Irish Sports Council Bill, 1998: Second Stage (Resumed).

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

Is léir go bhfuil an-éileamh ar an mBille seo. Cuireann sé i gcuimhne dúinn an-chuid daoine mór-le-rá i saol an spóirt atá caillte, ar nós Noel Carroll, a lua go leor daoine romhamsa, agus daoine eile a cailleadh tamall fada ó shin, ar nós Harry Reynolds, an rothaí ó mo bhaile féin, Baile Brigín, a bhí mar laoch an domhain ag tús an chéid. Is léir go bhfuil an éileamh i measc Teachtaí Dála don Bhille seo mar go raibh sé an-dheacair ormsa am labhartha a fháil. Bíodh sin mar atá, táim anseo anois agus ba mhaith liom daoine ar nós an rothaí Tess Carroll, Catherina McKiernan, Sonia O'Sullivan agus araoile a mholadh as ainm na hÉireann a chur in áirde. Caithfear na himreoirí sóisear sacair a bhuaigh an méid sin cluichí le tamall anuas a lua freisin. Tá saol spóirt na hÉireann ar bharr réime faoi láthair d'fhéadfá a rá. Ach ta go leor ceisteanna eile a bhaineann le gnáth-mhuintir na hÉireann, maidir le cúrsaí spóirt nach bhfuil chomh sásúil agus ba mhaith liom tagairt a dhéanamh do chuid acu sin anois.

Participation in sport is often talked about. However, in reality it often meets various obstacles. I hope the main thrust of the sports council will be to use participation as a yardstick in the way it measures success in sport. We are all agreed that we would want the broadest possible participation in sporting endeavour.

I congratulate the community games organisation, which has done so much to promote the participation by young people in sports. It has resulted in a number of our well known sportspeople coming to public attention. People like Niall Quinn, Sonia O'Sullivan and many others often speak very highly of the voluntary effort put in by adults to the community games in which they participated in their younger days.

As someone who trained to be a primary school teacher I can also vouch for the fact that many young people are first able to take up sport through primary schools. A great deal of voluntary effort has been made in this area also. Primary schools are also the first places where many children first encounter organised sport and it is important they have proper sporting facilities at their disposal. They should at least have play-ground facilities that meet their needs.

In looking for adequate playing facilities for young people, which may be termed the foundations of sporting involvement or the more recreational side of sport, I have found it very difficult to determine where responsibility lies among Departments for issues such as play facilities for children. In approaching the Department of Health and Children I am told the matter is covered by the Child Care Act and issues to do with children suffering abuse or other difficulties. In approaching the Department of Education and Science I am told it deals with schooling issues while I am told by the Minister's Department that it is concerned with the organisational aspects of sport.

There is a need for somebody to address the issue of playgrounds because insurance companies effectively deal with it at present when they dictate to local authorities that children must not be encouraged to play with organised facilities because of the risk of litigation and so on. They are overplaying that concern. There should be a reasonable arrangement. What Department represents the interests of children in the area of recreational sport? I hope the Minister will provide an answer, especially with regard to the issue of play facilities, when he responds to the debate.

The Bill refers to inclusiveness in a number of ways. There are references to recreational and competitive sport. Like other Deputies I have received representations from bridge players. Some have gone to the trouble of sending me the definition of sport as set out in Chambers Dictionary. According to the dictionary it means "recreation; pastime; dalliance; amorous behaviour; play; a game, especially one involving bodily exercise". There is plenty of scope to be inclusive. Deputy Hanafin pointed out that a game like chess or bridge is to many, especially the elderly or disabled, the most physically and mentally stimulating game within their capabilities. These games deserve the recognition as a sport currently denied to them. I hope the Minister will address this in his reply.

While it may be argued that contract bridge does not express or improve physical fitness, it nevertheless provides an outlet for many people who cannot or chose not to engage in strenuous physical activity. Given that the Minister is obliged by his terms of office to take the broadest possible view and reflect the concerns of the community as a whole it should be possible that interests such as those involved in organising contract bridge are not excluded by the terms of the Bill. Section 6 should, therefore, be amended on Committee Stage to include the recreational games I mentioned. The Minister might exercise his prerogative in this regard. I am sure the case made by the Contract Bridge Association is representative of the position of a great number of minority sports which give pleasure and enjoyment without attracting the attention of elite athletes, as they are often referred to.

The issue of shared sporting facilities comes up time and again. From dealing with these issues at local authority level I know many sports clubs are required to share facilities. The main difficulty is that there are not enough facilities to share, which causes tension at times. An example should be given by all sports organisations that where public resources are expended, facilities ought to be shared. The money going to fund those resources is shared by all of us as taxpayers and that should determine the shared facility principle. Publicly funded sports facilities are a relatively scarce resource. I hope the enactment of the Bill will herald a new era in which establishing the sharing of sports facilities will be the norm.

Safety is another issue which occupies the minds of everybody involved in sport, particularly parents of young people. From reports and personal experience, we are all aware of accidents that have happened, but there are also a considerable number of near misses. It is important to learn lessons from those who are involved in sport either through coaching, participation or as observers. There was a very near miss during a recent national athletics contest when a child ran out in front of a javelin thrower. The javelin missed the child by a matter of feet. As a matter of priority we should pay considerable attention to increasing safety at sports facilities.

Section 7 refers to sponsorship agreements. I would like to tie this in with the section that deals with anti-doping to ensure sport is drug free. I hope the long established practice of alcohol and tobacco companies becoming heavily involved in sports sponsorship can be challenged and faced down. Many sponsors are benign in terms of the physical effect of their products on sports people, but the record in terms of alcohol and cigarettes increasingly demonstrates they are not compatible with achieving excellence in sport. It is a contradiction to try to challenge drugs in sport while at the time images that promote alcohol and cigarettes swamp both viewers and participants. When it comes to terms of reference, I hope sponsorship agreements will deliberately favour ethical sponsorship instead of alcohol and cigarette advertising.

The section that relates to the circumstances under which a person may be disqualified or removed from membership of the sports council will I hope ensure we reflect on the experience of swimming, where questions arose as to whether a body should be suspended pending investigation. It would be an opportunity to put in place, rather than reacting to situations as they arise, some type of guidelines which could be referred to on the basis of experience. That would ensure we could deal with those type of situations if they arise in the future. Let us hope they will not, but experience teaches us that we must be prepared for such eventualities, as was referred to earlier concerning interference with swimmers. I hope that can be dealt with to some extent in the course of the debate on this Bill.

There has been considerable interest in this Bill. People have told me they hope it will implement certain objectives. Many people have referred to funding, which will always be a sore subject. When we review lottery funding it should be borne in mind that the sports council might be the correct body to disburse it, given its terms of reference, rather than such funding being laid open to the charge of political favouritism, which has sometimes occurred.

I hope the bias will be in favour of community facilities with the widest possible use. It is difficult to reconcile the £250,000 given to the K-Club against the needs of junior football clubs and various other athletic organisations dealing with vast numbers of young people. I hope the greatest number of people in need will benefit from the type of funding disbursed under the auspices of the sports council.

In north Dublin many young people are involved in athletics and various other sporting pursuits. They try hard to achieve and some of them are successful. The irony is that the more successful they become the more expensive it is for them to continue in their particular sports. The Minister has assisted a number of elite athletes and recognises their needs. A number of them must leave the country to train in warm weather which can place an enormous burden on them, something with which athletes from warmer climates do not have to cope. A friend of mine from Lusk, John Carroll, is an athlete with a local athletics club. He has been invited to participate in sporting events in London, Edinburgh and the south of France, but the huge financial burden that places on the families of such athletes should be taken into account. These people are competing at an amateur level and have to pursue academic and other careers. It means that, effectively, they suffer for the sake of whatever glory Ireland manages to get from their achievements. I hope that will be recognised by the sports council so that support can be given more promptly when those needs arise.

There has been much talk in the media about building a national stadium and other facilities on greenfield sites. I hope the amount of coverage given to such exciting proposals will not eclipse the needs of the many facilities around the country which manage to host sporting events, often in the most primitive conditions. I realise the Morton Stadium in Santry is legendary in the number of events it has hosted. It continues to be a very popular venue and has many admirable qualities. Antrim also has a very fine sports facility for athletes. That we have only one indoor 200 metre track in Nenagh, which is very much in need of investment, indicates that we really ought to look at facilities which are in place and make sure they can provide for young and up-and-coming athletes who will aspire to greater things. Then we can turn to the larger projects which will, in turn, be very welcome. However, I hope larger projects will not be built at the expense of facilities dealing with events on a day-to-day and week-to-week basis but which are long overdue for investment.

Teastaíonn uaim fáilte a cur roimh an mBille tríd is tríd agus, le cúnamh Dé, le linn an chéad Committee Stage eile beimíd in ann an-cuid de na ceisteanna seo a árdú mar leasaithe, agus arís bhéadh an-áthas orm dá bhféadfá freagraí a tha-bhairt dom air na ceisteanna sin mar gheall ar shabháltacht agus mar gheall ar fhógraíocht i gcúrsaí spóirt mar tá sé an-thábhachtach do dhaoine óga na tíre go bhfeicfidís go bhfuil an Rialtas i ndáirire mar gheall ar cheist drugaí trí cosc a cur ar dhrugaí a bheith mar cuid den fhógraíocht, agus tá sé sin an-thábhachtach agus beidh mé ag súil leis na freagraí sin.

Ba mhaith liomsa cuidiú leis an méid atá ráite ag an Teachta Trevor Sargent, agus go h-áirithe, fáilte a cur roimh an Bille seo. Tá sé thar a beith tábhachtach, agus tá súl agam go mbeidh, mar a deirtear, toradh a shaothair ag an Aire atá againn inniu.

It will be very important that the statutory basis for this council, which is now being put on a very firm footing, will yield significant results, not just for sportsmen but for the whole community in the future. It is important that we have a Minister introducing this who is responsible for sport, tourism and recreation, because these are interlinked in many ways. The impact our soccer team and our soccer supporters made during the great series of games in Europe and in the World Cup was very positive and created a very positive image of Ireland. The old Dubliner who said on radio that they should be subsidised for going around the world cheering for Ireland because they were giving Ireland a great image was not too far wrong. It is, in any event, appropriate that a Minister with responsibility for all those areas should introduce this Bill.

It evokes a touch of nostalgia for me, because I set up the first sports council in 1971 which I called COSAC, Comhairle Sport agus Caitheamh Aimsire. If I have any reservation about this Bill it is that the Minister has not found an Irish term for such a significant Irish promotion. Another regret is that that sports council which was doing great work was allowed to die by my ministerial successor, the former Taoiseach, Deputy John Bruton. It was revived when our distinguished former colleague, Jim Tunney relaunched it as Cospóir, putting his own stamp on it, which I perfectly well understood.

Even at this remove, 28 years later, I would point out that those who made themselves available in a voluntary capacity at that time were people of total commitment, service and achievement. I recall Ron Delaney, former Olympic champion, Maeve Kyle, Joe Corr, Jim McKeever — one of the great Gaelic footballers from Derry — the late Judge Conroy, Lord Killanin, the former Commissioner Paddy Carroll, and Liam Gleeson who was a great pole vaulter for years. I mention in particular Joe Connolly who launched the community games and who has done more than any one man to promote awareness of sport as a health activity for communities as well. Bobby Buckley, an enlightened administrator was anxious to ensure that grants that were being made available to him as a chief executive officer for his school in Tralee could be used for the community. That kind of dynamic commitment set the pace for what turned out to be a very effective if short-lived effort at that time. It will be noted also that the membership of that first sports council was not confined to any one part of the island — it had a North-South dimension, and that is of considerable importance. No doubt the current Minister, who is from the most Northern county of all, will be very conscious of the positive potential of activities of this kind and the common bond of sportsmen. As a Tipperary man, one thing that moves me to this day, as I found even during the by-election campaign, is the bond between sportsmen who made it tough and rough for each other on the playing fields years ago. It is such a strong, deep bond of affection, loyalty and common purpose. That is a great strength that this statutory council, when it is set up, will want to exploit.

I trust that will not mean the voluntary organisations in communities in our towns and villages will be disadvantaged or that the statutory body will not take full account of the dynamic energy and positive contribution these voluntary organisations make. I could elaborate at great length, but I do not need to do so because the Minister is conscious of it. It is vitally important that the statutory body continues to be available to and continues to recruit the energy and commitment of all of these voluntary organisations throughout the country. The most successful organisations are largely built on a voluntary contribution. This can be seen in Cumann Lúthchleas Gael which every day and every weekend, throughout the length and breadth of the country, is doing so much not just for the physical health but also for the psychological health and well being of our communities. There are smaller organisations, and I am sure they will not be overlooked. My total budget in the days when I set up the first sports council was only £100,000. There was not too much that could be done with that, beyond relying on the impact some of the personalities I mentioned could make, which they did very effectively.

The small organisations which cater for the disabled and the handicapped are of vital importance. While they may not always have the same high profile as the Olympic champions or the international golfers, they are an essential component. As a doctor, the Minister would be fully aware of that and I have no doubt he is also aware that it is a real measure of a common social commitment on the part of sportsmen which must be pursued.

I do not wish to sound like I am denigrating small organisations, but over the years the Departments of Education and the Environment and county councils have grant aided many facilities in a haphazard way. In every town there will be one school with a general recreational room, another with an outdoor playing area and another with a gymnasium. Needless to say, the local hurling, football and swimming clubs also have requests for funding. I would be the last to place any cap or restriction on voluntary organisations or schools but it is time, and I hope the council examines this, that we began to co-ordinate rather than spreading the money thinly. Germany, Holland and other countries much wealthier than us have always insisted that there be one central complex in every town which every one can use. It is essential the piecemeal development here be controlled, if not restricted, from now on. Otherwise we will not get the full benefit from what we are setting out to do.

I have a special interest in swimming. I remember we organised an international sports medicine specialists conference in Dublin in 1971 or 1972. Specialists were happy to attend without our paying their expenses because we could not have done so if that had been a condition. The theme which emerged from that conference was that swimming is the great health exercise in terms of its physical, psychological and aerobic impact. That being so, the Minister should ensure in the co-ordination which the council will set about achieving that swimming pools are as widely dispersed as possible throughout the country and that everyone is encouraged to avail of that wonderful natural facility around us. Some of us, me included, do so all year round.

I welcome the establishment of the council. Its progress is in the hands of the Minister who has total commitment to it. I hope the new chairman and all concerned will see that whatever observations are made on the Bill and on their work are meant to be helpful and positive. That is the spirit in which I express my views.

It is a great honour to speak after Deputy O'Kennedy who has obviously been involved at the outset in the development of sports policy. Like him, I often immerse myself in very cold water in the Forty Foot which is in Deputy Barrett's constituency. I appeal to Deputy Barrett to do something at local authority level to have the facility upgraded and developed for all the people of Dublin. It is a fabulous facility. Despite many protestations from the female of the species, women swim there every day alongside men and no discrimination exists there now. I know the sign at the entrance is offensive to some women and I would not mind if it mysteriously disappeared some night without explanation. I will leave that to Deputy Barrett who I am sure will be able to organise it.

I was struck by Deputy Sargent's tribute to Noel Carroll. I knew him in his many different public roles: as sportsman, spokesperson for Dublin Corporation and chief executive of the Chambers of Commerce of Ireland. In all these he played an outstanding role and was from an age in sport which is now almost gone. He was a perfect role model in an age and a world where sport is increasingly becoming prey to commercial concerns and exploitation as well as to people peddling performance enhancing drugs of one kind or another.

I cannot agree with Deputy Sargent when he makes the case for bridge. Much as is my affection for that game — it is played by my mother and mother-in-law and was played by my late grandmother, such a sedentary and cerebral pursuit as bridge should not be classified as sport. It would be a retrograde step. I know the Minister is interested in and cognisant of the dynamic lobby on behalf of bridge and is keen to formulate a policy which would accommodate bridge, chess and other similar cerebral and sedentary pursuits in the recreation side of his portfolio. Given the earnestness with which he has applied himself to the development of sport in its purest form and definition, I have no doubt he will apply his agile mind to the business of encouraging people in more sedentary pursuits like bridge. Despite all the romanticising, speeches and laudatory words about sport, it is not for every individual. There are people who like to curl up with a good book or play a good game of chess and they should not be diminished for that.

The issue of doping and the abuse of performance enhancing drugs in sport is at the heart of the debate on the sports council. We must get to grips with this issue and I am happy the Minister, Deputy McDaid, is doing that. However, he could do a little more. The full sanction of the criminal law should be brought to bear on those who push drugs on players. It is an abominable practice. Like many others who played rugby, I was shocked to hear of the recent revelations by Neil Francis, against whom I played, in relation to the Irish Rugby Football Union. They demand the introduction of more stringent powers. I know the regime the Minister is planning to put in place is amongst the most stringent in the world. However, I still believe he could go that extra mile and invoke criminal sanctions so that people who unfairly pressurise, push or encourage young people into the use of performance enhancing drugs go to jail. It is an abominable and life threatening practice. There was considerable debate about the Joyner case and her early death and people are able to draw their own conclusions about her performances and medal victories. There is no point in developing the point here but there is a sad message in it for all sports people.

The overall regulation of sport is now very important. It is to the credit of the Taoiseach that sport is to the forefront of Government policy. Never before has there been a senior Minister with responsibility for sport and it is great that it has come about. I hope that, if Deputy Barrett's party ever regains power, it will not reverse this decision and return to the bad old days when sport was relegated to a relatively minor junior ministry and regarded as a backwater, even if it did allow the Minister to attend matches around the globe. Sport is now to the forefront of national policy and concerns. What are the Minister's thoughts on the development of a national stadium? A stadium is badly needed to cater for the needs of our soccer team.

In the context of the North-South Council on which the Minister will interact with our British and Northern Ireland colleagues, does he plan to promote the idea of a united Irish soccer team, something about which people have spoken for many years? It would provide a great boost. The possible participation of an Irish based soccer team in a European super league should be considered.

The proposals made by Deputy Gay Mitchell with Dr. A. J. F. O'Reilly with a view to hosting the Olympic Games should also be looked at. Our sports infrastructure should be developed to put us in a position where we can apply to host a major European event, if not the Olympic Games.

What are the Minister's views on the generous offer of Mr. J. P. McManus of £50 million towards the cost of a national stadium? Mr. McManus is known for his many betting coups on race courses throughout the country.

There is a wider dimension to sport. With the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Cowen, the Minister should consider whether the health promotion unit should be transferred to the Department for Tourism, Sport and Recreation. The Minister for Health and Children has enough on his plate in the management of the health service.

Sport is about educating young people how to look after their bodies. In his first 100 days in office the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Martin, mentioned that sport may become part of the leaving certificate curriculum. I look forward to that day. What are the Minister's thoughts on the subject?

The former Minister, Deputy O'Kennedy, raised a difficult issue, of which I am aware as a member of the Committee of Public Accounts. A national audit of sports facilities should be conducted to prevent duplication.

Deputy O'Kennedy also mentioned swimming pools. I have made the point at meetings of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party that to eradicate social deprivation, disadvantaged areas should not be forgotten when it comes to investment in sports facilities.

I welcome the Bill. Sport is an international language which brings nations and communities together. Ireland has been put on the international map by the achievements of our sports people. I have been told by tourism interests that our greatest marketing tool in Europe, from Stuttgart in 1988 through to Rome in 1990, was our soccer team.

The functions of the Irish Sports Council will be to encourage the promotion, development and co-ordination of competitive sport and the achievement of excellence in competitive sport; to develop strategies for increasing participation in recreational sport and to co-ordinate their implementation; to facilitate standards of good conduct and fair play in competitive sport through the promulgation of guidelines and codes of practice; to take such action as it considers appropriate to combat doping in sport; to initiate and encourage research concerning competitive sport; to facilitate research and disseminate information concerning competitive sport and perform any additional functions assigned to it by the Minister by order.

Each of these functions is laudable but there is a danger that in placing the council on a statutory footing we will undermine the efforts of those who participate voluntarily. Most will never achieve excellence in competitive sport. Players like Roy Keane and Denis Irwin are few and far between. Sport should be seen as a way of keeping young people out of trouble and of involving them in a healthy pursuit. In areas of social deprivation it offers a way out. In a positive move GAA and soccer groups in my constituency of Cork North Central have come together to ensure young people can avail of the expertise of trainers and coaches at the desired level. The success of sport is based on the voluntary effort of parents, teachers and community leaders in coaching and encouraging young people on a Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning. The day we lose sight of this is the day sport will suffer at all levels. Society will also suffer.

All the reports indicate that education and sport keep young people on the straight and narrow. They are interlinked. It is a positive step to include physical education in the curriculum as it will instil confidence in young people. In any class or club it is usual for one or two to be above average. There is a tendency for the individual coach or teacher to look on them favourably to the detriment of the others. Sport encourages discipline and gives young people a sense of well being. More importantly it encourages young people to seek excellence within their peer group. Young offenders are often found to have dropped out of the school system and to have given up sporting activity for a variety of reasons. Young people who drop out of sporting activity are often in danger of getting into trouble with the law.

I am concerned that the available recreation and sports facilities are not given maximum use. Huge sums of money have been invested on an ad hoc basis over many years. Sports centres, running tracks, community halls and swimming pools are dotted throughout the country but they are useless without the enormous contribution of volunteers. If this voluntary contribution is not recognised it will be lost. Voluntary coaches and sports organisers save the State huge sums every year and their contribution is enormous. Unemployed people who are prepared to do this work should be paid a top-up amount and allowed to coach for a few hours while retaining unemployment benefit or assistance. There must be some financial recognition of people who are prepared to get involved in coaching and organising on a voluntary basis. In areas of high unemployment financial constraints often prevent people from participating in coaching and a co-ordinated approach must be taken to using the services of such volunteers.

Anyone who has played hurling will understand the rivalry which can exist between parishes. Nonetheless, involvement in hurling or any team game allows those involved to meet and exchange views with sports people from other areas. We must encourage participants in various sporting codes North and South to meet others from outside their own communities. This could have a huge effect on solving the difficulties which are still experienced by people in Northern Ireland on a daily basis and could break down the barriers which exist between people in Northern Ireland and this side of the Border. If such activity can be encouraged in children at a young age the mind set of prejudice will be eroded and chipped away.

So long as sport brings huge financial rewards the use of performance enhancing drugs will be encouraged. Only a percentage of sports people will avail of them but those who train hard and live a disciplined life to achieve excellence will suffer unfairness. Athletes who use such drugs are victims of a larger evil.

Debate adjourned.