Thursday, 22 June 2017
The next matter is in the name of Senator Tim Lombard. I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Brendan Griffin, to the House. I wish him every success and good luck in his new role. I hope when he travels through places like Castlemaine, Annascaul and Inch on his way home tonight, that he will not damage the environment with bonfires. I wish him well.
I welcome the new Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Griffin, to the Chamber. I congratulate him on his elevation to high office and wish him the best of luck. It is a great honour for him and I am sure he will bring his expertise on the sporting field to his new role. I am very sure that this little tussle this morning will be like a Cork v.Kerry Munster final. I am sure it will go very well.
I am more of a hurling man myself. I call on the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport to develop a strategy to increase funding for, recognition of and participation in female sport. It is a very important issue that we as a community, society and Government need to work on. There are a myriad of problems in female sport at the moment. One of the key issues is the very high dropout rate. The participation rates for teens are fine, but the fall-off rate for females in their 20s and 30s is high and that must be examined. We have a small percentage of female coaches and administration staff. That is a core issue we need to look at in order that we can build the dynamic of female sport in Ireland. The knock-on effect of that is that we have tiny audiences watching female sports and we do not have the same quality of sponsorship as that available to the male equivalents. Those keys issues have a major knock-on effect on access and equality of opportunity for women to participate in female sports. We should have a proactive strategy put in place to ensure women have the opportunity to compete at the highest possible level if they so wish. More importantly, we must ensure access to opportunity at every level, and the development of a national strategy is a key issue in that regard. Such a national strategy must identify existing barriers. Government must work with all stakeholders to ensure those barriers can be lifted. Key issues such as funding, participation and the recognition of females in sport in Ireland need to be addressed. These are important issues for the dynamic of society.
We have seen what has been done in other jurisdictions to promote female sports. The UK had a dedicated female sports week based on the theme of more women, more activities. This is one of the issues the Government must take on board in order that a proactive plan is put in place to ensure we can break down existing barriers. Funding is a key issue. Funding of amenities and access must be prioritised for female sports.Whether it is for the basic infrastructure or administration and coaching, funding is important to ensure the basic infrastructure is there in order that women who want to participate have the opportunity to so do. Recognition is important. We need to build on our sporting ambassadors. We have all seen male sporting ambassadors, whether on the Lions tour or a local GAA team. We need to recognise our female sporting ambassadors and need to ensure they are recognised. They need to be the role models for the next generation. It has to be an active part of this strategy. We must recognise our sporting ambassadors in order that we can promote our sports on the back of them. Participation is key as we need to ensure participation levels in female sports in Ireland increase and for that to happen, we need a national strategy. It will involve getting all of the stakeholders together and coming together with an overall plan in order that we can actually deliver this on the ground. It has happened in other jurisdictions. I am sure the Minister of State has a great grasp of the sporting psyche. I hope he can use his initiative on the ground to enable the promotion of female sports in Ireland and the achievement of what is very achievable. In the future, it will benefit both female sports and society.
As this is my debut in the Seanad, it is a bit daunting. Not only is it my first day addressing the Seanad but I am also surrounded by two Corkmen. For a Kerryman, it is always a dangerous situation to have one in front and one behind but I will do my best. I thank Senator Lombard for raising this very important matter. As Minister of State with responsibility for sport, the participation of women in sport is hugely important to me. Increased levels is also what I want to see. The Senator's Commencement matter is timely because it is something I see as a priority. This debate also gives me an opportunity to outline the actions the Department is taking in sport in general and to foster a greater level of participation by women in sport.
The Department is developing a new national sports policy, which will provide a framework for sport in Ireland over the next ten years. It will set the agenda for Sport Ireland, which already has specific legislative responsibilities in this area. The new sports policy is being developed following a highly consultative approach. The Minister, Deputy Ross, along with my predecessor, Deputy O’Donovan, launched a very successful consultation last November. A total of 53 submissions were received from a variety of stakeholders including national governing bodies of sport, local sports partnerships, Departments, private individuals and the corporate sector. These submissions, all of which have been published on my Department's website, dealt with a wide range of topics. Senator Lombard will be interested to note that the issue of women in sport was addressed by several of these submissions. The new national sports policy is still at the drafting stage. The aim is to have it ready for consideration by Government immediately following the summer break. It is something on which I hope to do an awful lot of work between now and then. While I am not in a position today to indicate the nature and scope of future policy actions or initiatives, I can indicate it will have a strong focus on the need for increased participation in sport and physical activity generally. Although it will, necessarily, have a population-wide focus, I anticipate it will address particular issues surrounding the participation of women in sport.
Sport Ireland already has a specific function to exercise under its legislative mandate. It is required to develop strategies for increasing participation in recreational sport at national and local level, which contains a strong women-in-sport component. Sport Ireland is extremely active in this area and is delivering an impressive array of actions to promote participation in sport and physical activity among adult women, teenagers and primary school girls. Due to time constraints, it is not possible for me to go into the details of those actions but I will be glad to provide the Senator with details afterwards and to discuss the matter further with him.
I will take this opportunity to outline three areas I believe are very important for women’s sport. First, with regard to how the public consumes women's sport, we need to achieve a greater level of exposure through broadcasting. Some broadcasters are doing excellent work; some could do more. It would benefit participation levels if we could see greater work on that. If Departments, agencies and broadcasters could work together, we would achieve great progress. I acknowledge the role of certain broadcasters who are doing a really good job already on that front.
The Senator mentioned the drop-off levels for girls on becoming teenagers and going into young adulthood. Some excellent work is being done at second and third level and we have a great opportunity and a captive audience to try to do more. I would like to see a greater focus in the Department on working with those who already are doing great work to try to bring it on further.
It is extremely important that there is equality of opportunity. The theme of the Senator's contribution was very much based on that. We should have a situation where all women have the same chances to take up sport as their male counterparts. Before I got my current job, I was researching the Title IX measure in the United States, which encourages schools and colleges to increase participation levels by ensuring a non-discriminatory approach in federal funding for male and female participants in sport. It is something that started back in the 1970s. The results have been astounding. My sister-in-law, who is from California, brought this to my attention. I was discussing it with her recently. It is a very interesting topic and something we need to discuss further.
Progress is being made and we will be focusing through the new sports policy on greater participation levels by women in sport across the board. There is no doubt it will require further funding and hopefully as a country we will be in a better place to do that in the time ahead. The overall long-term savings of participation in sport, from a monetary point of view, are enormous. More importantly, from a human point of view, physical activity is probably the best thing anybody can do. It is something we really need to encourage more.
I look forward to developing this policy further in my new role and to further consultation with all of the stakeholders. The Senator clearly has an interest in this. I am very willing to work with him throughout the summer, to take whatever ideas and suggestions he has and to try to incorporate the good ideas into this sports policy. It is the same for all Oireachtas Members and anybody with an interest in this. It is important we get this right and get the best possible plan in place going into the future.