Seanad debates

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Commencement Matters

Sports Capital Programme

2:30 pm

Photo of John O'MahonyJohn O'Mahony (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Cathaoirleach for selecting this important topic and the Minister of State for attending to reply. It is a simple issue.

As everyone knows, sports capital grants were suspended in 2008 and resumed by the previous Government in 2011. As far as I am aware, there has been a round of sports capital grants every year until 2016. Is there a timeline for an announcement of a further round of applications for sports capital grants?

Many clubs and organisations that did not receive funding previously or which are undertaking upgrades on a phased basis have been in contact with me and other Senators. It is around this time of year that sports clubs and organisations hold their AGMs. They want to put their plans in place. For an application to be successful, they must have matching funds and so on. I would appreciate it, therefore, if the timeline could be clarified.

The sports capital programme represents excellent value for money for the Government.They provide opportunities for everyone from children up to senior citizens, from recreational and leisure level to elite sports level, which leads to healthier people and savings in the health area. They also encourage young people to have dreams and ambitions and this helps to keep them out of trouble. We are all aware of this.

This is a rich time for sport in Ireland. We are punching above our weight at local, national and international levels. In the last few weeks, we had the famous win against the All Blacks and the soccer victory last Saturday night. The GAA is in every parish in the country. I heard at the weekend that a club in Longford is in the Leinster Club Championship semi-final. The GAA has its tentacles in every parish in the country. There is a great feel-good factor around it. We have enough to be down and out about. Sport always uplifts us. I know that the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, is aware of that. The ambitions of our sporting heroes of today started when their parents enrolled them in their local clubs and organisations at six or seven years of age. Money spent in this area is money well spent.

Photo of Patrick O'DonovanPatrick O'Donovan (Limerick County, Fine Gael)
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I thank Senator O'Mahony for raising this issue, which I know is one in which he has a particular interest.

The sports capital programme, SCP, is the Government’s primary vehicle to support the development of sports facilities and the purchase of sports equipment. The most recent rounds of the programme were in 2012, 2014 and 2015. So far this year, over €22.8 million has been paid out to 680 organisations.

The sports capital programme aims to foster an integrated and planned approach to developing sports and physical recreation facilities throughout the country. More than 10,000 projects have benefitted from sports capital funding since 1998, bringing total allocations since that time to over €900 million. 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. The facilities that have been funded range from the smallest clubs to national centres of sporting excellence. The Government is committed to ensuring that this progress continues. We recognise that sport plays a hugely positive part in Irish society. Its benefits are numerous, from health benefits to the social side of sports both in the participative and volunteering spheres to the huge contribution sport makes to the Irish economy.

Following the conclusion of the 2017 Estimates discussions, a total of €52 million has been provided for sports capital projects next year. This will meet all existing commitments under previous rounds of the sports capital and local authority swimming pool programme commitments, to the Páirc Uí Chaoimh redevelopment project in Cork, the Kerry Sports Academy at IT Tralee and existing commitments relating to the development of the national sports campus.

There will also be sufficient funding for a new round of the sports capital programme to be opened for applications, which is the most important point in so far as Senator O'Mahony and I are concerned. In this regard, I have previously stated that the new round will be open for applications soon and this remains the position. Prior to inviting applications, I want to ensure that a number of improvements are introduced to the application process. In this regard, the application form will be significantly shortened and a number of additional supports will be available for clubs to complete the application process.

The new programme will include a revised online portal which will make the process more user-friendly. Other supports will include a comprehensive written guide for applicants as well as an online video guide. Staff in the relevant section of my Department will also be available to assist clubs by phone and e-mail and it is also planned to hold regional seminars to assist clubs who are preparing their applications. It is hoped that these measures will greatly assist in reducing the level of invalid applications which are submitted to the Department. As previously stated, the new round will be open for applications soon and obviously clubs will have to be given a number of weeks to complete the application process. Based on previous rounds of the programme, the assessment process takes a number of months to complete so I expect that actual grant allocations will be made during summer 2017. I will be announcing more comprehensive details of the new round shortly, including all of the relevant deadline dates.

Photo of John O'MahonyJohn O'Mahony (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister of State for his reply, which will enable me to communicate to clubs and organisations that the process will commence early in the New Year.

During the previous Administration the Minister of State with responsibility for sport was Deputy Michael Ring. Will the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, clarify if he has responsibility for sport in this Administration?Recent media reports have cast doubt on that but having served on an Oireachtas committee with the Minister of State during the last administration, I know of his deep knowledge and interest in sport. I have read many of his speeches on the topic and it is clear that he has a deep knowledge of sport at all levels. I ask him to clarify the situation.

Photo of Patrick O'DonovanPatrick O'Donovan (Limerick County, Fine Gael)
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When the Taoiseach appointed me as Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, he asked me to fulfil the same role as my predecessor, Deputy Michael Ring, and I am working on the basis of that continuity. The responsibilities that were devolved to Deputy Ring as Minister of State at the time are now my responsibilities. The sports capital programme is one of the areas of responsibility that the Cabinet has delegated to me and that has been agreed within the Department itself.

Very little legislation covers our Department relating to tourism and sport and so people often wonder about the statutory basis for our actions. If there are very few statutes pertaining to a Department, it can look as if a Minister or Minister of State's statutory responsibilities are narrow. Ministers of State are appointed by the Cabinet as opposed to the Taoiseach and their responsibilities, which are agreed internally within the relevant Department, are actually quite wide ranging, covering tourism promotion right through to sport.

In terms of the issue before the House today, I would point out that I have had a number of meetings with departmental officials over the last few months to discuss the sports capital programme, which is of huge significance to me. I insisted that it be included in the budget speech by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. The sports capital programme for 2017 is now with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform for final sign off. I hope it will be signed off in the next couple of weeks and then we will be in a position to open the applications process.

I am sure Senator O'Mahony would agree that it is important to empower as many people as possible to get the maximum number of valid applications. I have no interest in invalid applications. The more valid applications the Department receives, the more money it can request from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform going forward. Another crucially important part of the next sports capital programme is the fact that it is annualised, as per the commitment in the programme for Government. As the Minister of State with responsibility for delivering that element of the programme for Government, I am absolutely committed to ensuring that the programme will not be rolled out on a haphazard basis any more. The question of whether the Government will or will not fund another programme will not arise. There is a firm commitment from the Government in that regard. It is part of the programme for Government and it is my job to make sure that the commitment is fulfilled.

Finally, I draw the attention of the House to today's launch of Ireland's bid to host the Rugby World Cup in 2023. This is a fantastic opportunity for the island of Ireland. As Minister of State with responsibility for sport, I really value the work of the IRFU on the bid and crucially, the co-operation of the GAA in facilitating it. I would urge the House to use the opportunity on the Order of Business, when it is discussing matters of importance, to raise that crucial issue. It is wonderful to see the IRFU and the GAA working together in a collaborative way alongside the Northern Ireland Executive and the Irish Government to deliver what will be a phenomenal sporting occasion for the island of Ireland.

Sitting suspended at 3.15 p.m. and resumed at 3.30 p.m.