Thursday, 29 September 2022
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
Sport and Recreational Development
9. To ask the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the steps she is taking to promote female involvement in sports from a young age; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [47505/22]
A fundamental aim of the national sports policy is to increase the level of participation across the population, with a specific focus on less represented groups, including women and girls.
In May 2022, my Department held a youth stakeholder forum on sport at which we gathered young people together to identify the barriers keeping them from sport and to gain insight into how those barriers could be addressed. A report on that forum has been drafted and will help inform and direct the measures my Department takes to address youth participation in sport.
In May 2021 Sport Ireland published its Participation Plan 2021-2024. Sport Ireland is now undertaking several initiatives under that plan for children and young people, which will be delivered through local sports partnerships, national governing bodies and other partners.
In 2021 Sport Ireland launched the research report, Adolescent Girls Get Active. Following on from the report, Sport Ireland created a new funding strand through dormant accounts funding to support local sports partnerships in the creation of physical activity programmes targeting teenage girls.
Sport Ireland is working to establish a brand identity for teenage girls' programmes rolled out by local sports partnerships and governing bodies. Sport Ireland is also tendering for the roll-out of a communication and activation campaign targeting inactive teenage girls. This will be the first time a dedicated national physical activity campaign has ever been created for this target group and highlights the commitment of Sport Ireland and the Government to trying to motivate teenage girls to be more active.
We know from the research that a participation gap arises at this time in women's and girls' lives and that this has an impact on participation for many years, so we are trying to focus initiatives on that. We are committed to our capital programmes supporting clubs that embrace female participation in sport and we are trying to build on that in the years to come.
I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive response. It is really important that the Government not just be seen to promote participation in sport at a young age but also do so. That is critical. As the slogan goes, if they cannot see it, they cannot be it. The platforming of young women and girls in sport is really important because, as the Minister of State rightly pointed out, those participation rates have fallen away. I was Chair of the Committee on Children and Youth Affairs during the term of the previous Dáil. The committee did a comprehensive overview of childhood obesity and found that the drop-off rates in women's participation in sport at a young age is quite alarming. As a mentor in a GAA club, I know how crucial interventions can be to keeping people, young boys and young girls, involved in their local sporting code, whatever it might be, so the dedicated campaign the Minister of State talked about to get girls active is very welcome.
In addition to that, we are developing a new national physical activity plan with the Department of Health, and I chaired a recent meeting of the sports leadership group. I have got a lot of input from the Federation of Irish Sport and some of the governing bodies, so we have a new and evidence-based physical activity plan. I think that will complement the promotional campaigns Sport Ireland is running not only to try to activate that cohort of our population that is more likely to stop activity in sport but also to develop specific initiatives. The key role of the local sports partnerships and the women in sport initiative is to drive that level of participation and to try to address the participation gap. We are also clear that at a leadership level within sport there has to be increased activity in respect of our target of 40% of board members of our sporting organisations being women by the end of next year. There has been progress in the past three or four years on that such that, not only at a participation level but also at a leadership level, we see better female representation across the board.
There is a cross-departmental aspect to all this, notwithstanding the extraordinarily generous grants administered by the Minister of State's Department in the form of the sports capital programme and the impact that that can have on communities up and down the country. We know, and the Minister of State, being from a very fast-growing young community just like mine, will know too, that the facilities that are provided to young people, particularly young girls, for participation in sport are incredibly important. There is a role for the Department of Education to play in rolling out further improvements to the physical activity, PE, facilities in schools up and down the country. There was a report a couple of years ago. I cannot remember the precise figure but it was stark as to the number of schools that did not have PE halls and those sorts of activation measures, if we want to call them that. That is what they are because if the facilities are there, they will be used, and that will encourage more people to participate.
I welcome what the Minister of State has told us this morning and look forward to the dedicated campaign he mentioned.
The Deputy is correct, in that some schools have embraced this and are open until 9 o'clock or 10 o'clock at night. There is a huge amount of PE and other activity during the day in those schools, and they open their doors for sporting organisations to use their facilities in the evening. Other schools do not have the facilities and are closed when the school day finishes. The Department of Education is on our sports leadership group. We are trying to encourage that Department to communicate to schools that we really need to embrace that community partnership. There is an opportunity, through the sports capital programme, for schools to apply with a sporting organisation or club such that if there is an all-weather pitch, they can build a pitch in partnership with a club for use by children during the day and the club has the benefit of the pitch after school. That maximises the overall benefit of the capital investment the State makes where education and sport are combined, but we have more to do on that. I think the Deputy will see some references to that in the youth leadership report, which we will publish shortly, on what young people have said about facilities and what is available to-----