Dáil debates

Thursday, 16 June 2005

4:00 pm

Seán Ryan (Dublin North, Labour)
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Question 10: To ask the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if he has received the Irish Sports Council's assessment of the conclusions to its consideration of the review of Ireland's performance at the Athens Olympics; if an operational plan has been developed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20282/05]

Photo of John O'DonoghueJohn O'Donoghue (Minister, Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism; Kerry South, Fianna Fail)
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In July 2004, the Irish Sports Council, in conjunction with the Olympic Council of Ireland and the Paralympic Council of Ireland, commissioned the Athens review to produce an objective assessment of the preparation and performance of the Irish Teams at the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Athens 2004. The review was to identify the strengths and weaknesses of all aspects of the programmes and structures over the course of the four-year cycle leading into the Athens games with a view to making recommendations for the development of programmes for the 2008 Beijing Olympic and Paralympic Games. The final report, which was published on 2 March 2005, draws on the lessons of the past four years and on international experience to set out how we can achieve consistent success at Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The Irish Sports Council has completed its assessment of the conclusions and recommendations of the Athens review and has prepared its operational plan, which addresses key performance indicators, timescales and costings and identifies the roles of the various agencies, as it supports Ireland's Olympic and Paralympic preparations for Beijing.

I have just received the council's detailed proposals and my Department is undertaking its consideration of the operational plan. The plan encompasses elements such as the introduction of targeted sport performance plans, including prioritising junior, development and elite athletes; a review of the international carding scheme; proposals for the development of an Irish institute of sport; maintaining and enhancing the role of the Olympic and Paralympic performance committees to ensure optimum co-operation in the preparation and performance of the Irish team for the Beijing Olympic Games; and the strengthening of the Olympic Council of Ireland's administrative capacities.

I will ensure that the details of the plan are given immediate attention in my Department, including any associated funding implications. I will then be in touch with the Sports Council at the earliest possible date to help ensure that appropriate, effective interventions will underpin Ireland's preparations for Beijing and beyond.

Photo of Brian O'SheaBrian O'Shea (Waterford, Labour)
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I welcome that the detailed proposals from the Irish Sports Council's assessments of the conclusions and recommendations of the Athens review are with the Minister. Does he intend to publish the report? On the Minister's reply to a similar question on 10 May 2005, what does he consider a reasonable timescale to achieve a major benefit from improved and sustained investment, focused on the most talented athletes? Will he expand on his statement of 10 May 2005 that there must be a focus on junior and developing athletes? What discussions, if any, has he had with the Minister for Education and Science in this regard?

Photo of John O'DonoghueJohn O'Donoghue (Minister, Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism; Kerry South, Fianna Fail)
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There is no difficulty in publishing the report. The development of high performance athletes requires a long-term approach. There is no point in believing it can be done overnight. Research indicates it takes ten years of training to develop an elite athlete. It must be remembered that the Irish Sports Council's high performance strategy was only published in 2002. Our strategy is a long-term one. I do not want this misinterpreted, as it was before, to mean that Ireland will not win an Olympic medal for the next 16 years. If we are to make a meaningful input into the development of our sportsmen and women, it will take time.

The timescale involved is at least ten years. If we are to have success across a range of disciplines on a consistent basis, we need to implement the high performance athletes strategy. This includes the international carding scheme and enhancement programmes. I hope we will see further developments on an infrastructural level, in particular in the sports medicine context. The strategy being pursued is the correct one and will yield results. In the interim, we may have success of a more sporadic nature. However, the plan in place is a good one.

For example, New Zealand, a country of a similar size to Ireland, embarked on a strategy 20 years ago to ensure that it had a good yield at major international sporting events such as the Olympics. It has happened on a consistent basis for New Zealand since then. I aim to ensure that Ireland does the same. Whoever succeeds me in this position will seek to do likewise.

Photo of Jimmy DeenihanJimmy Deenihan (Kerry North, Fine Gael)
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There are three years to go to the Beijing games. It is important that the strategy and the various recommendations be put in place as soon as possible. What is the Minister's view on the creation of an institute of sport, as has been recommended in all the reports?

Photo of John O'DonoghueJohn O'Donoghue (Minister, Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism; Kerry South, Fianna Fail)
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I strongly favour the introduction of an institute of sport. The difficulty, like everything else, is to secure funding for such a project. I am a strong supporter of the Abbotstown campus project. I want to see a necklace of sporting centres, such as the aquatic centre, and that we have an adequate campus facility.