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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 29 Apr 1998

Vol. 490 No. 3

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

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

As a former sportsman I am particularly pleased to have the opportunity to make a contribution to the debate on Deputy Allen's Bill. I commend him on the work he has put into it.

I am not interested in political squabbles about who should introduce this important Bill. On behalf of the vast majority of the 1.7 million people who partake in organised sport or some type of physical activity we must ensure that we enact the best possible legislation to put the national sports council on a statutory basis. It is the perception of the vast majority of men and women who partake in organised sport, and of the thousands of volunteers, men and women, who give of their time to organise and manage teams, that Governments and politicians have neglected sport over the years. The sight of these same politicians, including myself, making their way to Dublin Airport to welcome home successful Irish teams and athletes in a blaze of publicity has been seen as a cynical exercise. I recall reading in one of our newspapers, when Michael Carruth returned home having won a gold medal at the Olympic games, that money and resources would be pumped into boxing. That these promises have not been honoured is a scandal, particularly when boxing is a popular sport in many of the most disadvantaged communities. Thankfully there seems to be a change in the attitude of politicians and Government. However, we will all be judged by our actions. Sport contributes in a very significant way to social and economic development. The benefits can be classified in terms of health and lifestyle, sport and achievement, tourism and economic benefit to the country, personal development, social and cultural development. All of the information available clearly shows that for young people participation in sport is an alternative to involvement in a life of crime and anti-social activities.

I am pleased the Minister has indicated that he proposes to review the allocation of lottery money for major recreational facilities. In the past these allocations were alleged to have been politically motivated. In many cases the more affluent and organised an area, the more grants it received. In contrast, areas of need where an organised community lobbying structure was not in place lost out on lottery funding. There is a requirement under the present scheme that needs to be reassessed. I understand that grants will be paid out on receipts received for work carried out after the date of the allocation. Recently, 220 projects throughout the country were allocated grants. Because of the escalation of building costs, unsuccessful organisations will not be able to await the next allocation before proceeding with their project. In many cases they will secure a bank overdraft to proceed. It would be totally wrong if the existing scheme were to discriminate against such clubs in the event of their securing a grant in the future by preventing them drawing down the grant.

I agree with the Minister that high achievers in sport are ambassadors for Ireland and have helped attract thousands of visitors to this country. I would include in this category Irish soccer supporters, particularly during the Jack Charlton reign. These supporters were highly commended throughout their journeys across Europe and America and many American, German and French people came here on holidays because of the performance of these supporters. The decision taken to start the l998 Tour de France in Ireland is an example of this. This event is expected to receive television coverage in up to 100 countries with an estimated audience of nearly 100 million people. This could not have been achieved without the earlier success of Stephen Roche and Sean Kelly on the roads of Europe. In the light of this, it is scandalous that the company behind the Irish section of this tour could not find a position for Stephen Roche in the overall operation of this event.

I now wish to refer briefly to drugs in sport. Let me say clearly that my contribution on this issue is in no way linked to today's allegations against Michelle de Bruin. Any person who takes performance enhancing substances to improve his or her performance is a cheat. These people must be identified and banished from both the national and the international scene. Unfortunately, some of the international governing bodies have not been prepared to stand up to these cheats. It is scandalous that athletes who have been found guilty of drug taking at major events such as the Olympic Games have been allowed back following a short suspension. An example of this is the former world record holder and Olympic champion Ben Johnson who shamed the sport when he was exposed as a cheat. The entire subject of drugs in sport is surrounded by rumour and suspicion. Accordingly, we need a world-wide co-ordinated approach to eliminate drugs in sport forever. Drug taking can be controlled only if a testing strategy is effective and the penalties act as a sufficient deterrent. At national level our administrations must develop a national anti-drug strategy that covers all sporting activities at a certain level. I look forward to the report of the anti-drug advisory committee set up by the Minister. I congratulate the Minister on setting it up and hope he will bring forward his proposals at a very early date.

According to the National Rehabilitation Board there are up to 350,000 people in Ireland with a disability. Such people have a right to partake in sporting activities. It is imperative that the Sports Council of Ireland put in place a plan that will eliminate all the obstacles which deprive people with a disability of the opportunity to engage in sport. The national lottery was originally set up in l987 to raise funds for worthy causes. Since its launch, £800 million has been raised for distribution by Government to good causes. However, it is important to note that in l988 51 per cent of the lottery allocation went directly for sport, recreation and amenities whereas in l997 this allocation was down to 31 per cent. There is a case to increase this allocation. One grant scheme which comes to mind is the youth and sport grant. Under it, the most we can give to each sports club in Fingal is £97 and that is taking into account the voluntary effort people make. Much more money should be allocated to this grant scheme. I hope this Bill, or a similar one, will be passed as soon as possible.

I wish to share my time with Deputies Cooper-Flynn and Moloney.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I am glad to have the opportunity to contribute on this important topic. I commend the Government on its commitment to the vital yet neglected areas of sport and recreation. No action reflects this commitment better that the decision to establish a separate Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation so that the interests of Ireland's sportspeople, whether at professional or amateur level, are represented at the Cabinet for the first time in the history of this State, and represented with ability and foresight by the Minister, Deputy McDaid.

We all know the importance of sport in terms of promoting fitness and wellbeing. It is essential for creating a truly healthy and vibrant society. It also promotes a positive image of our country to the world as our professional athletes are truly our ambassadors at international level. We all feel a sense of pride when we see our flag raised and our anthem played at an international event. I congratulate Catherina McKiernan from Cavan on her memorable victory in the London marathon and wish her continued success in future.

The Government's interest in sport and recreation is enshrined in the programme for Government. The Government is committed to the establishment of a fully functional and efficient national sports council bringing together all sporting interests and activities. This will act as a dynamo for the further development of sport. It is important to ensure that the council is properly established to carry on this important contribution to moulding our future. To be effective, such a body must have a solid statutory foundation. It must also have a clear and precise set of objectives. It is obvious the Government is determined to establish this council, and to ensure that it is set up properly.

Sport is a necessary part of the growth of the individual, as important as formal education in its own way. For that reason, the Government wants to introduce a greater role for sport and training in the school curriculum. Sport boosts self-confidence and self-reliance, instilling a sense of personal achievement and pride at what has been gained by effort and endurance. Young people achieve a sense of how good it feels to be fit and in good health. They not only earn respect for the hard knocks that sport often throws at them, whether they be the inevitable failures and defeats or the occasional injury, but they also learn the importance of team spirit and how co-operation and the pooling of talent brings the best results. Sport is also a very effective weapon in the fight against drug abuse as it offers a clear and attractive alternative to the misery and suffering of dependence on artificial stimulants.

Sport and recreation policy must embrace all in the community. It is easy to forget that sport and fitness must be accessible to the disabled. For that reason, I welcome the commitment by the Government to provide support for the hosting of the Special Olympics here.

The new Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation is already making a positive difference. Its funding allocation has been increased to £26 million, a clear demonstration of the Government's desire to augment the resources available for sports and recreation. A scheme has been established to support high performance athletes whose requirements for training must be catered for if they are to perform at their best. All must be done to cultivate the cream of our sporting talent, and such a scheme will enable those who have been blessed with extraordinary gifts to reveal them to the world.

A figure of £3.7 million has been allocated to the various governing bodies for sport in Ireland to enable them to pursue their interests. It is obvious to us all that those bodies are often the best places from which to administer funding as they have direct contact with those participating in their respective sports at both professional and amateur level. Furthermore, funding of £4.9 million has been granted to separate projects around the country. More money obviously needs to be provided.

The Government is aware that much remains to be done. It wants and needs to promote greater involvement by the private sector in all aspects of sport. Televised sport has brought an appreciation of new games and activities to Ireland with the result that the number of sports being practised is growing. We must ensure that the sports which appear to be minority interests are catered for and that funding, either public or private, is directed towards them.

We are all grateful for the sacrifices of people such as Catherina McKiernan, Michelle de Bruin and others in bringing immense honour to our country. For most of us, it is hard to comprehend or visualise the commitment which lies behind these performances, the hours spent in training, sometimes on dark, cold evenings after a day's work, with little or no material incentive except the reward of overcoming yet another challenge or chalking up another personal best.

The world of sport has become much more professional in recent years. This is in part a reflection of the greater cost of technology in training. However, let us not forget the invaluable contribution made by voluntary sporting organisations. One of the oldest is the Gaelic Athletic Association but there are numerous others whose members have been stimulated by selfless dedication to the enjoyment of their respective sports. This dedication can sometimes last a lifetime, beginning at school and continuing into adulthood. For those people there is no astronomical pay cheque after each event, no high flying lifestyle and no rubbing shoulders with the world's beautiful people. When injury strikes, there is no pampering at exclusive resorts or health centres. There is only the hope for an understanding employer. Even when such sportspeople come to the end of their competitive careers, many continue their association through training and nurturing the next generation or through administration in a local club. All this is done voluntarily, the only tangible gains being a few medals gained along the way to be cherished and handed on to children and grandchildren. The world of sport in Ireland must be inspired by these people and their unpaid efforts.

As the Minister is well aware, there are huge costs involved in providing facilities throughout the country. I hope when he restructures the recreational facilities grants scheme a substantial increase in funding will be provided to enable many voluntary groups obtain assistance in their efforts to provide recreational sporting facilities for our people.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. I recognise the need for the establishment of a national sports council. This was clearly set out in our election manifesto and, as Deputy Allen knows, a Bill is currently with the parliamentary draftsman on this issue. The Minister, Deputy McDaid, will bring it before the House in the next few weeks. Deputy Allen has jumped the gun on this occasion. This is becoming a habit with the Opposition as Deputy Upton did something similar recently when he introduced his Bill to amend the licensing laws.

I call that initiative.

I compliment Deputy Allen on a number of good ideas of which I am sure the Minister will take account when he brings a more inclusive Bill before the House in the next few weeks.

Deputy Allen was the Minister of State with responsibility for sport in the previous Administration. Why, if this council was so essential, did he not initiate it when he was Minister? I accuse him of poaching a good idea from the Fianna Fáil election manifesto.

Remember February 1997. Do not rewrite history.

That said, there are a number of good ideas in what Deputy Allen has proposed. I read through the Bill and was pleased to see that he had gender proofed the first section in that the Minister can be male or female, something Deputy Barnes will be delighted to hear. However, I am sorry to tell her that the chief executive of the council is referred to as being a man.

No one has shown a greater commitment to sport than the current Administration and this was demonstrated when we came into Government. The Taoiseach appointed a senior Minister with responsibility for sport and everyone recognises that the Minister, Deputy McDaid, is doing an excellent job. Our track record since we came into office has been second to none. The new dynamic Department has provided £26 million for sport, double the 1997 figure. In addition, a special scheme of support for high performance athletes was announced recently. This is in recognition of the great commitment and dedication of some of our great achievers, including Michelle de Bruin, Catherina McKiernan and Sonia O'Sullivan, who have brought great pride to our country. A sum of £3.6 million has been provided for the national governing bodies, an increase of 7 per cent on what was provided by the previous Administration. More recently 220 projects were allocated a sum of £4.9 million and I am delighted County Mayo benefited.

A number of major events, such as the Tour de France, the Ryder Cup and the Special Olympics in 2003, will take place here in the next few years. I acknowledge Deputy Allen's contribution in securing some of those events for Ireland. I know the Minister, Deputy McDaid, will carry on that excellent work and bring it to fruition. The Government is showing its commitment by providing financial aid for those great events.

The Taoiseach's commitment to sport is well documented. The Minister of State, Deputy Flood, is responsible for tackling drugs in sport, a matter which is widely discussed in the sporting arena throughout the world. I was extremely proud of the achievements of Michelle de Bruin when she won three gold medals and a bronze for Ireland at the Atlanta Olympics. It is a shame she has not received the recognition or financial rewards an athlete of her calibre deserves. Regardless of what happens in future, she is one of the finest athletes we have ever produced. She is a credit to the country and I wish people in the media would realise that. In competitive sport there will always be those who knock others, but we support our own. The same applies to athletes such as Sonia O'Sullivan and Catherina McKiernan, who had an excellent performance recently.

Excluding Croke Park, spending on sport increased by 46 per cent this year. This is proof of the Government's dedication and commitment in this area. We should devise an overall strategy for sport. It is appalling that 41 per cent of people do not engage in sporting activities during their leisure time. This is due to inadequate infrastructure in many counties. I believe the Minister is working on a national strategy to alleviate this problem. It is interesting to note that £3.1 billion per annum is spent on health and, while even more needs to be spent in this area, we must also try to prevent illness. I ask the Minister, therefore, to consider spending a percentage of this budget on the provision of sporting facilities.

A total of £50 million is needed to upgrade swimming pools built approximately 25 years ago. All those pools, one of which is located in Castlebar, are in a state of disrepair. I understand from Deputy Allen, however, that there is an excellent facility near him in Cork. I am optimistic that all swimming pools will be upgraded because they provide an essential service to communities.

I referred to the disbursement of lotto funding and the question of accountability some months ago. There is nobody more accountable to the people than the elected representatives. We have to knock on doors and seek people's support in every election. I do not believe any council or body could be as accountable or responsible. I have always believed the disbursement of lotto funds should be carried out by the Minister who is answerable to the House.

The Minister will bring an inclusive Bill before the House in the near future which will incorporate some of Deputy Allen's ideas. I ask him, therefore, to withdraw his Bill and wait for the more inclusive policy which will be in the best interest of sport, something dear to his heart.

I note he was studying the document in regard to the gender issue while I was speaking; I am sure it was a mere drafting error. I thank the Deputy for his contribution.

I wish to share time with Deputies Ellis and Brady.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I recognise the importance of establishing a statutory sports council. I also acknowledge the Minister's commitment to this area in the past few weeks. I understand work is well under way on drafting a sports council Bill and I prefer to await its publication. I am satisfied the Minister and the Government are committed to fostering and promoting sport and recognise the need to establish a national sports council. The Government has a good track record in this regard.

Since the Government established a senior sports ministry, funding for sports has doubled to the tune of £26 million. A special scheme of support for high performance athletes has also been announced. I also welcome the £3.6 million approved for national governing bodies as well as the 220 projects that have been grant aided in the past few months. Work is also well advanced on a national anti-doping programme. The Government is committed, in particular, to tackling drug abuse in sport.

I pay special tribute to the work carried out by voluntary sports groups, but they cannot live on fresh air. Players and participants have a right to decent and safe playing areas and facilities. I ask the Minister to take account of the tremendous voluntary work done by those organisations. It is obvious that sports halls need proper heating and lighting. Some sports require specialist equipment, such as bicycles and canoes, and while they can prove expensive, they are a prerequisite for the enjoyment of the sport concerned. Other expenses include bus hire, equipment, insurance and many other overheads. I appeal to the Minister to recognise the valuable contribution of voluntary organisations.

In some cases the costs involved may require an outside commercial sponsor. We should encourage more participation by the private sector in providing sporting facilities and equipment. In certain circumstances they could be covered by small financial grants from the State to sporting clubs. We should also recognise the immense contribution these associations and clubs make to their members and through them to the wider community. Such small scale financial assistance could make a difference between a sports club declining into oblivion and becoming a go-ahead association attracting an ever increasing membership.

I commend the Minister on his involvement to date and look forward to the publication of his Bill.

Deputy Allen's Bill gives us an opportunity to examine the lack of proper sporting facilities, particularly in rural areas. There are numerous leisure centres and hotels with major sporting facilities in most urban areas, but GAA and handball clubs are the only sporting facilities in many rural areas. Some people have to travel ten or 15 miles to avail of facilities in large provincial towns.

Participation in sport should be encouraged from infant classes in national school so that children learn how to mix socially from an early stage. Many five or six year olds go home to watch "The Simpsons" rather than participate in sporting or leisure activities. This is especially the case today when, in many cases, it is necessary for both parents to go to work. Parents are not able to give time to young people, to get them involved and help them to develop their natural talents. Young people suffer as a result. I hope when the Bill is in place that, in conjunction with the Department of Education and Science, there will be a sports programme to encourage young people to get involved from an early age.

We can all criticise Bills. This Bill is premature but it has given us an opportunity to express our views prior to the Bill which Deputy McDaid will bring forward in the not too distant future. I also hope that major national sporting centres will not be based in the major urban areas. One such centre has been spoken of in relation to my part of the country by the National Rowing Association. I hope that could be progressed. The international experts who appraised the project stated that County Leitrim was the number one location.

When allocating moneys to sports organisations we should ensure that some of the money ends up in local clubs. There is no use in building up large administrations which do not allow money to filter down. We all know that there are schemes for elite athletes. This was proven by Catherina McKiernan's performance which shows that our athletes can compete at the highest levels. This evening Ken Doherty progressed to the semi-finals of the world snooker championship. Some might say that this is a leisurely sport but it is highly competitive. It is a sport which is only available to those who have access to facilities at an early age.

In future, at least 70 per cent of State money allocated from the Exchequer or the lottery should work its way down to local organisations and clubs to help upgrade facilities. There is no use in building large centres which do not serve the people of rural Ireland. The major cities are able to provide their own facilities because commercial funds are available. Rural areas are dependent on raffle tickets or church gate or house to house collections to put facilities in place. In future, I hope that we will see a better distribution of funds for all sports. No one sport should be singled out for special treatment.

Television has a major role to play in sport. Some sports do not get an equal share of television time. This was evident last weekend when the major coverage of Catherina McKiernan's performance came from Sky and other British channels. RTE's sports coverage should be more balanced so that smaller sports get extra time. Soccer games covered this season involved Dublin teams. A match between Cork City and Sligo Rovers was very unlikely to be given airtime. If Shelbourne, St. Pats or Shamrock Rovers were playing the game was more likely to receive airtime. When the Minister comes forward with his Bill it will help to set the guidelines for sport for the next 20 to 30 years.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. I pay tribute to those who have worked voluntarily and diligently to further the cause of a variety of sports and the athletes who have committed time and energy and have put this country on the international sporting map. I congratulate Catherina McKiernan from County Cavan on her great recent achievements. She has brought great honour to this country.

I am glad the Minister recognises the importance of sport to the well-being of society. I welcome the 46 per cent increase in allocations for sporting developments. This is the first Government to recognise the value of sport and its potential to contribute to an improved society. This country has a wealth of sporting talent. As legislators we must ensure that there is a climate conducive to the future development of such a valuable resource.

This summer Ireland will enjoy the social and economic benefits of hosting a major international event. Sporting organisations must encourage participation by a variety of people — young people, women, the disabled and those in disadvantaged areas. The development of a sporting mentality among the young would contribute to curbing social problems. This demands a huge amount of local ground work. Organisations must be adequately assisted with and compensated for their work. The importance of establishing a statutory sports council has been well recognised by the Government and work is well under way on drafting the sports council Bill. We must ensure that the Bill adequately provides for a situation where we no longer expect that important work engaged in by voluntary sporting organisations will be continued by willing individuals at considerable personal cost.

I recently introduced the Minister to a group of people from Oldcastle, County Meath who are trying to build a holiday, conference and recreation centre for the disabled. This would be the only such centre in the country able to facilitate busloads of people and the Minister was very interested in the project.

I would also like to refer to Claremont Stadium, Navan. My colleague Deputy Dempsey, when Minister of State in a previous Government, secured funding for the project but the group has not been able to go ahead until now. The plan has been changed and they wish to move the running track from inside to outside. I hope the Minister will be able to facilitate them in the near future.

I also pay tribute to some other organisations, particularly those in the rural area of Cormeen, outside Moynalty. A group of local people have put in an enormous voluntary effort to provide a magnificent sporting centre. Next Saturday evening, one of my local football clubs is opening its pitch with the county team playing County Tyrone. A number of people, young and old, have worked voluntarily to build up this football field and provide recreation facilities for people in that area. The Opposition should await the Government Bill. I appeal to the Minister not to forget the small sporting organisations and the marvellous work they do throughout the country.

I wish to share my time with Deputies Stanton, Deenihan, Cosgrove and Sargent.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Deputy Cooper-Flynn who, unfortunately, has left the House, raised an interesting point in regard to the masculine being used in the Bill. Some years ago, a former colleague, Nuala Fennell, attempted to get the legislative drafting and language changed to include "him" and "her" but was informed that for legislative purposes "him" was deemed to include "her". I am pleased she raised that issue because it is unfinished business, in light of the fact that we have just concluded Second Stage of the Employment Equality Bill. That is the area on which I intend to concentrate particularly since the Minister of State, Deputy McDaid, who is present, served as a member of the Joint Committee on Women's Rights.

I commend Deputy Allen on his initiative in introducing the Bill which is the result of time, effort, knowledge and expertise gained when Minister of State. I am sorry the Government has indicated it will not accept it but will introduce its own Bill and I urge it to do so urgently.

The report entitled Targeting Sporting Change in Ireland — Sport in Ireland 1997-2006 and beyond, by the strategy group set up by Deputy Allen when Minister of State is a tremendous base on which the Minister can work. That the report has focused on Irish women in sport is welcome. Many tributes have been paid, and rightly so, to Michelle Smyth, Catherina McKiernan and Sonia O'Sullivan. On the world stage of athletics it is astonishing that Irish women dominate at this level. Despite a lack of support and facilities for women in Ireland they have achieved much. I commend the report for concentrating on the fact that women were under represented and unsupported with regard to participation in sport in Ireland, including lack of media coverage. Women have to win on an international stage before they are mentioned here.

I recall attending a press conference when the women's basketball team won at international level. The trainer said that if it had been the men's basketball team, the news would have dominated the headlines. Instead it was given three lines at the bottom of the sports page. This is a matter on which we will have to focus given that all the other areas such as health, education and so on have been addressed by Ministers. I commend to the Minister the positive recommendations in the strategy group report on equal opportunities for women, including the recommendation that all organisations should adopt gender equity policies. Future design and refurbishing of sporting facilities should take account of the needs of women. When the Sports Council of Ireland is established it should have an equal number of men and women at executive and administrative levels. The Minister has an opportunity to give a commitment in this area in the Bill.

I wish to comment on the contribution by the Minister of State, Deputy Flood. He made some sweeping comments and said that the Bill put forward by Deputy Allen was poorly drafted and so on. At least the Bill has been presented. Members on the Government side have said the Government Bill is imminent. The Taoiseach said on 4 February that the Sports Council Bill would not be circulated this side of the summer. If that is the case we could be debating this Bill next Christmas and we still would not have a sports council. At least, Deputy Allen has shown initiative by bringing forward the Bill and has followed through on the recommendations made in the national plan. Deputy Cooper-Flynn has scored an own goal by saying Deputy Allen was poaching ideas. He was following through on recommendations in the national plan, the first of which was to set up a full Cabinet Minister for sport. That was a good idea and was contained in the national plan. While I have great respect for the Minister I am disappointed that nothing appears to have been done since the Department was set up. Could it be that there is a tussle between the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation and the Department of Education and Science? When the Minister for Education and Science introduced the Education Bill there was no reference to sport and physical activity. This was a grave omission considering that the White Paper on Education devoted a full chapter to sport. I feel sure there must be a power struggle between the two Ministers. The Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Martin is getting all the headlines while the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation is disbursing the money. The indications are that we are heading for inflation, overheating and so on and the money may not last much longer. Most of those on the far side who have contributed said they had spent money. The Government was lucky to have had the funds but it has done nothing else.

Two items of legislation were listed on the Government's legislative programme but there is no sign of them. What has been happening for the past nine months? We have a full Cabinet Minister who has done nothing except disburse money. While Deputy Allen was Minister of State he achieved far more. It is poor form and is not sporting of the Minister with responsibility for sport to reject this Bill. If he had accepted the Bill on Second Stage, amendments could be proposed and debated.

The Tour de France is coming here and will pass through my constituency of Cork East. I pay tribute to the local groups on the hard work being done there. Every town and village is working extremely hard to portray itself in the best light. I thank those who have worked to get the Tour de France here, Deputy Allen, Deputy Mitchell and others when in office. By refusing to accept the Bill, the Government is not playing the game. The Minister was caught offside by Deputy Allen introducing this Bill. The Minister should have introduced a Bill here months ago. Let us hope his track record will improve and his Bill appears before the summer — the Taoiseach said it would not but perhaps we have managed to change his mind.

Perhaps this Minister could consult the Minister, Deputy Martin, on the following matter which was raised by Deputy Allen last night. It is dear to my heart and other Deputies mentioned it in passing. Throughout the country school sports halls close on weekdays at 4 p.m., at weekends and for the whole summer, which is a terrible waste of resources. These halls and schools should be made available to the public, to clubs and other organisations, especially in rural areas. They should be open every evening and weekend and throughout the summer. Deputy Allen put forward a fantastic idea last evening. I have long thought the same and I hope the Minister takes it on board.

I compliment Deputy Allen on bringing forward this Bill because at the very least it affords the House an opportunity to discuss sport. I commend his vision in appointing Mr. John Treacy to draw up the national plan for sport, the first time such a thing has been done.

Our period in Government was a great time for sport. Deputy Brady mentioned the arrival of the Tour de France in the summer, which is a result of the initiative of Deputy Kenny as Minister, as is well recognised. Punchestown racecourse was re-opened yesterday and the money for its renovation was provided by the last Government. Last week the Minister, Deputy Walsh, opened a new facility in Listowel and acknowledged that we had provided the money. Shelbourne Park, Mallow and several other facilities were attended to in our two and a half years in office. I was the first to acknowledge that the Taoiseach gave £20 million to Croke Park — that is fine because we need to put money into sport. Deputy Brady was not aware that during our term of office we provided substantial funding and had a good Minister for sport in Deputy Allen. The current Minister is very interested in sport and is a former sporting hero himself — I will not call him a legend.

Unlike the Deputy.

However, we have not seen him perform yet. He has only been a year in office and we will judge him at the end of his term. It may be unfair to judge him because he has set up a new Department which includes both sport and tourism — I do not know how comfortably they sit together.

We await the report on drug testing and education in Irish sport, which is important for the credibility of the industry. We also await the review of outdoor leisure activities, which play a crucial role in the tourism industry. Walking holidays are more important to Ireland than golf holidays. It is inexpensive to set up walks but highly expensive to build golf courses. More people come to Ireland to walk than to play golf, so we need to get properly organised in that area.

We also await the long promised independent statutory sports council, which Deputy Allen provides for in the Bill. Given the level of legislation coming from the Minister's Department there is no reason for not bringing this proposal forward. I know this because I was involved in drafting legislation when I served in the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry.

When I was Opposition spokesperson on youth and sport some years ago I carried out surveys on physical education in primary and post-primary schools. I received responses from 1,500 primary schools and 600 post-primary schools. At that time about 30 per cent of primary schools provided no physical education. Another 20 per cent had some physical education. It is children aged between 4 and 12 years who need it most.

At leaving certificate level, only 40 per cent of school children had physical education. Some years ago I advocated making physical education a leaving certificate subject but one cannot avoid acknowledging the major problem in the provision of physical education in post-primary schools. It is one thing to make it an examination subject, but it should be provided to all students and that is not happening. Physical education is being frozen out because of the points race, pressure of other academic subjects and pressure on space. Parents are also pushing for more academic work and less physical education. The pilot programme for accreditation of physical education towards the leaving certificate is welcome but we should not forget that the provision of physical education in schools is declining at both primary and post-primary level. This is a major worry which must be addressed.

Deputy Stanton made a forceful point about facilities and I agree with him. When the Minister is allocating money and is faced with various demands he can see duplication across the country. There is no reason for building a community hall one mile away from a primary school, as happened in my parish. It is impossible for a teacher to walk children to the hall and back again — there are time considerations and if the weather is bad the children will get wet and may be open to colds or flu. If the Minister sets up the sports council, as proposed here, there would be far more rationalisation of facilities and greater targeting of facilities where they are needed most. Community centres should be located as near as possible to existing schools so that they could be used during the day as well as at night.

The core of this proposal is the need for a sports policy across the spectrum, dealing not only with elite athletes but also mass participation. The Minister will have noted the declining standard of posture among children. It is a pity that drill is no longer taught in schools. We criticised it when it was done and when I was in physical education college in the seventies we were told that the emphasis was no longer on drill but on a major programme of physical education which looked at aesthetics and wider participation. We now see overweight children with poor posture suffering from various disorders and our education system is doing nothing to correct it. This should be part of a comprehensive physical education programme. I hope this Bill will force the Minister to act. Although there may be a temptation to put legislation dealing with sport on the back burner and allow other legislation to take precedence, the Minister should put pressure on his officials and the parliamentary draftsman to produce the necessary legislation as quickly as possible.

Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil le Fine Gael as ucht a gcuid ama a roinnt liom. Ar dtús báire cuirim fáilte agus fiche roimh an Bille seo ón Teachta Bernard Allen agus le cúnamh Dé tiocfaidh Bille ón Rialtas gan mhoill muna bhfuil an Bille seo inghlactha acu agus is trua nach bhfuil.

In welcoming the Bill credit must be given to the many clubs and organisations for the work done on a voluntary basis throughout the country. As I said to the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs earlier today, a greater value should be put on this work by the State. I hope the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation, Deputy McDaid, will take up the issue with his Cabinet colleagues. People tend to be regarded as idle unless they are in paid employment but nothing could be further from the truth when it comes to those involved in sporting organisations which rely heavily on voluntary effort.

In funding sport the focus should be on safety. Many sporting organisations literally have to cut corners when it comes to using pitches with bad drainage to which ambulances cannot gain easy access. Many parents have to travel long distances to pitches and it makes them less inclined to become involved. This needs to be rectified.

The Green Party is of the view that sport is closely linked with preventative measures in the health care area. Without it, medical costs would be much higher than they are. Why is it not better resourced? The answer is simple. Medical expenditure counts when it comes to gross domestic product and gross national product whereas the work done by sporting organisations does not, except when it comes to holding major events such as the Tour de France.

There are many fine sporting organisations in Dublin North. I will focus on one — Fingalians Athletic Club in Swords at which I had the pleasure of attending a presentation recently. It is a large club with between 150 and 200 members covering all grades up to veterans who are inspired by the many people mentioned, including Catherina McKiernan, Sonia O'Sullivan, John Treacy, Eamon Coughlan not to mention local athletes Mags Greenan, top veteran long distance runner, and Garry Ryan, 200 metres Olympics participant. They have to meet most of the considerable costs involved from their own resources. This prevents many athletes from reaching their full potential.

John Carroll is a member of the club. He has been a champion at 100 metres since he was eight years of age. He is now 18. He is the BLE 100 metres junior champion and 60 metres junior indoor champion. In the senior indoor championships in Nenagh in February he finished second in the 60 metres. He finished third at the distance in the Scottish junior championships. He has his sights set on the Olympics.

John Carroll has to meet his own equipment costs which are enormous. For instance, he needs four pairs of runners each year which cost between £50 and £100 each, a pair of spikes which cost £150, a pair of training spikes which cost £70, not to mention tracksuits, T-shirts and all the other paraphernalia required. He also has to meet his own travelling costs. It should not be forgotten, therefore, when basking in the glory of our athletes, that many of them have had to undergo a hard, gruelling apprenticeship over many years from childhood.

On eight occasions in January and February John Carroll travelled by train to Nenagh to compete in winter indoor events which entailed an overnight stay in bed and breakfast accommodation. When he travelled to Glasgow on 31 January he had to pay his own air fare. He could not afford to travel to Portugal for two weeks at Easter for warm weather training to prepare for the outdoor season. In politics we are quick to take the credit. We should not be slow to accept criticism when it comes to funding those who wish to reach their full potential, even if they will never make it to the Olympics.

This year John Carroll will also travel to Cork, Tullamore, Kilkenny, Belfast and Britain on several occasions in preparation for the world junior championships to be held in the south of France in July. This is a nerve-racking experience. It will be his last opportunity to crown his junior career which has been well documented. He has his sights set on participating in Sydney in the year 2000 and in a further two Olympic Games. In relishing from our sitting rooms the sporting achievements of our sportsmen and women it should not be forgotten that their success has been achieved at huge financial and personal cost with the assistance of trainers and family members. They instil a marvellous sense of pride.

In considering legislation the Minister should strike the correct balance. Athletes should be funded on the basis of their ability and commitment. Ultimately, we will all benefit. The inspiration which that gives to up and coming athletes will pay dividends in their personal lives as well as for us all.

Unlike Deputy Allen who began his contribution to this important debate by saying he was concerned I had not introduced the necessary proposals as speedily as he would wish, I will begin by being more positive. I do not have time to discuss all the negative points raised but I commend the Deputies who participated in this debate. We will see what we can do with the proposals which were made rather than acting negatively. Over the past two nights a great deal of goodwill has been demonstrated on the part of all Deputies who have shown a desire to get this area of sport right once and for all.

Deputy Allen suggested I failed to publish a drug testing and education programme. The issue of drug testing and education is a radical new departure in Irish sport and, as the Deputy knows, one which I made a priority during my first interview after taking office. I could satisfy the Deputy's desire to introduce every new initiative yesterday but I do not believe the public, sports bodies, sports people and the other interested parties would thank me for doing so just for the sake of it. I am sure Deputy Allen would be the first to criticise me if I did that.

One of my priorities has been to make progress in the area of anti doping. I am glad to report that I have finalised my proposals for a national anti doping programme. My proposals have been circulated to other interested Departments for their views and I intend to bring the matter to Government very shortly.

Deputy Allen stated he realised sport was not attracting adequate Exchequer or national lottery funding. I agree but the gains made have been since this area was brought to Cabinet by the Taoiseach for the first time in our history.

Deputy Stanton said there was a slowness in bringing proposals to Government. I will explain to the Deputy how it works. On the day the anti-doping programme was published Deputy Allen called a press conference. On the day I brought the heads of a Bill to the Government he called another press conference.

I called it beforehand. The Minister is twisting it.


The Minister, without interruption.

When one brings the heads of a Bill to Government one must circulate all the other Departments for their views. As we are wasting good Fine Gael time in this House, my Bill is being circulated in the Departments so they can give their views on it. Perhaps the Deputy might convey that to his parliamentary party. That is how it works. The Bill will be published very shortly. I assure Members I do not intend to make a political issue out of this matter because it is far too important. We intend to go forward with, I hope, the co-operation of all Deputies.

Deputy Barnes referred to the position of women, which is a very relevant point. Last January, for the first time, I held a meeting in Dublin Castle with all the national governing bodies and asked them to bring forward their strategies for sport. I told them that no funding would be available unless they concentrated on four areas — youth, disadvantaged areas, the disabled and women. I have been able to increase the funding for the national governing bodies by 46 per cent this year. I am still waiting for the GAA, the IRFU and the FAI to bring forward their proposals. They are big enough to continue with——

The FAI has had a proposal with the Department for two years.

——their everyday running of the sport. When the council is being elected I am sure Deputy Barnes will be vociferous on the issue of women and I will support her in ensuring that is carried out.

There was a reference to funding. Health received £3.1 million from the lottery. Every penny of that is necessary but there is a point where we must call a halt. In the past five years successive Governments have increased the health budget by £1 billion. I am a doctor and it is as if doctors, prison officers, the Judiciary, the Garda and social workers are clearing up the mess in a basement in which a tap is running into an overflowing sink. We should examine this situation. We could do a great deal in sport with 1 per cent of that £1 billion. As many Deputies said, we could probably do a great deal in the area of prevention, thereby reducing the need for expenditure on health.

Deputies raised a number of interesting points. I assure them I will be as co-operative as possible in this area and I hope they will co-operate with me. We should examine the areas of funding, youth and the disabled. This is a very interesting debate. The Taoiseach did not say we would bring it in in October because I wanted to circulate the heads of the Bill. I am now able to say to Deputies that a sports Bill will be produced in the next number of weeks.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Allen.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I compliment Deputy Allen on introducing this Bill, into which I know he put a great deal of research. He has the benefit of a great deal of interest and experience in this area. He was very innovative when he was the Minister of State with responsibility for youth and sport.

I was very interested to see the Minister has suspended any further applications for national lottery funding from 11 February on the basis that a review is necessary. I agree and I am sure when he quantified the cost of funding the amount of applications currently on file he realised he would never reach the end of that list, regardless of how much funding was provided.

The provision of national lottery funding for recreation and sport must be evaluated on the basis of value for money. I have seen the joy of people receiving £5,000, £10,000 or £20,000 to renovate a community centre or sports club. The spurt in the development of these recreational amenities probably began when the national lottery was founded in March 1987. There was great momentum at that time and many big community centres were opened. However, the Department must take an interest, not just in allocating the funding but in assessing the realism of demands made by communities because some plans in the past were over ambitious. It is now impossible to sustain and maintain many of the complexes which were built at that time. It is important for communities to build centres which they will be able to manage.

The Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands will have noticed that the Leader programme and urban and village renewal programmes have revived communities. Communities decide to build heritage centres or museums but they often do not consider how they will sustain and market such facilities and keep them open for more than an hour a week. These questions must be asked.

In 1997 the national lottery funds had a surplus of £107 million, which was divided out. The Minister referred to the health budget. Some £31 million of that surplus went to health, which might otherwise have been provided by the Exchequer. With regard to sports, recreation and amenities, it is necessary to analyse the way national lottery funding is divided in parallel with the analysis undertaken by the Minister.

When the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, was Minister for Tourism and Trade he discreetly established independent evaluation committees to examine projects for different areas. However, I encountered an injustice with regard to the adoption of different criteria by these committees depending on what part of the country they worked. Newcastlewest Golf Club, which spent a large amount of money developing an 18 hole golf club, made a submission for funding for £75,000 for a lovely golf clubhouse, which, in the overall context of its expenditure, was a small sum. While the evaluation committee considered the matter several times it could never give approval, yet similar committees operating in other parts of the country which did not have embargoes against golf clubs allocated grants to them. It did not make me too popular a public representative to be reminded of this. I advised that the midwest review committee, which evaluated such projects in my area rejected the submission because certain people made it known that golf clubs were not to be supported.

There must be uniformity between valuation committees which are independent of the Minister and which operate on the same basis as those under the former Ministers for Tourism and Trade, Deputy McCreevy and Deputy Kenny. Otherwise they will discriminate in different parts of the country.

I thank all those who contributed to this debate. This Bill is a product of the national plan for sport, which was published in February 1997. In that respect, some Members on the opposite side of the House have attempted to rewrite history. The plan originated from the 400 submissions and the numerous public meetings held throughout the country. All the parties in the House were consulted on the plan; it was a product of the people as well as the political system.

Deputy Ferris welcomed the Bill but had two major reservations. He said it did not mention disabled sportspersons or the special Olympics. The national plan for sport makes clear that the idea of involving people with disability and those involved in the special Olympics is to integrate them into the mainstream of sport. To define them in the Bill would have done the opposite. That is why they were not specified. People with disabilities and those involved in the special Olympics are as much involved in the mainstream sporting system as others. When I was Minister of State at the Department of Education with responsibility for sport, I appointed representatives to all of the major groups, including the group who formulated the national plan and the Sports Council of Ireland. I hope the Deputy's fears are allayed by this.

The Deputy also expressed fears about the code of ethics in sport. The NCTC in Limerick is the body driving the implementation of the code by incorporating it in the coaching system that is now being offered to every club and organisation. Approximately several thousand coaches at different levels are trained every year by the centre. The curriculum also incorporates the code. I hope it will not only protect children but also the volunteers and the spirit of volunteerism that is so strong in sport.

The Minister spoke for five minutes in a three hour debate and said he wanted to be positive. His junior Minister, the Minster of State at the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation, Deputy Flood, made a very negative speech last night. He criticised the Bill for being badly drafted and unbalanced. I understood he was reading the Minister's speech.

Any legislation I announced as Minister of State was long planned. People would be foolish to assume that, with a press conference in Cork on Tuesday morning, the Minister would suddenly make a statement on Monday night about the Government's involvement with the heads of a Bill. If the Minister is so advanced where is the legislation?

It is currently circulating the Departments.

The Minister has an army of Civil Servants to prepare it. We have introduced legislation and have asked the Government to accept it on Second Stage. We can resolve differences in our approach later. We should not play political football with this issue.

The Minister said there was too much money going to health. What about the old and the sick who cannot get hospital beds? What about the trolleys which are still in use in hospital corridors? He should not offer us money from that quarter.

I said the moneys in that area should be looked at.

On the question of finance, I said that without a national plan for sport, no Minister could draw down sufficient funding. The national plan was launched in February 1997 and the Minister is reaping the benefits. He is able to draw down the money because he can present a plan to convince the Minister for Finance that the moneys are required. I am pleased the job was done for the Minister.

It is because the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance are interested in sport.

The structures were in place; the Minister merely had to work them. Will he accept this Bill and resolve our differences because very little divides us except for political footballing, which is par for the course in this House.

Last night I criticised the Minister for his indecisiveness since taking office. He has failed to produce a drug testing programme, despite the establishment of an expert committee in May 1997 which reported to him last December and despite his army of civil servants. Yet, we were able to produce a drug testing and education programme for sport in Ireland in December 1997.

There will be a press conference on that next week.

It is ironic that we are talking about a drugs testing programme on a day when one of our foremost sporting heroines faces accusations. The leading sportspersons of Ireland, at national and international level, are badly compromised because of the absence of a drugs testing programme here. It is essential that the Minister immediately implements such a programme. Everything is in place to do this. When I was Minister for State we had discussions with the Northern Ireland sports council who had the experience and expertise to implement a drugs testing programme immediately. We also had an arrangement and understanding with the credited Olympic laboratory in Chelsea to analyse the samples taken from our athletes. Yet, despite the Minister's promises on his first day in office that he would be world leader in taking blood samples from our athletes and that he would show the world how it would be done, nothing has happened so far. We are in breach of the EU convention and have been compromised.

When the Deputy was Minister of State he was under the control of the then Minister for Education, Niamh Bhreathnach.

I put the structures in place. We must be decisive on this important issue and on the establishment of a statutory sports council. I ask the Minister to accept the Bill. Its flaws can be resolved on Committee Stage.

The Deputy should not waste parliamentary time on Bills already in the pipeline.

Question put.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 55; Níl, 67.

  • Allen, Bernard.
  • Barnes, Monica.
  • Bell, Michael.
  • Belton, Louis.
  • Boylan, Andrew.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Broughan, Thomas.
  • Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).
  • Burke, Liam.
  • Burke, Ulick.
  • Connaughton, Paul.
  • Cosgrave, Michael.
  • Crawford, Seymour.
  • Currie, Austin.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • De Rossa, Proinsias.
  • O'Shea, Brian.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • Dukes, Alan.
  • Durkan, Bernard.
  • Enright, Thomas.
  • Farrelly, John.
  • Ferris, Michael.
  • Finucane, Michael.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Gormley, John.
  • Hayes, Brian.
  • Higgins, Jim.
  • Higgins, Joe.
  • Higgins, Michael.
  • Hogan, Philip.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Kenny, Enda.
  • McGahon, Brendan.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • McGrath, Paul.
  • McManus, Liz.
  • Mitchell, Gay.
  • Mitchell, Jim.
  • Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • Noonan, Michael.
  • O'Sullivan, Jan.
  • Owen, Nora.
  • Penrose, William.
  • Quinn, Ruairí.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.
  • Ryan, Seán.
  • Sargent, Trevor.
  • Sheehan, Patrick.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Upton, Pat.


  • Ahern, Dermot.
  • Ahern, Michael.
  • Ardagh, Seán.
  • Aylward, Liam.
  • Blaney, Harry.
  • Brady, Johnny.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Brennan, Matt.
  • Brennan, Séamus.
  • Browne, John (Wexford).
  • Byrne, Hugh.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Carey, Pat.
  • Collins, Michael.
  • Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.
  • Cullen, Martin.
  • Daly, Brendan.
  • Davern, Noel.
  • O'Donnell, Liz.
  • de Valera, Síle.
  • Dennehy, John.
  • Doherty, Seán.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Fleming, Seán.
  • Flood, Chris.
  • Foley, Denis.
  • Fox, Mildred.
  • Hanafin, Mary.
  • Harney, Mary.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Jacob, Joe.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kenneally, Brendan.
  • Killeen, Tony.
  • Kirk, Séamus.
  • Kitt, Michael.
  • Kitt, Tom.
  • Lawlor, Liam.
  • Lenihan, Brian.
  • Lenihan, Conor.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • McDaid, James.
  • McGennis, Marian.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • Moffatt, Thomas.
  • Molloy, Robert.
  • Moloney, John.
  • Moynihan, Donal.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • O'Dea, Willie.
  • O'Donoghue, John.
  • O'Flynn, Noel.
  • O'Hanlon, Rory.
  • O'Keeffe, Ned.
  • O'Kennedy, Michael.
  • O'Malley, Desmond.
  • Roche, Dick.
  • Ryan, Eoin.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Smith, Michael.
  • Treacy, Noel.
  • Wade, Eddie.
  • Wallace, Dan.
  • Wallace, Mary.
  • Woods, Michael.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Sheehan and Ferris; Níl, Deputies S. Brennan and Callely.
Question declared lost.