Wednesday, 14 June 2006
National Sports Campus Development Authority Bill 2006: Report and Final Stages.
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 7, line 9, after "generally" to insert ", with special emphasis on female participation".
Since the Joint Committee on Arts, Sport, Tourism, Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs published its report on women and sport, for which I was rapporteur, very little progress has been made with regard to the participation of women in sport, certainly not to the extent that was envisaged in that report. I acknowledge that the Government responded to the report and provided grant aid in the budgets of 2005 and 2006, which was very helpful. Furthermore, a number of the national sporting organisations have appointed female officers to promote female participation in sport. However, we still have not adopted the Brighton principles, for example, or indeed addressed a number of other issues that were clearly outlined in the committee's report.
When the report was being prepared, the committee invited the sports editors of a number of the national newspapers to a meeting. At that time, out of every 100 sporting images published, 97 were of males and only three were of females, and that was on a good day. To some extent, that has improved. I have been keeping an eye on the published images of sports people and teams in the newspapers, and the ratio of female to male has improved somewhat, although there is still a long way to go.
The amendment aims to ensure that the authority puts special emphasis on the promotion of female sport in the new campus. It is important that female sport is stressed and seen as part of the brief of the authority. Otherwise, women will not get the attention they deserve and which is necessary if we are to develop this area of opportunity. That is the purpose of my amendment. It contains the simple addition of a number of words which would place an onus on the new body to put special emphasis on the promotion of female participation in sport.
I support the amendment as tabled by Deputy Deenihan, which is a step forward in advancing sport in Ireland. The old adage that a new brush sweeps clean could be applied here. The advantages of having women on such boards is enormous and this has been recognised all over the country. I urge the Minister to accept the amendment.
As Deputy Deenihan will be aware, one of the stated functions of the authority is to encourage and promote the use of the sports campus by people participating in sport at professional and amateur levels and by members of the public generally. In this context, the authority will encourage and promote the use of the campus by a wide variety of groups and this promotion will be targeted at both male and female sports people. I am reluctant to make a specific reference in legislation to any particular group as this could simply result in tokenism.
The new authority will be primarily concerned with developing and operating the campus of sports facilities at Abbotstown. It is to the Irish Sports Council, in consultation with the national governing bodies, that I would look to redress any imbalance that there may be with regard to participation in sport by any one group of potential users.
Deputies will be aware that the Government has taken tangible steps to encourage greater participation by women in sport. In the 2005 Estimates, the Government allocated €750,000 to the Irish Sports Council to promote the greater participation of women in sport. This was by way of a pilot endeavour, and in recognition of the effectiveness of the effort, the level of funding was increased in 2006 to €2.25 million.
I recognise the importance of attracting more women to participate in sport and have taken specific action to achieve this aim. However, I do not think it can be achieved by means of the amendment before us. I have made the encouragement of greater numbers of female participants in sport the responsibility of the Irish Sports Council. In that context, and at my request, the council made €250,000 available to the FAI to assist with that association's development plan with a view to ensuring that it attracts more women into the game of soccer. The association currently has 12,500 registered female members, although many more women play soccer on an informal basis. However, this pales into insignificance compared to the 450,000 males who play soccer in Ireland today.
We have the capacity to increase the number of women in sport and this will be achieved by virtue of the fact that since 1998 we have made a major investment in sports facilities across the country under the sports capital programme. Almost €458 million has been spent on providing facilities at 5,630 venues in every city, town, village and parish in Ireland. Gone, or at least going, are the days when women were turned off participating in field sports, for example, because there was no accommodation available in which to change. Gone are the days when women were discouraged from participating in sport because the major sports organisations considered their particular sports to be a male preserve. Gone, or going, are the days when women could expect to finish playing a given game and have no showers available to them.
We can encourage a greater level of female participation in sport by continuing in the direction in which the Government has moved. I will direct the Irish Sports Council to have regard to the use of the Abbotstown facilities as part of its remit to improve women's participation levels in sport.
Apart from the special initiative to which I have referred, various national governing bodies fund programmes, managed by the Irish Sports Council, which cater for both genders. Furthermore, in the selection of members of the authority, I will endeavour to ensure that the various strands of sports administrators are represented. For example, the current board of Campus and Stadium Ireland Development Limited has in its membership the chief executive of the Irish Sports Council. I consider that the national sports development authority should focus on developing the campus. As part of its modus operandi, I envisage that the authority will put in place a statement of strategy and I see that strategy statement as the more appropriate place for the authority to set out its approach to the various groups it will attempt to attract.
It appears that only 10% of females in Ireland regularly participate in sport or physical activity. I would be the first to acknowledge that this is woefully inadequate and that is why I have sought to put funding directly into encouraging women to participate in sport. It is my intention to continue with that approach. For these reasons, I do not accept the amendment.
The low levels of female participation in sport are such that there must contain positive discrimination in Government policy towards women for a number of years to ensure greater participation. Women and young girls must be encouraged and facilities provided for them.
I disagree with the Minister on one issue. In many instances, females have to share dressing rooms with males and some do not like doing so.
The Minister mentioned a figure of 10% and if we want to improve on that, there must be positive discrimination with regard to providing facilities for women and encouraging them to participate in sport. There is a medical reason for this amendment. There is concern about the increase in osteoporosis in the female population and it has been proven that weight bearing exercise reduces the risk of and offsets the oncoming of the condition. Obesity is common in both sexes but is in many cases is associated with females. We should encourage girls and women to participate in sport well into adulthood and old age.
The more we emphasise this in legislation the better. Responsibility will fall on the authority to fulfil this part of its mandate under the legislation. If this is not included, the authority does not have to achieve it. Irrespective of the Irish Sports Council policy, I would not be confident about it unless it is a stated objective which places the onus on the authority.
I said the days are going or are gone when women would not be properly accommodated in terms of changing and showering facilities. We have made progress in recent years in some parts of the country and in many places the facilities for women are now in place. It is also true that there are other areas where this is not the case and that is why I use the word "going" in the context of the ongoing spend under the sports capital programme.
This year, I directed officials, when scoring applications, to give priority to facilities that would facilitate women. A sum of €54 million was allocated and priority was given, where possible, to facilities which would provide for women. That policy is worth pursuing until we have facilities of an equivalent nature for both men and women.
Initiatives to target the greater involvement of women are already in place and I plan to enhance them. The Irish Sports Council has responsibility for the promotion of sport but only in the context of Government policy. I assure Deputy Deenihan that I will continue with the policy of providing more funding so that women will have facilities, will not be discouraged from participating in sport, will be accommodated and will enjoy inclusiveness. Every measure we can possibly take to ensure a greater level of participation by women in sport in the future will be undertaken.
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 9, to delete lines 16 to 19 and substitute the following:
"(3) Of the members of the Council, no fewer than 6 of their number shall be men and no fewer than 6 of their number shall be women.".
It is important that gender balance on State boards is enshrined in legislation. When I was a Minister of State, I was responsible for Bord na gCon and there were three women on it when I left office in 1997. The Government then had a clear policy that there should be a balance of at least 60:40. That policy has not been maintained because no women sit on Bord na gCon now. At any track, half of the customers will be female. From now on while I am on this side of the House, I will table an amendment to any Bill that involves the creation of a body such as this authority to guarantee equality in gender representation.
Section 11(7) on membership of the Arts Council in the Arts Act 2003 contains a provision whereby no fewer than six of the council shall be women and no fewer than six shall be men. That is the wording I want to include in this Bill. If it is good enough for the Arts Act 2003, why is it not good enough for the National Sports Campus Development Authority Bill 2006? It will be difficult to explain that.
The Minister gave a commitment, and I do not dispute his bone fides, that females will be looked after by the new authority. If the Minister is committed to female participation and is prepared to give those guarantees, why not accept this amendment? It is obvious that if there is not gender balance on a board, the female viewpoint will not come across. This facility is vital to the future development of athletics and will have a huge community element, so the Minister should accept the amendment to ensure gender balance.
I support the amendment. The involvement of women in sports development, irrespective of discipline, has made a huge difference. In many associations, we saw that important positions were male-dominated but that women have now made a very significant difference. We should consider the GAA and what has happened regarding various county boards and clubs. We saw the effect of the acceptance of women into high positions. It has generated impetus in the GAA. Women's football is now probably Ireland's fastest-growing sport because the male bastion of the clubs has been broken open. There has been great involvement by female participants and in the higher echelons of the associations, even up to the level of county chairpersons and secretaries. That has made a significant difference.
This is an ideal opportunity to show that we are willing to move forward and accept that women should be involved in the higher echelons of various associations to develop sport. If we do not take this chance, we will lose out on making a statement to the fairer sex that we want to see them involved. This is an ideal opportunity, and I hope the Minister will accept the amendment.
Section 9(3) provides that the Minister shall, in so far as practicable and having regard to the relevant experience of the persons concerned, ensure an equitable balance between men and women in the composition of the authority. I have reflected on the issues raised by Deputy Deenihan. While I agree with the proposal's thrust, I will not accept the amendment. At present, it is Government policy that State boards should have a target of 40% female membership. It is certainly my intention to meet that target and I recognise the contribution that gender balance can bring to the board's operations. However, sometimes difficulties have been encountered in meeting even the present 40% target. The present wording of section 9(3) refers to an equitable balance, which leaves some flexibility to allow for a practical solution rather than binding the Minister, who may find that he or she has an insufficient pool of candidates of either gender.
Deputy Deenihan refers to the legislation dealing with the Arts Council. Other legislation adopts the approach specified in this Bill, for example, the Industrial Development (Enterprise Ireland) Act 1998, the Transport (Railway Infrastructure) Act 2001, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland Act 1998, and the National Tourism Development Authority Act 2003. Many boards come under my Department's remit, and one of those, as Deputy Deenihan points out, is Bord na gCon. There was a woman on Bord na gCon, but unfortunately she resigned. However, I intend to ensure a more equitable gender balance on Bord na gCon in the not too distant future.
Regarding other boards under my remit, such as those of Fáilte Ireland, the Arts Council, Culture Ireland, the Irish Museum of Modern Art, the National Gallery, the National Museum, the National Archives Advisory Council, the Crawford Gallery and Horse Racing Ireland, I wish to make very clear that there is a substantial number of women on each. I have nominated women to chair two of the most significant boards under my Department's remit, Fáilte Ireland, where Ms Gillian Bowler has been very successful, and the Arts Council, where Ms Olive Braiden has been similarly effective.
It is not a case of my ignoring the cause of women. I would be the last to do so. It is simply a case of my introducing legislation that is pragmatic regarding membership of the board that we will be obliged to appoint. I give a categoric assurance to Deputies Deenihan and Wall that every effort will be made to reach the target of 40% female membership. While I cannot guarantee success, I will seek to do that, drawing on the pool of suitable candidates.
Why include such a stipulation in the Arts Act 2003 and not in this Bill? I am sure the Minister had no problem ensuring gender balance on the Arts Council, to which he appointed six women. Saying that it might at times be difficult to find six suitable women is tantamount to saying that they do not exist, but they certainly do, and they are willing to participate and accept responsibility if allowed. I do not wish to be negative, but it is that mind set that affects women's participation.
Looking at the administrative structure of sport across the country, one sees very few women given leading roles such as chairperson. Mostly they are the secretary but not the chairperson. The ratio of male to female coaches in this country is 3:1 at best. Unless women are visible on the boards, in this instance regarding sport, one will not achieve the requisite dynamic or emphasis.
Women must be there fighting their own corner. Sport has for years been a very male-dominated world. In some areas, that is still the case, despite the great progress that women's football has made and the fact that some of our greatest athletes of recent times, including Sonia O'Sullivan, her namesake Gillian, and Derval O'Rourke, are women.
I ask the Minister to accept this reasonable amendment, which is already enshrined in legislation and is the way forward. He mentioned several other organisations with which I am not familiar, but I argued this point when we discussed the National Tourism Development Authority Act 2003, putting to the vote a similar amendment to ensure equity. I am being consistent with this amendment.
It is true that Deputy Deenihan brought forward this proposal during the debate on the Bill that established Fáilte Ireland. The result was that we adhered to the legislation as presented. I subsequently appointed several very capable women to the board. The chairperson, Ms Gillian Bowler, to whom I referred, was among them and has been extremely successful in developing Fáilte Ireland for the betterment of the tourism industry. I stress once again that it is not a question of there being any discrimination against women on the board but rather of my being pragmatic regarding the legislation that I bring before the House. On the vast majority of the boards under my remit there are many talented women and I intend to examine very carefully the composition of the board established by this Bill with a view to ensuring gender balance as far as is practicable.
Before I press this matter to a vote, I express my disappointment that the Minister did not accept this very reasonable proposal. He acknowledged there is a precedent for it. At the risk of being repetitive, it is very important that women's participation in sport be emphasised continually. All surveys have shown that there is a great drop-off in female participation at post-primary school and then again at school-leaving age compared with young men. That is not unique to Ireland, since it is also the case in other countries. Women must be at the centre of decision making in sport if the playing pitch is to be levelled in this country. They must be senior administrators and have a voice on all sports related boards. This debate presents the Minister with a marvellous opportunity to state that, from now on, women will be given equal recognition. This should be not be merely a ministerial promise but should be enshrined in legislation with which future office holders must comply.
The Minister insinuated that it might be difficult to ensure this gender balance on this and other boards. However, out of the hundreds of women throughout the country, six very competent individuals could be chosen who would be excellent members of this proposed board. The Minister has probably made up his mind but I appeal to him for all the reasons I have outlined and the message that this would convey to the female sporting fraternity of this country to reconsider his decision and accept this amendment.
Without labouring the point, I must point out that one in four Irish women suffers from osteoporosis. In addition, we are faced with an epidemic of obesity and the incidence of cardiovascular diseases related to our low level of physical activity, especially among women. I appeal to the Minister to make the statement today and convey a message to women involved in sport in this country that he is prepared to give them guarantees going forward. I acknowledge the work he has done through the sports capital programme, particularly the allocation made to Tralee Rugby Club last year to allow it to provide changing rooms for women. This was a welcome departure because facilities must be shared in most clubs throughout the country. There is no doubt that a start has been made but we will not get this opportunity again during this Dáil and the Minister's tenure. This is probably the last Bill we will discuss in this House. This is why the Minister should make the statement and I am giving him the opportunity to do so.
I have been fairly magnanimous in the area of women in sport and have supported any initiatives by the Government or Government agencies. I did not launch the report of the Oireachtas Committee on Arts, Sport, Tourism, Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs into women in sport in this House in 2004. Instead, I launched it at the women in sport conference held in Croke Park in October 2004. I also held a sports conference and passed on a number of ideas arising from that. I proposed and put a considerable amount of work into the committee's report and received support from Deputy Wall and others. It is regarded as a very progressive document and was probably the catalyst that ensured that funding was provided specifically for females in sport. Probably not too many people are interested in the issue of women in sport but the Minister has a great opportunity to make a statement in the House and say that he will ensure that women have equal representation on all sport related boards. I hope the Minister will not spurn the opportunity I am offering him.
I understand Deputy Deenihan's arguments but I have already made a very clear statement about women in sport by providing the most substantial funding in the history of the State to attract women into sport. I have met many women's organisations with a view to advancing this cause and will continue to do so. For pragmatic purposes, the decision is in accord with the majority of legislation in the State. We will endeavour to reach the Government's stated aim of having at least 40% female participation on boards. The statement in respect of women in sport must be tangible. It must be clear to women involved in sport that the facilities and funding are available and we have illustrated this in the clearest fashion.
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 64 (Michael Ahern, Noel Ahern, Barry Andrews, Seán Ardagh, Niall Blaney, Johnny Brady, Martin Brady, Séamus Brennan, John Browne, Joe Callanan, Ivor Callely, Pat Carey, John Carty, Donie Cassidy, Michael J Collins, Beverley Flynn, Mary Coughlan, John Cregan, John Curran, Noel Davern, Síle de Valera, Noel Dempsey, Tony Dempsey, John Dennehy, Jimmy Devins, John Ellis, Michael Finneran, Seán Fleming, Pat Gallagher, Jim Glennon, Noel Grealish, Jackie Healy-Rae, Joe Jacob, Cecilia Keaveney, Billy Kelleher, Peter Kelly, Séamus Kirk, Tom Kitt, Brian Lenihan Jnr, Michael McDowell, Tom McEllistrim, John McGuinness, John Moloney, Donal Moynihan, Michael Moynihan, Michael Mulcahy, M J Nolan, Seán Ó Fearghaíl, Charlie O'Connor, Liz O'Donnell, John O'Donoghue, Denis O'Donovan, Noel O'Flynn, Batt O'Keeffe, Fiona O'Malley, Tim O'Malley, Tom Parlon, Peter Power, Dick Roche, Mae Sexton, Brendan Smith, Mary Wallace, Ollie Wilkinson, G V Wright)
Against the motion: 56 (James Breen, Pat Breen, Tommy Broughan, Joan Burton, Paul Connaughton, Paudge Connolly, Jerry Cowley, Seymour Crawford, Seán Crowe, Ciarán Cuffe, Jimmy Deenihan, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Olwyn Enright, Martin Ferris, Eamon Gilmore, John Gormley, Tony Gregory, Tom Hayes, Séamus Healy, Michael D Higgins, Phil Hogan, Brendan Howlin, Paul Kehoe, Enda Kenny, Shane McEntee, Dinny McGinley, Finian McGrath, Paul McGrath, Paddy McHugh, Olivia Mitchell, Arthur Morgan, Catherine Murphy, Gerard Murphy, Dan Neville, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Fergus O'Dowd, Jim O'Keeffe, Brian O'Shea, Jan O'Sullivan, Séamus Pattison, Willie Penrose, John Perry, Pat Rabbitte, Michael Ring, Eamon Ryan, Seán Ryan, Trevor Sargent, Joe Sherlock, Róisín Shortall, Emmet Stagg, David Stanton, Billy Timmins, Mary Upton, Jack Wall)
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Kitt and Kelleher; Níl, Deputies Kehoe and Stagg.
Question declared carried.
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 18, line 9, to delete "general administration of the".
Amendments Nos. 3 and 4 arise from pure frustration. I am sure many Opposition Members, as well as Government backbenchers, have experience of tabling questions to Ministers only to receive the reply that they have no responsibility to the House on the matters in question.
On Committee Stage the Minister gave a commitment to consider a mechanism to allow the relevant spokespersons, or any Member of the House, to put a question to the authority which would have to be answered within a specified period of time. This would go some way to resolving the problems which Opposition spokespersons have. There is nothing as frustrating as receiving a one-line reply to the effect that the Minister has no responsibility to the House for the matter in question, which we have seen over the years. It is not good enough that such a mechanism is used by many Ministers. In recent weeks the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government said he would not organise any more committees on the matter. The Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, said that, despite the fact that a number of State agencies and boards are under his aegis, he always ensures an answer is given to a particular question, even if he did not have responsibility to the House for the issue involved.
A mechanism such as the one proposed must be put in place. The Minister said it would mean the chief executive officer of the Abbotstown board would have responsibility to the House as well as to the Minister, and that his position would not be tenable in such circumstances, which I accept. Amendment No. 4 proposes a mechanism whereby ordinary Members of the House and Government backbenchers could receive replies to questions on the Abbotstown development.
I support amendment No. 4, tabled by Deputy Wall. There is a deficit in politics in ministerial responsibility and that of various Government agencies to this House. It is probably one of the most frustrating aspects of politics to table a question on tourism, the arts or, perhaps in the future, the campus only for the Minister to say it is not his responsibility. It represents a democratic deficit in the system and is an increasing occurrence. At one time one could table a question on health and receive some response, but now it is a matter for the Health Service Executive. All the issues that used to be raised in the House on the subject of health can no longer be raised. The same applies in the Minister's area of responsibility. It is very frustrating when Members put forward 20 or 30 questions and half of the replies state that the issue is not the responsibility of the Minister.
Deputy Wall is trying to ensure that the authority is at least answerable to the House. We all receive one-line responses from State agencies and nothing further. In some cases one is lucky to receive a one-line response. One might wait months for a reply but no in-depth response is forthcoming. Surely if democracy is to work, Deputies must have confidence in the process, especially when in Opposition. Surely we are entitled to a detailed response to queries on current matters in a specific State agency. Even a private company sometimes provides a detailed response but not a State agency, which is supposed to be answerable to this House, the supposed watchdog for such bodies.
This is a reasonable amendment. Even though the Minister refused to accept previous amendments in my name, which I thought made very practical proposals, especially given that only today he made a major announcement on the future promotion of ladies soccer, he should accept Deputy Wall's amendment because it will make this authority in some way accountable to the House. At the very least it will enable us to obtain information from the authority on issues relating to its work and its activities in the years ahead.
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 18, between lines 10 and 11, to insert the following:
"(2) The Authority shall be accountable to the Oireachtas and shall give a substantive reply within 7 days to any written question submitted by a member of the Houses of the Oireachtas.".
As I outlined on Committee Stage the impact of the proposed amendment would be to make the authority directly accountable to the Oireachtas in addition to being accountable to the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, who in turn is accountable to the Oireachtas. The further requirement that the authority give a substantive reply to any written questions submitted by Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas within seven days would impose an untold administrative burden on a very small organisation.
I indicated on Committee Stage that the best way to deal with this issue would be through the customer charter of the authority rather than specifying such matters in legislation. I see this as an organisational matter and I will recommend to the authority that it include a commitment in its customer charter to respond to all requests for information in the speediest manner possible but, in any event, not later than 15 working days, providing the information requested is available to the authority within the time specified.
I sympathise with the points made by Deputies Wall and Deenihan. In my own experience in Opposition I found statutory bodies could sometimes be quite slow in replying to Deputies' requests for information, which is not in the interests of the workings of democracy and is something about which I have the gravest reservations. In those circumstances I wish to clarify as we pass this legislation through the House that I expect the new authority to reply quickly to queries raised by Members of the House. That will have to be included in the charter and is something to which other legislation brought before this House to set up statutory bodies might well refer, at least in the course of the debate. I would be deeply disappointed if agencies under the remit of my Department did not comply with best practice. If it is the case that there are any statutory bodies under the remit of my Department which are not replying speedily, I would be grateful if Deputies could bring these matters to my attention and I will certainly take them up with the agencies concerned. In this instance, the fact there will be a customers' charter specifying that people should be responded to within a reasonable period — 15 working days if at all possible — will help considerably. In those circumstances, I ask Deputy Wall to withdraw his amendment.
Incidentally, if it is the case that we again find this body is not replying speedily and that there is procrastination, the House will return to the matter in the context of a future Bill. I understand the frustrations people feel about some statutory bodies. I always believed that such bodies within my Department's remit replied speedily and I have no evidence to the contrary. If Deputy Wall withdraws the amendment, the most appropriate way to deal with the issue would be under the charter. If that fails, the matter can be revisited on another day.