Thursday, 22 September 2022
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Chambers, for coming in. It is safe to say we both agree how important sport is in Irish society. We are a real sporting nation. It is one of the pillars that sustains Irish society. Whether it is at grassroots or amateur level or supporting our elite athletes and teams wherever they represent us, we simply love sport.
Sporting organisations play a major role in community development and in fostering stronger social cohesion. An average of one in ten of all adults frequently volunteer within local sporting clubs. The economic value of volunteering for sports alone in 2018 was approximately €1.5 billion per annum. The impact of this is felt far beyond the pitches of our local sports clubs. These additional and often less spoken-of benefits are often some of the most profound. The negative effects of dropping out of supervised sporting activities are also extensive, ranging from increased substance misuse and poor school grades to widening the socioeconomic gap. Research from Sport Ireland has shown the impact that social class has on sporting participation. Only 47% of our children from a lower socioeconomic class grouping will continue some form of sport post primary, while 65% from high social class groupings will participate in post-primary community sport.
To ensure that sports continue to play this vital role, support for modern facilities needs to be provided. Despite the clear benefits of sports in our society, Ireland comes bottom of the table in the EU in general when it comes to investing in sports and recreational activities. The Irish Government is a persistent underfunder of sports and recreational activities. Our EU peer group spends on average three times more on sports and recreation than that of Ireland. When the large scale sport infrastructure fund, LSSIF, was launched in 2018, it was widely welcomed right across the sporting community, which felt that the Government was finally moving in the right direction and introducing adequate funding for major projects. This was seen as a much-needed Exchequer support for larger sports facility projects.
Unfortunately, since the first allocations under the LSSIF were announced in January 2020, very little has progressed. Approximately €86.4 million has been awarded to 33 different proposals. However, only approximately €900,000 has been paid out to projects. As we all know, building costs have skyrocketed since 2020. Questions must be asked as to how many of these projects are viable under increased building costs. Where projects are facing difficulties, will the Minister of State intervene with support for these sporting infrastructure projects? Capital projects funded through the LSSIF are capped at 70% of the total project. Has the Minister of State considered increasing the cap in view of rising building and construction costs?
The cost-of-living crisis is having a severe impact on the financial resources of clubs and national governing bodies, NGBs, across the State. As we enter the winter months, the floodlights will be back on and in action on a nightly basis. This will see increased costs for clubs and local authorities. We will see basketball halls across the State filling up, with basketball being one of our most popular winter sports. Many clubs are being pushed to the edge just trying to cover the cost of energy bills.
Can the Minister of State give a commitment that swimming pools, which are expensive to run, will get the funding they need to stay open and that they will not close? Resources for new facilities will be tighter than ever before. Is the Government confident that the 33 proposals awarded funding through the LSSIF will be delivered and when will the Department review on the LSSIF be published?