Skip to main content
Normal View

Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 28 Apr 1998

Vol. 490 No. 2

Private Members' Business. - National Sports Council of Ireland Bill, 1998: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I wish to share my time with Deputy Neville.

Acting Chairman

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I am concerned that the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation has not introduced the necessary proposals as speedily as I would wish to develop sport in Ireland. Almost 12 months after his appointment we are still waiting for him to publish a drug testing and education programme for sport, the publication of the review of the report on outdoor leisure facilities and, of course, the most vital element in the development of sport, the long promised independent statutory sports council.

When I was appointed Minister of State at the Department of Education with responsibility for youth affairs and sport in December 1994 I quickly discovered that there was no overall plan for sport in Ireland. I also realised that sport was not attracting adequate Exchequer or national lottery funding because of the absence of such a plan.

If a businessman or businesswoman approaches a bank without an overall business plan he or she will not attract the necessary financial resources to develop his or her business. A similar situation existed for the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation because, in the absence of a plan, his efforts to attract sufficient funding was badly hindered. Many of the decisions made on sport were of an ad hoc nature. I quickly decided this had to change and I therefore set about developing a national plan for sport to ensure that, first, funding for sport is utilised to its optimum value; second, there is a formal plan to provide an attractive opportunity to participate in sport; and third, we enhance the avenues open to our sports people to develop their talents to their full capacity.

John Treacy was appointed to compile a national plan and after wide consultation involving public meetings throughout the country and the receipt of almost 400 detailed submissions from organisations, the national plan was finalised and published in February 1997. The establishment of the new statutory sports council was to be the key development consequent on the work of the strategy group which produced the plan. The mandate for the new statutory sports council can be summarised as the promotion, co-ordination and development of sport in Ireland, and especially the playing of a lead role in this regard.

The six main strands of the work of the new council, as recommended in the national plan, would be to deal first, with sport for young people; second, recreational sport or sport for all; third, high performance sport; fourth, sports facilities and natural resources; fifth, sports training and development; and sixth, the co-ordination of sport throughout Ireland.

Proposals contained in the Bill to achieve these objectives are included in the main functions of the proposed council as set out. These functions are, first, to prepare and review periodically a national programme of action; second, to exercise a national management function in relation to ensuring the implementation of the national programme; third, to control and administer the funding of all national lottery funding allocated to sport and related activities; fourth, to prepare in relation to every financial year a statement based, as far as possible, on the national programme and including the requirements and proposals of every sporting and recreational institution in receipt of moneys from the State; fifth, to submit a statement, together with the council's observations and recommendations, to the Minister for further consideration after consultation with the Minister for Finance; sixth, to publish details of the financial allocations finally approved as a sports budget for the year in question, together with a report on the current status of a national policy for sport and the implementation of the national programmes, and these to be laid by the Minister before the Houses of the Oireachtas; and seventh, to advise on proposals for the provision of new facilities or the improvement of existing facilities and to report, as a major function, appreciation of the value of sport.

It goes without saying that Irish people love their sport and either play or follow a wide range of sporting activities. However, sport has not yet managed to attract the necessary resources to cater adequately for their sporting needs, which cover a wide range of activities including organised competitive sport, recreational sport and active leisure pursuits within the sport for all concept.

The value of participation in sport and active leisure pursuits and the physical, psychological and social development of individuals is well documented and accepted. Irish people have become increasingly concerned about issues affecting health and well being and are more aware than ever of the value and pleasure of physical exercise in sport. However, this is not always accompanied by a readiness to take part in any form of regular exercise. There is a need, therefore, to translate this awareness into regular participation.

To achieve a balanced lifestyle, involvement in sport is essential because it is necessary for healthy living, enjoyment and socialisation. It also has the capacity to promote increased economic activity, not only through the manufacture and supply of equipment but as an important and growing service industry within the community and as an asset in attracting foreign tourists.

Outstanding performance by Irish sportspersons in the international arena increases morale at home and enhances the country's prestige and image internationally. I congratulate Catherina McKiernan on her performance last Sunday. It lifted the morale of people throughout the country, which was reflected in the joy and celebration at her success.

A very important issue is the pressure on young people, who are often the target of drug pushers and criminals. With youth services, sport provides an alternative source of entertainment, activity and interest for them. They are the greatest preventative element in the fight against crime and drugs. A modest investment in sport and recreation, especially in the activities of young people, avoids the need for even greater investment in prisons and health services to deal with the problems that can arise with young people subsequently if they are not attracted into positive activities. That has been borne out in our communities and in every town and city.

The main aims of any sports policy must be to facilitate individuals and groups to participate in physical recreation and sporting activity and to offer appropriate opportunities for every person, regardless of sex, age or ability, to continue the practice of sport and physical recreation throughout their life. The basic aim of sports policy and the sports council will be to continue to ensure that people with an interest and ability have a chance to improve their standards of performance in sport and to make sport a career.

The submissions received by the group which formulated the national plan for sport showed the depth of interest and involvement by thousands of volunteers throughout the country in a national effort which has not been properly supported, financed or developed. The benefits of sporting activities and the breath and depth of voluntary activity can be enhanced and supported by the work of a statutory council and can be evaluated in terms of health and lifestyle through the enhancement of levels of health and well being, the reduction of levels of illness and disease and the reduction of the incidence of accidents.

The co-operation which exists between the two sports councils can be brought to a new level under the Northern Ireland Agreement in a social context, through the creation of a spirit of co-operation between the peoples of all of this island, irrespective of status, gender or ability, and through providing a positive alternative to a life of crime and social disaster. Great potential exists to develop a programme of capital investment for Border areas and a programme of co-operation in relation to activities that would bring together coaching systems that often do not have the same accreditation. There should be a specific programme where the Northern Ireland Sports Council and the proposed statutory sports council could come together to share a programme of development for all of the island.

In the area of culture sport can be a significant and enriching part of Irish culture and identity. In the area of education it can be promoted through the development of physical potential as an essential part of the lifelong education of Irish people. In the area of tourism it can be developed through providing a source of tourism earnings. Studies have shown that at least one third of visitors take part in some sports related activity during their stay and the availability of sports facilities is a major factor in decisions to holiday here.

In terms of economic spin-off, sport is an important source of employment with major potential for expansion, which has not been positively exploited. Sports related activities generate in excess of 11,000 full-time and part-time jobs or 8,000 full-time equivalent jobs. The inclusion of sports spending on media, travel and tourism raises that figure to more than 18,000 full-time jobs together with the accompanying benefits to the State through PAYE, PRSI, VAT and other taxes.

In the publication of the National Plan for Sport, of which the proposal for a statutory sports council is an integral part, the previous Government set aside £1.6 million per annum over a period of three years to allow the sports council to develop its activities. Those moneys cover the cost of a technical sports team within the sports council who would launch and develop the work of the council.

With the publication of the National Plan for Sport in February 1997, it was generally accepted by all political parties, which were all consulted, that a greater political effort should be made to develop sport and leisure here and that there should be greater co-ordination and centralisation of planning within Government, as many activities within the sport and the leisure sector were scattered through a number of Departments. For example, greyhound and horse racing are the responsibility of the Department of Agriculture and Food, the Department of Health and Children has certain responsibilities for sport in its health promotion campaigns, the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation has responsibility to attract major sporting events to this country and the Department of Education and Science has responsibility for the development of sport in our schools.

I am concerned to develop a greater level of participation in sport and leisure among all our children and that a proper introduction to sport and recreation is given to children at the earliest possible time in the education system. I have used the argument that if a child develops an interest in sport at an early time in school, that child will remain involved throughout his or her life. Despite being in Government for nearly a year, I am concerned that the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation and the Minister for Education and Science have made no solid decisions on the role of sport in our educational system starting at primary level. The unfortunate position is that at primary school level there are no official physical education sessions. A number of aspirational speeches have been made, but I have been waiting months for the Department of Education and Science or the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation to give a commitment on one of the key principles of the National Plan for Sport, the development of sport in a greater way in our primary schools.

The Department of Education and Science should insist that the minimum specific time period per week for sport is adhered to in all primary schools. At present, the regulations require that each primary school designate possibly one half hour per week to physical education, but I question if that is being adhered to. I ask that this matter be examined.

The Minister for Education and Science, who seems to have a bottomless source of funding, should have announced the appointment of physical education teachers in primary schools, especially those schools which are seriously disadvantaged. As a start the Minister could introduce a flexible system whereby physical education teachers could be appointed and shared among a number of primary schools in an area or shared between primary schools and secondary schools who may already have physical education teachers.

The Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation announced he will launch a new capital recreation scheme plan in the autumn. I hope he will take into account the exercise initiated some time ago when I asked that a quantitative and qualitative analysis be carried out on facilities throughout the country. The lack of facilities is a serious problem for many schools and a scheme should be developed where existing facilities and sports halls, which may be open for a few hours Monday to Friday and closed at the weekends, could be available to communities and community-based facilities should be available to schools. A little flexibility and an imaginative capital programme along those lines would deal with the problem over a period of years.

It is only the presence of a statutory sports council with the necessary resources and staff, in conjunction with the relevant Ministers, that can drive a programme such as this. There are about 850 physical education teachers in secondary schools throughout the country and only 50 per cent of all schools have a physical education teacher. There is an urgent need for increased funding for more designated physical education teachers and every school should have access to a physical education teacher. Recreation, physical education and sport are not among the current leaving certificate subjects, but they should be made part of that curriculum as quickly as possible and should be accredited, as the old axiom of no accreditation and very little evaluation is true in this case.

I am extremely concerned about the large number of school sports facilities which remain closed and unused at evening time and at weekends. Insurance problems are often barriers to the use of those facilities, but often those problems are used as an excuse to keep those facilities closed to the surrounding community. There is evidence of that in a very disadvantaged area in my city where ultra modern facilities are closed from Friday 3 p.m. No only are the gates padlocked, but the bars of the gate are greased to stop young people gaining access to those facilities. We all have a responsibility to ensure that practice is eliminated. If we made the maximum use of existing facilities, we could run an effective capital programme.

This country needs a statutory sports council to deal with problems that confront our athletes who wish to compete at the highest national and international level and athletes who have disabilities and who need to develop their skills and abilities. We need a statutory sports council to deal with the developing role of the National Coaching and Training Centre in the University of Limerick, which has its own board and is a vital cog in the development of sport in Ireland. We need a statutory sports council sooner rather than later to deal with the issue of national, regional and local capital projects such as a 50 metre pool and a national stadium.

A statutory sports council is the best body to deal with the various Government Departments and local authorities involved in the spatial development of our cities and towns. A council could be the catalyst to bring about a total review of planning and development of lands in relation to, for example, the housing programme.

Serious and grievous mistakes of the past must never be repeated in our towns and cities. Any future major developments, such as housing schemes, must include adequate sport and recreational facilities. There should not be random open spaces but planned facilities in housing estates. The planning Acts and regulations must be changed to give the planning authorities powers to impose conditions which will ensure the provision of sporting and recreation facilities in new developments and that private developers make a contribution towards the provision of such facilities.

Exchequer and lottery funding for sport through the years has been inadequate to meet the needs of organisations and communities. The publication and implementation of the national plan for sport must bring about greater State investment in the development of facilities. However, public investment must be coupled with private investment. Only a statutory sports council with the expertise and staff can provide adequate structures to ensure that significant incentives can be put in place to attract private investment in sport.

A new approach to the provision of facilities must be put in place with the use of State funding coupled with private investment. Therefore, one of the priority issues to be confronted by a statutory sports council would be the encouragement of private enterprise funding. The council must ensure that Government provides a greater incentive for private investors to invest in or donate funds to projects approved by it. These incentives should include tax relief and allowances similar to the urban renewal and Temple Bar schemes. Contributions to approved projects by private investors should be allowed for tax purposes and the use of covenants for sport and recreation projects should be considered. However, in terms of qualification for schemes, the sports council should be the certifying authority and co-operate with the Revenue Commissioners to ensure proper control of the schemes.

The Bill, which proposes the establishment of a national sports council, provides the structures which will allow all this to happen over a number of years. The previous Government brought about major changes in the funding arrangements for sporting organisations. It also put forward the proposal to create new structures as outlined in the national plan for sport. The impetus provided at the time must not be slowed down by lack of decisions. I ask the Government to accept the Bill on Second Stage. We should not divide politically on it and any differences can be teased out on Committee Stage.

One of the proposals outlined in the Bill by Fine Gael is that the allocation of capital grants to sporting projects from the national lottery should be taken out of the political arena. All previous Governments have acted in good faith in the allocation of national lottery funds to sporting organisations. However, the perception in the community is that political connections secure funding for projects rather than the merit of the projects. The national sports council should have the responsibility of deciding how these funds should be allocated and 25 per cent of total national lottery funds should be allocated to sport over a number of years. This was recommended by the national plan for sport as the minimum public funding required for the proper development of sport in Ireland.

The Bill is a positive measure. The Government and the Opposition should work in co-operation to develop an effective statutory council which would deliver a sporting infrastructure and a system which would address the needs of the people.

I welcome the Bill which proposes the establishment of a national sports council. I congratulate Deputy Allen on his research and the work he put into the Bill. He gained his expertise in this area during his time as Minister of State with responsibility for sport. Deputy Allen brought sport into the political arena during his time in office and applied the influence of politics to the co-ordination and development of sport. He raised awareness of sport in the political arena. He brought about the realisation that politicians and the Government have a role to play in developing sport.

Sport has always been important in people's lives. It was played in prehistoric times and is featured in various legends, for example, the legend of Fionn Mac Cumhaill. The art of hurling has been modified and developed but it existed in prehistoric times. People have been engaged in sport throughout the centuries and it is time it was developed in a co-ordinated manner. Sport is most important to communities. In rural areas, it is often the driving force behind the leadership of the communities. The GAA has an important role in rural areas but other sporting organisations, particularly soccer and rugby associations, also play a major part. I come from the Limerick city area where rugby is a major sport. We had a great outing in Dublin last weekend and showed the people of this city how it should be played. I hope they learn from us.

They need to.

Sport is an important issue in communities. People who are leaders in the sporting arena often become leaders in their communities and take on various roles. It is surprising how often people who are good at sport and are involved in its administration become involved in community councils, the farming organisations and trade unions. Sport plays an important part in urban and rural communities in terms of their development at local level. I come from a rural area and I am most conscious of the contribution of sporting organisations to the life and pride of small local communities.

Sport is most important for children in terms of developing competitiveness, team work and the need to co-operate towards the objective of participating in and winning games. The former Minister of State, Deputy Allen, mentioned the need to introduce young children to sport in a proper manner. In this regard I pay special tribute to the work of the community games organisation in developing sport. I have been heavily involved in that area for many years at county level in Limerick and I am aware of the excellent work the organisation has done for young children who would not otherwise have had the opportunity to participate in various sports. This is particularly the case for girls. Boys had the opportunity to get involved in hurling, football or soccer at a young age but in rural areas there was often no outlet for young girls. The community games organisation changed that position. From age seven upwards they can participate fully in games, such as hockey, camogie, football and a range of other sports.

Before the community games organisation, some children in rural areas did not know how to play certain sports, such as rounders. However, people from the county organisation showed them how to play the games at an early age. Young people in rural and certain urban areas would not have had this opportunity but for the involvement, work and self-sacrifice of all those involved in the community games organisation since its foundation.

We are now considering sport for all, right up to old age. All people should have the opportunity to become involved in leisure activities involving sport. The increase in the number of people playing golf is evident and it is particularly attractive to people over 30 years. It is important that there is an opportunity for participation in sport for those who are past the age for competitive games. Such an opportunity was available only to the elite in former times.

Sport is very important for our national prestige. Deputy Allen mentioned successes such as Shannon and Garryowen last week. Catherina McKiernan's victory brought national prestige to this country. We all feel proud when our international athletes represent us with success abroad. There was a great upsurge of emotion when Michelle Smith-de Bruin won Olympic medals and when Jack Charlton and his team won important games. The nation is very proud of those achievements.

Sport has a vital role to play in our lives. It is important that a body such as the National Sports Council of Ireland, as proposed by Deputy Allen, should have full authority to co-ordinate, develop and plan for the future of sport and ensure adequate funding is available from the Government. Professional submissions should be presented to justify a greater level of funding for sport. Funding from the taxpayer must be fully justified and evaluated. A body such as that proposed would have a strong role in developing sport and the taxpayer would be proud to contribute to it. The present level of funding, while much improved on that of previous decades, is totally inadequate. Without the success of the national lottery, the cupboard would be bare. The national lottery has encouraged and helped many local communities in developing sports facilities which their economic base would not allow them to do. Small communities and rural parishes have provided excellent facilities with the help of the national lottery, to which I pay tribute.

Young people, particularly young males, are under much pressure from society. Greater involvement in sport would allow those people to express their frustrations and facilitate their well-being. As a person who has considered the pressures on young people through my involvement in the suicide association, I am amazed at the changes in society and the pressures on young people. There are educational pressures, but society puts other pressures on young people which force them into alcohol and drug taking as a way of coping. There is also peer pressure on young people to take alcohol and drugs. Young people should be encouraged to express their frustrations through sports activities.

I wish to share the remainder of my time with Deputy Perry.

I compliment Deputy Allen on this very important legislation, an Act to make provision for the promotion, co-ordination and development of sport in Ireland and for these purposes to establish a body to be known as the National Sports Council of Ireland to define the functions and provide for other matters connected with the matters aforesaid. Deputy Allen, in introducing this Private Members' Bill, aims to establish the National Sports Council of Ireland as a statutory independent State-sponsored body. That council would replace the existing Irish Sports Council and would be responsible for allocating national lottery funding to sports projects. The main proposal of the Bill, to take out of the political arena the allocation of capital grants to sporting projects from the national lottery, is a very important step. The second main proposal is to restore funding so that 25 per cent of total lottery funds is allocated to sport, which is crucial. The national plan for sports recommended as a minimum requirement the proper development of sports throughout the country.

Fine Gael introduced this Bill to give effect to the national plan for sport recommendations because the Government failed to bring forward the necessary legislation, even though most of the preparatory work had been done by the previous Government. I was disappointed the Minister, Deputy McDaid, indicated today that he would bring forward a Bill later in the year. Now is the time to introduce such a Bill. As we approach the new millennium, sport should be one of our biggest industries because it has a great deal to offer.

Lack of money and lack of planning are the major difficulties facing the development of sport. Lack of planning and structures in Government spending on sport was highlighted last year by one of the most comprehensive studies ever undertaken. The overall thrust of the report, which amounted to 109 pages, is that there is a piecemeal approach to sport. Funding for facilities and coaching, particularly at community level, comes from a variety of sources such as the national lottery, the Department of Education and Science, the Department of the Environment and Local Government, the EU Operational Programme for Tourism, local authorities and the private sector. There are no structured links between those diverse groups. There must be a co-ordinated approach to the funding of sport. At present applications are made to various bodies for funding. A comprehensive group dealing exclusively with applications would be much fairer. There is need for the development of all sports facilities in the Republic.

As a person who sold national lottery tickets, I am disappointed that in the past week, out of an allocation of £4 million to sports, not one application was granted in Sligo. Three important applications were refused, one of which came from Banada where an application for £5,000 was turned down. In Carrowroe in Sligo an application for a major sports facility incorporating soccer, Gaelic games and an all-purpose athletic track was turned down. On my way to Dublin I heard on the radio that the institute of technology in Sligo applied for funding for an all-weather track on the college campus and that too was turned down. I agree that 25 per cent of national lottery funding should be channelled into sport, but there should be a fair spread of funding throughout the country. Applications should be considered on the basis of the number of national lottery ticket sales per county. It is sad that not one pound of funding was granted to those much needed projects in Sligo.

This week I was saddened to hear that the Equestrian games, which were due to be held in Ireland this year, had been abandoned because of a shortfall of £2.5 million. This competition would have been staged at Punchestown and would have given a much needed boost to the equine industry, which needs a major promotion.

It is sad that funding was not made available for the Youth Olympic Games. Some 104 athletes and 35 officials were due to take part in this event. We talk of buoyancy in the economy, surplus funds and huge sales of lottery tickets. Funds since 1987 when the lottery started have declined. I compliment Deputy Allen on bringing forward this important Bill. It would give control of funding to a statutory body which would assess each application. I appeal to the Minister to accept Deputy Allen's Bill.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I extend the apologies of Deputy McDaid, Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation, for being unavailable this evening as he is on pressing Government business. He asked me to come to the House on his behalf, which I am pleased to do because I have a considerable interest in the area of sport and recreation and how it can impact on the lives of individuals and communities. I will return to this issue in the course of my contribution.

I listened with interest to Deputy Allen's speech in introducing the Bill and I commend him on his work in preparing it. There is common ground between the Deputy and the Government on the desirability of legislation. We also share the same overall objective of establishing an effective and dynamic sports council which will guide the development of sport into the 21st century. We both recognise the potential which sport has to offer in improving our society and are equally committed to ensuring that the State plays its part in capitalising on that potential.

Having said that, it is still imperative for me to reject the Deputy's recent accusations that the Minister was engaging in a public relations stunt by presenting the heads of a Bill to the Government on the same day as he was publishing his Private Members' Bill. Such comments demean the work he has undertaken in preparing this Bill and the public will not thank us for engaging in such politicising.

It was a major coincidence.

The Deputy also suggested that his Bill is a response to alleged Government inaction in bringing forward its own legislative proposals to give effect to recommendations in the National Plan for Sport. As he well knows, nothing is further from the truth. The importance of establishing a statutory sports council has been well recognised by this Government and is an intrinsic part of the programme for Government. Work is well under way on the drafting of our sports council Bill and I am confident the Government's Bill will be brought to the House in the very near future.

I am sure we can all agree that the question of who brings forward a Bill is unimportant. What is important, and what we are answerable to the public for, is the quality, effectiveness and durability of any legislation which we introduce. In this respect, I am satisfied that the legislation which the Government proposes to bring to the House will represent the best way forward.

I cannot overstate the importance of getting right the various core components of any legislation that breaks new ground in institutional development. In this regard, the Bill before the House is not the right beginning. It lacks the clarity and precision required of such important legislation. At times, it is far too specific and at other times far too general. It is poorly drafted and lacks balance, as between the need for having a council which, on the one hand, is in a position where it can exercise discretion in delivery of its services and on the other is fully accountable and responsible to the Minister and the Oireachtas for its actions. In summary, the Bill is unworkable. The resulting sports council would be totally ineffective in developing sport in the manner desired by both myself and the Deputy.

An example should illustrate my point. In relation to functions, the type of sports council proposed by the Deputy will be one very large organisation given the extent and nature of the functions he ascribes to it. It will be involved in advising, promoting, co-ordinating, developing, preparing, managing, disseminating, controlling, administering, participating, organising, etc. Furthermore, the Deputy proposes that the Minister be empowered to confer such additional functions on the council as he may consider necessary. I do not believe there are any additional functions available. While I fully agree with the Deputy that we must have checks and balances in relation to the activities of the council, it is vital that we avoid tying the council up in a bureaucratic knot, which would be the result of the Deputy's Bill.

The Government's legislative proposals for the establishment of a statutory sports council are at an advanced stage with the parliamentary draftsman's office. These proposals, and not the Bill before the House, will see the creation of a dynamic statutory sports council responsible for the development of sport into the next century and one which will better meet the needs of the sports sector.

I ask the Deputy to consider withdrawing his Bill on the understanding that the Minister will lose no time in bringing forward his Bill to the House. I hope we will have his support when the Bill is introduced and I am sure the Minister will listen to all reasonable points put forward by him in the course of these debates. If, on the other hand, the Deputy presses this to a vote on Second Stage, the Government will have no alternative but to oppose it.

This is the first Government to recognise the value of sport and its potential for contributing to an improved society. The Taoiseach stated in the Dáil on 26 June 1997:

There will be a new Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation to which I propose to transfer responsibility for local development subject to further consideration and consultation. Sport is for the first time being given full Cabinet status. I feel strongly that sport has the same importance for national well-being as, for example, arts and culture. Recent successes have given us an international profile, which is also helpful to the promotion of our tourism industry. We are not only talking about elite sports people who tend to receive the commentary but also giving people the opportunity to reach their potential.

Reflecting this Government's general dynamic approach to the development and promotion of sport, the sports council Bill has been specifically included in the programme for Government. It is concrete evidence of the Government's commitment to rapid action.

Let me give some examples of what has been achieved in the area of sport in the short time since the Minister and I took office, demonstrating that this Government has brought a new drive and momentum to the development of sport. I emphasise that the Bill which the Minister will soon bring forward is but one of a series of measures towards this end. It is part of a holistic approach which this Government has adopted to developing sport. Essential for the success of this holistic approach is that all elements are developed in an integrated and unified manner.

Sport has come to occupy an increasingly significant place in modern life worldwide. Its impact extends far beyond the playing pitches and athletic grounds. It has obvious benefits in promoting individual health and fitness as well as having a growing commercial and economic significance. Sporting achievements provide a morale boost for the country at large, focus international attention on our country and promote our image as an attractive place to visit and to invest in to generate new jobs. Our high achievers in sport are excellent ambassadors for modern Ireland, typifying as they do the self-confidence and commitment of today's generation of young people.

The Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation has had the following achievements. He has been able to secure a doubling in Government funding for sport from £13 million in 1997 to £26 million this year. Work is well advanced on a new card scheme for high performance athletes——

Already started.

—— which is well advanced and will support and develop the higher performance sector of sport, including emerging young sports people. It will also include scientific and medical support, career counselling, etc. Work is also well advanced on a national anti-doping programme. Funding for national governing bodies has already been allocated and £4.9 million in national lottery grants has been allocated to over 220 projects throughout the country under the existing sports capital programme. A review of the programme has begun in line with the commitment in the programme for Government.

Excluding the Croke Park project, spending on sport will increase by 46 per cent this year. As the first Cabinet Minister for Sport, the Minister is very proud of the fact that this is the biggest annual budget ever allocated by a Government for assisting developments in sport.

The increase will allow the development of important new initiatives. For example, the Government is particularly committed to tackling drug abuse in sport. The Sports Council Anti-Doping Advisory Committee sent its report to the Minister before Christmas, and it is intended to make an important announcement in this regard in the near future.

That was a long time ago, all that work was done.

It is almost there. The Deputy should be patient. Crucially, and for the first time, money to tackle drug abuse in sport has been provided by the Government.

The additional funding will also allow the Minister to introduce and systemise a range of supports to our most talented sportspersons. The scheme, which is at an advanced stage of development, will be known as the international carding scheme.

That was already in place.

It will assist top sportspersons to realise their full potential and to perform successfully at the highest international levels.

Some £3.6 million was recently allocated to sports governing bodies. These grants will go towards helping to meet a range of costs including organisational development, participation in major international events, hosting international events in Ireland and various equipment costs. The overall increased allocation allows for a 17 per cent increase in assistance for international competitions and training, reflecting the beginning of the build-up to the Centennial Olympics in Sydney. All these grants have been approved under a new, revised allocation system launched last January to replace the previous fragmented system built up piecemeal, especially since the mid-1980s.

The previous system required governing bodies to make separate applications for grant assistance under various different headings, such as organisation development, provision for international events, equipment grants, etc. Under the new arrangement, these requirements are covered within a single composite application. This benefits the governing bodies in that it facilitates better planning and targeting of programmes by the individual bodies.

That was all done also.

Indeed, the recent allocation is the earliest governing bodies have been made aware of the total level of funding available to them for any one year.

This approach will further evolve over the next few years whereby strategic plans to be prepared by the governing bodies will also be taken into account when determining funding allocations. These plans will be required to be consistent with the Government policy priorities on sport including increased participation by young people, women and people with disabilities and increased participation in sport in disadvantaged areas.

In addition to the £4.9 million recently allocated to over 220 new projects throughout the country under the sports capital programme, now under review, the Minister also secured an increase of £3 million in funding, £9 million in total, available this year for expenditure on projects previously approved and due for completion by the end of the year. This increase will facilitate speedy payment to clubs and groups who are currently completing or who have completed work on projects approved for grant-aid, including many approved prior to 1998.

The sports capital programme provides national lottery funding towards the provision of sports facilities at national, regional and local level. It is the primary vehicle for promoting the development of sport and recreational facilities and currently comprises the major facilities and recreational facilities schemes.

The development of a quality infrastructure is crucial to the future of sport which makes this programme so important. That is why my Department, having completed the examination of all applications on hands under the existing programme, is now beginning the review of the programme which the Minister announced in February last. Once again, this is just part of the ongoing developments under way in the Department which aim to achieve the key priorities for sport and leisure as set out in the Government's programme, An Action Programme for the Millennium. The review should be completed later this year when revised schemes will be widely publicised with clear eligibility criteria, and it will then be open to clubs and organisations to reapply for funding.

A highlight during 1997 was the Government's decision to support the bid of Special Olympics Ireland to host the Special Olympics in 2003.

That was done by Deputy Spring.

No. If successful, Ireland will be the first country to host the games outside the USA. We understand a decision is expected shortly.

The Minister is imagining things.

As we all know, the Ryder Cup event has been won for Ireland for the year 2005 and the Government has committed almost £0.5 million over each of the next eight years to ensure the event is organised to the highest standards and the promotional value is maximised. Enormous world-wide exposure for Irish golf will result from this outstanding achievement. Indeed, in the past few weeks, agreement was reached with the Swedish Academy to use Ireland as a training camp for golfers.

One of the Minister's key objectives is to broaden access to sport. There is a great need to increase the level of participation in sports and leisure in the most deprived and disadvantaged areas. We all recognise that sports and leisure alone cannot solve the drugs and crime problem. However, by providing motivation to young people in these areas, they can help foster a sense of confidence and self-esteem which can only assist in playing a vital role in the battle against drugs and crime. The development of proper facilities and the creation of a local level infrastructure will support the wider participation in sports and leisure activities.

As Minister of State at the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation, I have special responsibility for co-ordinating the Government's response to the drugs problem. I am acutely aware of the benefits of sport as a preventative strategy in our efforts to tackle problem drug use, particularly among young people.

The increased availability of drugs and their accessibility — due to reduced cost and prevailing social attitudes — has resulted in a situation where young people have become the most vulnerable category in terms of the threat drugs pose to individual communities and to society in general. Sport plays a key role in reaching out to children and young people who are unattached and isolated from their communities and from the formal education and training services. Active involvement in sport and physical recreation has an important preventative role in relation to drug abuse, as well as anti-social behaviour and crime.

Sports clubs — working in co-operation with other youth and community groups, statutory services and formal education — help to provide a coherent network of challenging and attractive opportunities for the marginalised, socially detached and economically deprived young person.

On 21 January last, the Government announced——


We provided the money so I suggest the Deputy should not go down that road.

The Minister cut the youth development fund——

The Minister of State, without interruption. Deputy Allen, the Minister did not interrupt you. It is a limited debate and I understand the Minister wishes to share his time with Deputy Conor Lenihan.

I ask Deputy Allen to allow the Minister continue.

As I said, the Government announced the establishment of a Young People's Facilities and Services Fund and provided the necessary money. Perhaps that is the difference between this Government and the Government of which Deputy Allen was a member.

The Minister of State should not be so petty.

We provided the money.

The Minister scrapped the youth development fund and, under public pressure, restored it under a different name.

Deputy Allen, I have asked you to allow the Minister of State to continue without interruption. You were not interrupted making your contribution.

I did not provoke the Minister.

It is a limited debate and, in fairness to the Minister of State and Deputy Lenihan, I ask you to allow him to continue without interruption.

I simply want to confirm that this Government provided the funding of £30 million. That was not easy to achieve but I am glad to have been part of the process whereby that money was provided. The purpose of the fund is to develop youth sport and leisure facilities and amenities in disadvantaged areas where a significant drug problem exists or has the potential to exist.

We are conscious that the provision of these facilities in itself will not necessarily attract young disadvantaged people — at risk of becoming involved in drugs — into more healthy and productive pursuits. For that reason, the fund will also assist the development of strategies and services to encourage young people to use the facilities and amenities which will be provided under this initiative. A sum of £30 million has been committed by the Government to the fund over the period 1998-2000 to support a variety of capital and non-capital projects. Some £20 million of this amount is being targeted at those areas particularly affected by the heroin problem. We are also actively encouraging the participation of the corporate sector in this initiative. I am well aware that there is a huge willingness on the part of business to contribute to the social and economic development of our young people. The detailed arrangements for the operation of the fund are currently being finalised and I will announce them in the very near future.

The Government's sports council Bill will be introduced shortly and I can assure the House that it reflects detailed and careful consideration of the issues. That is not to say that when the Bill is published the Minister will regard all of its provisions as written in stone — though they will be very solidly based — or that the Minister will not reflect carefully on what is said in this debate on Deputy Allen's Bill.

I have also spoken at some length about this Government's achievements in developing sport in the short period since its formation last year. These achievements are already a glowing testimony to this Government's belief in the importance of sport, not alone in terms of the achievements of our star performers but also with regard to the potential of sport for tackling the major problems which beset society. The sports council Bill which the Minister intends to bring to the House in the very near future is but one constituent of a multi-layered approach which this Government has taken towards the development of sport generally. The public interest in this area, as in all areas of public policy, is best served by comprehensive and effective legislative proposals. When the Government's sports council Bill is published in the near future we will be in a position very quickly to put strong and effective legislation on our Statute Book.

There is common ground between Deputy Allen and myself on the importance of introducing a Bill to establish the sports council on a statutory basis. The commitment is specifically included in the programme for Government because of its importance. It is not true, therefore, that the Minister has made any attempt to upstage Deputy Allen or that the Bill would not have come forward were it not for the Fine Gael Bill.

I congratulate the Deputy on his initiative in bringing forward proposals. He has obviously put much work into the Bill and is, like me, motivated by a strong desire to improve the environment in which sport is promoted and developed. However, the proposals which the Government will bring forward will result in a more effective Act which will better meet the needs of sport. For that reason, I once again ask Deputy Allen to consider withdrawing the Bill.

No time will be lost bringing the Government's Bill to the House. I am sure it will have the support of the Deputy when it is introduced and the Minister will, as always, listen to reasonable points put forward by him in the course of debates in this House. However, if the Deputy presses this to a vote on Second Stage, the Government will have no alternative but to oppose it.

I thank the Minister of State for the opportunity to speak in this debate. My constituency colleague, Deputy Flood, has set out the Government's position on sport and I find it odd that Deputy Allen does not share our optimism and our commitment to developing sport as one of our greatest natural resources and an area of natural advantage to the Irish people over the years. There appears to be some effort by Deputy Allen and his colleagues to take advantage of a situation to maximise publicity and be seen to be leading events.

It was all done before the Deputy was even elected to this House.

Deputy Allen is very skilled in this area, as I witnessed as a journalist, and I congratulate him on bringing about this debate which is important and timely. However, I cannot see how he could possible argue that this Government is not committed to sport. The decision of the Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, to bring responsibility for sport to the Cabinet table is evidence of our deep commitment. It is no secret that the Taoiseach is a sports fanatic. He has matched his own interest and enthusiasm by hard action in appointing a Cabinet Minister for sport. It is interesting that he has not dealt with sport in isolation. It has happened far too much in the past that sport has been relegated to a junior ministry. By putting it at the Cabinet table and giving the new Cabinet Minister for sport a mix of responsibilities involving local development, tourism, sport and recreation, Fianna Fail's deep commitment to the development of sport is evidenced. It shows also that we are approaching this issue in a very focused way. It is important that sport is not seen in isolation, as something that is watched on television by couch potatoes, but is an integral part of social policy and policies on the development of tourism. If we are to attract visitors to our country in a modern age, it is very important we have the right facilities which, more often than not, are sports and recreational facilities, and the infrastructure to support them.

More important, it is very important that sports policy be run in tandem with the development of social policy. Sport on its own will not solve the drug problem or the problem of social disadvantage. In the constituency that I share with the Minister of State, there are disadvantaged communities that have no access to vital facilities and infrastructure which is so important for the development of youth. We have made a commitment to the youth development fund, which has been increased to £30 million. That is a positive step that has been welcomed by every drugs task force around this city and, I would argue, in the areas of Cork represented by Deputy Allen.

I congratulate Deputy Allen on the timely way in which he introduced this Bill. It has led to a discussion and the Government will be introducing its proposals in time. It is very timely to have a debate in the context of the peace process. It is no accident that the North-South bodies will deal with this area specifically. It is high time we as a country, North and South, look at ways in which we can co-operate and share our infrastructural facilities with a view to hosting a major international sporting event. This would have huge significance in terms of revenue and projecting the country overseas. Some years ago Deputy Gay Mitchell championed the idea of Ireland hosting the Olympics. It may have been ambitious and it may have been before its time, but it was a timely reminder of the commitment we should be ready to make to sport and that we should reach for the stars by trying to get a major event of that kind. The European Soccer Championship might be a very realisable goal in the context of an all-Ireland approach whereby North and South could co-operate in providing facilities, stadia, etc. I appeal to the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation to set such an ambitious target, put the infrastructure in place, and try to achieve it. Some people would argue that the infrastructure is already there, the stadia and the mix of soccer and Gaelic Athletic Association games and that we may be in a position to host such an event. We should set such an ambitious target and, in the vernacular, go for it.

In the context of North-South bodies, I hope some effort will be made to unite the Irish soccer teams North and South of the Border so that we can make a fuller competitive challenge for a major international honour at European Championship and World Cup level. This would be very welcome and could be facilitated quite easily. I appeal to the Minister to do something, to knock heads together if possible, and bring about a united Irish soccer team to face into the outside world. That would be an important way of protecting ourselves on the international stage. I do not need to go back over, for the Members here, the advantages that accrued to this country as a result of our participation in the World Cup and the European Championship previously.

This Government's commitment is clear. We have given £20 million for Croke Park to be developed as a national stadium and that is a very important contribution, despite the criticisms that have been levelled against it. In my own area there are a great many clubs like St. Jude's, Faugh's and St. Mark's who have pitches which are not under their own control. The Minister should look at the possibility of allowing clubs to develop their facilities, even if it involves handing into their control local authority parkland.

I welcome Deputy Allen's timely contribution. It will not be supported by us because we have our own proposals which are more focused. I hope, when this Bill has been defeated, he will look at what this Government is doing and see that we are progressing this whole area to the advantage of the nation.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Ryan, who proposes to take the final ten minutes of our 30 minutes slot at the beginning of Private Members' Time tomorrow.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I compliment Deputy Allen who, as Minister of State with responsibility for sport in the Department of Education, put a great deal of work into legislation dealing with the National Sports Council of Ireland. This Bill is not perfect, and I will refer later to some of its imperfections, and while it is obvious it could be improved and amended on Committee Stage, I am surprised at the Government's attitude that it will vote it down if we are not prepared to withdraw it on the basis that it has a better Bill. We shall have to wait and see what that Bill is like. A great deal of work has gone into the preparation of Deputy Allen's Bill, much of it gained from his experience as Minister of State with responsibility in the area.

The Labour Party fully supports legislation to establish a National Sports Council of Ireland because sport is an essential part of life. We have a proud sporting tradition and, in recent years especially, we have broadened the range of sporting events in which we have achieved international excellence. Not only have our sportsmen and women excelled in their various fields but our fans and supporters have also added to the enjoyment and colour which accompanies these magnificent events across the globe. In that regard and like other speakers, I pay particular tribute to Catherina McKiernan who has brought joy to us all and tremendous pleasure and pride in her achievement of winning the London marathon. She and many other great athletes of recent times are an indication that, with recognition from the State in the form of assistance of the important contribution sport can make through the medium of a statutory sports council, these people would go on to surpass some of the better athletes in the world.

This international excellence has been accompanied by an expansion of the range of sports in which people can engage. This is a welcome development as it increases participation and allows all sections of the community to be involved in sport. However, it also presents us with certain challenges and we must recognise this and institute structures which accommodate and encourage the development of sport. To a certain extent, our sporting culture has developed in an ad hoc manner. The previous Government recognised this fact and took effective steps, through Deputy Allen, to rectify the situation. The document The Views of the Irish Sports Sector on the Future Development of Irish Sport and the other document Targeting Sporting Change in Ireland were critically important in the provision of a national sports strategy. I place on record my appreciation and that of the Labour Party for the work John Treacy and the members of the strategy group carried out in providing us with a comprehensive framework in which to develop our sporting policy. The proposal for a statutory sports council was a central part of the strategic action plan for sport contained in Targeting Sport Change in Ireland and triggered Deputy Allen's initiative in publishing this Bill. The Labour Party fully supports the recommendation of that report and will support this Bill, even though we would like to see amendments to it. A sports council should be established on a statutory footing as soon as possible as it will form a key element of our future sports strategy.

However, there are aspects in the publication of this Bill which concern me. In its recently published legislative programme, the Government indicated its intention to publish an Irish Sports Council Bill. This coincided with the publication of the Fine Gael Bill. I sincerely hope no party in this House seeks to make a political football out of the issues. We need effective legislation which will support and promote the development of sport and which will achieve the necessary widespread cross-party support necessary in both Houses. We do not need the issue to be used to the advantage of one side or the other because the major participants in sport, and Deputy Allen is aware of this more than anyone else, are the countless thousands of people involved on a voluntary basis. Those people need our incentive, our assistance and our understanding. They include parents and others throughout the country directly involved in the various sporting federations which give so much enjoyment to so many people.

Turning to the detail of the Bill, there are a number of points to which I would like to draw attention. I know Deputy Allen will not take offence because it is our intention to accept this Bill and improve it. Section 5 deals with the functions to be undertaken by the proposed National Sports Council. There are a number of serious omissions in this section which, if it did reach Committee Stage, which I doubt having listened to the Minister, the Labour Party would seek to address by way of amendment. For example, there is no specific reference in section 5 to the promotion of sporting opportunities for people with disabilities. These were referred to by the Minister. This is a serious omission and one which I find hard to understand. It is possibly an oversight, but it needs to be addressed. When the number of voluntary groups and special olympics which are held throughout the country are taken into account, it gives an idea of the need for sporting outlets for people with disabilities. We must ensure that any statutory body with responsibility in the area of sport has a responsibility for the promotion and co-ordination of sport and that that duty is explicitly laid down in legislation. Any Bill which fails to do so is flawed.

Another serious omission in section 5 is that the proposed council is not explicitly empowered to ensure the codes of conduct and ethics of good behaviour for those involved with children in sport are developed on a voluntary basis with sporting organisations. Deputy Allen made a major contribution in the publication of this code of ethics in 1996 and to the committee which I chair, which has held meetings with various sporting organisations over the past number of months. He knows as well as I the importance of that code of ethics and its improvement and adoption as a binding code on people because it is voluntary at the moment. From our experience, we know the great sporting organisations, especially the larger ones, have all admitted they have major difficulties in communicating to the various levels, especially club level, the need for a code of conduct and ethics in the behaviour of people involved in sport. This code of conduct is not only for the protection of children in sport but also for the protection of many adults involved with them.

The recent revelations regarding sexual abuse in swimming are a potent reminder of the damage certain depraved individuals can inflict on children when they assume positions of power. Sporting organisations are open to infiltration by these individuals and we must do all in our power to protect our children from such abuse. On foot of the revelations of the Derry O'Rourke court case and subsequent information provided to me by people involved in swimming, I initiated a review of the code of conduct by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Tourism, Sport and Recreation. This has proved to be a timely and valuable exercise and one in which all committee members have played a major role in teasing out the difficulties. When we complete our review the information received will play an important role in the development of quality in this area. I pay special tribute to all those who, at our invitation, gave evidence at the committee. Some of the most important sporting organisations freely exchanged views with us on the code of ethics and good conduct, particularly in regard to children, in sport.

We should never under estimate the damage abuse, such as that which occurred in certain Irish swimming clubs, can do. I am sure all speakers in this debate will allude to the value of sport in the development of the individual and communities. This is true in all constituencies throughout this great country. I am pleased that in terms of the cross-Border organisation that will be set up, sport has been mentioned as a suitable area for co-operation between North and South. I look forward to setting up that joint arrangement between the two Administrations.

Developments at community level are essential. However, all sporting organisations that cater for children operate on the basis of trust between parents and club. If this trust is breached, as in the Derry O'Rourke case, confidence in the club and, by extension, confidence in the sport can collapse. One has only to recall the concern expressed by so many people on radio and television in the wake of the O'Rourke case to realise the damage that can be done to an entire sport when sexual abuse is revealed.

The sporting organisation that attended our committee recognised that on the law of averages no sport is exempt from such a tragedy. For that reason they are all committed to adopting the code of ethics to ensure those involved on a voluntary basis are aware of the dangers and the procedures to be followed when such tragedies occur. It is therefore essential that any sports council is explicitly given responsibility to oversee this critical area. Unfortunately, the Bill fails to do that, but that could be addressed by way of an amendment.

The Bill also fails to explicitly give powers to the sports council to withhold funding from sporting organisations which fail to comply with or adhere to established safety codes. The Minister took this course of action in relation to the Irish Amateur Swimming Association and many believe the innocent suffered in that case. Consideration should be given to transferring this power from the Minister to the new statutory sports council.

The Bill also fails to explicitly charge the sports council with targeting sporting policy at areas of disadvantage. The two Government speakers referred to this matter. This goes against the central philosophy behind our anti-poverty strategy which requires all policies to be proofed for their effect on poverty. The Labour Party believes the Government has paid lip service to this requirement and I am disappointed Fine Gael has adopted the same lack lustre approach in this Bill. However, I accept Members referred to the fact that many people in disadvantaged areas do not have access to sporting activities. If they had, it might help resolve the drugs problem. Poverty is still a burning issue. Chronic disadvantage is often at the root of crime. The forthcoming publication by Professor Ivana Bacik and Dr. Michael O'Connell of Trinity College entitled "Crime and Poverty in Ireland" reveals shocking facts about the link between disadvantage and criminal activity.

If we are serious about tackling crime we must tackle its causes. We must take effective action to prevent a new generation of children being lured into the criminal underworld. Sport forms an essential part of this policy and the sports council, set up on a statutory basis, should be charged with recommending policy initiatives in this area. However, the Bill does not provide for this.

Youth and community workers speak to young people of the value of sport, and the team spirit it builds. To date, however, communities most in need of quality sporting facilities still make do with poor facilities. A previous speaker alluded to various activities in County Sligo. County Tipperary and other areas also make a major contribution to lottery funding by way of ticket sales, but some excellent projects have not been supported. This cannot continue. It should be the explicit responsibility of the sports council to address these issues in an autonomous, independent and non-political fashion. I am sure Deputy Allen, who has vast experience in distributing lottery funding to sports organisations, will agree that they believe there is political patronage in the approval or disapproval of projects for funding, irrespective of their contributions to community life.

Despite its defects the Bill is welcome and I hope it will put pressure on the Government. I am sure most of the work of the parliamentary draftsman has been completed and that it is merely a question of incorporating this measure in the programme for Government. We need to pressurise the Government to have this statutory council put on the political agenda and taken out of the political arena. The Legislature should treat this important aspect of daily life with respect and thereby eliminate the political sniping that tends to take place about what one Government did and another did not.

I am sure there is widespread agreement in the House on the need for a statutory sports council. I hope its members do not comprise only political appointees, but that a broad spectrum of people are represented on it. The Bill refers to appointing people with certain recognised expertise. If it is approached in such a manner we will have done a good day's work by bringing it on to the political agenda. I hope the Government responds quickly to the demands of the main Opposition party, which we support. If the Bill is passed, I am sure the committee which I chair would be willing to amend it as appropriate to get it on to the Statute Book.