Wednesday, 24 September 2014
Sport Ireland Bill 2014: Second Stage
I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I am pleased to introduce the Sport Ireland Bill 2014. The purpose of the Bill is to establish Sport Ireland, a new body which will replace the Irish Sports Council and the National Sports Campus Development Authority. The merger of the council and the authority is one of the measures in the Government's programme for the rationalisation of State agencies.
Sport Ireland will take on the functions of the council and the authority. It will continue the work currently being done by the council in promoting, developing and co-ordinating sport in Ireland and also the work of the authority in developing the National Sports Campus at Abbotstown. Both of these organisations are delivering important outcomes for sport and I am confident this will continue under the new structure.
As Minister of State with responsibility for sport, I am very aware of how important sport is in the lives of Irish people, both socially and from a health point of view. I strongly believe that sport has great potential to contribute to a much healthier society. We, in Government, are fully aware that we must continue to promote sport and physical activity and to support our sporting organisations. We must also try to provide the best sporting facilities we can, not just for our elite sportsmen and women but for people of all ages and all abilities.
I am pleased to say that we have been able to do a lot for sport in recent years. We have maintained Government funding for sport as much as possible to ensure the continued development of sport. The budget for sport this year is €95 million, an increase of 28% on 2013. This includes additional funding of €11.5 million under the Government stimulus plan for the sports capital programme and €13 million towards the development of the indoor arena at the National Sports Campus. This is a very significant investment in Irish sport and is a strong indication of our commitment to sport.
I am sure that Deputies will join me in acknowledging the value and role of the sports capital programme. More than 9,100 projects have now benefited from sports capital funding since 1998, bringing the total allocations in that time to over €820.5 million. Deputies will have first-hand experience of how the programme has transformed the sporting landscape of Ireland with improvements in the quality and quantity of sporting facilities in virtually every village, town and city in the country. These facilities range from the smallest clubs to national centres of sporting excellence.
One of the key features of the sports capital programme is that it helps to take some of the pressure off sporting organisations by providing much needed finance to assist in the completion of projects. We were delighted to make allocations of €31 million under the 2012 round of the sports capital programme.
This was the first round of the programme since 2008. We were also delighted to be able to make changes to the programme in 2012 to make it accessible to more clubs and organisations than ever before. The record number of 2,170 applications in 2012 showed that the 2012 round of the programme was much needed. With such high demand, it was never going to be possible to fund all applications. I was pleased, therefore, that we were able to press ahead with a new round of the sports capital programme in 2014. This was great news for sports clubs across the country. A total of €40.5 million was allocated under the 2014 programme. A total of 2,036 applications were received, the second highest number ever received, which shows the continuing demand and need for investment in sporting facilities. A total of 821 of the successful allocations were for local sports clubs and organisations, with the remaining 59 allocated to regional or national projects.
While funding to the Irish Sports Council has had to be reduced over recent years, we managed to offset this as much as possible and to keep the reduction as low as possible. The council received €42.5 million in funding this year and I am hopeful this can be maintained for 2015. The focus of the spending this year is on increasing participation in sport and physical activity, which is one of the key objectives of my Department. In this context, I acknowledge the huge efforts of the Irish Sports Council, the local sports partnerships and the national governing bodies in encouraging greater participation in sport. This important work has paid off, as can be seen in the most recent figures from the Irish Sports Monitor report for the first half of 2013 which show that participation has increased from 45% in 2011 to 47% in 2013. This is a great result and we will continue working to increase this figure further.
Since it was established in 1999, the Irish Sports Council has played a very important part in the development of Irish sport at all levels. We are lucky to have a host of very talented sportsmen and sportswomen in Ireland. The structures put in place over the years to support our elite athletes have helped them to reach the top levels across a wide range of sports. Last year, Irish athletes won a record 67 medals in international competition at junior and elite levels. This is a huge increase from the 16 won in 2008 and a remarkable achievement over five years which reflects the excellent work that is being done for high performance sport in Ireland. Although it was established more recently, the National Sports Campus Development Authority has made a major contribution to Irish sport through the development of world-class training facilities at the National Sports Campus. The campus has seen very significant progress in the last several years. We now have facilities in which our elite athletes can prepare for international competitions. New facilities opened in the past year include a world-class national horse sport arena, a national modern pentathlon centre, a national diving training centre and a multi-sport synthetic pitch facility. On-site accommodation has also been developed to allow athletes to live and train on Campus.
The Irish Institute of Sport is based on the campus at Abbotstown. In 2013, 185 athletes from 20 sports drew down expert services and support, including Fionnuala Britton, who has won gold medals at the European Cross Country Championships among many other great performances. The list of other athletes like Ms Britton is a long one. Beneficiaries include Ireland's sailors, including Annalise Murphy who recently qualified for Rio, the Irish high performance boxing squad, the Irish equestrian team which did so well at the recent World Equestrian Games and the highly successful Paralympic team. They are all supported by the council's high performance plan, which includes coaching, training camps, competition and other services and can access a range of excellent campus facilities. We now see Irish elite athletes happy to base themselves at home because they are supported by a world-class and distinctly Irish system at the National Sports Campus. This is a major departure from days when athletes chose to leave our shores, if they wanted a real chance of succeeding at the top level internationally.
This year will see more significant developments at campus, including the commencement of work on the national indoor arena, which the Government is funding from the proceeds of the sale of the National Lottery licence. Work will also commence shortly on a high performance training centre at the Institute of Sport. The FAI and the GAA are also progressing the development of pitches for their sports. I am confident that it will be possible to maintain this momentum and develop more facilities in the coming years.
One of my other priorities for sport in the coming months is the development of a national sport policy. This document is designed to get all Government Departments working together on sport and it will set out the policy framework for sport Ireland. Another issue that I intend to examine over the coming period is the proposed regulation of the adventure activities sector. The Irish Sports Council recently submitted a report to me, which I will be considering.
It is important for me to place on record my thanks to the Irish Sports Council, the National Sports Campus Development Authority and the national governing bodies for the efforts they are making every day on behalf of Irish sport. I must also mention the volunteers who are a vital part of every club and sporting organisation around the country and who are doing wonderful work for sport in their communities.
I will now turn to the main provisions in the Bill. The Bill includes the provisions necessary for establishing sport Ireland and dissolving the council and the authority. Many of the provisions are standard provisions for establishing a new body. It also combines the relevant provisions from the Irish Sports Council Act 1999 and the National Sports Campus Development Authority Act 2006. The Bill is divided into four Parts and contains 45 sections. Part 1, covering sections 1 to 4, deals with standard provisions regarding the legislation. Part 2, covering section 5 to 28, provides for the establishment and functions of Sport Ireland.
The functions of Sport Ireland are set out in section 7. These functions are broadly in line with the functions currently performed by the council and the authority. I will mention some of the main features. Sport Ireland will have responsibility for developing strategies for increasing participation in sport at national and local level. It will also have responsibility for supporting our elite athletes in achieving excellence in sport. This reflects the work of the Irish Institute of Sport. A new function is included in this section to reflect the role of Coaching Ireland in developing coaches and tutors at all levels in sport. Sport Ireland will continue the development of the sports campus. It will manage, operate and maintain the campus, along with any other facilities that may be approved by the Minister.
Overall responsibility for the research function, which was the responsibility of the Irish Sports Council, will revert to my Department. The programme for Government states that policy making will revert to Departments, while agencies will be accountable for implementing policy. As research is a key tool in policy making, responsibility for the function is being brought back into my Department. While the Minister will set direction, sport Ireland will be conducting the research. I intend to introduce a process whereby my Department and Sport Ireland will work together to set out plans for what research will be conducted each year. Sport Ireland will also have responsibility for anti-doping. I will deal with that subject later.
The provision of grants and other assistance to national governing bodies of sport and athletes will also come under the remit of sport Ireland. This will be similar to the role that the Irish Sports Council now plays in allocating funding. Responsibility for the sports capital programme will remain with my Department. Many of the other sections in this Part of the Bill are standard provisions. They cover matters such as engagement of consultants, strategy statements, annual reports, accounts and service agreements. Sections 18 to 20 relate to sport Ireland's responsibility for the development of the National Sports Campus. Section 19 allows Sport Ireland to establish subsidiaries and to enter into joint ventures and partnerships. It also provides that the subsidiary company established by the authority to operate the National Aquatic Centre and other facilities will continue as a subsidiary of sport Ireland. Section 21 provides that the first chief executive will be appointed by the Minister. The board of sport Ireland will appoint subsequent CEOs. The CEO will have responsibility for carrying on, managing and controlling the administration and business of sport Ireland. Section 22 provides that the CEO will be accountable to Oireachtas committees, including the Committee of Public Accounts.
Section 28 provides that sport Ireland will continue the development of the National Sports Campus in accordance with the plan prepared by the authority. It allows sport Ireland to amend the plan and provides that any amended plan must be submitted for the approval of the Minister.
Part 3, covering sections 29 to 39, inclusive, deals with the dissolution of the council and the authority. It contains standard provisions for dissolving the two bodies and for such matters as transferring land, property, rights and liabilities of the council and the authority to sport Ireland. Section 37 provides that employees of the council and the authority will become employees of sport Ireland on the day it is established. Section 38 provides that employees who were members of an existing superannuation scheme before the transfer will continue to be members of the scheme with the same terms and conditions.
Part 4 of the Bill, covering sections 40 to 45, inclusive, deals with anti-doping measures. There was a general provision on anti-doping in the 1999 Act establishing the Irish Sports Council. Technology has moved on since and measures for anti-doping worldwide are much more sophisticated now. I commend the council, as its work in this area is highly regarded internationally. With new anti-doping provisions in this Bill, I intend to give a stronger statutory basis to the work already being undertaken. Section 40 designates sport Ireland as the national anti-doping organisation for the State. It will perform the relevant functions referred to in the world anti-doping code, the UNESCO anti-doping convention and the Irish anti-doping rules. Section 41 gives sport Ireland responsibility for taking appropriate measures to deliver an effective response to doping in sport, including testing and education. It also gives sport Ireland responsibility for making and amending the Irish anti-doping rules. However, as set out in section 44, the existing Irish anti-doping rules made by the Irish Sports Council will continue to operate; they will be deemed to be the rules made by sport Ireland. The anti-doping rules include rules and arrangements relating to such matters as testing of athletes, banned substances, sanctions and so on.
Section 41 also provides for sharing of information with the Health Products Regulatory Authority, the Garda, Customs and Excise, and other anti-doping organisations for the purpose of combatting doping. Section 42 deals with data protection measures for sharing of information relating to doping. Sport Ireland will put information sharing agreements in place with the bodies I mentioned. This will be done in consultation with the Data Protection Commissioner. Any sharing of information will only be to the extent necessary for the purpose of preventing and eliminating doping. Section 43 means that any person who is a member of a sports national governing body, which receives funding from sport Ireland, or any person who represents the State in sport must comply with the anti-doping rules. Anyone who fails to comply with the rules will not be eligible for funding and will not be allowed to represent the State. Section 45 lists the definitions used in this part of the Bill. These are important measures which will allow Sport Ireland to inspire fair play in sport. The anti-doping programme is critical to help ensure that Irish athletes can compete cleanly on the world stage.
Schedule 1 of the Bill deals with matters relating to the board. This includes matters such as the appointment of board members, the establishment of committees and the procedure for meetings. It also addresses disclosure of interests by members and the disclosure of confidential information. This section requires sport Ireland to establish committees to advise on the functions of anti-doping, the National Sports Campus, coaching and high-performance sport.
Schedule 2 lists the provisions that apply in the event of any compulsory acquisition of land. This Government has demonstrated its commitment to investing in sport and sports clubs. We saw some of the results of that last week with the announcement by UEFA that Dublin will be a host city for the European soccer championship in 2020. This is a great result for Ireland and I hope it will encourage more young people to get involved in sport. It is one of the greatest major sporting events that will ever come to this country. I compliment the chief executive of the Football Association of Ireland, FAI, Mr. John Delaney, as well as Dublin City Council. I compliment people in my Department, including Mr. Tom O'Mahony and Mr. Donagh Morgan, as well as the hard-working officials who worked with other Departments to ensure Ireland became a host city. These are the people who work behind the scenes. We might not see them on a daily basis but I take this opportunity to thank every single one for helping the Government and the FAI to get this major sporting event for Ireland. It will help us in future years in getting tourists to the country.
I welcome the decision by the Government yesterday to change the way rates are charged on sports clubs. Under the new rules agreed by the Government, clubs will only be liable to pay rates on the part of the club that generates income, such as the bar area. This is a welcome change that will particularly benefit sports clubs that are struggling with debt. Many sporting clubs in the country, particularly in the good times, built massive facilities but are now struggling, so they need whatever support they can get from the Government. I welcome yesterday's Government decision. That is something we have lobbied for, and I did so personally. The Department has sought this for many years and I am delighted with the decision.
We have continued to support our elite athletes and we have seen some excellent performances and results from them. I take this opportunity to congratulate our most recent world medal winner, cyclist Ryan Mullen, who won a silver medal in the men's under-23 time trial at the world championships in Spain this week.
The Irish Sports Council and the National Sport Campus Development Authority are doing great work in developing sport in Ireland. Under this Bill, the two bodies will merge and the baton will pass to sport Ireland. I know that sport Ireland will continue in the tradition of serving all our athletes and all our citizens well.
I am pleased with the sports capital programme and we would love to see another round, as it is important for many clubs throughout the country. The sports capital programme has worked very well, especially for small clubs. Sports is not all about elite athletes but rather participation. It is about giving young boys and girls the opportunity to participate in sport in this country and have the chance to use even basic facilities in every corner of the country. As Minister of State responsible for sport, I will try to ensure we can get another round of the sports capital grant, although it will not be easy. The Government gave a commitment that we would have two rounds of the programme in the lifetime of this Government and they are in place. I would like to get a third round. Many sporting organisations were disappointed they did not get grant aid the last time and I would like to give them a chance on the next round to get the funding to develop even simple facilities. We have national stadiums and major sporting infrastructure.
The sports campus is a marvellous development. We have worked hard on it in difficult times and we got the necessary funding to develop it. It is great that our athletes do not have to go abroad and are able to train and participate in their own country. They can then go abroad to win medals for their country. Sport is not all about winning medals, as it is about participation, representing the country and wearing the green jersey, with people doing what they can for sport. I am delighted to bring the Bill before the Dáil and I look forward to hearing the contributions on Second Stage.
I thank the Minister for his explanation of the Bill and general outline of the Government's position on sport. We will support the Bill, although there is nothing particularly exciting or new in it. It is bringing together two organisations that one could argue have the capacity to work closely together. It seems that much of this amalgamation is grown from a promise by Fine Gael and Labour to reduce the number of what the Minister of State referred to as quangos, although I do not like the use of that word. I know the good work done by many of these organisations, and it was a retrograde step in an effort to win the votes of the public that certain elements of both parties seemed to suggest that a myriad of agencies and organisations existed purely for their own propagation.
Notwithstanding this, it is very clear that there is an exceptional amount of good work done, and I recognise that the Minister of State has paid tribute to the people in both of these organisations. Although the organisations will no longer exist, their work should be recognised.
There is no real saving to be made as a result of the decision to amalgamate. It allows the Government to show later that it has reduced the so-called burden on the taxpayer by reducing the number of agencies. The Minister of State has yet to outline the costs associated with this Bill. The cost of this merger could be better utilised in investment in community and high-performance sports provision, but we will accept it.
My party opposes section 9 allowing for the appointment of consultants and advisers. The Government should have learnt from its escapade in the establishment of Irish Water when it led everybody to believe that by establishing Irish Water through An Bord Gáis very significant savings could be made from a transfer of information, knowledge and system techniques that would allow Irish Water get off the ground quickly and efficiently, which has not happened. The Government’s commitment to begin a bonfire of quangos is ironic in light of the debacle surrounding the establishment of Irish Water. It emerged at the beginning of 2014 that almost half the €180 million start-up cost for Irish Water, €86 million, was spent on outside consultants. The expenditure included €32 million on information technology, IT, €13 million on economic advice, €12 million on billing and registration and €8 million on support services. We were led to believe that these components were readily available in An Bord Gáis.
Fine Gael’s policy paper, Reinventing Government, promised the abolition of more than 145 State bodies and companies, including the dismantling of the HSE, and FÁS, yet the programme for Government proposes the creation of 36 new agencies, including Irish Water and NewERA. The then Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar, conceded in November 2011 that the Government would not in its term abolish 50 quangos. Today and for the next couple of days when this Bill passes through the House, we will be helping Fine Gael meet those targets. To do that just to tick the box is a poor use of the time of this House. We will not achieve anything by that.
The Minister of State rightly identified sport as a vital and intrinsic part of society, from the local clubs that give so much to communities throughout Ireland to the national and international success of our elite sportsmen and women, and their teams. He is right to say it is not just a question of winning medals but it is a matter of creating role models for young people, encouraging greater participation in activity-led pursuits and contributing to a healthier society. Some go on to be at the top of their game and they focus on success and achievement. For many others the emphasis is on participation. We need the elite layer of super athletes who encourage young people at an impressionable age to live healthy lives. This involves a significant saving for the State, which is often lost in the debate. The Department of Finance, too, will consider this only in terms of expenditure for this year. Making people more active in sport and encouraging them to live healthier lives achieves a great saving in the health budget. Within the health budget there is a health education programme, a component of which is spent on encouraging people to live healthier lives. Much of that should go into the sports capital programme or to the development of sporting activity because that is the way to divert people onto a more progressive path which helps them care better for themselves.
Sport in the community is the largest source of volunteering in Ireland, with more than 500,000 adults volunteering every year. The economic value of their work is estimated to be in excess of €350 million. A total of 38% of Irish people are members of an estimated 12,000 sports clubs, while 2.1 million participate regularly in sporting activities, a figure that includes approximately 800,000 people under the age of 18. I would prefer if we were to discuss a national sports policy, which the Minister of State has spoken about. We are four years into this Administration and he has said he will bring it forward in the next couple of months. I welcome that and will assist him in every way I can in that endeavour. The effort needs to go into setting out a policy position and a strategy around its implementation. Increasing the number of those under 18 participating in sport to 1 million or 1.2 million and encouraging people to continue to live healthier and better lives after the age of 18 will reduce the cost to the State of essential health care. If people lead healthier lives, they become less of a burden on the State but also on private health insurance, the cost of which is escalating. The Government should put more of its efforts into that policy framework.
I welcome the decision to bring sporting activity to Ireland. The Minister of State has done very well in that respect. It increases tourism and the more games are held here, the more participation in sport increases. When a county progresses to the All-Ireland final - unfortunately, neither Mayo nor Clare made it this year - one can see the impact on the children and young people in that county. They want to participate. I want to see the Minister of State bring forward proposals that have the capacity to increase participation. That will be a success.
There is an element of parish pump politics in this work and it is great to be the one dishing out the money. The Minister of State would probably have relished the prospect of the job until he had it and realised that he has to say "no" more often than he says "yes".
It is harder for the 100 that he cannot facilitate. For someone of the Minister of State’s calibre, who works so assiduously in his constituency, that is probably one of the more difficult aspects of his job. We need to continue the investment.
I have been critical of how the Government has over-politicised the distribution of that money when it changed its policy. In the past, Department officials validated and scored the applications and assigned people money. The current Administration has decided to remove the independence associated with the assignment of the money and has brought it under political control.
When a fellow like the Minister of State reaches for academia to back up what he is doing, I would be very worried.
In the long term, the local authorities must have a greater involvement in the identification and roll-out of appropriate infrastructure. In some parts of the country, there are two or three well-developed pitches, with all the bells and whistles associated with such developments, that are idle for certain parts of the week. I know where such infrastructure emerged from. There is an over-supply in some areas where good and progressive clubs got their act together. On the other hand, some large centres of population have nothing because they do not have a club structure to act as a nucleus around which services could be provided and infrastructure could be built. While those who look at this from a national perspective might say "that is tough, but we could not do it because there were no applications", we have to be more broadly based when we look at the provision of infrastructure. I suggest this is where the local authorities should come into the equation.
I will give an example from the county and constituency I know best. Quite some time ago, the town council and the county council took an initiative to buy a tract of land in the county town of Ennis for the purpose of the development of communal facilities. This infrastructure, which is known as the Lees Road project, has not taken from the clubs that have their own facilities. It has provided facilities to clubs that do not have them. It has done so on a communal basis. The existence of a critical mass allows better facilities to be developed. I think that is where we need to go with the sports capital programme in the long term if we are to ensure we get a much better return on our investment. We cannot continue to confine our efforts to providing for existing clubs. They will always be looking for money. They deserve some money to allow them to continue to advance. We need to look to the areas in which there is no superstructure around which these services can be built.
The 2012 Indecon report on sport found that there is a return to the Government of approximately €149 from every €100 it invests in Irish sport. In economic terms, sport contributes in three main ways. The Minister of State knows about the employment element of the sports industry.
It accounted for approximately 2% of total Irish employment in 2011. It contributed over €1.8 billion to GDP in both 2011 and 2012, despite a 6.9% cut in Government funding. I will not bash on about the cuts. We recognised that moderation was needed in various areas. In 2011, spending on sporting activity amounted to €1.9 billion of total household expenditure. It accounts for a considerable component of household spending. While we support investment in sporting infrastructure in local communities across the country, we are not in favour of the creation of some kind of superquango that would have recourse to consultants that would utilise money in a manner that means we would not see the best benefit from that money. If the role of this organisation is to support the work of the Government in developing the strategy about which the Minister of State has spoken, and if the central tenet of that strategy is an attempt to secure the greater participation of young people and adults in sport, I will be very supportive of it.
It is fair to say that this Bill will pass without too much difficulty, even if nothing of any great note will have been achieved. I hope the Minister of State will move quickly towards the establishment of a policy, and a strategy around the implementation of that policy, in the shortest time possible.
Sinn Féin broadly welcomes the Sport Ireland Bill 2014. When two or more organisations are being amalgamated, it is important that no jobs are lost in the process. Therefore, we are happy to see the guarantee in this Bill that no jobs will be lost in this case. We cannot envision many downfalls with the merger of the Irish Sports Council and the National Sports Campus Development Authority under the one umbrella. The same thing was done in the case of the Child and Family Agency. We hope that all functions currently fulfilled by both bodies will continue to be carried out efficiently and that the pooling of resources benefits positively on the new body. In saying that, it is important for the development of sport in Ireland that the Minister of State uses this opportunity to encourage a number of initiatives within the new body that seek the betterment of our approach to sport in this State.
The value of sport in any society cannot be underestimated. It is of great benefit to the mental and physical health of those who partake in it and it can be an extremely important factor in the context of social inclusion and integration. Sporting activities give the marginalised and the underprivileged, including migrants and those at increased risk of discrimination, opportunities to integrate with other social groups. According to the UN Office on Sport for Development and Peace, sport can play an important role in reducing social tensions and conflicts at community and national levels by addressing the sources of exclusion and providing those on the fringes of our society with an alternative entry point into the social and economic lives of the communities in which they live.
Sports participation can make a profound difference in the lives of excluded populations, including indigenous people, members of minority ethno-cultural groups, asylum seekers and refugees, girls and women, people with disabilities, homeless people and young school leavers who are unemployed. Everyone who lives in extreme poverty suffers from exclusion. Initiatives such as Soccer Against Racism Ireland and the midnight leagues clearly demonstrate the positive impact of using sport to tackle discrimination and racism. In this regard, I applaud the partnership approach between the Garda, local authorities and the FAI in areas like Ballymun and Ballyfermot. An achievable strategy to combat social exclusion must be a priority for sport Ireland and the Minister of State.
As a result of the economic collapse, many people have suffered financially, emotionally and mentally. Sporting initiatives at community level can open an entire new avenue of social capital to those who have suffered and continue to suffer most in our society. Sport and physical activity is an important tool if we are to combat the rising levels of obesity in this State. A focus should be put on tackling the issue of childhood and youth obesity through various sport initiatives being rolled out in communities and schools. Not only does sport allow children and young people to meet new people, learn new skills and learn the importance of self-responsibility, but it also facilitates a healthier lifestyle and general well-being. All Government agencies, State bodies and organisations should work together on this issue.
Women in sport are consistently under-appreciated, under-represented and under-rated in this State. This year's success of the Irish women's rugby and soccer teams is a testament to the skill and talent of our female players. However, their participation seems to be at the bottom of the priority list. Earlier this year, matchday expenses were cut for the women's international soccer team, yet retained for the men's team players. Katie Taylor, who is a world, European and Olympic champion, is a fantastic role model to young women across this island. I had the great pleasure of seeing Katie Taylor box on a number of occasions prior to her Olympic success. Even though she was a world and European champion, the lack of media presence at her fights was noteworthy. There were no television cameras and there was hardly a photographer in sight. I think this is an absolute disgrace, especially when compared to what would happen if we had a men's champion. I intend to go to see Katie Taylor fight in Fermoy on 11 October next. I will watch with interest to see if anything has changed. A strategy to tackle the chronic under-funding and under-representation of women across many State bodies, from sport Ireland to RTE, is needed along with a grassroots investment in female participation in sport. Sport is empowering. It must be used as a tool to close the gender equality gap that exists in society.
Given that I have raised the administration of the sports capital programme in the Dáil previously, I must give credit where credit is due. Consecutive sports capital programmes have been a lifeline for many clubs and organisations. Sports clubs and communities can benefit through the extra funding that is provided for important projects through this positive mechanism. I commend the Government on this initiative. I hope it will continue year on year because it is vitally important for all communities across the island. It is unfortunate that large sums of money remain buried under red tape while previous successful applications have yet to draw down funding. I understand this accounts for €53 million. I ask the Minister of State to review whether any of this could be released for future applications. Could sport Ireland be given responsibility for undertaking this duty?
I also believe that the criteria for the grant could be improved to ensure that disadvantaged communities that are most in need are continually prioritised. In my constituency there is a boxing club that met the criteria for the grant but which was unsuccessful in its application. It is in a small rural community just outside of a RAPID area. Many of the members of this boxing club come from a RAPID town because the town itself has no a boxing club. This would not necessarily have been known by the person assessing the application, however, and improvements in the application process could be made to reflect such situations. Dublin City Council made two applications for funding for all-weather pitches in an area of huge disadvantage, both of which were refused. We urge the Minister of State to have further discussions with Dublin City Council to enable it to overcome any barriers preventing it from meeting the criteria. The grants must be front-loaded for areas of social and economic disadvantage. Communities with drugs task forces and those which are designated RAPID areas must always be given top priority because sport is an integral part of tackling anti-social behaviour and encouraging positive interactions.
Sinn Féin believes that all Government bodies, institutions and initiatives should operate on an all-Ireland basis. We would like to see sport Ireland prioritise and firmly implement a cross-Border approach when it comes to sport on this island. In a nation that recently came out of conflict, sporting programmes can be used to help build and foster positive community relations and interactions. This must be practical and achievable. Community-based events should be rolled out between players or participants from differing backgrounds in the North and South. If given the proper resources, this could be carried out by the local authorities. Many sporting codes operate on an all-Ireland basis such as rugby union, Gaelic games, basketball, rugby league, hockey and cricket. Nothing can encourage a sense of community, pride and common identity like playing in and winning a tournament together. Children from differing religious, political and socio-economic backgrounds would benefit greatly from playing on teams with their counterparts in different counties throughout this island. A sense of understanding and a bond can be developed between teammates and players that would otherwise have never existed. This would be a key element of cross-community relationship building and conflict resolution. We would encourage the Minister of State and sport Ireland to work closely with their counterparts in the North to develop, implement and maintain all-Ireland sports-based initiatives.
Once again, on behalf of Sinn Féin, I welcome this Bill. We hope that the combination of the resources of both bodies will benefit efforts to combat doping in sport, something that eradicates the genuine competitive nature of sporting games and competition. I would like to wish everyone tasked with the transition from two sporting bodies to one the best of luck, and I hope that the Minister of State and sport Ireland take on board our recommendations for the future.
First, I wish to raise the issue of the national lottery grants because I was away at the time of the announcement of this year's allocations. I was actually in Brazil, at a sporting occasion, trying to keep up to date with football and making sure that I did not fall behind. I was delighted that members of the media missed me while I was away. That was appreciated.
On the question of the national lottery grants, I am not pointing the finger at the Minister of State because I know that he divided up the money in an even fashion between the various counties. Nonetheless, there are two organisations in Wexford which were very disappointed with the end result. After last year's grants disbursement, I spoke to the Minister of State about the fact that I was led to believe that the computer system would inform applicants if they did not complete their applications correctly. I understood that applicants would be told automatically that their applications were not completed properly. Obviously I misunderstood the Minister of State at the time because that is not what happened. The Minister of State is probably familiar with the two cases to which I refer. The Wexford Football League did not send a letter with its application stating that it did not need planning permission to develop playing surfaces. We all know that planning permission is not required for playing surfaces so that organisation could be forgiven for thinking that a letter stating same was not required. Members of that organisation would have taken for granted that the State body would have known that planning permission was not required, but the league's application was turned down on that basis. A different sporting organisation was successful in its funding application but it has since transpired that it does not own its pitch. That organisation has now run into problems in that regard. That is a different issue, however, and I believe that every sporting organisation in this country deserves more help than it gets from the State. I am not going to differentiate between sports because every sport has value and every single sporting organisation adds massive value to society. All I am looking for here is a level playing field in terms of the competition for funding.
The other grant applicant I wish to refer to is the North End United Football Club, a very progressive football club in Wexford town. The club caters for kids from the less well-off areas of Wexford town and does so very well. Its application was turned down because the folio number was missing. As I said last year, it is probably possible to find a fault in almost every application. Those in the North End United Football Club feel very hard done by because the system seems to be a bit unfair. I was not here at the time of the announcement of the successful grant applications and wished to make those points to the Minister of State on behalf of the Wexford Football League and the North End United Football Club.
As I have said before in the House, I do not understand the logic of the State spending more than €3 billion every year dealing with alcohol abuse. I am not sure exactly how much money the State spends on sport on an annual basis but I believe it is somewhere in the region of €40 million.
Given the value that sport brings to communities across the island, any further investment by the State in sport is money well invested, especially in the context of the cost of alcohol abuse exceeding €3 billion per annum. It is hardly rocket science to suggest that sport at its best helps to reduce abuse of alcohol because those playing sport at a high level cannot abuse alcohol and continue at that level. We need a bit more joined-up thinking in this regard because we can certainly cut our alcohol abuse bill by investing more in all sports.
I recently read an article by Dr. Kerry O'Brien who is based at the department of behavioural studies at Monash University in Australia. In the article he asks what sport is good for and whether it should be the primary vehicle for marketing alcohol to the general population. He argues that one could be forgiven for thinking that "sport is a subsidiary of the alcohol, fast food and gambling industries". Dr. O'Brien asks why the alcohol industry sponsors sporting events and concludes that in Australia such sponsorship often allows the industry to bypass regulations prohibiting alcohol advertising during times when large populations of children may be watching television. We do not have the same restrictions in Ireland but perhaps we should do. The author goes on to discuss the ability of sports to evoke strong emotions and social identification and argues that this is worth a fortune to the alcohol industry. He writes that, "Pairing a healthy activity such as sport with an otherwise unhealthy product such as alcohol or fast food makes that product seem less unhealthy and more acceptable and normal."
Reviews of research on the association between exposure to alcohol advertising and subsequent drinking intentions and behaviours shows that exposure to, and recall of, alcohol advertising and sponsorship by children and adolescents predicts their future drinking expectancies, norms, drinking intentions and hazardous drinking behaviours. A study from the United States also found that ownership of alcohol-branded merchandise, such as football shirts and sports caps, by children and adolescents was associated with their early initiation of drinking. Dr. O'Brien went on to state:
Alcohol industry advertising and sponsorship in sport and other settings, creates a culture where children perceive alcohol consumption as a normal everyday part of life. And they see it as something associated with sporting success [or even with just being Irish]. ...Brazil also has a ban but FIFA put increased pressure on it to lift the ban for the World Cup last summer. Sadly, Brazil lifted it. Given FIFA is such a corrupt organisation, it does much that amounts to being sad. I love soccer, but how corrupt is that organisation?
Most of us didn’t grow up in a culture void of alcohol advertising and sponsorship, which makes it difficult for us to imagine sport without them. But given the high rates of hazardous drinking and associated problems in young people (violence, suicide, motor accidents), we probably don’t need to be giving them more encouragement to drink. ...
France has had a complete ban on alcohol advertising and sponsorship since 1991. Sport has not suffered and alcohol consumption has decreased in the past 20-odd years. Indeed, France even hosted the 1998 FIFA World Cup with this ban in place and enforced.
Dr. O'Brien continued: "Similarly, Norway and Turkey have strong restrictions on alcohol advertising in sport, and South Africa is currently drafting a bill to ban all alcohol advertising and sponsorship in sport". We could do the same in Ireland.
I refer to a good article in The Irish Times, and give the newspaper credit for it. It states:
As part of its 2009 investigation into the conduct of the UK alcohol industry, the House of Commons Health Select Committee obtained access to internal marketing documents from both producers and their advertising agencies. The documents were analysed by Prof Gerard Hastings.The internal documents were equally cynical about recruiting young women. A study of 6,600 adolescents in four European countries, published in December 2012 by Amphora, an initiative of the European Commission, found that "Alcohol-branded sport sponsorship influences alcohol consumption among adolescents. Exposure to sport sponsoring can predict future drinking". As DIT marketing lecturer Mr. Patrick Kenny said, sponsorship is important to the alcohol companies because consumers generally have a more benign interpretation of it than they have of advertising. Sponsorship is perceived to be generous and supportive, whereas advertising is seen as motivated by selfish reasons. Consumers' defence mechanisms are low when it comes to sponsorship and high when it comes to advertising.
His report's title, “They’ll Drink Bucketloads Of The Stuff”, says it all about the alcohol industry's aims. For example, internal documents from the drinks company Carling show that the aim of sponsorship was to "Build the image of the brand and recruit young male drinkers". Carling summed it up thus: "They (young men) think about 4 things: we brew one, and sponsor two of them".
A study of 462 Irish teenagers, by Dr. Deirdre Palmer and Dr Gary O’Reilly, found that the average age of starting to drink was 13.4 years. Many young people have an established drinking habit by 15. The younger people are when they start to drink, the more likely they are to experience harm.
On alcohol abuse, Dr. Bobby Smyth, a child and adolescent psychiatrist, states alcohol kills 1,200 people per year in Ireland, adding:
There are 2,000 Irish people in hospital beds today due to alcohol use ... 10% of Irish children say their lives have been adversely affected by their parents drinking. More starkly, it is estimated that parental drinking accounts for one sixth of all cases of child abuse and neglect.Former Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Shortall, made a submission to the Oireachtas committee. She proposed an alternative source of funding by revealing a little known VAT loophole. Given that I am in the industry, this was a revelation to me. She stated that if a supermarket sells alcohol at below cost in order to attract customers, it can apply for a VAT refund from the Revenue Commissioners. They are entitled to this refund because they have made a loss even though this loss is planned. In effect, the State subsidises the below-cost selling of alcohol in supermarkets. If there were a complete ban on below-cost selling of alcohol, industry sources say, it could generate as much as €20 million in increased VAT takings which could be diverted towards sport.
Alcohol Action Ireland estimates that a levy of 1 cent on a standard drink would generate €30 million annually. A levy of 5 cent would bring in €180 million. We must work towards a position where sport does not need alcohol to fund itself. That can be done with some rational thinking on the part of the State. The State should do more than replace it. Given that there is nothing with such a healthy tag as sport, a lot more funding needs to go to all organisations involved sport. Sport is a winner all round. That is why the alcohol industry is so fond of it and will pay a great deal to get its hands on it. I believe this has to change.
I am as fond of a drink as anybody else. I like a glass of red wine and a good beer. We are not talking about the use of alcohol but about the misuse and abuse of it. The abuse of alcohol is too widespread in this country for our own health. Given we have such a challenge with the Department of Health and it is so difficult to find the funding required to have a good health service, it would be sensible to apply positive thinking in this area and introduce proactive measures that will cut down on the bill of the State for alcohol abuse by dramatically increasing the funding for sport.
I have no major difficulty with the Bill. It is mainly a technical Bill to pull organisations together and merging them into one. I have a few questions. Will there be a cap on the new CEO's wages? The point was made here, quite correctly, that new jobs would be lost and wages would be at the level they should be. I hope there will be no JobBridge jobs in this area and that these will be full jobs, permanent and with decent conditions.
I would be interested to know whether there is a cut in the funding between the two organisations now being merged into one. I am also a little concerned about section 9, which was raised already and which relates to consultants and advisers. Can the new body pay for consultants and advisers only with funding it raises? Could it use State funding to employ consultant and advisers or would the body itself have to raise the funding for it?
I will make a few general points. Deputy Wallace made a number of profound points on the role of the drinks industry in sport. On sports allocations, particularly for younger people who are picked to play for Ireland, for instance, in European championships or world championships, I recently had two cases. First, a young lad in Taekwondo in Tallaght was seeking support to raise money to send him to championships in Japan and there was no funding available to help him travel there. Then a young girl from Drimnagh who was going to the European Basketball Championship that was held on 29 July last informed me that she had to pay for the new kit to represent her country, and she also had to raise €3,500 to get herself there. If we want to encourage our young people into the national campus and develop them into good athletes for both themselves and to represent their country and their community, we need to look at that level of promotion. They should be eager and enthusiastic rather than have to come with a begging bowl to the public and conduct fund-raisers such as a quiz.
I put down a parliamentary question on this matter and was informed the various sporting governing bodies and organisations receive funding which they pass down to the athletes. We need to use that money properly to support young athletes representing our country. It is fine for those who can afford to support their children through a sport but it is difficult for those parents who cannot. The reply to my parliamentary question stated taekwondo was part of the higher performance plan but basketball was not. We need to re-examine the range of sports that are included in this support and how their governing bodies are transparent in showing where the funding goes.
Will the Minister examine how lottery funds are distributed for supporting sport in the UK? While I accept it has a much larger fund, the sporting organisations there are able to encourage young people to partake in national sporting events and provide funding for community-based sporting facilities. It is phenomenal. It appears, however, that the same effort is not put into allocating supports here in our communities. The UK lottery finding gets to sporting organisations on the ground in communities, not at the top to golf clubs, for example, and encourages young people to participate.
A local football club in my constituency has tried three times to get an AstroTurf pitch put into Brickfields Park. It has come up against brick walls, red tape and the local authority not being forthcoming in explaining how the club should apply for a capital sports grant. A timely notice should be sent to all clubs applying for capital sports grants by local authorities, as well as information as to what viability plans they need to put in their applications. Many areas are losing out because they do not have the right personnel such as accountants to assist them in putting through their applications.
There are 800,000 young people involved in sports. I have played basketball, camogie, volleyball, as well as partaking in swimming and running. This is a great environment to grow up in and the friendships one makes in playing sports are bound for life. I am still close to people I played sports with when I was 12 and 13. Ties made when playing sport are crucial to young people’s development. We need to examine how we nurture young people getting involved in sport, particularly on the national stage. We must also encourage sporting organisations such as the Homeless Street Leagues, as well as those that support cross-community and racial integration and closing the gender equality gap, as Deputy McLellan mentioned.
I will be supporting this Bill.
I welcome the merging of the Irish Sports Council and the National Sports Campus Development Authority, NSCDA, into sport Ireland. I compliment the Minister of State, Deputy Michael Ring, on securing cross-party support for this Bill, which is in keeping with what sport does every day of the week.
The governance of sport has made much progress over recent times and this is a further step on that journey. Governance needs to efficient with sport professionally run in a transparent and effective manner where all ages, abilities and genders are catered for, encouraged and coached to the highest standard in a positive and ethical manner. The high-performance athlete needs to be supported, as well as the recreational athlete who is making an effort to improve his or her health and fitness.
Sport at high-performance level, whether individual or team, can lift the spirit of a nation, community, county or parish. We have seen a multitude of examples in athletics, boxing, golf, Gaelic football and hurling, rugby and soccer over the years which have unified people with a positivity that no other activity can match. They know all about that in Kerry this week and next week it will be the same in either Kilkenny or Tipperary. We knew that feeling nationwide following grand slams in rugby, success in the soccer world cup or when rejoicing with the world championship and Olympic successes of the likes of Sonia O’Sullivan, Eamonn Coghlan, Katie Taylor, Derval O’Rourke and Michael Carruth. However, all of this end-product needs proper structures, the highest standards of governance and transparency, the targeted funding that gets the maximum output at the front line and the best facilities possible to deliver training and coaching programmes for our athletes.
The development of the sports campus at Abbotstown, including the National Aquatic Centre, has been a long time in the making since it was first mooted back at the beginning of the millennium. This campus has made enormous strides in the past three years with the transfer of the ownership of lands to the NSCDA and the lease agreements with the Football Association of Ireland, the Gaelic Athletic Association, the Irish Rugby Football Union, and the Irish Hockey Association to develop facilities at the campus. This was followed by up to 20 sporting governing bodies moving their headquarters to the site and the development of pitches, facilities including national modern pentathlon centre, the national horse sport arena, the national diving centre and a new indoor training centre.
The various developments means there can be the delivery of most modern application of sports science to our top athletes, as well as catering for minority sports which do not have the ability to generate their own funding. While all these developments are to be welcomed, there is also the need for a regional dimension to our sport facilities which complement our national sport campus. Some facilities have been developed over the years in Limerick, for example, as well as the magnificent new track and facilities in collaboration with Athlone Institute of Technology. Recently, I attended the national féile under-14 football finals at the Connacht GAA Centre of Excellence in Bekan, County Mayo. Thousands of participants and their parents were actively involved over several days in the event which demonstrates the many benefits of such regional centres of excellence. The Connacht centre has also developed a partnership with the Health Service Executive, HSE, and the Irish Blood Transfusion Service that will allow research to be conducted to establish intervention programmes that will be beneficial to the entire population. This ties in with the Minister of State’s criteria for the sports capital grants getting maximum use of facilities. As a teacher and a coach over the years, I saw facilities close down at 4 o’clock in the afternoon due to insurance problems and so forth. I am glad many of these obstacles have been overcome. For me, these developments demonstrate how sport facilities can be used to the maximum and, at the same time, cater and support our elite athletes, as well as improving the fitness and health of the nation.
It is important that the outcome of this Bill and the establishment of sport Ireland will increase efficiencies around duplication while bringing the required transparency and accountability at all levels in administration and management of all involved in sport Ireland, the various governing bodies and individually funded athletes.
In the past there have been some horror stories of examples of governance that was not up to the highest standard in some organisations, but I do not wish to get involved with them today. Much money has been spent on legal matters. In such situations sport does not benefit. In some cases top coaches, for example, in boxing in particular did not get contracts from certain governing bodies. I refer to people who would be snapped up in other countries. In some cases, high performance plans were submitted after the money was spent. I hope the steps that are now being taken will ensure such occurrences are firmly in the past.
I welcome the provision in the Bill relating to Sport Ireland's responsibility on doping in sport. New provisions will assist in combating how doping in sport has developed and continue the good work done by the Irish Sports Council under Sport Ireland. Doping and cheating in sport must be eliminated once and for all. Sometimes one only realises the impact of it years later. Top Irish athletes such as Sonia O’Sullivan, Senator Eamon Coughlan and Derval O’Rourke missed out on medals at various times but the reality is they were denied medals by other athletes who were not clean. It makes one realise how important it is to eliminate cheats and have an even playing field.
As Chairman of the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications, I will conclude my contribution by listing the recommendations of the committee based on presentations by stakeholders, submissions, committee hearings and analysis of secondary sources. Many of the points have been covered previously in the debate. The first recommendation is that the possibility of Sport Ireland finding alternative forms of funding for both high-profile national and grassroots level sport would be given greater priority in the legislation. Taking account of best practice and recent developments at EU level it might also be necessary to consider whether tax revenue for betting could be ring-fenced as additional funding for sport. Deputy Wallace raised alcohol sponsorship of sport. I agree that by all means we should phase out such sponsorship but when an alternative funding source is found.
Discussions were held with representatives of the Federation of Irish Sports. Reference was made to tax breaks for capital investment in sport. I am not sure people are aware of them, as they are not used to the maximum. It might be necessary to do some tweaking in conjunction with the Department of Finance to incentivise development programmes for minority sports in particular, which cannot raise their own revenue. I urge that such a change would be facilitated. I accept the Bill has a specific technical purpose but I urge the Minister of State to consider advancing the recommendation in conjunction with the Department of Finance.
It is proposed to expand the remit of Sport Ireland in terms of its scope of activities, in particular in the provision of education and information programmes and the development of strategies to increase participation in sport at all levels. The Minister of State has outlined the target he set for increased participation.
The third recommendation is in the context of the current co-operation in the area of coaching between the Irish Sports Council, which will become Sport Ireland, and Sport Northern Ireland. It may be worth considering whether the benefits of broader cross-Border synergies could best be advanced by being specifically addressed in the Bill or in future legislation. A loophole exists to the effect that some elite athletes from Northern Ireland are double funded. I am not sure how that can be achieved but the intention is to achieve an even playing field.
The Minister of State referred to the fact that research will be carried out in collaboration with Sport Ireland. One of the stakeholders expressed concern about how that would be rolled out.
Recommendation 5 called for greater specificity in the legislation on the use of facilities by institutions fully or partly funded by the public purse, other than sports clubs. Recommendation 6 relates to the lack of regulation in adventure activities. The Minister of State addressed the matter in his contribution. In particular, more specificity may be necessary on the powers of Sport Ireland to “facilitate, through the promulgation of guidelines and codes of practice, standards of good conduct, fair play and doping-free sport in either or both competitive sport and recreational sport”. That should include non-traditional extreme sports such as iron man competitions.
I welcome the Bill as a progressive step. The Minister of State referred to the contribution of the sports capital programme. I very much support what he said in that regard. One never has enough money to give out; it is similar to the miracle of the loaves and fishes. The Minister of State said he hopes to have a third round of funding. I hope some of those who were disappointed in the previous two years will be able to avail of that. The work of the sports partnerships around the country is magnificent. I wish the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, luck, along with the Minister, Deputy Donohoe. I thank the previous Minister, Deputy Varadkar, for his efforts in attracting sports events and sports tourism to this country. The Rugby World Cup is a significant target. When looking at “Six One News” last week I though Martin O’Neill had picked the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, in the squad for the forthcoming European championships.
I say well done to the Minister of State for his role in attracting sporting events to this country.
Sport is a huge part of this nation and it is important that it is well run. The Bill will help to achieve that aim.
I thank the Minister of State for introducing the Bill. I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate.
I acknowledge the role of sport in local communities. Every single community across the country has sporting organisations, be they GAA, soccer or, for example, in my town there is a very successful cricket team, which was recently promoted to the top flight. We have a proud sporting tradition across the nation.
As Deputy O’Mahony indicated, sport is of critical importance to Irish people. When an athlete is participating in a competition people around the country become interested and excited about their prospects. Recently, our success in soccer has not been wonderful but we are beginning to improve again. Irish people are very proud of their sporting traditions. It encourages us to be more positive about our outlook on life. In the height of the recession the soccer team had a couple of successful outings at European level. Such support buoys people up and gets others interested.
Sporting organisations are the backbone of many communities throughout the country and are largely financed by fund-raising in the local area. The fact that volunteering is so high in sport in Ireland shows the importance with which it is held by people from all backgrounds and all areas.
This ensures the development and implementation of sports policy is as effective as possible and it is of the utmost importance that we support volunteers in local communities in their actions to promote sports. I believe the Sport Ireland Bill 2014 will assist in this.
The Bill will provide for the establishment of Sport Ireland, which will replace the Irish Sports Council and the National Sports Development Authority. The merging of these bodies follows the core commitment made by the Government to do away with quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisations, quangos. I am not fond of the word "quango". The aim is to do away with replicating boards and the amalgamation of these sporting bodies makes sense in terms of the development and implementation of policy. Bringing the responsibilities for the development and implementation of sports policy under one organisation is also a matter of common sense. I believe that having one organisation responsible for both aspects of sports policy will allow for a more integrated approach to these matters, which can only be beneficial for the future of sport in Ireland.
Section 7 outlines the functions of Sport Ireland and it is encouraging to note that among the organisation's functions is a focus on developing strategies for increasing participation in sport. It is of fundamental importance that we make sport more appealing, particularly to children and young people as a means of tackling the obesity crisis which is currently gripping a large proportion of the youth of Ireland.
On the issue of participation, I am particularly interested in the Football Association of Ireland, FAI, cricket and the two successful programmes spearheaded by the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, relating to sports capital. I congratulate the Minister of State on this success. Last Monday there was an interesting debate on Ireland's successful bid relating to Euro 2020 that will see the Aviva Stadium host four matches in the competition. It is great news for Dublin and presents a huge opportunity for tourism but it is also a chance to showcase the facilities at the Aviva Stadium, which are second to none. The successful bid allows us to focus on other aspects of the FAI, such as League of Ireland soccer, which is a personal interest of mine. I was involved with a League of Ireland club as a schoolboy and I volunteered with another club for a number of years when I was a councillor in Malahide. It was an exhilarating experience but, on the policy aspects facing Sport Ireland, the model currently in use is not sustainable. Many clubs have inferior facilities and there are only three or four proper stadia among 20-odd League of Ireland teams - the rest are starved of funds. Contributions to the league and prize money are insufficient to support the continued growth of clubs and they are being crippled. A club might qualify for European competition one year and find itself in the second tier of the domestic league the following year because it peaked and could not maintain the funding level.
I have an interest in the development of policy on cricket. Cricket is prominent in the north county of Dublin for a number of reasons and Ireland's participation in the world cup put cricket on the map here as a sport in which we might achieve success. Many Irish players play county cricket across the water in what is the equivalent of the soccer premier league. They are terrific ambassadors for the sport but most international matches in Ireland are held at Stormont because until recently there was no facility in the Republic to host such events. This changed due to development at Malahide Cricket Club but that only went halfway because a stadium must be set up at the club for each match of significance. England played there last summer, as the Minister knows, and some 11,000 or 12,000 people attended. It was a great event and a wonderful showcase for cricket and the policy of encouraging such games. England will return next year to give another opportunity to showcase the sport. I hope a core policy of Sport Ireland's cricket remit will be the development of the facility at Malahide to create the home of Irish cricket. Significant sums have already been invested there through the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport.
Regarding sports capital, clubs in Swords and my community have benefitted from a 1,506% increase in sports capital grants between 2012 and 2014. I double-checked that figure. The clubs will be delighted with that funding as it creates the opportunity for more children to become involved in sport and tackle the obesity issue that is prevalent. Unfortunately, computer games, television and phones tend to be the preferred sources of amusement for young people and it is important that we take the opportunity to develop policy that will get them off the sofa and out onto a football pitch or playing any other sport.
I hope that Sport Ireland will work to find an effective strategy that engages with young children, their parents and their teachers because schools present a great opportunity to focus the minds of young people on the activities they enjoy. A child need not be good at a sport to participate. We cannot tackle this without input from a wide section of society. It may involve promotion days at sports clubs or schools spearheading activities. Doing this will encourage children to become more active in terms of recreation and provide the next generation of elite athletes a chance to hone their skills. It will also give coaches an opportunity to find talented individuals at a young age and promote the development of particular skill-sets.
While we must place a large focus on ensuring we increase the number of children and young people involved in sport, we must also place a great deal of focus on engaging all other sectors of society. As we are inevitably going to start seeing the impact of an aging population in the coming years, we must take action now to ensure that our population has both the means and the information to live healthily and actively throughout life, not just during school and college. This is an issue on which Sport Ireland and the Minister could engage with the Department of Health in future, following the establishment of the organisation. Increasing the participation of all sections of society in sport as a means to keep active and healthy must be one of the core tenets of Sport Ireland.
The role of Sport Ireland in facilitating fair conduct and the elimination of doping in all sports is important. Any doping in sport is too much - not only does it give an unfair advantage but it is a health risk that must be tackled. I am encouraged to see the provisions in the Bill that ensure the statutory basis of an existing national anti-doping programme and the Irish anti-doping rules. It must be made clear that doping in sport is unacceptable, whether at a recreational or elite level. For this reason I hope that Sport Ireland mounts an education campaign on the dangers of doping, the negative health impacts and the risks of performance enhancing substances. This education programme must start at school because it is the ideal time and place to inform young people who participate in sport of these dangers. School is a place where a local club or a local sporting hero can talk to young people about the importance of staying healthy and staying clean, in terms of performance enhancing substances. I am a regular gym user and my gym does not have many weights but I have been in gyms where some individuals spend an hour or two working on heavy weights. Some people purchase nutritional supplements over the counter and online, some of which I am sure have very questionable ingredients.
There are massive side effects and it is not known what effect they may have on a person later in life. In certain gyms it is accepted that this occurs but it should not be accepted in our modern society and these supplements should be tested. I refer specifically to those one can buy online. One receives spam in one's Gmail or Eircom account for a performing enhancing supplement, whether for sport or other reasons, and unfortunately people buy them. Some of my local schools took the opportunity to bring in the Leinster rugby team when it was successful in the Heineken Cup a number of years ago. Schools also bring in local GAA clubs which have won a league to impress the youngsters.
They impress upon the youngsters how important it is to participate in sport and to do so through natural means rather than using supplements.
Section 41 provides that Sport Ireland will have the power to implement the measures it deems appropriate to deliver a comprehensive, co-ordinated and effective response to doping in sport. Such measures can include testing. As I have stated, it is my opinion that we must continue to crack down on doping in elite sport events. On this note with regard to sporting heroes, it is extremely demoralising for followers of a sport to find an individual has cheated and has been stripped of a medal. It does not set a good example for younger participants. Elite athletes are often powerful role models in the eyes of young people, and for them to betray this trust and support can have a profound effect. The fact that the Bill provides for information sharing between Sport Ireland and other bodies for the purpose of combating doping in sport is very welcome as it is essential in implementing an effective approach to tackling the issue.
Section 14 requires Sport Ireland to prepare and submit a strategy statement to the Minister every five years. The first strategy statement will be required within six months of Sport Ireland’s first meeting. This is vital to ensure that Sport Ireland gets off to a running start in co-ordination with the work of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport.
I commend the Minister of State on the inclusion of section 22, which obliges the chief executive to appear before the Committee of Public Accounts and other Oireachtas committees, such as that chaired by Deputy O'Mahony. This clearly shows the commitment of the Minister of State to ensure transparency and accountability, which are pivotal for the governance of bodies such as Sport Ireland.
I also welcome section 28, which provides that Sport Ireland will continue with the development of the national sports campus in accordance with the plan which was prepared by the National Sports Campus Development Authority. It is essential we have consistency in the development of this sporting infrastructure, which this provision gives us. I have been to Abbotstown on a number of occasions and it is a terrific facility. I look forward to seeing it developed and opened up to multiple sports where young people from throughout the country will be allowed to use the facilities available. Buildings on the campus have been refurbished to become home to the headquarters of the Football Association of Ireland, the Irish Institute of Sport and the Irish Sport headquarters, and it will be the governing headquarters of 19 national sporting bodies. The accommodation of so many important and influential sporting bodies on one campus can only be positive in terms of encouraging greater levels of cross-sport initiatives focusing on a wide range of areas. It was not that long ago when a soccer match could never take place in a GAA ground or a rugby ground but this is no longer the case in most instances, which is testament to the co-operation between sporting codes. I hope this will be furthered by the amalgamation of these two agencies under one roof. A key factor in ensuring the future of the sports campus will be success in promoting use of the campus, particularly the National Aquatic Centre which is a key resource on the campus. This will be one key function of Sport Ireland and the maintenance, equipment and future development of the campus will be key in doing this and in further establishing the campus as a foremost sporting venue in the country.
I commend the Minister of State on bringing the Bill before the House and I have enjoyed this opportunity to contribute and air some of my views, particularly with regard to the FAI. I hope the Bill will be passed smoothly.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on this new legislation. I welcome the fact the Minister of State is in the Chamber to listen to the debate because it is important when one has responsibility for a key area to be hands on and listen to some of the criticism, positive comments and constructive proposals from the Opposition.
I warmly welcome the legislation. As an Independent Deputy, it is important to state this, as I judge and value legislation on what it stands for and this is my independent view. The Bill gives us a great opportunity to look in depth at all of the great sports in Ireland and their massive contribution to the country, community and economy. It is also important to put forward proposals and new and radical ideas to develop sport further in this country and make it more inclusive. This is essential if we are to create a better and healthier society. This is what we all want so we must also deal with the elephant in the room, which is doping and drug taking to win. We must deal very strongly with this as it must be rooted out, and I will speak about it again when discussing Part 4 of the legislation, in particular sections 40 and 41.
The purpose of the Bill is to provide for the establishment of Sport Ireland and the dissolution of the Irish Sports Council and the National Sports Campus Development Authority. Sport Ireland will assume responsibility for the relevant functions performed by the Irish Sports Council and the National Sports Campus Development Authority, and essentially this is what the legislation is about. Will this lead to any job losses? We all want rationalisation and common-sense proposals, and on the surface this Bill looks like common-sense legislation, but we cannot speak about prioritising jobs if anybody's job is at risk because of the Bill.
I strongly support section 14 which obliges Sport Ireland to prepare and submit for the approval of the Minister a strategy statement for each five-year period. The first strategy statement is to be submitted within six months of Sport Ireland's first meeting. This is very important because one needs to set out the plans and strategy over the five years because one can plan for many things.
I know the Minister of State is very disappointed with Mayo's result in the football, but in recent weeks we have seen fantastic football and hurling matches put on by the GAA to which thousands came to enjoy. These matchers make a contribution not only from a sports point of view but also with regard to community involvement and an economic point of view. People forget these big occasions generate revenue in small areas. Whether these events are held in Limerick, Croke Park or any part of the country, it is important that we acknowledge this and use it as a tool and resource, particularly when we are trying to get out of an economic mess. I commend the GAA in this regard.
I was extremely disappointed when the famous Garth Brooks concerts were cancelled and it was badly mishandled by many people, but it is gone now. We should not forget the Munster finals, Connacht finals and all-Ireland semi-finals not only generate a sense of goodwill and a sporting occasion but also make a massive contribution to the economy.
When talking about that it is important to acknowledge the massive work that goes on in and the contribution of smaller clubs throughout the country. When the Minister of State is throwing big bucks at the big organisations, it is essential not to forget the little clubs. A couple of thousand euro can be very helpful and when they get it, it is often appreciated more than it is by some of the big organisations that get a couple of million euro here and there. I have witnessed that at first hand with the recent announcements in Craobh Chiaráin in Donnycarney in my constituency and a number of other local clubs that got this few extra bob, which was a great help to them. If one has limited resources, one targets the resources at the people who deliver.
As well as getting a younger generation into a sport, whether it is hurling, football, rugby or soccer, one needs to support them on the front line. I say that as a former coach of an under-13 team for 26 years in the north inner city of Dublin through my involvement with Cumann na mBunscoil. I saw the fantastic reaction, sometimes in very disadvantaged areas, where if a young under-13 team got to the final in Cumann na mBunscoil, the flags were out on the flats in Hardwicke Street and Dorset Street. It was big in the community for two or three weeks. That was for their under-13 team getting to a final in Croke Park. That is important in developing a disadvantaged community, but also developing the self-esteem of the pupils. Sport should never be underestimated in dealing with those issues.
However, sport must be inclusive. It cannot be all about the big stars. We have to ensure that every single child in this country is playing a sport at a level they can enjoy and succeed in. That is being done in many places. There are examples of clubs that do it brilliantly, but there are also clubs that just pick the cream and dump the other kids, which is not good enough. There should always be a place for a child, particularly up to the age of 13 or 14. One just does not dump them between seven and 13 or 14. That is a mistake that some clubs make and it is very disadvantaging. That relates to the GAA.
We have to look at the League of Ireland as well. There is a question for us here. In my constituency, Shelbourne Football Club on Richmond Road is our local club. We need to encourage more Irish people to get off their couches, take a break from Sky Sports and get down to support their local clubs. In recent weeks some of the entertainment in these matches has been brilliant. Fair play to clubs such as Dundalk and Cork City, which have brought people out watching matches, which is great. I know Deputy O'Brien is very involved in Cork. I keep an eye on those matches and one regularly sees thousands of people. Would it not be great to see that going around the country? The Minister of State should keep an eye on the League of Ireland and should not leave it marginalised. It needs a bit of investment. I know we are in tough times, but if there is anything going in that regard, the clubs should get help and some of the grounds need a bit of investment. I say to the supporters to get off their couches, get out there and support their local clubs because they can do a lot of good work as well.
On the national scale what I have to say may be controversial to some people. It saddens me every time I see Martin O'Neill with the Irish national team down here and then there is a separate team in the North. My dream would be to have one all-Ireland football team. They can do it in rugby and hockey, so why not do it in football as well? A number of my colleagues talk about building bridges. That could be part of that as well, but it has to be done in a very inclusive and respectful way. From a national point of view we would do much better if we had an all-Ireland team going off to the World Cup and European Championships rather than having two smaller teams.
I mentioned some of the projects with some of the clubs with which I have been involved. I mentioned Shelbourne earlier and that club was very supportive of a project about nine or ten years ago with what would be seen as a Unionist football club, Linfield. I remember one night in Tolka Park all the Linfield people came down and the Shelbourne people went up to their place. This is all part of mixing different clubs and different cultures. There was great respect for both cultures that night. That night I was very proud of the members of the Shelbourne supporters club. The supporters of Linfield, which would be recognised as a strong Unionist club, came to Dublin, there was no trouble or rows and we had a great sing-song in the bar afterwards. I commend the Shelbourne supporters club on doing that kind of work and dealing with sectarianism. Racism and sectarianism in sport can never be tolerated.
I mentioned the value of sport in the local community. That can be compared with some of the stuff going on in the English Premiership and the excessive wages of players. What person kicking a ball is worth €200,000 a week? I just do not get it. I do not think they are good role models for people. I love football and I love sport. In certain countries and in certain competitions, some of the wages are excessive. It would be better if some of the money for those wages was invested in their clubs to develop youth sections and centres of excellence, and also to get people more involved.
I mentioned earlier the issue of drugs. Those who take drugs in sport let their sport down, they let themselves down, they let their families down and they also let their local community down.
Section 21 sets out the provisions regarding the chief executive, including the appointment, term of office, and functions of the chief executive. Section 22 obliges the chief executive to appear before the Committee of Public Accounts and other Oireachtas committees. It is very important that the person in the role of chief executive would be accountable. I particularly welcome that he or she can go before the Committee of Public Accounts.
Section 23 provides that Sport Ireland may appoint and remove staff, determine the grades and number of staff in each grade, and determine the terms and conditions of service, with the approval of the Minister and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. I raise that issue regarding the issues I will raise later on. I just hope there is no particular problem there with job losses.
I return to some of the controversial sections. Section 40 designates Sport Ireland as the national anti-doping organisation for the State and provides that it shall perform the functions and obligations of such an organisation referred to in the world anti-doping code, UNESCO anti-doping convention and Irish anti-doping rules. This is very important because we have to nip this in the bud and we have to root it out. Generally our record in Ireland is pretty good. I know that internationally and in other countries there have been huge scandals and a huge number of people in different sports have been involved in doping. Some of those sports have been too lenient, however, in letting athletes back after a 12-month suspension or something like that. I think we should take a stronger line.
When we dig deeper into the Bill we find that section 41 provides that Sport Ireland shall implement such measures as it considers appropriate for the delivery of a comprehensive, co-ordinated and effective response to doping in sport and may provide services, including testing and education, to organisations which comply with the world anti-doping code. It obliges Sport Ireland to promulgate and amend as necessary the Irish anti-doping rules. Provision is also included for the sharing of information between Sport Ireland and relevant bodies and organisations. That is something that can be used to protect sport against exploitation.
Section 43 provides that any person who is a member of, or participates in activities and events organised by, a national governing body of sport which is in receipt of funding from Sport Ireland or who represents the State in sport is subject to the Irish anti-doping rules and any person who fails to comply with those rules shall not be eligible for funding from Sport Ireland or to represent the State in sport. That represents my view. We must take a tough line. It is an honour for anyone to be selected to represent his or her country in any sport and it is an honour to go out there on the international stage, including in European competitions, the World Cup, international athletic competitions or the Olympic Games. Anybody in breach of the doping rules should be absolutely hammered in this regard and should be given no support whatsoever.
This is of great importance when one is dealing with the issue of doping.
Overall, this is good quality legislation. The establishment of Sport Ireland will result in a more streamlined organisation for the development of sport and for the implementation of sports policy by bringing together responsibility for sports matters under a single agency. I again emphasise that rationalisation and streamlining of organisations are the way forward. Members are trying to deal with issues like quangos and are trying to seek value for money. Sport Ireland will also take on relevant functions currently performed by the council and by the authority. The Bill also combines and updates the main provisions of the Irish Sports Council Act 1999 and the National Sports Campus Development Authority Act 2006, which also is important. I hope the Minister of State has listened to some of the views I have presented. In the first instance, it is necessary to take a strong and tough line on doping in sport. In addition, the structures in the League of Ireland must be examined and there must be some investment and support. People must be encouraged to get off their armchairs and couches and get out there to support their local clubs. In addition, the role models of sportspeople must always held to a high standard because they have a major influence in respect of young people starting off in sports. We must also ensure that the number of sports played in this country is broadened. Although we have a great number of them, new sports constantly are coming onto the pitch and they should be considered.
Earlier, I left out one further important point, namely, the role of the Special Olympics for people with disabilities, both physical and intellectual. These games also have had a major impact and I have seen at first hand both the interaction and the great lift it gives to people with both intellectual and physical disabilities. It gives them a lift and provides them with value as well as a great break for their self-esteem. While I have the Minister of State in the Chamber, I urge him to keep an eye on the Special Olympics as well because it also requires support. It is a fantastic organisation that has great community support but the bottom line is that it gets many people with disabilities off the couches and out playing football or basketball or swimming. Incidentally, some of the participants have reached a very high standard and I have been greatly impressed by some of the basketball kids and swimmers I have seen. Their standards have improved markedly since they started over the past five or six years. While they are developing, the main point is there is in place an entire fitness programme for people. In particular, people with a physical disability need to have such an opportunity because it is easy to be weighed down by the seriousness of one's disability. Consequently, it is very important to give them a break and to support them.
Overall, I welcome this legislation and reiterate my hope that the Minister of State will take on board my views.
Yes. It is not true that it is five years since we last won an all-Ireland; it is actually only three days but I thank the Deputy kindly anyway.
I welcome the Bill on a couple of fronts and I am delighted the Minister of State is present. I also wish to make a couple of recommendations because I am glad to see there is a united front in respect of sport, which plays an important role in society. It also brings a multifaceted approach to what it can bring to health and education and what it can build for rural communities. In the week that is in it and being a Kerryman, one need only look at what probably is the best amateur sporting organisation and the best county within an amateur sporting organisation. I am sure the Minister of State is delighted to see a Kerry team doing it again.
On a serious note, one should consider schools and the role they have to play. A statistic was released recently that on average, toddlers are consuming 16 kg of junk food per annum, which is the equivalent of just under 1 lb. of sweets and confectionery per week. Ireland has an obesity problem and there are two ways of tackling it, namely, through healthy eating and through the activity of sport. I for one believe that sport is not just about participation and winning but is also about healthy living and providing the fundamentals to children. One has the ability within schools in particular to instil a lifestyle around sports, whether it is running, ball sports or anything to do with cardiovascular or hand-eye co-ordination and so on. Unfortunately, one now finds far too often that when kids say they play sports, they actually mean they play sport on a PlayStation or some other electronic device and this is at epidemic proportions at present. The Government is trying to tackle this issue through a multidepartmental approach. For example, on the health side, the Departments of Health and Social Protection are providing the schools meals programme in which each child within a school gets to go on the Internet the night before to pick his or her meal, be it pasta or a healthy sandwich, and the cost per student is currently approximately €1.27.
I will ask the Minister of State to consider something in respect of sport. Disability and participation in sport is increasing all the time. I am trying to promote Tralee as a destination for people with disabilities and as the most disability-friendly town in the country. People there are examining a couple of projects at present, one being the Liam's Lodge project for people who are suffering from illnesses and who need to be protected and looked after. Doctors can come there to train and participate, while the patients can participate in activities in the town and in sporting activities. I am a major fan of the Scandinavian model in most respects and I note they maintain an enormous involvement of people with disabilities in sports, whether through wheelchair participation or through swimming-pool activities. This is to be promoted and developed.
It is good that the issue of fine-tuned athletes and the development thereof is also under consideration because we have had sports authorities paddling their own canoes for too long. The nation as a whole takes great pride when its soccer or rugby teams or its athletes or golfers - given the week that is in it - get to the highest levels in sport. The fundamentals of all key sports revolve around strength, power and endurance and these can be developed through schooling and through clubs. I welcome the capacity of the Minister of State to give out sporting capital grants. I also welcome that the weighting system provides that participation and inclusion between clubs and schools, which leads to more people using the facilities, will lead to more preferential treatment.
The community side of what is being developed is extremely important. As an anecdotal piece of information, the gathering in Tralee on Monday night, when the victorious Kerry senior and minor teams came home, was the biggest to have been seen for donkeys' years. This was not because the teams had won a double for the first time since 1980 but because there are more communities involved as there were people from parishes all over the place. These clubs are on a voluntary capacity but I suggest giving them expertise. The current Australian model is to have a centre of excellence for all things sporting. Thereafter, the information is filtered out into rugby, cricket, golf and everything else but there is a single centre of excellence for the core necessities of sporting participation. I would like this to be done in Ireland as well. I also note the Minister of State has the capacity to do something in respect of doping and drug testing. I hope he might take a little time to talk to the greyhounds and horses while he is at it, as Members know the athletes, for the most part, are under wraps.
In the few minutes remaining to me, I will return to the health front. The Minister of State has spoken of efforts to develop greater participation in more activities. From time spent in Scandinavia, I recall that all children going to school were monitored as to the length of time it took them to cycle, run and walk a distance. It is not that one is trying to develop an Aryan race or anything ridiculous like that but one is telling the children that health matters. It is not just about the fundamentals of education but one is also giving people the capacity to give themselves an advantage in later life. I have made a recommendation to the Department of Education and Skills, as well as to both the previous and new Ministers. The new junior cycle programme will have five elective subjects and I seek the inclusion of physical education as one of them.
An important aspect of that educational effort should be raising awareness regarding health and well-being, so that when people have physical or mental health issues, they will know where to get help. Serotonin is the hormone we are all seeking out, and sport is the great driver of it. It is about promoting a better lifestyle. We have had a good summer this year and one could see many people enjoying being on a health buzz. That is clear, too, from the massive take-up of the cycle to work scheme. I urge the Minister of State and his colleagues to ensure that scheme, which is one of the best legacies of the Green Party's time in government, is retained. Participation in free activities, such as running, swimming, cycling and football is on the rise. Such activities are open to everybody and can encourage inclusiveness by bringing together people from all spectrums of society.
I welcome the Bill, but funding is a key issue. The provision of a centre of excellence would help to make information available to everybody, to the betterment of our society. When one thinks of great and memorable summers past in this country, sporting events play a massive role in that remembrance. For Kerry people, the summer of 2014 will be remembered for the replay against Mayo and, although it is difficult to know what words to use to describe last Sunday's game against Donegal, another all-Ireland championship victory. The Irish soccer team, meanwhile, looks like it has the potential to qualify for the European Championship in 2016. With the improvement in the economy, it would be good to see more funding and resources, particularly in the regions where there is a greater level of disadvantage. I hope we will see enhanced sporting success on the back of the measures in this Bill.
There is nothing worse than a self-satisfied Kerryman standing next to one in the Chamber and gloating. However, I offer my congratulations to the Kerry team and all involved in its success.
I was speaking to somebody on the telephone before coming into the Chamber for this debate who, when I indicated the subject of the debate, observed that the Minister of State, Deputy Michael Ring, must have the best job in the country. I responded that one got a different perspective after hearing him talk about the sports capital grant applications he has had to reject. There is a flip side to every job. Having said that, his success in recent years in getting two rounds of sports capital grant funding through has been significant. One cannot please everybody all the time, but the Minister of State has done his best to distribute limited resources across the country as best he could, to clubs and organisations that have used the money wisely and prudently for the benefit of their members.
This is a purposeful Bill whose origins are not very sport-orientated, it being part of the programme of agency rationalisation. Such rationalisation is not always a bad thing. It is not just about penny pinching but also seeing how we might organise ourselves better. Sometimes, by initiating these types of mergers, we can create a more effective and targeted organisation. The purpose of the Bill is to create a new body, Sport Ireland, out of the merger of the Irish Sports Council and the National Sports Campus Development Authority. The combined resources, know-how and experience of those two organisations will now be united in a single entity. While this certainly will have a benefit to the Exchequer in terms of savings, it will also represent a better usage of resources and free up funds for other sporting objectives.
In my research for this debate, I was impressed by the pre-legislative consultation carried out by the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications. While the Department concluded that some of its recommendations are not feasible at this time, they are all worthwhile. One of these is that Sport Ireland should be empowered to explore alternative forms of funding, which would see it functioning more like a company, with a balance sheet and the capacity to leverage itself and raise funds externally. In other words, it would be more like a corporate entity as opposed to a State agency. This would be a good way of creating a dynamic which might see a greater level of private sponsorship of sports in this country. While that issue might not be a matter for this legislation, it is something on which the Department might engage with the new body once it is up and running. The National Sports Campus is a magnificent complex, whose facilities a range of organisations might want to use and be willing to pay for. There is scope to make better use of our assets for the benefit of society at large.
The Oireachtas committee also made a recommendation, which was deemed not particularly relevant to this Bill, that there be scope for Sport Ireland to work on an all-island basis, creating a North-South interconnection or liaison via sports. We have so many connections with Northern Ireland - one might say it is a "national" connection, although it should technically be "international", if one is being legalistic about it - and our sporting counterparts across the Border. It should be a primary objective of the new body to engage with relevant bodies in the North, particularly those organisations such as the GAA which operate on an all-island basis.
Sport can be said to impact every facet of people's lives. The dismal atmosphere that has pervaded in recent years is, finally and fortunately, lifting as we start to see a return to hope and prosperity, fragile and all as that recovery is. In those dark times it was sport which managed to keep communities together and gave people something to do. While clubs and athletes worked hard raising money for their organisations, the average child and adult who partook of a particular sport was able to do so for free. It does not cost anything for a few people to get together with a football or some tennis racquets. One does not have to be a millionaire to partake of the unique unifying force of sport.
Sport also impacts greatly on people's health and helps to create a healthy society. The objective is that people would see exercise not as a chore, but as something they want to do. That will impact on the health budget in future years in terms of moneys spent on health procedures, diabetes treatment and so on. Galway city has the highest percentage of residents who were not born in Ireland. It is a very diverse and multicultural city and it has handled that diversity very well, with new communities from all over the world integrating with longer-established communities. One of the ways it has done this so successfully, without the need for any type of forced integration, is through sport. This is particularly evident in some of the clubs in the east of the city - in Doughiska, for instance - where the new population is well settled. Such engagement strengthens community bonds and has a broader impact in helping to reduce crime, anti-social behaviour and so on.
Sport is a multifaceted issue and there is a role for the Department of Education and Skills in examining how physical education is delivered in schools. I recall being one of those students who was terrified in PE class. I was the fellow who could never quite manage the hurley and was humiliated every Friday morning between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. There should be a way of targeting the education system to ensure we do not put people off exercise but instead encourage pupils to find a sport they enjoy.
Putting the anti-doping guidelines and so forth on a statutory level shows we are serious about the issue and prepared to implement laws that are justiciable. It sends a signal that while we admire success in sport, we do not admire it at any cost. We value those who take the hard road rather than the easy road. I will not use the privilege of the House to say anything untoward, but there have been many instances where the achievements of individual athletes were tainted by the alleged use of drugs. Such practices undermine people's faith in the fairness of the system and creates the impression that those who take short cuts to get ahead may prosper.
As I said, the genesis of the Bill lies in administrative considerations. It possesses the ability to make an organisation that will actually contribute better to sport in Ireland and it will give the campus an opportunity to flourish, grow, be used not only by the people in the immediate hinterland and in the Pale but by all the people involved in sport in Ireland, and become a kind of centre or a hub for sport, which is a very good thing. The doping provisions in the Bill are very good.
Our interpretation of what sport is ever-evolving. If, 15, 20 or 30 years ago, a Member of this House spoke about sport in the context of education and health policy, he or she would have been laughed out of it, but we have reached a new plateau of awareness of sport and its benefit. This Bill will go some way towards continuing that work. I commend the Bill and the Minister of State's work, his openness and his willingness to engage.
I am delighted to say a few words on this Bill. I am not an expert on any area of sport and I am probably one of the biggest offenders in regard to many of the issues I will raise. I have only felt sorry for the Minister of State on one occasion since he took up the job and that was on the night of the World Cup Final when I saw the cup being presented in Rio de Janeiro. I regretted that he could not make it from Castlebar to Brazil within the timeframe required. I had a vision of the Minister of State and the Taoiseach being three quarters of the way across the Atlantic Ocean in the Learjet. However, I expect he got there for the celebrations later on in the Copacabana beach hotel.
I acknowledge the fact the Minister of State has been the only one with responsibility for sport who has allocated the capital grants in an equitable and fair manner. I hope there will be a third round of them in the next 12 months or so. There will be a temptation to allocate them in a certain manner but I hope he continues in the same manner and tradition. It is important to acknowledge that he has been equitable in an area in which equity has not existed heretofore.
Sport should be a subject in the leaving certificate. It is an issue which has been touched on several times in the past. Many people put in a huge amount of time training and preparing to represent their schools in all areas of sport. I appreciate the difficulty trying to measure it but it could be an optional subject. One can do music and art in the leaving certificate so I do not see why one cannot do sport because it is such an important subject which touches on everybody's life. That idea is not an original one and it has been floating around for a long time. I would like to think that some Government some day will take it seriously.
The second idea is one of my own but I will give it to the Minister of State. I hope he will be in a position to run with it. He will be familiar with the concept of freshers' week in the universities where there is the Fine Gael table, the Labour Party table, the Reform Alliance table, the handball table, the tennis table and so on. There are difficulties in communities nowadays, in particular when people move to an area and do not know other people. When one is out and about during an election or a by-election, in particular, people will say there is nothing for young people to do in the area. If one examines an area in this country, no matter how big or small, there will be a multiplicity of clubs in the area. For whatever reason, the perception to the outsider is that they are closed shops, which they are not.
I suggest we designate a day per year - early in September is probably preferable with the schools starting but it could be in the first or second week of January - as a community day where the local hall in every town and village is set up with every club in the area. I suggested this to the former Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, but he did not take it up. Perhaps the Minister of State might do so. People could come along from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m to see what clubs and organisations in the community they could join because clubs are looking for additional members. This applies to historical societies, archaeological societies, bridge clubs, GAA clubs, etc. They are all crying out for volunteers. Many people in the community do not have the wherewithal to break into these clubs. If we could designate a day per year for this to be done, it would prove hugely successful and it would get people to make a contribution and avail of facilities. One of the difficulties in communities is that there are very strong clubs but there is no overall umbrella group to bring them together and to let the public know what is available. That is something the Minister of State could look at with his staff.
I refer to the allocation of capital grants, in particular when given to GAA, rugby or soccer clubs. I would like to see a requirement on clubs to put walkways around the grounds. Some 20 or 30 years ago, very few mothers and young children went to games but now, given the way things are, parents are always there. They should be able to walk around the pitch when there is training or a match going on. Some clubs have done this very successfully. Ballymore Eustace in Kildare and Tullaroan in Kilkenny have excellent facilities. In the winter when the facilities open for training for the local club, the walkway is floodlit. People usually cannot walk in a rural area due to lack of lighting. The allocation of grants could include a provision that clubs be required to make an effort in this regard. In particular if a club is putting in a new facility, there should be a requirement on it to put in a walkway for spectators and others so that they may use the facility for walking during training.
The legislation concerns the amalgamation of quangos. We all detest the concept of quangos and yet no organisation sees itself as a quango. It is important to amalgamate them. In the area of health, all the organisations probably do good work but it is impossible to stand over the number of organisations we have. The difficulty in regard to funding by the HSE was in the headlines a few months ago. I am sure it is still there, except it is not in the headlines anymore. Approximately, 2,000 organisations were allocated funding by the Department, totalling €1 billion. It is virtually impossible to keep track of these. Almost all of them were set up with good intentions and they all carry out good work but a proliferation of them are using a greater amount of administrative time and funding than is necessary.
A classic example is our aid agencies, including Trócaire, GOAL and so on. I do not understand why one cannot say to each aid agency to cover a certain area, whether the South Pacific, North Africa or elsewhere. Rather than have three or four of them in every country, we should have one in each country. It would make it much easier to operate. One would have greater economies of scale and one would get much better value for money.
I am a strong advocate of Ireland giving money to Irish Aid. In a household with an income of €100,000, somewhere in the region of €350 to €400 goes to Irish Aid while if a household has an income of €50,000, somewhere in the region of €200 goes to it. We have water charges and property tax but if we said to people that there would be a new tax for Irish Aid and if people had to make out a cheque for €200, they would be much more concerned about how the money was actually spent. When dealing with public money, we must ensure we are getting value for money and that the money is going to the correct project.
I refer to the membership of the board, which is really important. The Government has faced controversy in recent days in regard to membership of boards. It is certainly something that does not instil confidence in the public. For the life of me, I cannot understand how successive Governments can be so foolish in doing what they do. They have no regard for public opinion. The composition of this board is really important. A good friend of mine, Mick O'Dwyer, used to be on the board of the Sports Council of Ireland but he was taken off it or replaced for whatever reason. He was someone who had probably more knowledge than most to offer in the area. He gave freely of his time and made a huge difference to the sporting public in Wicklow in the four or five years he was there. Most of it was done in a voluntary capacity and it gave a great lift to the county.
I know the Minister of State must give out the funding fairly but the GAA in Wicklow probably has one of the most poorly developed county grounds in the country in Aughrim.
Perhaps when the Minister of State is on his weekend break or over Christmas he might head down that way to take a look. I accept that funding has to be allocated in a balanced and fair way but there was an application last year and development is needed. We do not expect the €30 million that Cork received but we would be happy if we could get a fraction of that figure.
I will use this opportunity to speak about sports that are probably outside the remit of this Bill but it is important for me to get certain matters off my chest. The organisation with which I am most familiar is the GAA, which has many positive aspects. We do not generally concentrate on the positives but the volunteer ethos is a positive element of the GAA. One only needs to go to any town or village on a Saturday to see children being coached by parents, friends and relatives, and people coming around with sandwiches and tea. A couple of GAA men are in the Chamber, namely, Deputy Harrington and Fitzpatrick. It is a marvellous organisation and the passion associated with it will never cease to make me wonder. When I was in Croke Park on Sunday for the game, I saw a Kerryman in the stands who could have been in the middle of a battle scene on the series "The Vikings", such was his animation. Given that Kerry has 36 or 37 all-Irelands, I could not understand his animation. The last occasion on which Wicklow was in a Leinster final was 1897 and we never won a final. In 1902, Bray Emmets won an all-Ireland but it did so under the banner of Dublin. We are one of two counties, the other being Fermanagh, which have never won a provincial title. I ask the Minister of State to remember that when he is allocating funding and to give us a lift. However, we make a vital contribution to the economy and to other sports. I do not know if Dublin ever won an all-Ireland without a Wicklow man on board.
There are also downsides to the GAA, one of which is the acceptance of verbal abuse. I have been no angel in the past because we can get very emotive but we cannot tolerate verbal abuse, whether from spectators, referees, players or mentors. The GAA has taken great strides in seeking to create a safer environment for children but the emphasis on winning at juvenile level has a detrimental effect on players and is causing dropouts. The GAA has a problem with the lack of support for club games. This problem is disguised by all-Ireland semi-finals and the rush for tickets, but most of the county grounds, with the exception of a few high profile counties, attract tiny crowds relative to the numbers attending 15 or 20 years ago. I realise there are other competitions, as well as Sky Sports and the Premiership, that did not exist in the past, but we have to consider ways of restructuring the intercounty championship along champions league lines, with club games on alternate Sundays. I recognise there are difficulties with dual players but this has to be done. The club scene stops in many counties between June and the end of August, which means they cram their matches into a short period. This is unfair to the majority of players. I would love to see a home and away champions league. I attended the match between Donegal and Laois in Carrick-on-Shannon last year. It was great to see the crowds of Donegal and Laois supporters coming into Carrick-on-Shannon. If, for example, Wicklow travelled to Mayo or vice versaon a summer weekend, it would attract a great crowd and benefit the Minister of State's dual responsibilities of tourism and sport. People would earmark three or four weekends away during the summer.
We are often wedded to concepts of tradition in the GAA. A fellow Wicklow man, Jack Boothman, was one of the drivers behind the new Croke Park, which is a fantastic stadium. I have often thought that it might not be a bad idea to build stadiums on greenfield sites with access to public transport and extensive parking and which do not impinge on residents. This is something we should not rule out. While we are wedded to the old concepts of locations, I am sure that if we had built Croke Park at Baldonnel or somewhere on the northside of Dublin ten or 15 years ago, we would have established a tradition.
Earlier speakers welcomed the involvement of everyone in sport, including people with disabilities. In my home area, individuals from the Lalor Centre have participated in the Special Olympics with great success. The advent of women's football is also welcome. When I was a teenager only one women played football in our local club, and she played on the boys' team. Women in our area are now more dedicated than the men and there is greater camaraderie between them. That has to be encouraged.
The overemphasis on winning at the underage level can result in a failure to give all panel members a game. Sometimes there are 20 or 30 players on a panel but only 15 or 16 get a game. It should be obligatory to allow everyone to participate. I take my hat off to rugby for its efforts in regard to player development and participation. Those who are not wonderful at the age of 12 or 13 years may be disheartened and give up if they do not get a game, whereas they might otherwise develop into fine players. There are a considerable number of late developers. I do not think the young player who was awarded man of the match last Sunday played at minor level for Kerry. Derek Lyng, who won several all-Ireland medals for Kilkenny, did not play at minor level and was not on the St. Kieran's team in his final year. Players can develop late.
Rugby shows me that money works. I recall attending provincial matches 20 or 30 years ago when Munster beat the All-Blacks and were surprisingly beaten by Connacht a few weeks later in the Sportsground. The crowd of spectators barely filled the old stand. Now, however, the Aviva is packed for Munster-Leinster matches. This is in large part due to sponsorship and the way in which the money has been spent on looking after players, coaching and development. We speak about the threat that soccer poses to Gaelic football. I am an advocate of all sports. I do not care if someone plays tennis, hockey or whatever else once he or she is participating. I have associated with the GAA but I have no preference for any particular sport. The GAA has a lot to learn, however. My concern is for players who are dropping out of the GAA and will never play soccer or rugby. We can learn from rugby, which is eating into the GAA in many areas.
With respect to soccer, Deputy Finian McGrath lamented the fact that we do not have an all-island team. It would be nice to have an all-island team but it is nonetheless good that the European Championship will be here in 2020. I do not know if the Minister of State will still be in the hot seat but perhaps he will book some tickets. He might be managing the Irish team at that stage, the way things are going, although I do not think either of us will be playing. It will be a welcome opportunity to showcase the country. I do not know whether it is proposed to hold matches in the Aviva or Croke Park. Nothing should be ruled in or out. It is important that facilities are shared.
With regard to swimming and track and field, when the Olympics or the European championships take place, questions always arise about whether the money is being utilised correctly. I do not have enough expertise to answer those questions but I am sure it is something the Minister of State has investigated. It is important that we have centres of excellence and excellent athletes. When Stephen Roche and Sean Kelly were on the go, there was huge interest in cycling. Interest in cycling is increasing again, albeit for health reasons rather than because of the existence of national icons.
I mentioned walks around pitches but we should also consider how to amalgamate facilities. Johnny Giles played on the street and when we were growing up we played in yards and back gardens. These options are no longer available for most children because there is insufficient space in their gardens. We have to allocate areas in addition to the main facilities, be they green spaces, walls against which one can hit a hurling ball or redeveloped handball alleys. Handball is a fantastic sport that has died away in this country. I would love to see the Minister of State working with the GAA to find a way of resurrecting handball because it costs little to participate in it and there are derelict handball alleys throughout the country. A scheme could be developed to revive the sport.
There are the bones of a facility and with a little input and creative thinking, there could be a place - generally in the centre of towns and villages - which people would be able to access for little or no money. As facilities are developed it is important that if demand for a sport changes or there are other issues, they can be integrated with another sport. There is no point building a hospice or crèche in the middle of nowhere. A crèche, for example, should be attached to a school so that if demand decreases, the facility can be tied in with schools.
I do not know the story with water charges for GAA and other sporting clubs. I may have to follow up the issue with Irish Water as I do not expect the Minister to know about this because there is much uncertainty. I would not like to see sporting facilities being under-utilised because of water charges.
A survey was carried out by the college in Maynooth a few years ago on the newly developed areas around Lucan, Ratoath, etc. The evidence indicated that what gelled the community most was sport, including GAA, rugby and tennis. Any bit of money put into sporting facilities by the Government, as we have said time and again, will keep people out of prisons and hospitals. I have heard the Minister for Health banging his fist on the table, seeking €500 million or €600 million, with others having a go at him and calling him disloyal, as such discussions should occur behind closed doors. The Minister of State would have my support and that of anybody I could muster if he banged his fist on the table to seek as much money as we can spare to go into sport. Every euro spent on sport is worth its weight in gold. I wish the best to the Minister of State and ask him to keep up his work.
It is a pleasure for me to get the opportunity to speak to this Bill. I am pleased the Minister of State is here and I compliment him on the administration of the sports capital grants, including its financing and the manner in which it was distributed to many clubs, even if the benefit was a relatively modest amount. That was the right approach and it got great value for money for the Exchequer, which is welcome. The Bill's purpose is to amalgamate the Irish Sports Council and the National Sports Campus Development Authority. To use a sporting term, this will make the new body - Sport Ireland - leaner, meaner and more efficient and competitive in administering and supervising our sports.
I will deal first with the elite sporting men and women in our country. Some of us remember the feel-good factor way back in 1988 when our soccer team participated and did so well in the European Championship in Germany. Many people believe the resurgence of the Irish football team at those championships was the beginning of the Celtic tiger. It may well have been a coincidence but there is no doubt that the country got a major boost from it in all areas. The investment in sport benefits elite sporting people to begin with. We have seen success in our Olympians, including our boxers and other international athletes, and this brings well-being and a good feeling to the nation. For that alone, sports investment is very important. Through the sports campus we have seen the development of centres of excellence, and there is investment in elite sportsmen and sportswomen, which is money well spent. It should be ratcheted up, if possible, in future.
As a member of the committee dealing with sports, I know from time to time representatives of the Irish Sports Council would come before it to justify its expense. I would like to see more emphasis placed on the reporting of the achievement of personal bests from our athletes rather than the constant drive for medals. Perhaps this is media-driven but such a process does not reflect the true nature of the improvement of our athletes. It is disappointing if we see athletes going to major European or world events but not achieving personal bests. It is at those showcases that such milestones should be reached, and we would get far greater feel for how the public investment in our elite sports stars is paying off if they reached such targets. That idea should be taken on board much more than it is. I note that some athletes, such as Rob Heffernan in Cork, are overnight sensations who are approximately 15 years on the go. If they win medals, they get justified coverage, but athletes like Mr. Heffernan may be on the go for years, getting there slowly and by degrees, beating their previous personal bests. That is the way to go.
I commend the Irish Sports Council on its coaching and anti-doping efforts, as well as its work to attract more women, older people and people with disabilities into more active participation in sports and keeping well. I would like to see, for example, greater engagement with service delivery agents like CoAction in west Cork and the Irish Sports Council. It does tremendous work with clients with mental and physical disabilities or challenges, and there is much payback in such efforts. I hope to see a greater initiative and investment in such work.
Sport is a huge business and it is estimated that almost $700 billion is spent on sport globally. In Ireland, it is estimated that 38,000 people are employed in the sports sector, with 270,000 volunteers contributing approximately €500 million to our economy. It goes further, as active participation, exercise, team and individual sports mean people become less sedentary in their activities, with a major payback in the overall health of people in this country. It has been estimated that total State investment in 2008 of €618 million saw an Exchequer return of approximately €922 million. This State investment in sports achieves a greater return for the Exchequer in investment terms, and it provides a major return in the physical and mental health of our people, tackling the likes of obesity, isolation and general malaise in many people. If a person is involved in team or individual sports, it means he or she has excellent prospects.
The Economic and Social Research Institute and the Irish Sports Council did some work, taking in people in my county of Cork. Some of the figures are quite interesting. For example, 61% of adults took a recreational walk the previous week, which is a higher proportion than the national average. Team games seem to appeal little to women and those aged over 30 but there is no gender gap, for example, in individual sports. Perhaps we could deliver some policy objectives in this regard through the new Sport Ireland. People of high socio-economic status are very much more likely to be active participants in sport, and perhaps the council should consider that closely. Likelihood of active participation falls with age, with the sharpest reductions occurring in young adulthood and old age. People living in Cork city and towns are more likely to play sport than those living in more rural locations. Complete inactivity is most common among older people and middle-aged men.
The study also refers to some policy implications, with which I fully agree. Perhaps the Minister of State will relay them to the new Sport Ireland body. People in lower socio-economic groups must be the primary target for sports promotion, and such promotion must extend beyond team games in order to be more attractive to women and adults over 30. There is a need to target promotion of sport and exercise among people in more isolated rural locations, perhaps by exploiting pre-existing social networks.
That is very important and I fully agree with that. I recall once calling to a friend's house when his exasperated parents were asking the lad why he did not get involved in sports like Johnny up the road, who was out day and night, bringing home medals and not going to the pub. They asked their son what he was good at and he replied "I am good at pool and darts". We need to be more proactive in adapting policies, networks and initiatives to make sure that the people attracted to that kind of lifestyle find an alternative. Those who spend hours in front of screens, whether television screens or gaming consoles, day in day out, have little activity and no social interaction. This is becoming a major problem. It leads to social isolation. One could end up as the loneliest person in the biggest city in the world. It is a challenge for Sport Ireland to address that type of behaviour. It is not new but it will get much worse before it gets better. Sport Ireland, with the help of the sports campus in Blanchardstown, and a reinvigorated sports network will help to alleviate much of that problem. Sports offer the best opportunity to deliver the well-being of our citizens and communities and of the country. I commend the Minister of State’s work in this area. I am pleased that this merger is going ahead, as are the Sports Council and the National Sports Campus in Blanchardstown. It will create one body out of two, a leaner, more competitive body for the better development of our country.
The purpose of this Bill is to provide for the establishment of a new body which will replace the Irish Sports Council, ISC, and the National Sports Campus Development Authority, NSCDA, and the merger of their functions into a single identity to be established as Sport Éireann or Sport Ireland.
The establishment of Sport Ireland will result in a more streamlined organisation for the development of sport and the implementation of sports policy. This Bill also designates Sport Ireland as the national anti-doping organisation and details its competencies and responsibilities with regard to its functions, particularly in respect of data protection.
The Irish Sports Council was established on 1 July 1999 as a statutory agency by the Irish Sports Council Act 1999. In particular, the functions of the council are encouraging the promotion, development and co-ordination of competitive sport; developing strategies for increasing participation in recreational sport; facilitating good standards of conduct and fair play in both competitive and recreational sport; combatting doping in sport, including testing, through a dedicated committee of the ISC; initiating and encouraging research concerning competitive or recreational sport and facilitating research and disseminating information concerning competitive or recreational sport. “Competitive sport” means all forms of physical activity which, through organised participation, aim at expressing or improving physical fitness and at obtaining improved results in competition at all levels; “recreational sport” means all forms of physical activity which, through casual or regular participation, aim at expressing or improving physical fitness and mental well-being and at forming social relationships.
The NSCDA was established on 1 January 2007. The principal functions of the authority are to develop a sports campus at Abbotstown, County Dublin; furnish and equip the sports campus; manage, operate and maintain the sports campus and encourage and promote the use of the sports campus by professional and amateur sports people and members of the public. The day-to-day operations of the approximately 500-acre sports campus and Morton Stadium, Santry and related facilities are managed by NSCDA (Operations) Limited, a wholly owned subsidiary of the NSCDA. Several sporting organisations are located on the campus, including the National Aquatic Centre, the Football Association of Ireland, FAI, the Irish Institute of Sport and 20 other national governing bodies.
The merger of the ISC and the NSCDA is part of the Government’s programme for the rationalisation of State agencies and is based on five central themes: placing customer services at the core of everything we do; maximising new and innovative service-delivery channels; radically reducing our costs to drive better value for money; leading, organising and working in new ways; and a strong focus on implementation and delivery.
Sport Ireland will appoint a chief executive officer with the approval of the Minister. The chief executive must, along with carrying out necessary functions of the position provide information as requested by the Minister regarding his or her performance of these functions and the implementation of the Minister’s policies and priorities. The chief executive cannot be a member of the board of Sport Ireland but may attend and speak at and advise board and committee meetings.
As rapporteur to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children on childhood obesity, I believe that sport in schools can play its part. Schools should ensure that all children participate in a minimum of 30 minutes moderate to vigorous physical activity during the school day. This includes time spent being active in physical education, PE, classes. Schools should ensure that PE is taught by certified and highly qualified PE teachers at all levels. Montessori schools and crèches should provide children with at least 30 minutes' break time during each school day to run about and play, free from restriction.
Although sports provide a portion of the student population with a significant amount of physical activity, the remainder of the students may be very sedentary and represent those who most need greater amounts of physical activity. In large schools, access to sports facilities may be limited to a small percentage of the student body. Most athletic teams are of similar size and although large schools may offer more sports than small ones, the total number of students who can be served does not increase in proportion to enrolment. If, for example, a secondary school with 200 or more 14 or 15 year olds focuses on one type of sport, only the elite of perhaps 20 students will make the panel for the team in that age category. The other 180 children who are rejected by the elitist and competitive nature of the performance-centred system will be left behind. Not every child can excel at, or even wants to participate in, sports such as football, rugby or basketball. Greater effort should be put into introducing new sports in schools, such as badminton, squash, handball, indoor climbing or gymnastics. The emphasis should be on participation rather than competition. Every one of these sports has the potential to stimulate physical activity and increase social activity centred on sport and introduce impressionable minds to valuable life skills such as team work, comradeship and dealing with the successes and disappointments of competitions. No child should be left behind through lack of opportunity or ability. There is a sport for everyone and we should do more to ensure that young people can find their niche when it comes to developing an interest in sport.
It makes sense that the development of Irish sport would be overseen by one central organisation. I am pleased that this Bill will take into account the substantial developments in the area of doping. Ireland has an extensive national anti-doping programme which, along with anti-doping rules, will underpin Sport Ireland.
As an avid sports fan and fitness enthusiast, I believe wholeheartedly that positioning sport at the centre of Irish life is the key to making a Ireland a healthier place. We need to focus on fitness levels rather than the number of weighing scales as an indicator of healthy living, and organisations such as Sport Ireland are important in promoting this ideal.
Research published recently by the Irish Society for Rheumatology, ISR, has shown that inter-county Gaelic Athletic Association, GAA, players with a higher lean muscle mass are less likely to sustain injuries. We may not all play sport at the higher levels of the GAA or the organisations under Sport Ireland but the message remains the same that if one exercises and increases one’s muscle mass, one is less likely to suffer from aches and pains.
If one exercises and increases one's muscle mass, one is less likely to suffer from aches and pains.
I thank the Minister of State for the allocation of the capital sports grants in County Louth. I have no complaints at all. Every organisation, including those involved in GAA, rugby and soccer, got something from the Minister of State. The people of the county would like to say "thanks very much". The only big problem they have now is trying to find a Gaelic football manager. I hope the Louth county board gets the right man over the next few weeks. It is very important that the GAA and all other sports in County Louth are going well. I appreciate the opportunity to speak on this Bill. I wish the Minister of State the very best. As he knows, all the people in Louth are fully behind him.
I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak on this legislation. I congratulate the Minister of State with responsibility for sport, Deputy Ring, on staying in this portfolio. I reminded of a Shakespearean quote, "rumours of my demise have been greatly exaggerated". Unfortunately, I was not available this time. I am sure the Taoiseach acknowledges the work being done by the Minister of State in County Mayo. I know the pipeline into the west is open. It is constantly delivering all the good news from the Minister of State. I acknowledge the work he has been doing in this area over the last three years.
Until recently, the promotion of sport might have been regarded as a Cinderella area of public administration. That was certainly the case in the tourism sector, for which the Minister of State is also responsible. The employment levels that can be generated from tourism and sport have become clear in recent years. The Ballyhoura Mountains in my own county of Limerick are the home of one of the finest mountain bike tracks in the world. I know the Minister of State was in County Limerick recently in connection with the series of greenways in the county. I wonder whether it might be possible to bring the network of greenways into a single consolidated greenway. Something similar was done in the case of the Wild Atlantic way, which was another initiative of the Minister of State. Perhaps the disused railway lines around the west, from west Cork to Donegal, could form a greenway network.
I am sure the Minister of State has been filled with platitudes all evening. Lads are conscious of the fact that sports capital grants are due in 2015, as well as 2014. I have to say that many of his ministerial colleagues could learn much from how he deals with political representations. He certainly runs a very good office. His officials always get back to us. We do not have to chase him around the Dáil when votes are being held. Some Ministers try to dodge us in such circumstances. I know Opposition Deputies who feel the very same.
I want to thank the Minister of State sincerely for the allocations that have been made in County Limerick over the three years since the formation of this Government. Almost €3 million has been provided to a variety of codes under the sports capital programme. That is a stimulus. One often hears Opposition spokespersons and people in the media talking about the need for a stimulus. In my part of the world, a small parish of fewer than 1,000 people would benefit from a stimulus like an investment of €30,000, €40,000, €50,000 or €60,000 in the local GAA or soccer club or some other sporting organisation. This kind of Government cash injection is based on fair criteria and can be audited and verified. We would all love to see more money being spent in our local areas. I am glad the Government has given a commitment to reopen the sports capital programme next year. I hope this will happen again in 2016 and on an annualised basis. I think the formula introduced by the Minister, whereby counties get money based on the proportion of the national population in that county, is working. Its fairness is in stark contrast to the cronyism that existed until recently.
I compliment the Minister of State on some of his recent achievements. I know he is a big soccer fan. Some positive opportunities will result from the soccer matches that will be held in Dublin in 2020. Similarly, the IRFU hopes to host the Rugby World Cup in the next decade. The GAA has had a fantastic year. In that context, these debates give us an opportunity to take stock of the status of sport in Ireland. Previous speakers have alluded to the fact that certain types of sports are not for everybody. There is only one thing worse than two bad eyes, and that is two bad lungs, but I was fortunate to be blessed at being fairly good at swimming. Some people do not realise until they are in their late 30s that they suffer from exercise-induced asthma. That might explain why they are useless at team sports. There is a niche for every individual. As others have said, not everybody is in a position to enjoy team sports in the same way that others enjoy them. Perhaps they are not physically able to do so.
Deputy Harrington spoke about a friend of his who was asked why he did not get involved in sports like Johnny up the road. His parents wanted to know why he was not bringing home the cup. As a teacher, I know that such comments can be soul-destroying for young people. We need to reflect on how we articulate our desire for people to get involved in sport, especially at a young age. Teachers are conscious that language is hugely important in this context, but others also need to be aware of its importance. Policymakers need to be conscious that not everybody is physically able to engage in sport. Some people are unable to participate in team sports because their social skills are not properly developed. They might be able to participate in something like archery, draughts, swimming or pole vaulting. In recent years, there has been a massive growth in individual sporting pursuits like running and cycling. The Government's welcome initiative in relation to those two codes should be encouraged.
I will not repeat what others have said about the health benefits of the approach to sport that is being taken by the Government and the Minister of State. However, I emphasise that if we do not deal properly and comprehensively with obesity related illnesses, such as type 2 diabetes, stroke, hypertension and obesity related cancers, a generation of people will be wiped out by such illnesses, just as previous generations were wiped out by TB. As a State and as a country, we need to say how much money we expect to spend each year to reduce the prevalence of such illnesses and the collective weight of the country.
I know from my work as a teacher and from talking to my colleagues and to parents that this is a huge problem. Sport has to play a part in restructuring our approach to it. The work being done by the Minister of State in the context of this Bill, for example, by engaging with his colleagues in the Departments of Education and Skills, Health, Transport, Tourism and Sport, the Environment, Community and Local Government and Finance, is absolutely essential. We need to focus on where we build houses and how we tax certain products. I do not think we can overstate the huge implications that this Bill will have for the health of the nation. I do not think this debate should be used as an opportunity to clap ourselves on the back for the good work we are doing.
The Minister of State will probably be on the same page as me when I say that events this summer have demonstrated the dire need for proper legislation to be introduced to facilitate sporting organisations that make their facilities available as the GAA did when the Garth Brooks concerts were being organised. We should not have an international Ballymagash like we had this summer, when we were plastered all over every media outlet in the world for all the wrong reasons. I encourage the Minister of State with responsibility for sport to deliver a message to the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government reminding it that this really needs to be dealt with. The events to which I refer reflected badly on Ireland, our sporting organisations and our sporting venues.
I have no problem saying, as I did at the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications, that the GAA was very badly treated during the Garth Brooks fiasco. As a member of the committee in question, I took fairly serious offence when I received a letter from the Dublin city manager asking me to set out the position regarding my support for and membership of the GAA before I could ask him any questions. My support for and membership of the GAA have nothing whatsoever to do with my ability to carry out my job as a public representative. I made that very clear to the city manager when he came to the committee meeting. He was left under no illusion that he was on the wrong side of the debate as the whole fiasco unwound and, as a result, this country was perceived badly across the world. I am sure the Minister of State knows about the latter aspect of the matter from his work in the tourism area of the Department.
This Bill is important because it consolidates a number of agencies and represents a further commitment by the Government to the de-quangoisation, as it were, of the country. We have an awful lot of bodies competing with one another while essentially doing the same thing. I compliment the Minister of State on the work he is doing and on his delivery of real results for constituencies and communities like my own. I hope the Government's commitment to developing facilities in small locations that do not have the population base to sustain lotteries and fund-raising drives will be realised so that the people in those areas can rely on the Minister of State and his Department to give them a gee up. He will not be short of support from the backbenches at parliamentary party meetings and elsewhere in terms of ensuring that his budget is enhanced. I am sure the Minister of State will reciprocate that support with support for our constituencies.
I am pleased to contribute to this debate on the Sport Ireland Bill and welcome the Minister of State to the House. I was responsible for getting his name on the link road between the M4 and the M5 some time ago and I hope to be able to get his name on a number of sporting developments in my constituency of Longford Westmeath following the next round of funding. As a member of Legan Sarsfields GAA club and many other sporting organisations in County Longford, I know all too well the benefits of sport for young people. Sport is the bedrock of every community in the country. Play and physical activity are important to one's development, improving health and reducing the likelihood of disease, as was outlined by many Members today. In addition to this, sport and games teach young people about the importance of co-operation and inclusion. Sport binds local groups together and provides an outlet for young people who might otherwise be drawn into drugs and crime.
Deputy Timmins referred to the promotion of handball in the 1930s when a huge number of handball alleys were built at great expense to communities not long after we won our independence. I am sorry to say that many of those alleys are now in a state of dilapidation. I agree with Deputy Timmins that we must do something to promote handball because it is a great sport which keeps participants very fit and active. Every muscle and limb in the body is active during a game of handball.
I commend the GAA, the FAI and the governing bodies for rugby which do great work. So many people voluntarily give a huge amount of their time to those organisations. There are more than 280,000 volunteers involved in sporting organisations, day in and day out. They bring large numbers of young people to and from games and so forth, as was very evident last Sunday in Croke Park. One sees the huge involvement of young people at all levels in sporting organisations, which is great for sport. It is great to get people involved at a young age.
One area that has been neglected over the years is that of access to our rivers and lakes. Something must be done to promote access to our waterways. We have some of the finest waterways in the world. We have come a long way in terms of the development of the Royal Canal which starts in Dublin and runs to Clondra in Longford. There are walkways along certain parts of the route but we must develop the entire channel, provide more footpaths and make it more accessible for those who want to engage in canoeing, fishing and other sporting activities. Many people would love to participate in water sports on our waterways. I spoke to a number of German visitors over the summer who said that we have some of the finest waterways in Europe but that accessibility was a huge problem.
I was particularly pleased to read in section 7 that Sport Ireland will be developing a long-term strategy for increasing participation in sport at local level. The merger of the Irish Sports Council and the National Sports Campus Development Authority is important. It is a smart decision as it streamlines sporting policy under a single agency. To put it simply, we are placing the responsibility for sport in the hands of one agency rather than having it divided between two. It is also an important part of our proposals in the programme for Government regarding the duplication of agencies and boards. Nothing represents Government waste more than the plethora of agencies set up by Fianna Fáil during the so-called boom years. We are now streamlining Government, making it smaller and cheaper to run and giving better value for money to the public from our scarce resources.
Part 4 details Sport Ireland's proposed responsibilities for addressing doping in sport. Aside from threatening the integrity and reputation of sport, doping puts athletes' health at risk. It is cheating and is fundamentally contrary to the spirit and principle of sport. One of the most important provisions in the Bill will be the sharing of information between Sport Ireland, the Garda Síochána and the Irish Medicines Board. It is my belief that co-operation between these organisations will play a major part in reducing the presence of doping in sport.
I also note that Sport Ireland is preparing and submitting a plan for the development of a national sports campus. The proposed site will see a whole range of amenities, including a national indoor athletics training centre and a national field sports training centre catering for rugby, soccer, Gaelic games and hockey as well as a multi-sport national training centre which will provide world-class training facilities for more than 20 sports. I welcome this prospect because it will provide our athletes with a state-of-the-art training base and the supports needed to compete with the best athletes in the world.
I acknowledge the wonderful regional sports centre in Athlone Institute of Technology. I and my former colleague, the late Deputy Nicky McFadden, kept pressure on the Government to deliver funding for that facility. It has been the headquarters for our national community games in recent years and has acted as a training ground for many of our present and future Olympians.
I have always believed that sport builds communities and establishes a sense of pride in one's parish, county and country. It drives tourism and contributes millions to the economy each year. It is imperative that the Government prioritises sport as a valuable social tool and the introduction of this Bill will go a long way towards preparing, training and enhancing the skills of future Irish athletes while at the same time ensuring that sport gets the recognition from Government that it requires and deserves. I compliment the Minister of State on bringing this Bill before the House today.
This Bill will lead to the merging of the Irish Sports Council and the National Sports Campus Development Authority into one sporting organisation, Sport Ireland. Sport Ireland's stated purpose is to develop strategies for increasing participation in recreational sport at national and local levels. The merger will reduce costs by cutting out repetitive functions and is welcome from that perspective. It designates Sport Ireland as the national anti-doping organisation which was previously the responsibility of the Irish Sports Council. Sport Ireland will be responsible for testing athletes for prohibited substances and for regulations on the consequences of the violation of anti-doping laws. It is very important to have strong anti-doping laws in Ireland.
The Bill also details specifics regarding data protection, which is welcome. It also maintains the course in the context of the continued development of the national sports campus. The most recent addition to that campus was the opening of several pitches for Gaelic games, soccer and rugby. The national indoor arena will be developed next, with facilities for indoor athletics and gymnastics.
The central point and purpose of this Bill is to merge two organisations into one. One hopes that will yield benefits in terms of greater efficiency and lower running costs. That was all part of the drive by Fine Gael and the Government prior to the election to make the State and its agencies run in a more efficient fashion, giving greater benefit to the taxpayer. That is always to be welcomed and this is one example of where it is happening. More needs to happen in this area across all Departments. The public demands it. One of the lessons of the recession is that we cannot go back to the days of top-heavy administration in various Departments and organisations. It is a welcome move by the Minister of State to address this issue. I hope to see more happen in the future, in this Department and in other Departments, because the public is four-square behind these moves. It can only be to the benefit of all of us that measures such as this continue to happen.
First, like others, I commend the Minister of State on his work with the FAI in securing the Euro 2020 games for Dublin. That is a considerable boost to the economy. As others stated, hopefully, we will see progress as well on the rugby world cup in 2023.
Each commitment to review and restructure State agencies and bodies to ensure that public money is spent efficiently requires legislation. This Bill is one such legislative measure which will merge the Irish Sports Council and the National Sports Campus Development Authority to create Sport Ireland.
Leaving aside the aforementioned organisations, I have concerns about the sheer number and volume of State bodies, committees, working groups and others. Last Sunday, The Sunday Business Postran the first in a series of articles examining State agencies which named the organisations, outlined their functions and listed the salaries of the CEOs, along with expenses and the number of staff employed earning in excess of €80,000. I do not wish to diminish or be disingenuous about the important work that many public sector staff do, but I must voice concerns at the duplication of tasks and the unnecessary existence of some agencies. The list of agencies is almost endless and leads one to question what exactly some Departments are doing if agencies exist to carry out the same functions.
In 2010, the Dublin-based IT consultant and entrepreneur, Mr. William Campbell, wrote a book, entitled Here's How - Creative Solutions for Ireland's Economic and Social Problems, and sent a copy to each Deputy. The book received recommendations from a number of journalists, academics and economists and contains an array of suggestions on how to solve some of the problems facing the country. Thankfully, some of those problems have been addressed, with the growth of the economy and the work that has been done by the Government. The chapter on quangos is illuminating. It takes over three pages, in a font that steadily reduces in size, to list almost all of Ireland's State agencies. At the best of times, it is not appropriate to have such a plethora of State agencies and organisations. When, however, State finances remain in such a constrained position, as they have been for several years, it is ludicrous and must be challenged.
It must be acknowledged that the Government has made a start on reviewing and restructuring with a programme for the public service, including corresponding progress reports. The establishment of a Department with responsibility for reform is evidence of the commitment to address the issue, which is being overseen by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin. Another Minister addressing the issue is the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, who has spoken about the issue before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation of which I am a member. That Department has maximised efficiency and effectiveness by subsuming the functions of some State agencies, such as Forfás, within dedicated units of the Department. This removes the sometimes significant administration costs while preserving the core functions. Some of the good economic news and the job creation figures can be assigned to the reforms taking place.
At times, measures like this are portrayed as ways of minimising transparency or concealing work, but the opposite is the case. By bringing agencies back within their respective Departments, their functions and tasks become much more examinable and accountable to the public because they are more easily questioned through parliamentary questions. We have a duty to ensure that each euro of taxpayers' funding is spent as efficiently as possible. That involves maximising the duties and tasks carried out by Departments and ensuring that every State agency has a clearly defined, identifiable and compelling reason to exist.
The other aspect of the Bill I want to touch on is the importance of funding for sports and recreation and the knock-on benefits that accrue from such spending. These include health, financial and community benefits. Like others, I commend the Minister of State on the sports capital programme that he initiated when he came into office and its continued positive effects in terms of local economies and the health of communities regarding participation and combatting obesity and health problems.
One initiative worth considering, on which there may be plans I do not know about, is a national sports museum. Those of us who are lucky enough to go abroad at times will have visited sporting museums, whether in Sydney or elsewhere, which encompass every sport and highlight the achievements and traditions in the country concerned. We have a proud sports tradition here in Ireland. We have a rich history of sport, both national and international, and such a museum would allow visitors to get a feel for our national identity and uniqueness. It is a feel-good factor to share our sporting history and successes. While the announcement of Sky Sports broadcasting GAA games might not have been too popular, the international reaction of those viewing games, particularly hurling, for the first time provides a considerable boost to one of the native games. I ask the Minister of State to examine that and consider it for future capital investment.
I welcome the Bill and commend the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, on bringing it forward. I thank and pay tribute to all those who were involved over the years in both organisations that are being merged.
It would be remiss of me not to reference the great victory in Croke Park on Sunday last by the Kerry team. As a Deputy for Kerry, I am proud of their achievements. The return of the 37th all-Ireland senior football title to the county is just as special as the first and every one in between. I congratulate the team. I wish all of the other teams which came close this year the best in the future - their day will come as well.
On a more serious note, what we saw in Croke Park, with 82,000 spectators there watching two fantastic teams battling it out to win the Sam Maguire, epitomises the strength and importance of sport, through the GAA, in every community in this country and anything that we, as public representatives, can do to help strengthen sport in our communities must be encouraged. We are a nation of sports people. We need to ensure that the tradition of sport is continued in the future and that our communities have every opportunity to engage in sport, whether at professional, amateur or pastime fun levels. That needs to start at an early age.
There is a saying in Kerry that one is born with a football in one's hand, but it is the approach we need to take as a society to start educating our youngest children about the importance of physical exercise, nutrition, diet and minding one's body, and that the greatest instruments one will ever have is one's own body. To that end, we need to look at primary education and to see how we can provide better facilities for children in schools. Many schools do not have indoor facilities for recreation and physical education. Unfortunately, we live in quite a wet country. Thankfully, it has not been so for the past four months but it usually rains much of the time here and children need to exercise for a long time every day. It helps in academic performance as well if physical exercise is involved and we need to see what can be done in that regard.
I thank the Minister of State for the latest round of sports capital funding that has gone to every county and thank him for the funding that has come to Kerry this year. On top of the 2012 funding, it is much appreciated. It makes a significant difference to clubs. It gives them a helping hand to improve their facilities and make themselves accessible to more people. Such involvement is what it is all about.
Will the Minister examine if the sports capital grants could be awarded on an annual basis? When the programme was re-introduced in 2012, there was a huge clamour to apply. Some clubs may not have been ready to apply but did so because they did not know if there would be another round of funding. Thankfully, there was this year but it would be excellent if there could be an annual round of funding and every club knew where it stood. The programme helps clubs which otherwise might not be able to raise funds, particularly with the overall economic climate over the past few years which has made it all the more difficult. This extra help from the State is welcome.
More walking and cycling greenways, a facility with which the Minister of State is aware of in his county, are coming onstream across the country. Not only are greenways an excellent way to provide an amenity for people to improve their health and maintain it, they also have a tourism and economic spin-off. I was taken aback by the success of the Westport-Achill greenway when I visited it in 2013, having been on the Newport-Mulranny section in 2010 just after it opened. Its economic spin-off and the vibrancy it has brought back to parts of west Mayo is impressive. The number of people and families, across all age groups, using this facility is also impressive. The fact that it is on an old rail line means the gradient is also amenable to cycling. We need to develop greenways further. Accordingly, I am delighted the old Glenbeigh to Renard section of the Farranfore to Valentia railway line has been given significant funding of €4 million to be developed as a greenway by Kerry County Council and South Kerry Development Partnership Limited. We can link more networks across the country to allow more tourists and local people avail of these excellent facilities.
I commend the Minister on the recent good news about the future staging of three group games and a last-16 game in the 2020 European football championship in Dublin. This is a fantastic news story for Ireland which will give us an enormous boost. I was fortunate enough to be able to go to the championships in Poland in 2012. While the results were not great for our time, it was a good trip. Hopefully, we will be able to build on this announcement and look at hosting a future rugby world cup and other major international sporting events. Hosting such events will inspire younger generations to take up sport and become active. In the 1980s when our cyclists were at the very top of the international scene, many young people took it up as a sport. The successes of the Irish soccer team in 1988, 1990 and 1994 inspired a new generation of young Irish people to take up the sport. It is the same with golfers and successful football and hurling counties.
I commend this Bill to the House. They say sport and politics should never mix. However, all parties are agreed on getting the best for people in sport. I hope the various suggestions made by all parties will be considered and, where possible, implemented.
I congratulate and thank the Minister of State, Deputy Michael Ring, for introducing the Sport Ireland Bill 2014. It will give effect to the Government’s decision to merge the Irish Sports Council and the National Sports Campus Development Authority, NSCDA, into Sport Ireland. This was one of the measures contained in the Government’s programme for the rationalisation of State agencies. I am delighted 44 sporting bodies have so far been merged. This, however, seems to have gone below the radar of both the national and local press. At one stage, there was a love affair with quangos. They do not just cause extra red tape but cost much money to run. Sometimes I felt some quangos were set up with chief executives and directors of services but were not providing front-line services or expertise. This year, the Government hopes to save €20 million by merging another 63 State bodies. Yesterday, I, along with the Minister, went into the brand new government offices in Roscommon where our by-election candidate, Maura Hopkins, was lodging her nomination papers. It was great to see four departmental agencies using the same building.
The Minister is bringing change to sporting governance and ensuring sporting governing bodies have competence and responsibilities in their functions. It was mentioned earlier that change has come to the GAA too. Bringing in Sky Sports to broadcast GAA games was very innovative. Some people complained this would undermine the association but it has actually brought in a new audience. I was amused by some of the tweets from Sky Sports viewers in the UK when they watched some of the hurling games. I am still laughing at one tweeter who asked if there were actually any rules to the game or was it a mixture of hockey and murder. Hurling is now being spoken about abroad which brings more revenue to the GAA. I congratulate it on this change.
The hosting of some of the European football championship games in Dublin in 2020 is wonderful news. Some people do not fully realise how significant this will be. I was at my first European soccer championship in 1988 when I ran a double-decker bus to Germany for two weeks. Up to 20 of us slept upstairs and cooked downstairs. To beat England then was the start of having confidence in our sporting teams as well as ourselves. When 2020 comes along, I hope we will be 32 years undefeated in a game to England, our near neighbours and friends.
Sport plays a significant part in our lives, bringing mostly enjoyment.
The reason for that is that if we lose at soccer, we will move on to rugby, Gaelic football, hurling or whatever else. I thank the Minister of State for bringing the Bill to the House. The legislation is innovative and long sought and I am delighted to support it.
I am delighted to speak on the Bill, which I began to research yesterday in preparation for the debate. The Minister of State, Deputy Ring, has probably one of the most important Ministries in the country.
Sport is a broad subject. I asked myself what sport is and looked for a definition of it. In the course of the debate, colleagues have discussed competitive sport, walking, cycling and running. The Irish Sports Council has a very good definition of it, namely, that sport means all forms of physical activity, which through casual or organised participation aim at expressing or improving physical fitness and mental well-being, forming social relationships or obtaining results in competition at all levels. That covers everything, whether one is in the Olympics or one just goes for a walk down the road.
I listened to the debate during the day. All forms of sport have been mentioned, from the really intense sports played at intense levels to the slightly more than casual exercise everyone should undertake. The primary purpose of the Bill is to provide for the dissolution of the Irish Sports Council and the National Sports Campus Development Authority and the merger of their functions into a single entity. There are also proposals to enhance provisions on anti-doping in Irish sport. Both of the organisations to which I referred have done amazing work. The authority is responsible for the operation of the National Aquatic Centre at Blanchardstown. It accommodates the headquarters of the FAI and the Irish Institute of Sport, which is an amazing body. The headquarters of Irish Sport will be located in Blanchardstown. The authority also administers the headquarters of 19 national governing bodies.
At one level, sport is big business and there is a considerable economic benefit to it. Figures are available that indicate the value of sport to the economy. Reference has been made to sports grants and the programme in which the Minister of State was involved in the previous two years. I congratulate him on his work and that of his staff. The programme appeared to work well and to be fair.
One area I would like the Minister of State to examine is the local authority swimming pool programme as nothing has been done in that regard for some time. We must look again at the programme if finances permit. A value for money review was carried out on the programme a number of years ago, which was mainly positive. It suggested that no other piece of sports recreational infrastructure can provide the same level of access and ability in terms of catering for all age groups and fitness levels in all weathers for up to 18 hours a day, seven days a week. We are an island nation and I contend that every child should have an opportunity to learn how to swim as part of the curriculum and that no child should leave primary school without being able to swim. That should be a national aim. Like the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, I come from a constituency which is, in part, bounded by the sea. He has been in my constituency and has seen some of the activities that are ongoing. Coastal rowing is a growing sport. The Whitegate rowing club was extremely successful this year. So many sports can evolve and develop when people learn how to swim and get involved with water-based activities.
Mention has been made on a few occasions of alcohol and the power of sport to act as a deterrent to anti-social behaviour. Much work and studies have been carried out in the area. A study was carried out in 2011 as part of a criminology master’s degree thesis on youth involvement in sport with anti-social delinquent behaviour. I am involved in the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality and Defence and we have an interest in diverting people from anti-social behaviour. The results of the study identified loitering, alcohol consumption and shoplifting as the top three anti-social behaviours in which participants engaged. The pattern remained constant throughout the findings, even when variables such as gender and involvement in certain activities were isolated. The results found that participants who were involved in organised sports in school or outside it were less likely to engage in anti-social behaviour compared to participants who were not involved in organised sport. Straight away, there is a positive advantage in having young people involved in sport.
Colleagues previously referred to obesity. Again, we all know there are two reasons for obesity; one is eating too much of the wrong food and the second is not being involved in physical activity. Sport comes into view in that regard. I agree with what Deputy Spring said about panels involved in organised sport whereby children who are not good at the sport are left on the side-line. I urge clubs and organisations to ensure all children get to play and are not left sitting on the bench. There is nothing worse for a child than to be left sitting on the bench and to become disillusioned. There is an element of winning at all costs at under-age level, which can be damaging. Some organisations do not seem to be aware of the situation. I will not mention any names but all organisations should consider the issue and how the situation could be changed.
To return to alcohol, Alcohol Action maintains that 97% of public order offences and 76% of all rapes involve alcohol. It would be so much the better if we could divert people from excessive abuse of alcohol. I was in a store recently and came across all kinds of promotions for alcohol. One in particular caught my eye. A bottle of own-brand vodka containing approximately 700 ml cost €13. That is highly irresponsible. There are all kinds of alcohol promotions in the multiples, for example, promoting two for one. When I was young, one could buy a six-pack of beer but now it is a slab of cans and they are available at ridiculously low prices. We must do something about that. I accept the groceries order was abolished in 2005 but such pricing is of concern. Another related issue that we must examine is the resulting closure of pubs, which at least they provide some kind of controlled environment for the consumption of alcohol.
Much of the alcohol in supermarkets is imported. One student told me that the ridiculously cheap alcohol is causing terrible damage. If one mixes it with any other substance, it can be fatal. The reason I mention alcohol in this context is that sport has a role to play in diverting people from excessive alcohol consumption. A colleague previously indicated that if a young person is involved in sport, he or she will respect himself or herself more and will very often not get involved in such behaviour.
Reference was previously made to walkways, cycle-ways and footpaths. We must identify roads and other pathways around towns and villages and make them safe and attractive for people to walk and cycle. It is very important to get people out. There is nothing worse than walking along a road close to a town or village without a footpath or proper facilities. I approve of the rejuvenation of disused railway lines as greenways and walkways. There is a disused railway line between Midleton and Youghal. Deputy McLellan will agree with my wish to see it opened as a greenway and walkway.
I note from my former job that when students reach leaving certificate year, they take on or are put under pressure to study and many of them give up sport and other such activities. Perhaps we could examine the inclusion of some form of credit for involvement in physical activity at leaving certificate level so that if a student is involved in sport, he or she should be encouraged to keep it up.
Girls at this age are inclined to give up sport completely and this is very unhealthy. Perhaps the authorities can examine ways to encourage youngsters in this respect. We give extra credit for honours maths in the leaving certificate and perhaps we should also do so for involvement in sport and physical activity.