Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 24 November 2021
Select Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport And Media
Estimates for Public Services 2021
Vote 33 - Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media (Supplementary)
Apologies have been received from Deputies Cannon and Mattie McGrath. This meeting has been convened to consider the Supplementary Estimate for Vote 33 - Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, which was referred to this committee by Dáil Éireann. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Jack Chambers, and his officials to the meeting. They are joining the meeting remotely from committee room 1 via Microsoft Teams. As the Minister of State is present, officials should not speak in public session. The opening statement and other documents submitted to the committee may be published on the committee website after this meeting.
Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. In most instances Oireachtas Members and witnesses may now be physically present in the committee room, or they may join remotely via Microsoft Teams. I remind members of the constitutional requirement that members must be physically present within the confines of Leinster House to participate in public meetings. I will not permit members to attend where they are not adhering to this constitutional requirement. Therefore, members who attempts to attend from outside the precincts will be asked to leave the meeting.
I ask members to please identify themselves when contributing for the benefit of Debates Office staff preparing the Official Report. Members should mute their microphones when not contributing to reduce background noise and feedback. I ask that they use the raise hand button when they wish to contribute because we do not have a speaking rota for this. If there is something about which they have a particular interest, they can indicate to me and I will take them in that order. I remind all those present to switched off their mobile phones.
I now ask the Minister of State to make his presentation.
I am joined by my colleague Mr. Cian Ó Lionáin, assistant secretary general, with responsibility for sport and tourism. As committee members will be aware, the sports sector has been and continues to be severely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. Throughout this time, Sport Ireland and the Department have been continually engaging with the sector, and we know sporting bodies and clubs have been severely hit in every aspect of their operations, not least financially.
Last year, the Government approved a Covid-19 package of €88.5 million that helped ensure our sporting bodies were in a position to maintain operations, avoid insolvency and prepare for a return to activity. The package benefited all levels of the sports sector, including thousands of grassroots clubs across the country, and provided some certainty for sporting organisations in their planning for this year. In terms of sports clubs, the 2020 funding provided support for more than 166 rugby clubs, more than 400 grassroots and League of Ireland clubs, along with more than 33,000 Gaelic games teams. In addition, support was provided to 1,637 clubs throughout the country as part of small grant schemes operated by local sports partnerships, and 310 swimming pools were supported in reopening.
The financial impact of the pandemic continues to be a challenge for many sporting bodies and clubs, with losses and additional costs putting a severe strain on their finances. Many organisations and clubs have lost significant amounts of revenue owing to the restrictions put in place for much of this year. The indoor sports sector has been particularly hit, with indoor sports only resuming in October. Many challenges still lie ahead for sports organisations and clubs in encouraging all members and volunteers to return, as well as attracting new participants. We need to support participation programmes and initiatives now to ensure the long-term sustainability of clubs' structures and for the health and well-being of the nation.
The Government has approved a Supplementary Estimate of €35 million towards a Covid package of up to €65 million this year, and the rest will be provided from savings from within the Department's Vote. This funding will allow Sport Ireland, through a number of different schemes, to assist sporting bodies and clubs that are in greatest need as we strive to ensure our sporting sector is supported at every level across the country. The schemes will be run by Sport Ireland and the funding will be distributed through the national governing bodies of sport, similar to last year. The schemes will ensure that grant aid will only be provided by Sport Ireland and that the governing bodies are satisfied this funding is absolutely required.
Sport Ireland is currently assessing funding applications from sporting organisations with a view to funding allocations being announced and paid in December. Funding will be allocated as follows: field sports funding to support the main field sports, that is the FAI, the GAA, and the IRFU; a reliance fund to support the national governing bodies of sport other than the FAI, the GAA and the IRFU; a sports club resilience fund to support clubs from all sports; a swimming pools and facilities fund; and a resumption of physical activity fund that will include indoor sport. Allied to the additional current expenditure of €26.3 million already provided to Sport Ireland, this will mean a total of €91.3 million will have been allocated in addition to the current funding to support the sports sector in 2021.
I do not have it in front of me. If the Minister of State could hold on a moment, I will see if I can find it. It is in programme D. It still works out as 5%. If he does not have it to hand, maybe he can come back to me.
I can go through the amount this year across the subheads to give some comparisons. I went through sports capital in a previous meeting and this does not relate to that. In terms of Sport Ireland, the funding position next year will merge in the increase and some of that embeds some of the Covid funding as well. I am not sure where the Deputy saw that reference.
The funding profile for sport is actually increasing. What the Deputy referred to could be related to some of the Covid funding, but I will check that out because I do not have the figure she has referred to.
It is split between the three main governing bodies for the field sports, the other governing bodies, and the club resilience fund for clubs. The resumption of sport and physical activity fund is targeted through many local sports partnerships. It also looks at opportunities around additional physical activity in hard-to-reach groups, such as those in disadvantaged areas, people with disabilities and indoor sports as well. A similar scheme was run through the local sports partnerships last year. I can provide the funding amount for that. Last year, in the Covid-19 package that we funded, €3 million went to local sports partnerships schemes for small grants for clubs and community groups and innovation and restart schemes. More than 1,600 clubs benefited from that across 28 local sports partnerships. We also had supports for disabilities, older adults supports and a restart and renewal fund. It will be similarly funded this year. There are opportunities in areas of biggest impact. This year, we want to avoid the scarring effect particularly among indoor sports. There will be a big emphasis on indoor sports that were closed for the majority of the last 15 or 16 months, as members know. We want to limit the scarring effect on that. There will be targeted support through the local sports partnerships and the governing bodies. That is why we are running this through a number of funding streams.
There is a structured application process through Sport Ireland, which engages with the local sports partnerships. They have been engaged with by Sport Ireland directly on funding opportunities and new activities. They tend to target hard-to-reach groups, such as in disadvantaged areas or those with disabilities.
From last year's announcement there was a specific and even a geographical breakdown within different counties of different initiatives being funded by this Covid-19 fund. All local sports partnerships would have been engaged with Sport Ireland around what different initiatives they might like to fund relevant to their local areas as well. The Deputy previously served on a local authority, like me, and there are local sports officers who shape a local sporting initiative relevant to a local community, engaging with volunteers and trying to create something that would make a difference to local communities around sport. That gives flexibility within local sports partnerships to act. There will be further opportunities this year. We can send on the specifics for Louth to the Deputy.
I certainly welcome the Minister's additional investment in the sporting sector. With regard to the part funded by the national lottery in the Revised Estimates, will the Minister of State indicate how much that is? Is it part of the good causes scheme? Will he provide some detail on that?
I certainly welcome the Minister of State's support in levelling the playing field with regard to the Women's Gaelic Players Association and its merging with Gaelic Players Association with equality of treatment and the grants associated with that. It is a very important step and I commend the Minister of State on that action.
I thank the Deputy and I know there was great support from his committee on equalising the grants. It sends the right message to all women and girls around opportunities in sport and participation, particularly in Gaelic games.
The majority of the Sport Ireland budget is funded directly from the Exchequer. I do not have a breakdown but it would be a very minor amount funded by the national lottery. I do not have the figure to hand but we can get that for the Deputy. I have the combined amount for Sport Ireland in subhead D5 of €104 million and it will be €105 million next year. I do not have the specific breakdown on the national lottery. I can get that for the committee. The vast majority of the amount is direct funding from the Exchequer.
I thank the Minister of State. This is very welcome and needed. After nearly two years, it is only recently that sport has kind of opened up. I would like to get the exact figure on the national lottery as well, particularly what it does and how much it takes in. What proportion of its money did it give to Sport Ireland? Will the Minister of State send me the specifics for Wexford?
Recently a few constituents asked me about the organisation for pony racing in Ireland. I know little about it. Very often this produces top-class jockeys and it is where they start. It receives no funding whatever and I was told that even this year, insurance costs were €30,000. I was told that from the same programme, meanwhile, a golf club in a certain area got €50,000 for a lawnmower. Pony racing in Ireland should be represented because, as I said, it produces top jockeys and uses all those technical skills.
I thank the Deputy. We can send the detailed breakdown of all counties and local sports partnerships so everybody on the committee can see the specific initiatives relevant to their counties. That will allow them to see the detail under the figures. We can do the same when we make our announcements.
On the national lottery point, the amount from the national lottery comes into the general Exchequer balance and sport is one of a number elements that receives an allocation across multiple Departments. The number is not broken down as to what is specifically national lottery funding but if we can get further detail, I will provide it.
The Deputy made a point about pony racing and I will follow up with Sport Ireland on that. What was the Deputy's specific point?
I was asked about funding and told that the organisation has received no funding whatever in any year. It is a serious sport and it is probably in every parish in Ireland. It also helps children with autism etc. As I said, it often produces top-class jockeys, and this is where they start. It is their first experience in dealing with horses.
I will check that out and get a note from Sport Ireland. One of the criteria to get funding from Sport Ireland is to be a registered and recognised national governing body. I will have to check if the organisation in question is such a body. It could be a case of the organisation formalising the arrangement with Sport Ireland, registering as a national governing body and then applying for different funding streams. I could ask Sport Ireland to send a note to the committee on that.
It has been a tough two years. As a sports person and on behalf of all sporting organisations, I thank the Government for the funding. The €88.5 million last year was a lot to keep operations going. It was very good for health and well-being. This is my first opportunity to wish Mr. John Treacy, chief executive officer of Sport Ireland, the best of luck for the future. He has done a fantastic job being involved with the organisation since 1999 and since the establishment of Sport Ireland in 2015.
Sport Ireland has distributed money to all levels and the three main national bodies. I have a fear and I asked this question before. I have spoken to people in grassroots clubs and as I said, it has been a tough two years. Many of these clubs have done much fantastic work in the local community. Is there any way we can audit or check to ensure money is being distributed correctly? I know a certain amount goes to the three main organisations but there is much money. Are we following this money?
There are many clubs involved with the three main sports. I have spoken to people in clubs involved in all sports and some seem to find it very hard to get the money to survive. What mechanism do we have to examine this? This is money from the Government and the taxpayer and it is going to the right places but how do we know it is being distributed fairly among organisations?
I thank the Deputy and I echo his remarks about Mr. Treacy, who has built a structure that started very much from himself back in the late 1990s. It has grown as a structure around sport to see Sport Ireland as it is today, with a very professional structure that oversees sport and delivers policy outcomes. I welcome the Deputy's remarks on funding.
As part of the application process for Covid-19 funding, there is a sport club resilience fund for grassroots. The three main governing bodies are the FAI, the IRFU and the GAA and within their application process they are asked to be very clear about what supports they are seeking for grassroots or what schemes will be developed so clubs or local organisations can apply for the various supports.
There were supports given as part of last year's package. I know many football clubs that benefited and it was the same for the GAA. The GAA made a decision so much of the funding from the Covid-19 package covered basic insurance costs faced by every club. Maybe people did not connect the Covid-19 funding with the reduction in insurance costs that faced different clubs. It was one element of the funding package from last year that was directly supported by the State.
There is strong oversight provided by Sport Ireland. Every aspect of funding is overseen so it goes directly to where it is being sought. There is a structure around managing and overseeing the process being run by Sport Ireland to ensure the funding goes to where it is sought.