and we had to act on the legal advice we received.
It was said to us. We had a very serious clarification of that yesterday in respect of people who appear in front of the committee from the courts. At the meeting two weeks ago, the chief executive of the FAI said that he was told that he would not have to answer that question. I found it unacceptable that people would come in and be told that they were not required to answer an important question in the public domain.
I will not go into the ticketing issue because the Minister said that he is constrained in what he can say on that. Very often, the press will hold organisations to account, as we do in this committee. For example, the FAI does not have a press conference after its AGM. Yesterday, the OCI stated that it would have a very significant restriction on the press or people attending the upcoming AGM, a position it then rowed back from. I presume the code of governance will address that kind of issue because it is really important that this public accountability exists. The Olympic Games last year were overshadowed by a controversy that undermined the very valuable contribution our athletes made. The Minister of State is correct. Very often, governance walks sporting organisations into these unfortunate scenarios. Will the requirement that there be a public component be part of the code of governance? I believe it should be.
I do not disagree with anything the Deputy has said. In fact, I could not have put it better myself. In return for State investment in anything, there must be probity and public accountability. This committee has a very important role in that - both in holding the Department to account in terms of how we spend and allocate our money, and how sporting organisations allocate and use it on the ground. The answer is "Yes". There must be penalties.
We have seen it in the voluntary and charitable sector and I do not want to see it in the sporting sector. This is why I decided at the outset, and I know the Minister was very supportive of it, that whenever there is a voluntary code in any element of public life in Ireland, there is the temptation that can cause problems so one must remove them. This why one needs to move to mandatory codes with penalties. Without penalties, it is meaningless. The only penalty a Department can meaningfully enforce is financial. I agree with what the Deputy has said. In respect of reaching a situation where everybody is at that stage in 2019 and 2020, it will take a bit of time but we are on a trajectory. I do not disagree with the Deputy but when Oireachtas committees are charged with probing, they have an obligation to probe and certainly walking away from it is not a good idea.
I endorse the points made about speeding up the grants system. Anything that can be done to improve that will be important because it has an impact.
Swimming pool funds have been allocated. The desirable level to get to is one swimming pool per every 50,000 people. My constituency is probably the worst example or one of the worst examples in the country. We have one swimming pool for every 110,000 people. The way swimming pools are funded becomes very problematic in that there must be matching funds.
Is the Government considering changing this because it is one of the sports that stretch across the age spectrum?
The simple answer is "Yes". The local authority swimming pool programme "does what it says on the tin", but it requires local authority involvement from the start. I know about the issues in the Deputy's constituency of Kildare North; we have these problems all over the country. The amount of money available from the Department in a capital grant goes nowhere near the final cost of providing a swimming pool; therefore, there is a need for a local authority site or local authority finance. In addition, there is a need for a local authority sinking fund, as well as an operating and management team and so on.
To be honest, local authorities run a mile from these things. They do not want to be involved in providing swimming pools because they are a drain on resources. In many cases, therefore, it is up to local authority members to bite the bullet and say they want to have a swimming pool in their area and that they are prepared to put aside so much of their budget and the funding raised from development levies per annum and also provide a site. In reality, that appetite is lacking. Some city and county managers are very good at doing this, whereas in the west they are all over the place. There are big gaps throughout the country where there is no swimming pool infrastructure. We would love to have a situation where there would be more pools, but there is a reticence on the part of local authorities to make progress.
That would be good. We are against the clock today. The Minister, Deputy Shane Ross, has to leave by 4.45 p.m. to go to the Dáil Chamber. I apologise to members, but I tried to share the time as fairly as I could. They might put their questions in writing and send them to the committee secretariat. We will keep in mind that the Minister of State is willing to come back.