Dáil debates

Thursday, 30 November 2006

Other Questions

Special Olympics Ireland.

4:00 pm

Photo of Paul Connaughton  SnrPaul Connaughton Snr (Galway East, Fine Gael)
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Question 9: To ask the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if he will make additional funds available to the Special Olympics in view of the recent presentation by the CEO to the Joint Committee on Arts, Sport and Tourism, Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40880/06]

Photo of John O'DonoghueJohn O'Donoghue (Minister, Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism; Kerry South, Fianna Fail)
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I am happy to place on record the high regard in which both I and my Government colleagues hold Special Olympics Ireland. The programmes which are implemented by the organisation for people with intellectual disabilities have a profoundly positive impact on families and communities. Since 1999, Special Olympics Ireland has received core funding of €4 million from the Irish Sports Council towards the costs of its activities, including almost €600,000 this year.

The Deputy will be aware that Special Olympics Ireland recently made a submission to the Government on the development and funding of the Special Olympics programme over the next three years. Subsequently, its representatives met with officials of my Department to elaborate on their submission, which is being given the fullest consideration in consultation with other Government Departments.

Photo of Jimmy DeenihanJimmy Deenihan (Kerry North, Fine Gael)
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I remind the Minister that Special Olympics Ireland looks after 11,000 athletes in 12 sports, in 402 clubs, supported by hundreds of community organisations throughout Ireland, with 18,000 volunteers. The perception is that Special Olympics Ireland is an event driven organisation, in that it organised the 2003 world games, but that is not the case. It is involved in training and coaching, providing facilities for 33% of all the young people with special needs in this country.

We were all very quick to jump on the bandwagon in 2003. It was very high profile, politically speaking. Politicians appeared on platforms all over Ireland, some to support, others no doubt to get cheap publicity.

However, Special Olympics Ireland only received 13.8% of its funding from Government sources. This is a derisory amount when one considers the effort put in by the people involved. Working with children with special needs is highly demanding and challenging and while it is also highly rewarding, it differs from working with children in mainstream athletics. The organisation has made a special application to the Government for an average of €3.3 million every year for the next five years. Next year, it needs this money to go to China and it also requires such funds in the future to develop its programmes. Will the Minister make a special case to the Cabinet to ensure the organisation will receive this funding?

Photo of John O'DonoghueJohn O'Donoghue (Minister, Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism; Kerry South, Fianna Fail)
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I am unaware of any politician who seeks cheap publicity arising from the Special Olympics. At the time, the Government provided an allocation of almost €14 million towards the hosting of the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Ireland. This was in addition to capital grants under the sports capital programme of €21 million to assist in the upgrading of a number of sports facilities that hosted various events during the course of the games.

In addition, the Irish Sports Council has been highly supportive of Special Olympics Ireland and is fully cognisant of the great contribution it makes to Irish sport and society in general. It appreciates that Special Olympics Ireland makes an enormous contribution to the voluntary sector and has, in the past three years, following on the highly successful Special Olympics World Summer Games, put its money where its mouth is by increasing the number of athletes by 28%. Since 2000, it has increased this number by 107%.

In previous years the council has made contributions to the cost both of the national competition and training camps for the Special Olympics. These contributions have been in the region of 33% of the total costs and have been in respect of smaller events such as the winter games and the European games. In 2007 the costs of competing in Shanghai will be substantially higher and the council will again seek to make a contribution towards these costs.

The Irish Sports Council may be open to an increase in funding towards the core activities of Special Olympics Ireland. However, it is not in favour of allocating specific funding for performance planning similar to that provided to its Olympic and Paralympic counterparts.

The Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism has written to other Departments, including the Departments of Health and Children, Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs and Education and Science to ascertain whether they will come up with funding as part of fulfilling the request from the Special Olympics Ireland organisation. In general, it will be recognised and acknowledged that the Government makes real efforts to support Special Olympics Ireland. I hope it will be in a position to help it with its latest submission.

Photo of Jimmy DeenihanJimmy Deenihan (Kerry North, Fine Gael)
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Specifically, a large team comprising 200 athletes plus coaches and trainers will travel to China in 2007 for the world games. Special Olympics Ireland has made a request to the Government to provide at least €1.5 million, in order to take one of the largest groups of athletes ever to represent Ireland. Will the Minister accede to this request today? Will he ask the Minister for Finance to include this allocation in the budget?

Photo of John O'DonoghueJohn O'Donoghue (Minister, Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism; Kerry South, Fianna Fail)
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As the organisation is aware, I have never been found wanting with regard to Special Olympics Ireland and to be fair, neither has the Minister for Finance. I do not anticipate that either the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism under my aegis, or the Minister for Finance will be found wanting in respect of the validated needs of Special Olympics Ireland. However, like all submissions, it must be considered in depth and must be examined and validated.