Tuesday, 18 May 2021
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I have put down this matter to ask the Minister for Defence if he will make a statement on the use of Defence Forces playing fields in the Dublin 6 and Dublin 6W areas by local sports clubs.
This relates to an ongoing issue which has been the subject of some correspondence between the Minister and me and has been the subject of a motion before Dublin City Council. It relates to the serious lack of playing fields and sports amenities for local children in the Rathmines, Ranelagh and Harold's Cross areas. Councillor Mary Freehill, our local Labour Party councillor, and I have been working for some time to try to secure access to playing fields for local children and their sports clubs because of this serious shortage.
We have requested the Minister for Defence to make available greater access in particular to the playing fields at Cathal Brugha Barracks. These barracks have a playing field on the southern end, which has been well-established as a playing field for many decades. Local sports clubs currently have access, notably Ranelagh Gaels and Portobello GAA. However, the Ranelagh Gaels club, in particular, is growing fast and has large numbers of children. The access is not sufficient.
We are glad to see the significant increase in demand for playing fields in recent years. It is partly due to a welcome rise in the participation of young girls in sport. Ranelagh Gaels projects it will have equal participation between girls and boys by 2023. However, because there are no other publicly owned playing fields in the Rathmines area, the lack of access to facilities is hampering the growth of the clubs and the development of children's sports.I wrote to the Minister for Defence, Deputy Coveney, on this matter in April. My colleague, Councillor Mary Freehill, put down a motion at Dublin City Council on 12 April to transfer the pitch to council ownership in order to rezone it as Z9 to preserve, provide and improve recreational amenities, open space and green networks in the area. The transfer would enable the council to invest in the pitch and develop the facilities there as an important public amenity. Unfortunately, the Minister has responded by saying that the fields are used as training fields by the Defence Forces and he is not willing to accede to the request that the aforementioned motion be supported.
I am raising this as a Commencement matter to ask the Minister to commit to providing greater access to the fields for the local clubs. Opening up the grounds could serve local primary and secondary schools as well, including the new Educate Together schools campus on Harold's Cross Road, near the old greyhound stadium site. Those schools, both primary and secondary, are looking for access to playing fields. All children and young people in the area should be enabled, facilitated and encouraged to play sport in recognition of the essential role exercise plays in their development and well-being. We have all become very conscious over the last year or more of the enormous loss to children and young people, not just of school and education through prolonged school closures but also of other development opportunities through the lack of availability of sports training and extra-curricular activities.
According to the Government's own website, the Defence Forces property portfolio consists of approximately 70 sites, with lands comprising approximately 21,000 acres. Clearly Cathal Brugha Barracks is a small part of that but in relative terms in the area, it comprises a large green space that is publicly owned and that should be made available, in an enhanced way, to local clubs. Those clubs really would benefit from the development of facilities there. I also speak here in my capacity as a parent. My own children have played sport there so I am well aware of what is there and I understand the importance of that green space to the local area. It could benefit from greater development and greater access to clubs and local people.
I thank the Senator for raising this matter and for giving me the opportunity to respond on behalf of the Minister for Defence, Deputy Coveney.
Since the establishment of the Defence Forces, it has been a long-standing practice to allow sporting organisations and local community groups access to military lands. This policy reflects the importance to the Defence Forces of being front and centre within the communities in which their military installations are located. In 2019, in a pre-Covid context, in excess of 100 sporting organisations and community groups throughout the country were facilitated by having access to military property. This is a proud tradition which has served both the Defence Forces and generations within communities in good stead and I am happy to say that it is intended that this practice will continue into the future.
The Department of Defence receives numerous requests for the use of Defence Forces facilities throughout the country and always endeavours to process any application for use in a fair, equitable and community-centred fashion. In relation to the playing pitches at Cathal Brugha Barracks, the Department fully appreciates that the lack of facilities available to sporting groups in the Dublin 6 and Dublin 6W areas is a huge challenge and, as such, it authorises the use of these pitches to two GAA clubs in particular. Indeed, more than 40 hours of use every week is authorised to these clubs on the military training field. The question of how the clubs use their individual allocations is a matter for themselves and the Senator will appreciate that it would not be appropriate to prioritise one club at the expense of another.
The military training field is actively used by the Defence Forces for induction, team sports and military training on a regular basis. In these circumstances, it is paramount that the Defence Forces maintains this training field in Cathal Brugha Barracks which provides an appropriate, safe and secure location for military training. However, the Senator can be assured that the Defence Forces will continue to facilitate use of the facility, outside of military exigencies, by a number of local sporting organisations and schools in the Dublin 6 and Dublin 6W community. Again, I thank the Senator for raising the matter.
I thank the Minister of State for the response and for the stated commitment that the Defence Forces will continue to play a role in the community by facilitating sporting organisations and schools to use its facility. I recognise, as does everyone, the enormous contribution of the Defence Forces to the community and should have stated that at the outset. It is very much appreciated that the Defence Forces training pitches and playing fields are made available for use by local communities, not just in Dublin but across the country. That is very much recognised and appreciated and I certainly did not mean to suggest otherwise. However, I hope the Minister of State will relay to the Minister for Defence, Deputy Coveney, the serious wish of the local community that there would be continued engagement with the Defence Forces on enhanced use of the fields at Cathal Brugha Barracks in Rathmines by local clubs and schools beyond the usage arrangements that are currently in place. I look forward to continued engagement with the Minister and the Department on this matter and I know that Councillor Freehill, other local councillors and local clubs look forward to that engagement too.
I thank the Senator for her interest in the matter. I assure her that it is not intended to dispose of any aspect of the military installation and that all of those availing of the facilities at Cathal Brugha Barracks will continue to be able to do so.