Dáil debates

Thursday, 26 October 2006

Priority Questions.

Sports Capital Programme.

3:00 pm

Photo of Jimmy DeenihanJimmy Deenihan (Kerry North, Fine Gael)
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Question 1: To ask the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if he will prioritise applications for funding under the recently announced sports capital grant scheme made jointly by primary schools and a local sports club or clubs to provide a sports hall or other sporting facility on or adjacent to school grounds; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35051/06]

Photo of John O'DonoghueJohn O'Donoghue (Minister, Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism; Kerry South, Fianna Fail)
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The sports capital programme administered by my Department allocates funding to sporting and community organisations, local authorities and, in certain circumstances, schools and colleges, throughout the country. Priority is given to projects essential to improve sports performance or participation and, of these, the highest priority is given to projects in disadvantaged areas.

The circumstances under which projects involving primary schools can be funded are where the application submitted for funding is a joint application from the school and a local sports club or community group, or where the application shows a clear need for the proposed sports facility in the area as formally agreed with other local groups and-or the local authority. Primary schools can also be funded where the local community will have access to the proposed facility for a minimum of at least 30 hours a week throughout the year when it is not being used by the school or college itself, and where the application meets the general guidelines, terms and conditions which apply to all applications under the programme.

As the Deputy is aware, responsibility for funding school sports facilities rests with the Department of Education and Science, and the number of school-related applications to my Department's sports capital programme is relatively low. For example of a total of 1,338 applications in 2006, only 30 were school-related and, of these, 12 projects were successful and were allocated €1.4 million in funding. My Department has commenced work on the development of a long-term strategic plan for the provision of sports facilities. This work is being managed by a steering group, which includes a representative of the Department of Education and Science, and the issue referred to by the Deputy will be addressed during the process which will lead to a strategy for facility provision.

I advertised the 2007 round of the sports capital programme on Sunday 15 and Monday 16 October, with a closing date for receipt of applications set for close of business on Friday 24 November next. I assure the Deputy that any school-related applications received under the 2007 sports capital programme which meet the necessary conditions and which would clearly increase sports participation and fill an identified gap in the level of sporting facilities in that community will be given every consideration for funding.

Photo of Jimmy DeenihanJimmy Deenihan (Kerry North, Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister's reply. I remind him that the 2005 report of the national task force on obesity contained a recommendation that children should have at least 60 minutes moderate physical activity daily. This and other recommendations of the report have not been acted upon. I conducted a survey of 1,400 schools in 2005 and found that only 23 had sports halls. Therefore, most schools are not in a position to provide physical education, especially in bad weather. Most principals who responded to my survey pointed out that the amount of time they could devote to physical education was weather-dependent.

There are approximately 300,000 overweight or obese children in Irish schools and this figure is increasing by 10,000 annually. While I understand that the Minister does not have sole responsibility for this, I ask him to ensure that priority be given to applications from schools which satisfy the criteria he has laid out. Under this, sports halls could be provided and children would have the opportunity to exercise in bad weather. The local community could also use the facilities by night. It is a simple solution and one that would resolve some of the problems in schools. It is there to be done under the sports capital programme because the Department of Education and Science certainly does not seem to prioritise the provision of sports halls in schools.

Photo of John O'DonoghueJohn O'Donoghue (Minister, Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism; Kerry South, Fianna Fail)
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It is open to any school to make an application under the sports capital programme jointly with a club or clubs. As Deputy Deenihan will be aware, our concern is to ensure sufficient facilities in communities for use by everyone in the community. We have been successful in this respect to date. Since 1998, more than €470 million has been spent on facilities across the country and 5,721 projects have been assisted. We have had a beneficial impact in every city, town, village and parish in the country. We have touched young people's lives for the better in virtually every part of Ireland.

The deficiency or otherwise of sports facilities in primary schools is, in the first instance, a matter for the Department of Education and Science to resolve. On the other hand, as Deputy Deenihan points out, it may be possible to marry the interests of the community with its local school. We have sought to meet this aspiration where possible.

Photo of Jimmy DeenihanJimmy Deenihan (Kerry North, Fine Gael)
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In appealing to the Minister to prioritise applications, including school involvement, I would point to recent surveys that show increased incidence of obesity. For example, a recent survey showed that four years ago the standard waist size of a 12 year old child was 26 inches and this has now increased to 30 inches and more. We are sitting on a potential time-bomb if this is not acted upon. The Minister can make a contribution and I appeal to him to do so through the sports capital fund.

Photo of John O'DonoghueJohn O'Donoghue (Minister, Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism; Kerry South, Fianna Fail)
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There is a good programme in operation in schools across the country, namely, the Buntús programme under the auspices of the Irish Sports Council. Our primary objective is to ensure sports facilities are made available and improved for all members of the community. Children in schools are as much at liberty to utilise community facilities as anyone else. I am conscious that an appropriate application may be submitted from a club or clubs in conjunction with a school. That will, in accordance with the normal criteria, be given due cognisance by officials in the Department.