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

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

In my opening remarks on Tuesday night I referred to the importance of setting down key principles in relation to sports policy. I cited the New Zealand Hillary Commission for Sports Fitness and suggested that the goals mentioned in that strategy should underpin the sports strategy of the new Irish Sports Council. They include the need to increase participation in fitness and leisure, the need to enhance performance in sport fitness and leisure and the need to improve the organisational infrastructure and programme delivery systems for sports fitness and leisure. Ultimately what is required is an integrated approach operating at a number of different levels and I will emphasise that point in the course of my contribution.

Cospóir published an important report in 1994, The Economic Impact of Sports in Ireland, which states that the 20th century has been characterised by dramatic improvements in living standards and by widespread social and technological change. It further states that shorter working hours, longer holiday periods, changes in attitudes and knowledge of health, together with the greater availability of income for spending on discretionary activities, have led to rapid growth in the range and volume of activities.

In a community context, sporting activities have relevance not only as a source of recreation and a contribution to health but they generate such diverse effects as influencing crime rates or as forms of cultural expression. That report was published in 1994 and much of our thinking has evolved from that time. It was carried through into John Treacy's document Targeting Sporting Change in Ireland which stated that people take part in sport for many reasons including competition, fun, social contacts, health and fitness.

The contribution made by sport to the quality of life of people and to the economy has increased significantly in recent years. The Bill will greatly expand the role of the Irish Sports Council and it will give it statutory recognition for the first time. I welcome that its role is to be broadened beyond that of advising and that it will assume responsibility for certain executive functions currently fulfilled by the Minister. It is also welcome that the sports council will promote wider participation in sport by developing strategies and putting in place codes of conduct and practice which emphasise fair play.

The passing of the Bill will mark a milestone for sport in Ireland and it will underline the high priority placed on sport and recreation by the Government and the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation, Deputy McDaid. As well as bringing sport to the Cabinet table for the first time, the Government has increased funding for the development of sport to £26 million this year from £17 million last year. We have come a long way since Cospóir was first established in the early 1970s when Deputy O'Kennedy was Parliamentary Secretary at the Department of Education. The budget allocation for Cospóir and sport in general at that stage was the princely sum, by today's standards, of £100,000.

A key objective of any sports policy must be to involve young people at all levels and to encourage them to develop a lifelong interest in playing and enjoying sport. The future development of sport for young people should move away from the current fragmented approach and it should be planned in the context of the home, the school or the community. Fragmentation is one of the hallmarks of sports policy delivery here and it must be urgently addressed.

In the education sector, physical education programmes at both first and second level must be significantly enhanced. At primary level there are no officially designated physical education teachers. All primary teachers — I include myself in this because I spent 30 years in the teaching profession — are expected to teach this complex subject having acquired only the most basic training in teacher training college. Ongoing in-service training is largely absent apart from the voluntary training acquired on summer courses. In many classes physical education is hardly taught at all and 30 minutes spent kicking a ball around a hall often passes for physical education.

Traditionally there is one "sport for all" day in schools per year. This hardly compensates for the system's shortcomings during the remainder of the year. I recall circulars arriving from the Department of Education and Science advising teachers that "sport for all" day would take place invariably on the Thursday before the June Bank Holiday weekend. That was a creative way of organising a fun day for schoolchildren before they embarked on their holiday weekend. There was also a fear among teachers that a schools inspector would arrive to evaluate what one was trying to do in terms of providing physical education. A mindset exists in the Department and among teachers which must be changed.

Serious consideration must be given to the appointment of physical education teachers in primary schools with priority being given to schools situated in disadvantaged urban areas. It might even be possible as an initial step to appoint physical education teachers for particular areas. Their services could be shared among the primary schools in those areas. In devising programmes of sport and physical education activities at primary level, emphasis should be placed on participation and fun rather than competition. In that context, I support the work done by the Irish mini-sport movement over the years. I compliment the Minister for Education and Science on the pilot project currently ongoing in a number of schools which gives priority to physical education.

The park tennis league operates during the summer in Dublin under the aegis of Dublin Corporation and is normally sponsored privately. This league is run on a shoestring budget but it does a great deal to promote the sport of tennis. Similarly, the municipal rowing centre at Island-bridge — a co-operative venture between Dublin Corporation and the City of Dublin VEC — does a great deal to attract people who might not otherwise be interested in competitive sport to a pastime they might find challenging and interesting.

To return to education, the syllabus at second level is badly in need of revision. There are approximately 800 physical education teachers employed in post primary schools. In the region of 50 per cent of these schools have a full-time PE teacher. However, in many cases these teachers perform other functions and they are unable to devote their time exclusively to physical education or sports activities. In some schools physical education teachers often serve as career guidance teachers and they also organise other activities. That approach does no good in terms of providing children with physical education or career guidance.

The lack of facilities for sporting activities in schools remains a problem. Many schools were built when the level of available funds was quite low and they include what are called "general purpose" rooms which are too big to serve as classrooms and too small to serve as sports areas. It is time to embark on a programme of constructing sports halls large enough to at least accommodate a decent basketball court. I do not suggest that such halls should be built in every area and I will deal later with how there should be shared ownership of these facilities. Where a local community facility exists which could be adapted for use by a school, it should be possible for a partnership to be developed so that the school and the local community can benefit from the allocation of scarce resources. For example, Ashbourne Community School shares the local community centre very effectively. The benefits of this approach are great because the centre has a cost-effective tenant between the hours of 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. and the community can then avail of an upgraded centre for the remainder of the afternoon and evening.

Sharing facilities means that it would be possible to have one well equipped centre where high quality programmes could be delivered. A good model for this exists at Coláiste Íde in Finglas, where a sports complex built as a joint venture by the City of Dublin VEC and Dublin Corporation in the early 1980s services the needs of more than 800 post-leaving certificate students up to 4 p.m. each Monday to Friday and where a wide range of programmes is delivered to the local community up to 11 p.m. on weeknights and all day on Saturday and Sunday. Approximately 1,200 members of the community use the centre during the hours it is available to them. I understand the centre operates quite well and the local community has access to a state of the art facility staffed by fully qualified personnel. The provision of such personnel is at least as important as building a facility in the first instance.

It is vital that those who staff sports centres such as that situated at Coláiste Íde hold qualifications from the NCVA or from Thomond College. The Coláiste Íde sports complex was opened in 1985 with one paid member of staff. That situation still obtains with other members of staff being appointed from community employment schemes, usually for a term of one year. This issue must be addressed. Another lesson which can be learned from the Coláiste Íde model relates to the youth services for the Finglas area which are also based in the complex. This provides a way to attract to a sports complex young people who might not otherwise be interested in going there. Some of the best youth work is done by sports clubs which, at this stage, are the only clubs which are run by volunteers because the majority of other organisations are being taken over by "paid professionals".

Institutions such as Coláiste Íde run outreach programmes. For example, Coláiste Íde services programmes in Coolock and the inner city — where swimming classes are co-ordinated and facilitated — and it runs outdoor pursuits programmes in Blessington. Therefore, a centre of activity or excellence is responsible for driving the entire complex.

Discussing the lack of facilities raises the perennially thorny issue of the numerous school facilities which lie unused each weekend and during holiday periods. While I accept there are insurance difficulties involved, these are surely not insurmountable. Several attempts have been made by successive Ministers to try to develop an insurance policy which would allow relatively easy access to school facilities by community and sports groups. I am not sure if a successful one has been devised. All things being equal, these facilities would be better respected if they were more readily available to sports and leisure groups. Recently there has been a huge increase in recreational sport which is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. Undoubtedly, part of this increase is due to the increased amount of leisure time available. Cospóir can also take a bow in this regard because of its promotion of the sport-for-all strategy delivered to a large extent through the sports advisory councils of the vocational education committees. Those sports advisory councils have done an excellent co-ordinating job in promoting pursuits such as mountain walking and introductory swimming. In Dublin many important initiatives have derived from the activities of the sports advisory council.

Through the promotion of the sport-for-all strategy, many people have come to know and love the Wicklow Way, the Kerry Way and the joys of basic orienteering or swimming. Many older people have become involved in indoor bowling clubs and as a result greatly enhanced the quality of their lives. I have often watched up to 100 keen bowlers enjoy themselves on dark winter evenings in the warm and comfortable surroundings of the Tolka aerobics club in my constituency. I have no doubt this type of activity has kept many an older person away from the doctor's surgery and out of a hospital bed.

Recreational sport is a people's movement. Without well co-ordinated delivery, structures and quality leadership, regular mass participation in sport is unlikely to become a reality. It is important, therefore, that a recreational sports strategy, which might be developed by the new sports council, sets out as far as possible to encourage those who are not taking part in any form of sport to do so. We should ensure every person, irrespective of age, gender or ability has access to a wide range of sports and not just through the zapper on television and that the necessary infrastructure is put in place for the long-term involvement of people in sport. With an ageing population this is all the more important.

To ensure this happens it is important the membership of the council strikes a clear balance between those who come from a recreational sports background and those whose interests lie in the area of competitive or elite sports. Perhaps the Minister would include a clause which would reflect those interests in section 12 which refers to the membership and term of office of the council. I am concerned the sports policy could be driven by the professionals and those involved in elite sports. A provision should be included to ensure recreational sport is included in the council's strategy. The ILAM and Thomond College have done an enormous amount of work in researching the whole area of participation in sport and developing an interest in recreational sports. Their views would be interesting.

I make no secret of the fact that I favour recreational sport over competitive or elite sports. I have great regard for those who, on a shoestring budget, run football teams and athletic clubs literally out of car boots, wash the kit at home, sell spot-the-ball cards or organise race nights to keep the operation afloat. They rarely have time to do anything else and certainly cannot compete with the media driven competitive athletes. I cannot understand why sports such as chess and bridge get little support at official level. There is a constant Jesuitical debate about whether chess is a sport. Many young people find it an engaging sporting pursuit, admittedly the concentration is on mental activity. Similarly I know hundreds of older people who derive enormous stimulus from bridge and I ask the sports council to revisit that area.

I draw attention to the sports leader training programme which was——

The Deputy's time is exhausted.

——in existence. Will the new council re-examine that programme? I compliment the Minister on the Bill. It is an excellent initiative.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Boylan.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I am pleased to contribute to the debate on the Bill which seeks to put the Irish Sports Council on a statutory basis. I hope it will be given the necessary funding. Sport is one of the best outlets for young people but for many years it did not get support. I compliment the former Minister of State, Deputy Allen, who did an excellent job in the previous Government for small sporting organisations. He assisted many small clubs in my constituency which have done a wonderful job over the years. As the previous speaker said, many people involved in sport have assisted young people without any financial reward. Deputy Allen was an excellent Minister of State.

Those who have a major influence on young people such as professional footballers, whether involved in soccer or rugby, and Gaelic players who, although not professionals, but to whom people look up, have a huge responsibility. Given the extent of our social problems, if ever we needed sport to assist young people, it is now. For that reason I hope the sports council will work and that it gets the backing and the support, financial and otherwise, from the State to get more people involved in sport.

There are not enough outlets for young people. I came from a housing estate where 30, 40 or 50 young people played football every evening. Young people were fighting to get on the team. One does not see young people playing football or camogie in housing estates anymore. They are indoors watching "Home and Away", "Dallas" and so on. They should be told what they are watching is not real. It is time parents put an end to it. Before going to school they have to watch a soap opera; at lunchtime, 4 p.m. and from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. they watch soap operas. It is no wonder their minds are poisoned and that they do not realise there is something else for them other than soaps and television. I say to the Minister, teachers and schools, it is time sport was made compulsory on the school agenda. Young people should have to take part in sport for an hour or two each week. When I was young there was no television and young people had nothing to do except play football. They learned how to mix and to participate in sport, but those days are gone.

Why is it that when a team from soccer clubs, Gaelic clubs or other sporting organisation wins a cup or the final, those in charge take them to the pub to fill the cup? I am totally opposed to that. It has a bad influence on young people. Why are they not taken to a fish and chip shop or to a restaurant and provided with a small meal rather than to a pub where the cup is filled. That is poor example.

Some people cannot take part in sport unless they are taking drugs. I hope this matter will be dealt with. I realise the Minister said a testing programme would be put in place. There is no place in Ireland or in sport for those who enhance their performance by taking drugs to make them better runners, footballers or rugby players. That is a poor example for young people. Irish people are sportsmen and sportswomen. We love people who put on the green jersey whether for soccer, Gaelic, rugby, tennis or golf. Once they represent the country and take part in world championships we are proud of them and support them. When the Irish soccer team took part in the World Cup, the whole nation was behind them. If a county team, whether in Donegal, Cavan or Mayo, is doing well, it has the support of every person in the county. We all like to see our local club, our county team and our national team doing well at local, national or international level. That is why sport has a big influence on young people. I am delighted a sports council will be set up on a statutory basis. It will give people involved in sport the necessary powers and funds to promote all types of sport. It is important to get young people involved in sport, even if it is only playing marbles.

I wish to refer to drugs in sport and people in authority who have abused the trust of young people. In recent years people involved in sporting organisations abused girls and boys. There is no place in Irish society or sport for those people and I compliment the Minister on addressing this problem in swimming.

I compliment the many thousands of people throughout this country, to whom Deputy Carey referred, who voluntarily give of their time to help young people participate in sport. I am mindful of people like Martin Keane and Ollie Gannon in my town who give a full-time commitment to sport. Most of those people work full-time, but they spend a good deal of the free time on Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday organising under sevens, under eights and under tens indoor and outdoor football to keep young people on the straight and narrow. I compliment all those people throughout the State and thank them for the wonderful work they do for our society. They should be complimented, supported and honoured in their communities. There are many people trying to sell young people drugs and drink and bring them down a different road. Sport is one of the best roads by which we can bring people back on track. I hope the proposed sports council will be successful in doing that.

The disbursement of lottery funding is suspended pending a review of the position. While lottery funding allocations of £20 million and £150 million are welcome and good PR, allocations of £1,000, £3,000, £4,000 and £5,000 to small clubs, such as those in Erris, Ballinrobe, Westport and Castlebar are very beneficial. Ballyglass, a small rural club, was allocated lottery funding on two occasions under the previous Government. It used it wisely and built beautiful facilities which the former President opened. It has a football pitch and new dressing rooms and one would be proud to bring any club from around the world to it. A small allocation of money to that local club facilitated wonderful work. Allocations of £20 million and £150 million are good, but they do not have the same effect as allocations of small amounts of £3,000 or £4,000 to local clubs. Such small allocations reward the voluntary effort of people in the community who have worked hard in the sporting organisations to help and assist young people who are very pleased to have their own facilities.

I am sure my colleagues from Cavan, Deputies Boylan and Smith, will compliment Catherina McKiernan on her recent achievement. We were proud of her last Sunday and have been proud of her over the years. She has set a fine example and is a fine athlete. We wish her well in the future. I am sure Deputy Boylan will have more to say about that. As an Irishman, her performance last Sunday and on national television brought tears to my eyes. She is a credit to the country and to Cavan. I was delighted she said recently that she was outraged about people in sport who take drugs and that there is no place in sport for those people.

I wish to make an appeal to those who make it in sport, whether in golf, rugby, Gaelic or soccer, but particularly the soccer heroes. Over the years we have listened to them dictate to us what we are not doing right in this country. However, when many of those people did well in England and made a good deal of money they did not come back to do anything for this country. They have an obligation to our young people and they should not be paid for coming over here to preach the right message to young people. They have a commitment to this country. They have got something out of sport and should give back something to it. They should not always look for £10,000 or £15,000 for a public appearance to do something for young people.

I thank Deputy Ring for sharing his time with me. I thank him for his kind remarks about Catherina McKiernan, a lady from my county, of whom we are justly proud. I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill, which is probably one of the most important to come before the House in recent months. It provides for the establishment of a sports council on a statutory basis, an agency that will deal with all aspects of sport. The Minister is fortunate in holding the portfolio of Tourism, Sport and Recreation. Sport and recreation can be grouped together because they are one and the same. Through sport we can promote what is best about our country through our athletes who make it to international arenas. They bring much credit to our country and we must ensure they are properly looked after.

I note the former Minister, Deputy Allen, is sitting on the Front Bench where he rightly belongs. He did excellent work as Minister and I take this opportunity to thank him for his generous grant of £100,000 — a substantial sum three years ago — to build a swimming pool in the town of Bailieboro in my county. That allocation has not gone unnoticed; it is very much appreciated and has been of much benefit.

I note the Department is seeking tenders for a proposed 50 metre swimming pool. I presume it will be located in this fair city of Dublin. I presume almost all major developments will be located here but similar developments should be located throughout the country. We have excellent motorways and roadways to all areas. If we are to develop sport in all its aspects and give all our young people an opportunity, the facilities we put in place should be spread across the country, to Donegal, Cavan, Dublin, Kerry, Cork, Limerick and so on. They should not be located in Dublin simply because we believe that they must be based there. Dublin is congested and it is difficult to get to and from it. It is not that I do not want to see sports development in Dublin. A grant of £20 million has been allocated to Croke Park. The provision of a 50 metre swimming pool is necessary.

The Minister may be considering the establishment of a national stadium as a millennium project to which we could attract all international events. Some people laugh at Deputy Gay Mitchell's proposal that we should make a bid to hold the Olympic Games, but that is not foolish thinking. The island of Ireland, North and South, should join together to make that bid. All the games could be facilitiated in facilities in Belfast, Derry, Dublin, Donegal and if we did not have the facilities to host some of the games, it would not be difficult to arrange for them to be held across the water in Great Britain. The holding of the games on this side of the world would be advantageous and that proposal should be given serious consideration.

We are discussing the provision of sports facilities for young people to ensure that they get off on the right track. I listened with interest to the excellent contributions of the previous Fianna Fáil speaker and Deputy Ring. Deputies are thinking the right way in terms of getting people off to a good start in life. That is vitally important. There is no better way of doing that than through sport. Participation in sport helps young people develop their personalities, it toughens them up and, most importantly, helps them make friends for life. The GAA has done a marvellous job and there is great comaraderie in clubs, on the playing fields and in the dressing rooms.

Butlersbridge is a small place on the map, but the Minister when travelling to Donegal would pass through it. Our local team won the national senior league final last weekend. There were great celebrations. We filled the cup but not with lemonade. That success brought people together and they took pride in what was a small event at national level, but very important locally. Local club events bring people together throughout the country and such success inspires young people. Dermot McCabe, who came to national prominence and prior to that was centre field on the Cavan county team and who made such an impact in the games with Australia, made a very nice gesture when he presented medals to under 16 year olds. Young people look up to people like him who are prepared to give their time.

Catherina McKiernan has created a marvellous clean image, not only for my county but for the country. The good Lord has bestowed gifts on her which she has nurtured and developed without tampering with any additives. This must be recognised, given the number of questions that have been raised about the achievements of international athletes. There can be no question about the achievements of Catherina McKiernan. People like her who are involved in sporting activities, such as athletics boxing, golf, table tennis — according to the newspapers a lad in Dublin has made a big name for himself in this sport — should be asked to portray the country as a tourism destination with a clean image.

I am disappointed with the way in which BLE is treating Catherina McKiernan. The Minister should ask the board to stop interfering with her programme of work and her ambition to bring honour and glory to this country at the Olympic Games in Sydney in 2000. It is wrong of the board to impose any embargo on her programme of work and training. How many members of the board have run a marathon and know what they are talking about? It is annoying and disappointing that it should treat a person in this way.

More needs to be done about spreading funding provided by the national lottery. I commend what Deputy Allen did for a swimming pool in Bailieboro. Money should be made available for small swimming pools and recreation areas across the country.

Deputy Pat Carey referred to facilities attached to schools. Unfortunately when schools were developed and built money and resources were scarce. Green areas were not incorporated in the plans with the result that during playtime young people have very few facilities. Those teachers interested in teaching them various sporting skills do not have the facilities at their disposal. While green areas are difficult to provide in some built up areas it is very important that some facilities be provided. A substantial recreation or sports hall is necessary and if these are not part of a school complex they should be within easy reach of children during school hours.

I recognise the work of teachers and others involved in sport after school hours. It is fully appreciated. However, sport should be part of the curriculum because it develops a good healthy mindset. In today's world parents are working to provide for the home which means that time schedules are difficult to accommodate. Perhaps there should be an extra hour one day a week when the school bus would not collect children until, say, 4 o'clock. This could then be devoted to sport. It would also mean that parents would not have to worry about transport as all of the children would be provided for. When a small number of children become interested others will follow.

I wish the Minister well. He has our full support. He is promoting a very important development and I hope it is successful and will bring about the results we all desire.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Moloney.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I am glad of the opportunity to speak on this very important Bill. The legislation acts on a key recommendation of the landmark report entitled Targeting Sporting Change in Ireland, 1997 — 2006 and Beyond published by the national sports strategy group. Furthermore, the legislation fulfils the commitment by Fianna Fáil prior to the last general election to create a sports council on a statutory basis. The role of the sports council, which has acted on an ad-hoc basis for more than 20 years and has acted in an advisory capacity to different Ministers, will be greatly expanded. Its wider remit is to be welcomed. It will enable appropriate research to be undertaken and the development of strategies for increasing participation in recreational sport. No doubt these will enhance the further development of sport and recreation in this country.

I commend the Government for its commitment to the vital areas of sport and recreation, areas that have been neglected for far too long. No action reflects this commitment better than 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 the State. Fortunately those interests are represented with great ability and foresight by the Minister.

We all know the importance of sport in terms of promoting fitness and wellbeing. It is essential for the creation of a healthy and vibrant society. It also promotes a positive image of the country to the world as our professional athletes are 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 take this opportunity to again congratulate Catherina McKiernan from my county on her memorable victory in Amsterdam last Sunday and on her recent victories in Berlin and London. We all wish her continued success in the future.

The Government's interest in sport and recreation is enshrined in the programme for Government. The establishment of a fully functional and efficient national sports council will bring together all sporting interests and activities. It can act as a dynamo for the further development of sport. The council will have an effective and solid statutory foundation.

Sport is a necessary part of the growth of the individual, in its own way as important as formal education. For that reason the Government is right 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 dependants on artificial stimulants. Sport and recreation policy must embrace all in the community. It is also easy to forget that sport and fitness must be accessible to the disabled. For that reason I commend the Minister on his commitment to provide £5 million towards support for the hosting of the Special Olympics in this country.

The Department is already making a positive difference. Its funding allocation has been increased to £26 million, a clear demonstration of the commitment by the Fianna Fáil Party and the Government 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.

Funding has been allocated to the various governing bodies for sport to enable them pursue their interests. Furthermore, earlier this year the Minister allocated grants to separate projects around the country to enable the provision of recreational facilities. It is quite obvious to all of us in public life that more funding is needed. Each weekend we receive deputations from sports and youth organisations that are developing much needed facilities on a shoestring. I hope that when the Minister, Deputy McDaid, brings in a new scheme for recreational facilities, the necessary additional funding will be provided to ensure that those groups doing outstanding work are given the necessary financial boost to assist them with the development of facilities which are very costly.

We are all grateful for the sacrifices of people such as Catherina McKiernan, Packie Bonner, Seán Kelly, Stephen Roche, golfers and so many others who bring 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 their respective sports. Such 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 and no high flying lifestyle. When injury strikes it can have serious consequences for one's income earning capacity and the only hope is an understanding employer. Even when such sports people come to the end of their competitive careers, many continue their sporting associations through training and nurturing the next generation in a local club. All this is done voluntarily, the only tangible gains being a few medals won along the way, to be cherished and handed on to children and grandchildren. The world of sport must be inspired by these people and their unpaid efforts.

Each year hundreds of thousands of people in this country and abroad enjoy Gaelic games. The athleticism and extraordinary commitment shown by Gaelic players is now an integral part of society. Those of us who derive enjoyment from such games throughout the year owe a great deal of gratitude to those players, their mentors and officials. The level of fitness maintained by players at inter-county level is remarkable and easily comparable to that of professional players. With the growth in the economy it is appropriate that additional resources should be allocated to sports and recreation. Communities that suffer serious disadvantage should be given particular attention.

The Leas-Cheann Comhairle and I have met deputations from the north-east Contract Bridge Association who are anxious to have their game recognised as an official sport. They have put forward a well argued case in view of the large numbers participating in that recreation. I appeal to the Minister to give their request for official recognition further consideration.

I welcome the Minister's initiative in bringing forward this long awaited Bill. This legislative structure will properly recognise the importance of sport in contemporary society. Many thousands of people derive great pleasure and benefit from their involvement in sport of all kinds. The sports council, which the Bill proposes to establish, is as much about the hundreds of thousands who participate in sport at all levels as it is about recognising our outstanding individual sportspeople.

It is vital that we support athletes who represent our country at the highest international level, but it is equally important to nurture an interest in and love of sport among those participating at local level. The late Noel Carroll brought great honour to the country by competing and winning on the international stage. Right up to his sad death, he worked hard to open up sport, to encourage participation and give the greatest number of people an opportunity to become involved. One of his greatest achievements was to have given over the capital to the people for the marathon. I extend sympathy to Mr. Carroll's widow and family, in particular to his sister, Mrs. Helena Keegan of Rosenallis, who is a near neighbour of mine.

As regards the voluntary sports sector, the new sports council should ensure that individuals and sports administrators, such as the late Noel Carroll, who give their time to their communities for the promotion of sport, are not forgotten when it comes to allocating resources. Large amateur groups, sporting and athletic clubs, commit themselves to the development of sport despite often inadequate facilities. Perhaps the sports council will provide resources where work is being done and where there is most need. The council will not need to be reminded that while only 30 people may line out on All-Ireland final day, those who do so have come through school sports, under-age local clubs and teams, and have played alongside hundreds who may never represent their county or country. My home county of Laois took great pride in its minor and senior football and hurling teams this year, and will do so again next year. I am sure the players and trainers will back my call that not only the senior levels of sport should receive support.

Despite their intrusiveness, the Minister is to be lauded for the measures he is introducing to combat the ravages of drugs in some of our most troubled areas. Sport has been recognised as a positive and healthy social activity. The rewards that sport can offer an individual or society are immeasurable. We should ensure that sport retains this positive identification for young people and their parents alike. Recent drug scandals in sport have done much to damage the image of sport as a healthy and positive contribution to our lives. It is essential to adopt adequate measures, such as those proposed in the Bill, to show that so-called performance enhancing drugs have no place whatsoever in our sporting culture. We can no longer be accused of standing idly by and allowing those activities to continue.

In Northern Ireland, random dope testing has been the norm for a number of years. A minor cycling event in a rural area is as likely to be visited by independent dope testers as a major event in a city or town, and young athletes know that. Perhaps there could be cross-Border co-operation in this area. Those who are found to have taken drugs in sport should be dealt with severely. Mandatory bans and fines should be rigorously introduced to remove drugs from sport. A new understanding of excellence should be extended to embrace those who participate fairly and competitively according to their own ability.

I have already mentioned the huge contribution the voluntary sector makes to local communities. Laois County Council, of which I am a member, recently appointed a sports and recreation officer, Ms Ann-Marie Maher. This appointment is a source of pride to me as we have recognised that sport has a huge contribution to make to everyone in the county. The County Laois sports and recreation officer has a database and advice to offer people of any age with any kind of physical ability. The message is simple — try to get involved.

I hope the new sports council will be a resource for local initiatives such as those promoted by the Laois sports and recreation officer. The sports council can make a significant contribution to those working at grassroots level. There are huge possibilities for gifted individual athletes who represent their country. I hope the sports council will look at new ways to encourage private sponsorship for sports people, perhaps recommending tax incentives whereby contributions for emerging athletes would be tax deductible, thus freeing up revenue to support broader activities.

It is my earnest hope that the sports council will officer leadership and will enforce a code of conduct to ensure that our young people are not at risk. The monstrous behaviour of those who presided over swimming for years must never be allowed to recur. The sports council should work at providing a safe environment for our young people to participate in.

The sports council heralds the arrival of a new era in sport, where fair play, access for everyone, participation, pride, support and enjoyment will form the basis of sporting activity. I welcome the Bill and I congratulate the Minister on living up to his commitment to bring this important legislation before the House.

I propose to share my time with Deputy Timmins, if the House agrees.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I am delighted to speak on this Bill establishing an Irish sports council on a statutory basis. I compliment the Minister on introducing it. I also compliment my colleague, Deputy Bernard Allen, who, as Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science, put the concept forward. It is the right thing to do. I am glad the current Minister has seen the light and has agreed in principle with the setting up of the sports council.

Because I am sharing time I do not have time to go into detail, but there are a number of points I will address. Sport has played a major role and has been very beneficial in the lives of the majority of people here for many years. I was always of the view that drug use in sport, especially among our elite sports people, was non-existent, but my naiveté has been blown out of the water on a couple of occasions following press statements about form-enhancing drugs being taken by some of our sports stars. I found that deeply disturbing and disappointing. It does not present a good image of sports development, and it is certainly not a good image to present to young people, particularly young people with ability who, because of the professionalism of athletics, rugby, soccer and so on, see an opportunity to take up sport as a career.

This brings me to a point I have laboured for some time, although it is slightly removed from the Minister's role in the area of sport and recreation. That is the question of the introduction of a national identity card scheme here. The biggest difficulty facing small parochial rugby, soccer and GAA clubs in the future is the problem of young people drinking under age. This could cause difficulties for sports development in the long-term. It is not the Minister's area of responsibility, but he should be supportive in Cabinet of the idea of introducing a national identity card scheme. It would be beneficial if young people could be prevented from drinking alcohol until they reach 18 years of age. Many young people are drinking at 14 or 15 years of age. Then when they come to the age of 18 or 19 years they get no kick out of alcohol and turn to "soft" drugs as a recreational habit and perhaps to enhance their sporting prowess. In the interest of developing anti-drug sentiment, a national identity card scheme should be put in place.

In regard to education, it is a good idea that sports should be included in the leaving and junior certificate programmes. The financial cost to the State of doing this would be large, as the sports facilities available in primary schools, and in many second level schools, are not of a high standard. Only some second level schools have indoor facilities, most sports activity taking place outdoors, and the climatic conditions here are not conducive to outdoor sports activity during the winter months, not to mention the summer. If we are serious about including sports and recreation as a subject in the leaving and junior certificate curricula, the Department will have to take into account the major capital cost implications for primary and second level schools. It would be more important to provide primary schools with proper sporting facilities. The games rooms in many primary schools are totally inadequate, so there will be a huge capital cost if we are to include sport and recreation in school curricula.

I turn now to the role of the voluntary sector in encouraging participation in sports by young people. The voluntary sector has done tremendous work for no return in the GAA, in soccer, rugby and many other sports disciplines. It is very important that that voluntary ethos is continued, because if the State were to become involved in providing training and facilities parochially, it would be very difficult to manage. I hope, and have no doubt, that the Irish Sports Council will recognise the voluntary sector.

Another issue is the development of sports stadia. It is extremely important that we should develop proper sporting facilities. I compliment the GAA on their work in Croke Park. They were very brave and have shown that commercially viable facilities will always attract individuals and business. However, we are a small country and we should look at the example of countries like Italy where major clubs like Inter Milan and AC Milan share a stadium. In Ireland, clubs try to have their own and to hold on to their own. The Taoiseach's proposal to build a national stadium was welcome. It should be seriously considered, but it is difficult to reconcile giving £20 million to the GAA for the development of Croke Park, with which I had no difficulty, and the provision of a national stadium some place else. The feasibility of putting a national stadium in place should be examined because we do have a very good international soccer team. The rugby team is a bit hit and miss, but we have many very fine athletes and no place to show them or to bring international competition. The idea of providing a national sports stadium is a good one. The capital cost is a prohibitive factor. To go back to that old chestnut, the 50 metre swimming pool, it is crazy that we are probably the only country in the EU without such a pool. There is much work to be done. I have no doubt the Minister is aware of the difficulties and is willing to try to alleviate the problems. I wish him luck over the next few years. I hope the Irish Sports Council, when it is set up, will be of benefit to sport in general.

I welcome the Government's Bill providing for the establishment of a statutory agency to deal with the promotion and development of sport. As a nation we are very proud of our sporting heroes. Per head of population we have been fairly successful on the world stage. We all recall the euphoria about Barry McGuigan's victory over Pedroza, of Packie Bonner's save and Stephen Roche's win in Paris. We also remember the pain of Sonia O'Sullivan's Olympic defeats and the sadness at the recent passing of Noel Carroll. Sporting heroes occupy a high plateau in this country and most young children dream of playing in Croke Park, Lansdowne Road or Wembley in the hope of emulating their idols. There is no better method of making schoolgoing children eat their morning porridge than by extolling the virtues which may accrue to them if they fill their stomachs. In this respect, it is difficult not to notice the increasing popularity of female team sports. Most people who watched the recent womens' football finals were delighted with the standard and commitment shown, even if the result did not go the way the Leas-Cheann Comhairle would have liked.

In Ireland, we view involvement in sport, from the highest competitive level to the stroll in the park, as good. We associate a certain honour with it and, as a result, there has never been a difficulty in obtaining and keeping the services of voluntary workers. The Minister correctly pointed out that they have been the backbone of sport for generations. Sport makes a huge contribution to the social well being of the country and is an important and influential commodity.

With the development of society, sport has become big business on the world stage. This has spilled over to this country and several sporting organisations have, or are undergoing, major change. With the advent of television rights and product endorsement, the emphasis has shifted to a win syndrome and this has led to certain difficulties. The Minister mentioned that it poses certain challenges. As we strive to protect our environment, we must also protect our sport and those involved in it.

The current Sports Council was set up in 1996 to advise the Minister on all aspects of sport and to co-ordinate resources. It has done an excellent job. The report on sport in Ireland for the years 1997-2006 and beyond, commissioned by Deputy Allen when he was Minister, recommended the council be established on a statutory basis to provide the co-ordination and leadership required to achieve the goals set out in the strategy and to bring sport into the next century. The Minister is now doing this. The main goal of the council is to build an integrated and co-ordinated sports system for Ireland where sound technical and professional expertise is combined with the energy and commitment of volunteers. Much of this work has already begun and amazing strides have been made in a few short years.

The Joint Committee on Tourism, Sport and Recreation recently visited the National Coaching and Training Centre at the University of Limerick where the facilities and expertise are equal to anywhere else in the world. The centre was formally opened in 1992 by the then Minister, Deputy Aylward, and has obtained many achievements to date, such as the establishment and implementation of the national coaching development programme, direct sports science and medical support for more than 30 national squads and many world champions and medal-lists, and the conduct of research into rowing, GAA, player-athlete needs and sports policy.

During the last year the committee invited several organisations, including the GAA, the FAI and the swimming and diving associations to attend its meetings, and they all outlined the various contributions they make. The emphasis was on the code of ethics and good practice for children's sport. This is of particular importance given its potential to promote fair play, social skills and a positive approach to competition. There have been many recent highly publicised cases of child abuse in sport and some parents have been reluctant to involve their children in some group sports. By and large, the hierarchy in all sporting organisations realise the importance of implementing the code. However, in some cases it may not be filtering down and, over the passage of time, its implementation may wane.

The most important function of the new statutory sports council will be to ensure this code is strictly implemented and adhered to, thus reassuring those parents who have become uncertain. Deputy Shatter's Bill on the reporting of child abuse will be of great assistance in this area. One of sport's governing bodies contacted me recently to say the ethics in sport booklet was not available in the Government Publications Office and was told the office was not sure when it would be available again. Perhaps the Minister might investigate that because it should be available at all times for various organisations.

I welcome the Minister's interest in pursuing a joint venture route with interested commercial and sporting organisations in the provision of national and regional sports facilities. Many of our fine sporting facilities lie idle for long periods and could be put to multiple uses with the availability of funding which could be used for upkeep and much needed redevelopment. I hope that, in its role of co-ordination, the sports council would seek to identify certain stadia which can be developed so that some time in the future we may be able to host some of the largest sporting events currently denied to us. Deputy Gay Mitchell's proposal to host the Olympics in Dublin may not seem so unrealistic after all. Some of the facilities at various sporting locations around the country leave a lot to be desired, particularly women's facilities and access for the disabled. Very often our love of sport inhibits us from highlighting and addressing these shortcomings.

The Minister mentioned that last year more than 900,000 tourists took part in sports activities during their stay in Ireland. It is important to realise that many of these would have partaken in what are in the main minority sports in this country. When these groups are seeking funding, they may not have a large local support base for their cause. The benefits such organisations and groups bring to the economy should be borne in mind when funds are distributed.

Regarding the national sports anti-doping programme which the Minister launched in June this year, it is imperative that our children's idols do not become fallen idols. Recent history has shown there is tremendous pressure on individual and team athletes to achieve results. While one can never condone the taking of banned substances, it is difficult to comprehend the pressure certain people may be under to perform. In this case prevention will definitely be the best cure. I sincerely hope the various governing bodies of sport address any problems they have in this area and that the operational aspects of the implementation programme are dealt with quickly so a message is sent to all participants in sport that, if they indulge in illegal or banned substances, they do so at their peril.

I compliment John Treacy on the excellent job he has done with the Sports Council to date. I hope it can further develop and strengthen our sporting image to ensure it stays clean and emphasises that, despite all surrounding influences and natural instincts which may say otherwise, the important thing is not whether one won or lost but how one played the game.

It is not possible to measure the benefits of funding of sport. The Minister for Finance said yesterday there would be no cash bonanza in the budget. Too much money can never be spent on sport and great benefits can accrue down the line to a community. I spoke recently with a person in Wicklow town about an area there some might regard as tough. He said there was never any difficulty with crime mainly because all are involved in sports.

Regarding funding for community games, while I realise the Department gives a grant to the governing body, local groups receive funding from local authorities. Very often this may be only £100 or £200. Perhaps the Minister could examine that, although I realise a bottomless pit of funding is not available. It is something into which many people put a great deal of work. While the community games have not retained the glamour of the FAI or the GAA, many people are catered for in the less privileged and less developed sports.

With regard to educational facilities, the Minister for Education and Science is examining the feasibility of increasing the size of sports halls in schools based on the number of pupils. I urge the Minister to ensure this happens.

National lottery funding is a hot potato but I agree with the Minister's policy of giving larger grants to fewer clubs. My club, Baltinglass, will shortly submit a very good proposal to the Minister. It has received funding in the past but it does an excellent job. All people who work in a voluntary capacity with sporting groups deserve much praise.

I note Deputy Wall is present. Wicklow deserve much of the credit for Kildare's recent success because they beat Kildare in 1991 who then thought they had reached the bottom. It inspired them to seek out Mick O'Dwyer. I know that day was not a happy one for Deputy Wall who suffered much pain and possibly abuse. However, he stuck with it and I congratulate him on his county's efforts even if they did not win.

I wish to share time with Deputy Collins.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the Bill which will place the Irish Sports Council on a statutory footing. There has been an ad hoc council since 1971, when Deputy O'Kennedy was Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Education, to advise the Minister and the Government on matters related to sport. It is also welcome that a Minister has direct responsibility for sport. At £26 million, the allocation for 1998 is double the amount made available last year by the previous Government.

There is a need for planning. In Cork city, for example, there are two running tracks. In Dublin there is a tendency for sporting bodies to proceed with their own plans. The GAA and the IRFU have developed their own stadia and the FAI is talking about doing likewise even though the idea of a national stadium has been mooted. Why can facilities not be shared? On completion of the all-Ireland football championship the facilities at Croke Park are not heavily used until the commencement of the championship. If rock concerts, boxing matches, American football and compromise rules matches can be held there, why not other sports? What are the Minister's views on a national stadium?

The Minister has a particular interest in minority sports for which he has provided national lottery funding. Members have been lobbied by bridge clubs, a game that is played by an enormous number of people. The community games which cater for a wide range of sports and which have been very successful are now sponsored by the Irish League of Credit Unions. The GAA should be funded on the basis that it provides facilities at parish level. Sums as small as £10,000 are required to develop sportsfields, although larger amounts will be required to develop various stadia. The Connacht Council has made a strong case for Tuam stadium which the people of Galway regard as the home of football. The Minister has met the people involved. He had the opportunity to attend the Connacht football final replay on 1 August when Galway eventually managed to get out of Connacht. Earlier that day he opened a golf course in Dunmore. One can have all the facilities in the world but without voluntary workers and community leaders success will not be achieved. In this regard there is a need to fund coaching programmes.

There is considerable interest throughout the country but particularly in Galway in the 50-metre swimming pool, in respect of which the project brief has been issued to nine qualified candidates. Galway Corporation has reminded the Minister that he spent some of his college days in Galway, in the hope that he will look favourably on its request that the pool be located there. The issue of a joint venture should be looked at.

Sport and health have been linked. There is an old saying that prevention is better than cure. Young people in particular should be encouraged to adopt more healthy lifestyles by participating in sporting activities such as cycling, walking and jogging in which there is now a greater interest.

During their stay in Ireland some 900,000 foreign visitors take part in sporting activities promoted by the sports and leisure industry in which over 18,000 people are employed. Since we cannot promise them sunshine, activities such as surfing, diving, sailboarding, canoeing and fishing should be promoted aggressively.

As a result of allegations concerning the taking of drugs, sports such as swimming, athletics and, more recently, rugby have attracted bad publicity. Even schoolboy rugby has been affected. These allegations must be investigated and those who break the law brought to justice.

In Dublin a number of projects are being promoted to encourage older people to take part in sporting activities which are considered more leisurely, such as bowling, croquet and pitch and putt. Local authorities have a role to play in promoting such activities.

Physical education should be part of the primary school curriculum in respect of which in-service training courses should be provided for teachers. It has been said that because the majority of primary teachers are female physical education is not being promoted. This is not true. In my student days the professor of physical education continually emphasised the involvement of female teachers not just in traditional games but also in basketball and camogie. Parents also have a role to play. One of the fastest growing sports is ladies' football. The recent all-Ireland ladies' football final which was televised live was an exciting affair.

I welcome the scheme under which our elite athletes are supported to improve their world rankings. The late Noel Carroll was one of the great sporting heroes when I attended second and third level. I pay tribute to these athletes for the great work they have done.

I congratulate the Minister on bringing this Bill before the House and I hope Government funding will be available to promote sport throughout the country.

I thank Deputy Kitt for sharing his time with me.

The purpose of this Bill is to establish the Irish Sports Council as a statutory body, the Irish Sports Council to promote and encourage the development of sport. This follows directly on the Government's commitment given in An Action Programme for the Millennium to establish a new sports council. Moreover, the report published in 1997 by the national sports strategy group entitled Targeting Sporting Change in Ireland — Sport in Ireland 1997-2006 and Beyond also recommended that legislation be introduced to set up a sports council. This report was the end product of a detailed consultation process within the sports sector.

Sports councils have existed since 1978 on an ad hoc basis in various forms and have acted as advisory bodies to the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation and the Government on matters related to sport. This new legislation will put such a council on a statutory basis for the first time ever and will provide for a major broadening of its role beyond that of advising, to encompass executive functions including a number currently being fulfilled by the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation. The establishment of this sports council is just one of the many significant developments in sport since this Government's decision to create the first full-time Cabinet position for sport in the history of the State.

Before looking at some of the broader aspects of programmes which at present assist the development of sport I will comment on some of the provisions of the Irish Sports Council Bill which is before the House.

Section 6 sets out the functions of the new sports council which include the following: to encourage the promotion, development and co-ordination of competitive sport and achievement of excellence therein; to develop strategies for increasing participation in recreational sport and for co-ordinating their implementation; to facilitate standards of good conduct and fair play in competitive sport through the promulgation of guidelines and codes of practice; to initiate and encourage research into sport and; to take appropriate action to combat doping in sport. This last power coincides with Ireland's first ever national sports anti-doping programme which was launched in June of this year.

These major initiatives underline the commitment of the Government to create a sporting environment that fosters the pursuit of excellence and fulfilment in sport by fair and ethical means as well as ratifying the spirit and letter of the Council of Europe Anti-Doping Convention 1989, which Ireland signed in 1992. Giving power to the Irish Sports Council to deal with the problem of doping in sport will complement the national sports anti-doping programme. Details of this national sports anti-doping programme have already been circulated to all the concerned governing bodies in sport. This programme will incorporate testing, education and research. The programme will be voluntary in nature but funding will be withheld from any national governing body or individual athlete opting out of participation in the programme or breaking any element of the rules governing its operation. I welcome the fact that this Bill gives the new Irish Sports Council the function, power and structure to participate actively and constructively in the battle against doping in sport.

Under section 6 the sports council is empowered to support and assist sport across the sporting spectrum to the benefit of outstanding sportspersons and teams as well as ordinary people who wish to take part in sport for recreation and enjoyment regardless of age, sex or ability.

The Bill provides the council with specific functions which have as their main aims the promotion of excellence in competitive sport and the encouragement of greater participation in sport. These aims are interlocked and should be seen as a cohesive force for the sports council.

The Irish Sports Council cannot succeed in isolation from other Government policies being implemented in the area of sport. Appropriate financial resources must be made available if the objectives laid down by the Government in An Action Programme for the Millennium are to be achieved. The Government has shown a strong commitment to achieving these objectives. The 1998 allocation for sports developments in Ireland stands at £26 million which is double the previous year's allocation.

I will now address some specific initiatives in the spending estimates for sports development in Ireland for the year 1998. I note that £1.575 million is being spent on the sports capital programme in 1998 and that £2.4 million is being spent on the recreational facilities scheme in 1998. These schemes are highly important for the development and improvement of sports facilities nationwide. There is an enormous demand from community and sporting groups throughout the country to secure co-financing assistance for various projects under either of these two initiatives. I strongly urge the Government to increase the annual financial allocations under the sports capital programme and the recreational facilities scheme for the year 1999 to cater for the high demand for financial assistance under these programmes. It would certainly help to implement the objectives of the Government in the area of sports development nationwide. Sport is an integral part of every community in Ireland and has an ability to touch the daily lives of every one of us. It can improve the quality of our lives and contribute to the building of a stronger community spirit.

I welcome the recent initiative taken by the Minister for Education and Science relating to the possible inclusion of physical education as a leaving certificate subject. The National Council for Curriculum Assessment is looking into this matter. Many students who excel at physical activity may not excel in the more traditional subjects. In our current system students who wish to have their physical aptitudes and interests recognised have no access to formal recognition. Students should have their achievements in all disciplines recognised in their leaving certificates. The students who display a keen interest and talent in physical education should receive the same recognition in the leaving certificate as an artist or musician.

The inclusion of physical education in the leaving certificate syllabus will allow students to graduate from post primary schools with a more comprehensive profile of attainment. Not only would students benefit from this innovation but so would teachers. The process involved in preparing for and delivering a leaving certificate course will provide stimulus towards professional development for the physical education teacher. The inclusion of the subject within the examination system will provide motivation and a welcome professional challenge for the teacher. This view is strongly supported by the Physical Education Association of Ireland and a motion to the effect that physical education be a subject for certification was passed overwhelmingly at their AGM in 1996.

The Department of Physical Education and Sports Science at the University of Limerick also supports the inclusion of physical education as a leaving certificate subject and is actively considering the implications such a move might have for policy and practice within the Department of Education and Science. International reports point to the increased levels of motivation among those students who have the opportunity to study physical education in greater depth.

It is recognised that reservations may exist at some levels and that problems of implementation may arise. No major innovation is without potential pitfalls. However, it is encouraging to note that in England and Wales the introduction of physical education as an A level subject has brought a steady and dramatic increase in the number of students taking the examination. The situation in Scotland is even more encouraging. Since standard grade physical education was introduced in 1988 the growth in the popularity of the programme has been remarkable. The programme was offered by 191 schools in 1990 and this figure had increased to 387 in 1996.

I know previous sports councils have been in discussion from time to time with the Department of Education and Science on this subject and I hope the new Sports Council will support the Government's plans to introduce physical education as a secondary school subject in the future.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important legislation. The Labour Party has some reservations about this Bill, which my colleague, Deputy Ferris, outlined. Despite our reservations, we are pleased that at last we have legislation before the House which establishes a statutory sports council. I commend the Minister for introducing this legislation. I also want to put on record my appreciation of the role played by Deputy Allen and the former Minister for Education, Niamh Bhreathnach, in progressing sports policy in Ireland. Without their work in the Department of Education, I doubt if this legislation would have emerged.

The new sports council established by this Bill will have a central role in society. During this debate many Deputies referred to the cherished place of sport in society. Sport plays a central role in community life in every parish, town and city. It is a testament to the determination and dedication of people that so many clubs and organisations are thriving.

Over the past decade, in particular, the facilities available to sports clubs have improved significantly. This is partly due to the increased funding available to sport through the national lottery. The cornerstone of this development, however, is the amount of time and talent which people voluntarily give to sport. Every day of the week, every week of the year, thousands of people give up their free time to train teams, develop clubs, repair facilities, raise moneys and undertake many other necessary tasks to keep sports clubs thriving.

One of the main tasks of the new sports council will be to assist and encourage in every way possible this huge voluntary effort. It is essential that it is relevant to sports clubs throughout the country. The Minister must ensure that small local clubs are represented on the council. It is imperative that the work done at local level by sports clubs and organisations is recognised by the Minister.

Recently we witnessed a huge gap between national sports policy and its effect at grass roots level. In the aftermath of the shocking Derry O'Rourke case, the Joint Committee on Tourism, Sport and Recreation undertook a review of the implementation of the voluntary code of ethics in clubs. This timely and important work by the committee demonstrated the huge gap between national sports policy and its effect on sports groups. I compliment the Minister on his efforts in dealing with that shocking case.

Many sporting organisations outlined to the committee their difficulty in implementing the code of ethics. Little assistance was given to individual clubs to help them to implement it. Due to a lack of co-ordination, this crucially important code of ethics was not fully effective at grass roots level. Everyone involved in sport should learn from this important lesson. I hope the sports council will implement a strategy to ensure that individual clubs can seek assistance and advice on the implementation of such codes and standards.

The sports council and the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation should develop sports facilities in schools and colleges. Many schools and colleges are aligned to one particular sport, whether Gaelic football, rugby or soccer, but that does not allow students to develop an interest in another sport. The Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation and the Department of Education and Science should ensure that a directory of sports organisations is available in school and college libraries.

Videos of particular sports should also be available so that students who are not interested in the sport promoted by the school can decide if they would like to participate in another sport or become involved in a sporting organisation. This would give students a wider choice of sporting activities and ensure that they can develop links with other sports which are not available to them at present. I ask the Minister and the Department of Education and Science to consider providing such facilities in schools and colleges.

One of the difficulties of our system of public administration is co-ordination between Departments. A current example of this is Devoy Bar-racks in Naas where the Department of Defence must defer a decision on the use of the site until the Department of Education and Science carries out an assessment. Meanwhile, St. David's Boxing Club, which has used the facilities in Devoy Barracks for over 40 years, is locked out. This is causing huge problems for the club and its members.

There must be a close link between schools and sports clubs if we are to ensure that active participation in sport continues to flourish. The use of pitches, gyms and other facilities in schools must be at the top of the agenda. Sporting clubs should also ensure that their facilities are available to schools in their areas, particularly during school hours, as many of them are not normally used until evening. We must use all sports facilities to their maximum so that our children and future generations will be able to develop physically and mentally and to choose the sport in which they wish to participate.

There must be close liaison between the Department of Education and Science and the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation in terms of the promotion and development of sport in schools. Everything possible must be done to develop links between sporting clubs and the two Departments. In many cases small things, such as insurance and caretaker problems, prevent clubs from using school facilities and vice versa. They should be sorted out so that our attention is focused on the development of sport. Children must not be prevented from participating in sport because of red tape.

In my experience many children lose interest in sport in secondary school. This is due to many factors. Some children join a peer group where sport is not cool, while others take up part-time work which affects their ability to make time for sport. Secondary school pupils are subject to great pressure. Unfortunately, their passion for and love of sport often falls victim to this pressure. The Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation and the Department of Education and Science must tackle this serious problem. Many 13 and 14 year old children who are good at sport at underage level disappear from the sport once they go to secondary school. That is because of pressure of examinations and because they are trying to earn an extra few pounds to further their education. We do not seem to be able to do anything to overcome that problem. I hope the new sports council, the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation and the Department of Education and Science try to overcome this major problem in the development of the sporting ideal for young people.

Other Deputies said physical education and sport are not curriculum subjects in secondary schools which is a serious failing. Courses in sport should be part of the curriculum up to the leaving certificate. There is wide scope for the Department to design an attractive and challenging curriculum subject which could include sports administration, sports injuries and treatment, a history of sport in Ireland and possibly sports journalism and photo-journalism. This would enable those who are not physically able to partake in sport to become involved and perhaps become administrators, physiotherapists or sports photographers. They could then become involved in sport and be part of the local community.

Too often we see children who, because of a physical disability or their outlook on life, do not become involved in sport in school or the community. If something were done about this these children could play an important part in local clubs. I hope the council and the Department examine this proposal to ensure there is not such a fall-out in sport in second level schools. It would enhance the image of sport in many of our secondary schools and encourage children to maintain and develop an interest in sport at a time when so many other attractions and distractions are competing for their time and attention. I would appreciate if the Minister would respond to this in his summing up.

I would also like the council to examine the issue of the Special Olympics and sports and recreational facilities for people with disabilities. We have spoken about the elite of sport, but we must also look at the other end of the spectrum. It is enjoyable to see people with a disabilities winning races or participating in games. We must ensure their ability to partake is not forgotten in our efforts to ensure we have an elite sports organisation. While that is great for Ireland's image, we must not overlook the disabled who want to be part of sport although the facilities may not be available. I ask the Minister to ensure the sports council conducts a survey so that everything possible is done to provide facilities for those who are not part of the sporting elite.

The Community Games are a major part of sporting life as they cover a wide spectrum of sport ranging from passive sport, such as chess and draughts, to the more physical. The Irish Committee of Credit Unions have undertaken a great initiative in funding the games. However, they need to be developed further. I hope the council and the Department will ensure the games are not strapped for funds as they are a vital component in ensuring the further development of our recreational facilities. I also ask the sports council to investigate the application for recognition by the Irish Bridge Union. I am sure the council will give it due consideration.

As someone involved in the GAA, I welcomed the decision to grant Croke Park funding of £20 million. However, the Minister must now look at the proposed Irish stadia, the building of which is becoming more fragmented. The IRFU, the FAI, the Government and the GAA are all trying to build massive stadia in Dublin. These organisations must discuss this matter with the Minister to ensure taxpayers receive the maximum benefit from the Government money which is contributing to the design of these stadia. The economic implications of so many stadia being built is worrying. We should examine this before it goes too far. In a time of peace, it is possible to co-ordinate all sports bodies and develop stadia which will meet the country's requirements for the foreseeable future.

The Morton Stadium in Santry has been overlooked although it probably gave us the best sporting return in the past 30 or 40 years. Many world records were broken there in the 1950s and 1960s by world class athletes such as Elliot, Lincoln and Thomas and our own Ronnie Delaney and Noel Carroll, who sadly passed away last week. However, we do not develop this facility despite the continual crop of Irish athletes who have graced international athletics. It is good to see Catherina McKiernan and Sonia O'Sullivan continue this great tradition. However, we have not developed a facility to attract world class athletes to Dublin. Monthly athletic meetings are held all over Europe, yet Dublin is not part of that scene because we cannot match the facilities in Berlin and elsewhere. I ask the Minister to examine this. It is time to bring together the organisations and associations rather than build stadia in a fragmented manner. We are proposing to build four or five when one or two would suffice.

I welcome the Bill and I know the council will do what is right for the many associations involved. I hope the Minister takes on board my points as regards the curriculum, people with disabilities and the stadia.

I wish to share my time with Deputies Johnny Brady and Eoin Ryan. I welcome this Bill. It is astonishing that this is the first time a sports council will be put on a statutory basis considering that a sports council in one guise or another has been in operation since 1970. It is a long overdue measure. It is appropriate that the Minister acknowledged the role played by his predecessors as sport should bring us together and should not be subject to political division. I commend the other speakers on their constructive and positive contributions and on recognising the achievements of the Minister and his predecessors.

It has been said so often that it is virtually a cliché by now, but sport touches us all and plays an extraordinarily important role in all our lives. It is important in the development of the young that they have healthy recreational outlets. One of the biggest problems in modern life is that nothing has filled a role previously played by sport. Christian brothers and nuns marched children into cold, windy, wet fields where they were made at least to engage their energies, but that has almost become a thing of the past.

Not only has sport a role in personal development, it also has an extraordinary capacity to lift the nation. We all remember sporting occasions when we were uniquely proud of the prowess and achievements of the sportspeople of our small nation. Sport also plays an important role at local level, giving a sense of pride in place, binding communities together and giving small communities an opportunity to make their mark. For all these reasons, this legislation is singularly important.

The Minister and other speakers touched on a number of issues in their contributions. The central Government allocation for sports is almost derisory. Given that we as a nation admire sporting prowess, it is remarkable that successive Governments, including those in which my party has played a major part, have failed to recognise in a tangible sense the value of sport and its place in the nation's life. It is therefore particularly welcome that this year's allocation is double that of last year.

I am glad the Government is committed to improving overall sports funding but my anxiety is that we should prudently use this money. It is of grave concern to me, and I am sure to other Members, that we are entering an era of dramatic population change, particularly in the greater Dublin area including counties like Wicklow, Louth and Meath. There is severe pressure for new housing development and the State and the EU are making a huge investment in infrastructure, but one area of infrastructure which is continually overlooked is recreational and sporting facilities. It is not good enough that we invest in road, sewerage and occasionally in schools but not in sport. We allow sporting investment to find its own level some years after the population comes into an area.

I have first hand experience of this in Greystones. In the early 1980s, An Foras Forbatha suggested that 30 acres of land in the town should be brought into public ownership specifically for sport and recreation. The town has had huge infrastructural investment and its population has trebled but public authorities have not invested one penny in sporting or recreational facilities. The only investment in sport has been by private individuals through the tennis club, the rugby club, the Éire Óg GAA club and the soccer clubs. This is not good enough. Given that the new development plan projects that the town's population will double again, it makes no sense for local and national government to ignore the needs of Greystones. The population of the nearby town of Kilcoole is forecast almost to double in the years ahead also, yet it has been impossible to get grant assistance for any sports club there. It would make extremely good sense and would be a good investment for the State to put money into sporting infrastructure in growing areas. My colleagues from Dublin and Meath will be able to make similar pleas on behalf of their own areas.

It is fine to put money into big projects and I do not disagree with the suggestion that we need prestigious, central national locations but it is also vital to put money into local projects. It is not good enough that people who volunteer their time to local sporting clubs spend the greater portion of their energy in race nights, fund raising raffles and draws to keep their heads above water. There must be a radical re-appraisal of how funding is provided to organisations and of the needs of growing areas. If we do not invest in young people in towns whose populations are doubling and trebling, we will have to invest in correctional action, which makes no sense. I welcome the Government's recognition of sport in doubling last year's allocation but a radical approach should be taken to the manner in which it is spent.

The Minister touched on the issue of drugs in sport. The increasing commercialisation and pressure to commercialise, and increasing competitiveness, have created a drugs culture. It is shocking to see in sports stores materials which may not be proscribed substances but which put pressure on an individual's physique to produce artificial results. I recently visited a sports centre in France and was stunned by the extraordinarily focussed diets, which create a view of how sporting excellence should be achieved. Sport and diet are intimately connected but something must be done to reduce the pressure. I welcome the Minister's introduction of the first ever national sports anti-doping initiative and the fact that he will use leverage to ensure sporting bodies and individual sportspeople will wholeheartedly sign up to it. The menace of drugs has destroyed international sport, producing a commercial activity which is far removed from what it should be. It destroys not only the sport but sportspeople.

A number of individual sports have been mentioned, including swimming. There was concern that due recognition was not given to this area but my concern is with its future health as an activity. Swimming has gone through an appalling period. The Minister has handled the major problems extremely well but it is left with an indelible taint. As a parent of four young persons I am horrified at some of the revelations and I am sure Members share that horror. An effective national organisation and a comprehensive code must be put in place. There is a need for strong vigilance, because parents' and young people's confidence in swimming must be rebuilt.

I hope the Minister will forgive me for being parochial but I could not mention swimming without saying that County Wicklow, with a population of 104,000, has no publicly operated swimming pools. Funding is earmarked for pools in Arklow and Wicklow but they are being brought on stream at a glacial pace. One cannot have vibrant swimming, the most healthy of activities, if one has neither the facilities nor a comprehensive, well policed code. I ask the Minister to use his good offices in Cabinet to ensure there are no further hitches in bringing our pools into operation. Every major town should have a swimming pool and it would make good sense for the State to provide the funding.

The question of recognition for bridge has already been mentioned. Bridge is a thriving activity, particularly in County Wicklow where there is a remarkable bridge centre in Greystones. The Bridge Association's request for official recognition of bridge as a sporting activity should be granted. Bridge is unique because it crosses social boundaries and gives an outlet to many people, old and young, who come together to enjoy this social activity.

I endorse the points made about the use of facilities in schools and the possibility of developing a national stadium. It is time a concerted effort was made in that regard.

Hurling, a uniquely Irish sport, reaches a peak then wanes in areas of the country. I urge the Minister to recognise the unique attributes of that sport, perhaps by way of special tax breaks for people who provide commercial sponsorship in the area.

I welcome the Bill. The Minister has achieved a great deal despite the difficult issues with which he had to deal. He has dealt with them in a sensitive manner.

I compliment the Minister on the introduction of this legislation. Since coming into office, the Government has acknowledged the importance of sport to the people and to our economy. I pay tribute to the thousands of volunteers in a variety of sporting organisations throughout the country who, through solid commitment and hard work, have developed sports of all types. As a result of their time and energy this country has come to the fore in international competition. They will now have the support of the Irish Sports Council.

As we approach the 21st century sport will become an even more important factor in our daily lives. It is a form of therapy and has an important part to play in a climate where the stresses and demands on every individual are increasing. Active participation in any sport results in mental, physical and social benefits.

Being a spectator is also an occasion for social entertainment and an important channel of inter-personal communication. Many of us recall our first trip to a major sporting occasion — the sense of expectation, the impressive and welcoming sway of a happy crowd and the opportunity to see our heroes in person. Inevitably, the transition from youthful participation to ageing spectator occurs all too quickly. For these reasons it is important that sport is accessible to everybody. Rich, poor, young, old, able-bodied and disabled people alike must have access to a sport of their choice. Bridge, for example, can be played by any age group and by the disabled, and I hope the Minister will recognise bridge as a sport.

It is important that the new Irish Sports Council ensures that sport will be available to all citizens, irrespective of social circumstances, age or physical ability.

I welcome the Bill. All of us get an enormous return from any money invested in sport. Nothing brings people together like sport, whether it is a Munster or All-Ireland final, horse racing or a rugby international at Lansdowne Road. Rugby is a good example of that when one considers the problems that have plagued this island for a long time. Rugby brought people together from all corners of the island without any mention of politics. The players pulled on the green jersey and played their hearts out. Nobody cared about their backgrounds because they were playing for Ireland, and there was always a great response from the crowd. A rugby international, like many great sporting events, is a special occasion.

The success of the Irish soccer team in the World Cup in Italy resulted in a boost for tourism here. Prior to that success Italy was not regarded as a source of tourism for Ireland but large numbers of Italians come here and, according to Bord Fáilte, that is a direct result of the way our fans behaved in Italy a number of years ago.

This Government gave a commitment to sport, as did the previous Government, and I am delighted the Bill to be brought forward by the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands will ensure all of us can watch major sporting events without having to pay for the privilege. That is another important step in the right direction.

I welcome the carding system the Minister proposes to introduce for elite athletes. That is important because Irish athletes have lost out over the years compared to athletes from other countries and the support they get.

I take this opportunity to mention the late Noel Carroll, who died so tragically recently. Noel was extremely successful as an athlete but he did not walk away from sport when that career came to an end. He spent his whole life in athletics. I had the good fortune to work with Noel on Dublin City Council and he was a true sportsman. He had a great love of sport and his death is a great loss to all of us and to sport in general. I am sure Noel would have supported the carding system for elite athletes.

The Minister raised the question of a 50 metre pool in his contribution. That project is essential and I hope it will go ahead. Various Governments pushed this issue but for one reason or another it did not come to fruition. I hope the Minister will see this important project through.

I congratulate the Minister and Roderick Murphy on their handling of the recent problems in swimming.

Sport begins at local level and we must invest in it at that level. The Minister is examining a number of projects in my constituency including Clann na Gael and Fontenoy, but there are many other rowing and football clubs in the area which give enormous benefit to young and old alike. Will the Minister ensure the council provides funding at this level as well as for the major projects. Young athletes are nurtured at local level and they will be our heroes in the future. It is vitally important, therefore, that encouragement is given at this level and that we develop those clubs because they represent the future.

I congratulate the Minister on introducing the Bill. It is important that sport, which is rarely debated due to pressure of work, scheduling problems, etc., should be discussed in the House from time to time. As other Members stated, it is an important part of our society and I thank the Minister for affording us the opportunity to debate it.

Like previous speakers I pay tribute to Noel Carroll whom I knew well. Noel dedicated his life to sport, held a clear philosophy on it and had a keen interest in all its forms. He will be a major loss to sport in this country. Noel always led by example and I marvelled at his enthusiasm to go running almost every morning in all types of weather. His last turn was as good as his first and he ended his life in the way he would have wanted, namely, being active.

I come from a sporting background and I was a physical education teacher before I entered the House. It gives me great satisfaction to see the major progress we have made in recent years in terms of sports policy, the delivery of facilities, etc. However, I was disappointed that during his contribution the Minister did not give due credit to his predecessor, Deputy Allen. The Deputy is no longer in a position to accept the kudos for developing sport in Ireland but through his actions and the initiatives he put in place he paved the way for this Bill.

On entering office as Minister of State at the Department of Education, Deputy Allen identified the extraordinary lack of sporting policy. As a Member of the Seanad from 1983 to 1987, I served as Government spokesperson on sport and I introduced a motion on its development. A great deal of what is contained in the Bill formed part of that motion and I highlighted many of the issues raised by the Minister at that stage. Unfortunately, my party was not in power between 1987 and 1994 and could do little about the matter other than discussing it. In 1987 I wrote an article for the Irish Independent in which I outlined most of what has been included in the Bill. Therefore, the concept of a statutory sports council has been in existence for some time and it is good that it is being included in legislation. I welcome the Minister's statement that he will put in place a policy and a schedule of work which will be additional to what is covered by the legislation.

To return to my point, Deputy Allen identified the lack of sports policy and acted to remedy the situation. He decided there was a need to put in place a national plan for sport. The Deputy showed great foresight when he approached John Treacy and informed him that he had a job for him to do. Through his energy and enthusiasm, John Treacy tied the various strands together and ultimately developed a good report. As Deputy Allen pointed out, over 400 detailed submissions were received from sporting organisations in connection with the production of the report Targeting Sporting Change in Ireland. One of its key recommendations suggested the establishment of an Irish Sports Council on a statutory basis. It is only right that we should recognise the work of Deputy Allen in bringing about the establishment of the council and I thank the Minister for finally putting it in place.

I will now deal with a number of the statements made by the Minister. I welcome the commitment to build a national 50 metre swimming pool. We should be ashamed that such a facility does not exist in this country because it is unfair to Irish swimmers who have made major strides in their sport during the past ten years. Irrespective of the cost involved, such a swimming pool must be provided. I know the Minister is a man of action and I urge him to make the provision of this facility a priority during his term of office.

There are people who state that a 50-metre swimming pool will prove too costly to operate and that it would be better to build a number of smaller pools. I disagree with that argument because I believe we need a national 50-metre swimming pool, not only for the use of national and international athletes but also for budding athletes. Swimming is becoming increasingly popular as a sport. I agree with other Members who stated that there should be a swimming pool in every town. That is a great aspiration but we must begin at national level by providing a 50-metre pool.

Some years ago the Fianna Fáil-Labour Government established a tendering system aimed at attracting developers to build a national 50-metre swimming pool. I tabled a parliamentary question about it at the time only to be informed by the relevant Minister that it had been abandoned, an assertion which shocked not only me but also the entire swimming fraternity. I hope that will not happen in this instance. The financial constraints during that period no longer obtain and, given the surplus funds currently available, now is the time to build the pool before the tide changes once more. I urge the Minister to provide a 50-metre pool and I will support any moves he makes in that regard.

With regard to the location of a national 50-metre swimming pool, I am aware that the Minister is awaiting tenders which should be received by the end of the month. I would favour its being situated in Limerick, close to the National Training Centre, but I accept that it might be more useful to build it in Dublin. The pool could be regularly opened to the public on an entry fee basis. The cost of maintaining it could be met by encouraging people to take out memberships, etc. From experience I know it is difficult to find somewhere to swim in Dublin and if a pool of this kind was situated in the city it would attract great support from people who live here and those who visit on business.

I promoted the idea of constructing a national sports stadium on a number of occasions before the advent of major investment in Croke Park and minor investments at various other stadia. However, I believe a national sports stadium, incorporating a national indoor stadium, could still play an important role. At various stages in the past when they served in Government, Deputies Fahey and O'Rourke announced the development of a national sports stadium but no progress was made in that regard. I recall appearing on "Morning Ireland" with Deputy Fahey who stated that two thirds of the necessary land had been purchased, that the stadium would be built and that he was shocked that I should imply this would not happen. However, I was correct because construction of the stadium did not proceed. As in the last election, Deputy Fahey made a promise he did not keep. Perhaps what he did was good in terms of policy making but approximately £3.5 million was spent on the acquisition of a site, consultancy fees, etc., and in the end nothing happened. I hope that current moves to develop a national sports stadium are genuine and not part of another charade.

I suggest that on the site on which a national outdoor sports stadium is eventually built facilities for a national indoor stadium and a rehabilitation centre for injured athletes could be provided. There is a major lack of injury treatment centres for athletes. The Minister will be aware of this lack from his medical experience and I am aware of it from my active involvement in training and coaching football teams. There is no place to send injured athletes for a proper diagnosis. There are a number of good physiotherapists but they cannot make a diagnosis and, at times, can do more harm than good by applying a massage or heat treatment to injuries which may need a different type of treatment such as rest or even surgery. I remind the Minister and his officials of a report in the 1980s which recommended setting up an injuries centre. There is a need for such a centre. Some of our top athletes in all sports had their careers curtailed due to the lack of proper diagnosis and treatment. Perhaps the Minister would look at that whole area.

It is important that regional centres of quality be provided. No doubt a national sports stadium would be sited in Dublin. The original sports report suggested setting up a national stadium and regional stadia but they did not transpire. Despite major funds accruing from the national lottery, funds are not available in sport. There are many smaller facilities which are not of the high quality needed at this time. The purpose of the national lottery, when set up, was primarily to fund sport. On the other hand people expected to make about £7 million to £9 million from it. It was used for health and education purposes in the 1980s when the economy was not going well. More lottery funds should be committed to sport. The new national sports council must be properly funded.

An area in which I have particular interest is physical education in schools. In his Second Stage speech the Minister said the Department of Education and Science is developing initiatives to enhance physical education and sport in schools and that Department is piloting a new PE curriculum in selected schools throughout the country. When replying, will the Minister expand on that programme?

I recall carrying out a national survey in primary and secondary schools in the early 1990s to which I got a good response from very frustrated principals throughout the country. I discovered that 30 per cent of primary schools had no physical education. They had no facilities, except the school yard which could not be used in all weathers. Another 30 per cent had occasional physical education. This indicated that more than 50 per cent of young people do not have PE on a weekly basis, not to mention on a daily basis. The curriculum guidelines recommend physical education of two hours per week for primary school children.

In a follow-up survey in secondary schools I found that 40 per cent of leaving certificate students had no physical education whatsoever. We can have all the grandiose ideas about national sports councils and elite athletes but unless physical education is provided in the schools the population will be less healthy and will be unfit. This is already happening. One has only to look at children's posture. Many children do not eat properly, some are overweight and do not get enough exercise. They are bused to school while others are driven by their parents. One rarely sees a youngster riding a bicycle or walking to school as we did in the past. At home in the evenings they do not have the same type of work which we had. All these various activities which people did previously, and which were part of their life, are gone. The reality is that they are not fit, and people generally are not as healthy as in the past. The only way to compensate for that is to provide physical education in schools. I urge the Minister to do everything possible to make that a priority. While it is a Department of Education and Science function, the Minister will have to work closely with his colleague to ensure it is provided.

Where community facilities are being provided, such as community halls, they should be located as close as possible to schools. I was in Holy Family School, Tralee this week. About 50 yards from the school in Spa Road, Tralee, there is a fine sporting facility called "Come and Use It". The school uses it daily and has a physical education programme.

Throughout the country there are examples of community centres approximately a mile from the school. Teachers cannot march children to the community centre; it would take up too much time. If possible, community centres should be provided on the school grounds or in close proximity to the school. This would enable it be used during the day as well as at night. There should be more rationalisation of facilities.

In primary schools there is no reason there would not be shared professional physical education teachers as is the case with the remedial teachers. Small schools could share facilities. I would have no objection to FÁS employees taking classes provided they are experts in football, soccer or hurling. A proper physical programme involves more than kicking a ball; it includes diet, hygiene, sex education — it is a totality of experience. Experts are needed to provide that. Physical education experts can set up a programme with the schools. That matter should be seriously considered. There is major pressure for facilities in the primary school system.

The Minister referred to the great possibilities in the area of sport for job creation. I am aware of a number of walking clubs which bring walkers into County Kerry. It is bigger than golf and has more potential given that one cannot get on the golf courses. The terrain in County Kerry, as in the Minister's county offers great outdoor opportunities to visitors. Given the Minister's portfolio which includes tourism he can combine both activities.

The new carding scheme is an excellent one which will enable athletes to avail of various services and so on. I compliment the Minister on introducing it but perhaps it could be expanded to other sports and to the top sports people in Gaelic football, soccer and rugby. I understand it is confined to individual sports. It may be difficult to have the scheme expanded but perhaps the Minister would consider it and refer to it when replying.

I am pleased at the opportunity to contribute. The purpose of the Bill is to set up the Irish Sports Council on a statutory basis. We have had sports councils for a number of years which acted in an advisory capacity. I am glad this is now happening given that it is a commitment in An Action Programme for the Millennium. This is the first time a Department has had the word "sport" in its title. That is a recognition of what the Government has promised and what it intends to do for sport and I hope that will be carried through.

The Minister has secured $26 million for sports funding. While that is a significant figure, it is relatively small. I hope that by the end of his term of office he will be able to look back and see an upward line on a graph of Government expenditure on sport. Money spent on sport and recreation is money spent on preventative medicine. The sum of £26 million is small compared to the more than £3 billion that is spent on health care annually. Some people will get ill and develop health problems and as they grow older they tend to have more health problems, but many of them bring these problems on themselves through over-eating, over-drinking, smoking and not having a healthy way of life. If we can encourage more people to participate in sport, it would not only provide them with amusement but improve their health.

Sport has always been there. It has been at the cornerstone of Irish life and has been based on volunteer effort. Many people slave away and do great work for their local clubs and communities. If their work is recognised at all, it is only at a local level. Most people have got involved in sport through their home life or at school. I got involved in sport through my home life. The Christian Brothers schools I attended were marvellous at initially dragging people out to participate in sport and then they grew to have a love of it. Many pupils tried to get out of sports on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons and many people are slow to develop a love of sport. They need to be pushed and dragged out to participate in it. Initially sport may seem to be a chore, but in later life people can grow to love it.

The sports scene has changed in schools. There are PE teachers at second level, although there are not nearly enough of them, but PE and sport are only given token recognition at primary level. This does not come under the Minister's remit, but I hope more PE teachers will be appointed at primary and secondary level in years to come. Many of what are supposed to pass for recreational halls in local schools in my constituency are pathetic and not appropriate for recreational sports. However, every school does not need a £1 million hall. If such halls are well located in urban areas, they can cater for a number of schools. That may be the appropriate way to proceed, although schools like to have their own halls and parishes like to have community halls. If facilities are properly co-ordinated it is not necessary for every parish to have a community hall, but more halls should be built. They should be properly staffed, run and resourced to serve the needs of the local community and develop in young people a love of recreation, healthy living and sport.

For many people sport is initially a bit of fun and too much competition should not be introduced too soon. When one of my children was participating in a road race some years ago, I was horrified to see some of my near neighbours freaking out, roaring and screaming at their young sons and daughters to go faster. I thought that was over the top, but their children may have become competitive runners and mine did not.

There may have been some logic in what they did. Initially sport should be for fun, for entertainment and the promotion of health and competition should come later. For many people sport will never become competitive and they participate in it for recreational purposes, but as one improves in a sport, one may want to represent one's club, county or country.

I am concerned about some aspects of the Bill and some aspects of life today. Sport has increasingly become more focused on the big event on TV, be it in Croke Park, a national stadium or the Olympic Games. These are focal points and I support Government plans to fund those bodies. I hope its plans for a national stadium will work out. As well as focusing on big events, the majority of people view sport as an entertainment and a recreational activity and if they become good at a sport they can participate at competitive level. I notice the first objective of the sports council is to promote competition and the second is to promote recreation. I hope the order in which those objectives are listed is not significant. We must not forget that many thousands of people participate in sport at all levels for recreational purposes. People voluntarily give of their time and while some beaver away in well resourced clubs, others beaver away in clubs that are not so well resourced. Many people look after young soccer teams on Saturday mornings and do marvellous work, particularly in disadvantaged areas where life is a struggle. They may bring the children to matches on Saturday, organise training on one or two evenings a week and fund-raise for their clubs by selling tickets in the pub on a Friday night. While I support the spending of money on national projects and elite athletes, we must not forget that other level, particularly in disadvantaged areas, where a small allocation for the administration of local clubs can make an enormous difference.

There are large numbers involved in sport, including those who participate in it, others who coach, administer clubs and those in the background who help out. Some people who voluntarily gave of their time to help young people in sport are now almost afraid to become involved because of sexual abuse claims in sport, but that is an aspect of modern life of which we must be aware. I hope it will not discourage people who have given freely of their time and those who continue to do so to coach children in sport.

Sport is of great value in promoting physical and mental health and generating a team spirit in the young and not so young. I do not want to dwell on Italia '90 when there was almost national frenzy with the level of support for our team. The ability of sport, whether at club or community level, to raise the spirit and morale of the individual and the community is tremendous. Young people need to follow role models and they like to participate in sport.

I progressed from soccer and the GAA to cricket and tennis. I was involved in tennis for many years. I was more involved in running the club than in playing tennis and if I had spent more time playing I would have been better at it. I remember that every year after Wimbledon many people, who were young and not so young, came to the club for a few weeks to give it a lash. We thought we would have to close the club membership but that was not necessary because many of those people drifted away after a few weeks, perhaps because people like me did not give them enough coaching or time. A great deal of sport is not as easy as it might look on television. Much time, energy, effort and commitment is required before one reaches a level where the sport becomes enjoyable to begin with. When that stage is reached one can take it from there.

Life has changed greatly in recent years. In disadvantaged pockets in my constituency children will not become involved in sport. I do not understand this. They will stand outside community halls every night, light a fire against the outside wall and drink from their cans rather than go inside. Legend has it that on one occasion people inside running a CE scheme tried to encourage them to play in the indoor arena. The children only agreed on the basis that there would be a "diggin"' match outside one night to be followed by a football match indoors the following night. The overall result was a draw but because one team player suffered a broken arm his team was deemed to be the loser.

Many children in disadvantaged areas will stay outside community centres rather than go inside. What has gone wrong? In the past many sports stars, especially soccer stars, did not have third level education. Why is it that 30 years ago children from poor areas became great soccer players and achieved success in England while this is not happening today? These children appear to have opted out of society and sport. If the school curriculum is of no interest to them an alternative system should be established. If they did nothing only received football coaching all day it might make men out of some of them and offer them a career with their feet even if they could not spell or write.

Something has gone terribly wrong in this area and I do not know what it is. I am at a loss because on the football field, tennis court or boxing ring background does not matter. People let their talents speak. Commitments have been made to disadvantaged areas. I hope the Government and its agencies will provide sports facilitators and helpers because the volunteers are not in these areas. The fathers are not there although the mothers might be. However, they face so many problems that clubs find it difficult to get volunteers to run sports. Those that are available are pressed to raise money to keep going. The State and local authorities must provide people who will act as substitute parents and will try to get children involved in sport, give them the love of it, get them into competitive levels and see if they can get careers out of it. Small amounts of funding at local level is essential, especially in poor areas. For example, I have been told that if children could get football boots they would become involved.

At another level sport is huge business. There is too much emphasis on the big clubs, such as Manchester United, and merchandising. The Minister is also Minister for tourism and the link between sport and tourism must be nurtured. While some may condemn as obscene the wages paid to sports stars, it is hoped this will encourage children to become involved. However, this does not appear to be the case.

I am nervous that because so much sport is on television too many people will equate sport with sitting in front of television and enjoying it with a pint in the hand. That is marvellous — we all enjoy doing it — but we must not allow interest in watching sport to take over from active participation.

Other Deputies referred to golfing and walking holidays. There is a great deal to be gained in tourism from these activities. We should have a major sporting event every year which will bring visitors to the country. It does not have to be a big spectator event. A couple of years ago a rugby or tennis event for players who were over 40 years of age brought 7,000 or 8,000 visitors to the country. Perhaps nobody watched them, but they were big spenders. It was a good even from a tourism point of view.

The Bill provides for gender balancing of not less than three men and three women as members of the council. I spent most of my life in the tennis world where in Dublin an equal number of men and women were involved. That is probably still the case. However, sadly women have not been as involved as men in many other sports. I hope the new sports council will improve matters. If 75 per cent of those involved in sport are men while 25 per cent are women should there be the same gender balance? If it is to be maintained, perhaps the size of the council should be increased from eight to ten.

While women may be expert in one sport — I know many of them — there is a greater range of expertise in a number of sports among men. I have been involved in a number of sports. The Bill provides that members of the council should have a wide experience of sports.

Other Deputies referred to bridge. The Minister is also Minister for recreation. Many activities, such as bridge, chess, dog showing and walking would probably come under this remit. Perhaps politics, community life and trade union activities would also be included. Occasionally I try to marry politics with walking. It is better than sitting in smoky back rooms. Some people appreciate my endeavours, others do not. Recreations and sports are marvellous. They get people away from their problems, whether they are very busy or are sitting at home bored.

I emphasise the problems facing the development of sports in disadvantaged areas. I hope the sports council, the Minister or the Department will grapple with this issue. The Government is committed to tackling the huge problem in disadvantaged areas through the youth facilities and services fund. Two drug task forces are operating in my constituency. I have pushed my own line in sport and other youth facilities but I do not know if I fully won the argument. Community development should be generally service oriented rather than aimed at the 5 per cent of people who are lost "no hopers". I was hoping that the youth facilities and services fund would rather cater for the 95 per cent of those who are still sound and have a good chance of turning out as good citizens.

I hope the council and the Minister will pay special attention to disadvantaged areas. There is huge potential in doing so as it would help to combat crime and drug abuse.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. It is appropriate that the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation should bring this legislation before the House. As he said in his initial address, this is the first time sport has been recognised in the portfolio of a senior Minister. I pay tribute to the Minister's predecessor, the former Minister of State, Deputy Allen, who initiated the preparatory work with the advisory groups and the ad hoc advisory council that worked with him under the chairmanship of John Treacy. They did a huge amount of work in uncharted waters.

The Bill is appropriate in that it comes at a time of great controversy in so many aspects of sporting activity. Other speakers have mentioned the problem of drugs in sport, so that issue has been adequately dealt with.

Sponsorship is another important issue that has arisen in professional and amateur branches of sport. The Minister is facing a difficult task in trying to untangle the grip on sport of major spon-soring companies, including drink and tobacco firms. They have contributed generously in the past and I do not take away from that. However, they have essentially used sporting individuals, teams and occasions for advertising purposes. The Minister's difficulty will be in drawing to himself control of and advice to many sporting organisations and individuals, which may previously have been the prerogative of the financing and advertising companies.

I welcome the establishment of the sports council on a statutory basis. If, as stated, the purpose is to promote all aspects and types of sport then the Minister is facing a difficult task in selecting appointees to the board. The chairperson, whoever that may be, will have to divorce him or herself from any individual sports he or she may have been involved in. The level and direction at which they orientate the work, finances and promotion of the sports council will be important. The Bill states that eight other members of the board will be appointed by the Minister. I am sure various pressure groups have already made representations to the Minister to have members on the board. I do not envy the Minister his task. When he makes his final announcement various people, including Members of the House, will target him because he appointed x, y or z for a particular reason. The Minister's critics will claim they were appointed because they were powerful lobbyists and various other labels will be placed upon them, worthy or not. I wish the Minister well in selecting and appointing the board. It is a difficult task, especially because it will be the first sports council to be established in this country.

While the initial ad hoc grouping has done much positive work in difficult circumstances, the task will be even greater now that we have people with statutory duties to perform. The Minister should achieve the right balance and take into consideration the best and most professional people available, regardless of what commitment they may have given to a sporting organisation as individual sports people, or because of where they come from. I am sure he will perform this juggling act very well.

If the new council has power beyond an advisory role, it will be better placed to have a positive effect in developing a new sporting culture. I hope the council can show itself at all times in future to be fair to all sporting organisations and the individuals involved. Its ultimate success will depend on its capacity to perform that work.

If the council ever shows a bias towards any individual sport or major sporting group or organisation, then it will have fallen into a trap and will find it very difficult to redirect itself. It will have fallen at the first fence and it will be difficult for it to regain ground. I hope, therefore, that the council's membership will, as far as possible, be representative of all sporting agencies and that only the most professional forward thinking people will have a voice to lead the development of the positive aspects of sport. I emphasise the positive aspects because sport must be seen in a positive light.

People are currently saying in the media and elsewhere that some sporting organisations and personalities have been guilty of abuse. Thankfully, however, they are only a minor grouping. The vast number of people involved in sport have not been involved in abuse. We have the highest participation ratio in sporting activities in Europe. It is changing and there are reasons for that but participation is still at an unusually high level.

I hope the sports council will be allowed to take positive initiatives of its own. As the Minister emphasised in his initial address, it is important for a senior Minister at the Cabinet table not to be strangled by other Departments — I am talking particularly about the Department of Finance, which holds the purse strings. The Minister will have a difficult task in obtaining finance for initiatives which all cost money. The Minister will have the initiative to undertake the work he wants to in his Department as regards the sports council. In the development and activities of the sports council, the Minister will have to seek greater co-operation from the Department of Education and Science, because every sports person got their first introduction to sport through education at primary level. It is there that sport is nurtured and developed, and it has developed against all the odds in the education system. Every representative here has, time and time again, made representations to the Department of Education and Science and the planners within that Department seeking funds for basic essential facilities for PE within the schools only to be told it is not a priority. The Minister said this Government has made sport, the sports council and sporting activities a priority. For the first time this prioritisation will deliver realistic goals to the people who have over the years sought the provision of adequate facilities in schools. A new, large amalgamated second level community school was provided in Gort, County Galway, four or five years ago. This is a very elaborate school that caters for about 600 students, but it has no facilities for gymnastics, PE or indoor games. I, and many others who have represented the area in the past, are blue in the face asking why an educational institution like that lacks such an important facility. If sport is a priority each and every school must be provided with a properly qualified professional PE teacher and the facilities to adequately develop rounded pupils, and this must be done on a phased basis, at second level to begin with.

The Department of Education and Science cannot deny its lack of commitment to physical education, despite its paper commitment to it, when it has only one PE inspector. That is a disgrace and the Department has done nothing over the years to improve the situation. The person who is charged with that responsibility has an impossible task, but she has done tremendous work despite the physical difficulties she encounters.

It is suggested that PE should become an examination subject at second level. Does this mean the Department of Education and Science is going to introduce another subject to the school curriculum on the cheap, on a shoestring, by instituting a pilot scheme? That will not work as has been shown too often in the past. It would be a pity if, now that we have a good initiative by Government, it was sidelined by the Department of Education and Science. The Minister should contact that Department to see what it has planned, if anything, other than to torpedo the Minister's endeavours.

It must also be borne in mind that school timetables in no way cater for the introduction of PE as a standard subject. Currently a PE class is essentially a break, except in the case of certain schools where pioneering teachers have ensured a recognised slot for PE within their schools. Generally, because of other demands on the curriculum, PE has been pushed aside. I want to see it reinstated as a priority.

There is the question of costs, including the cost in human endeavour. Sport is usually pursued after school hours and the schools have to finance it themselves. The need for finance for games, PE, gymnastics and so on within the school structure has to be recognised and not put on the back burner as has often happened in the past. In that connection, there is a legitimate fear of litigation among teachers, parents and coaches who are involved in organising young people. One example I know of relates to a teacher supervising games during the course of which a serious injury occurred which resulted in a substantial claim. The insurance company responsible for covering the injured student decided to settle rather than allow the case into court. The implication of that was that the blame rested with the coach, the teacher supervising at the time. That is a serious situation and it has to be addressed if people are to become wholeheartedly involved in organising sports. There has been a gradual withdrawal from involvement in sports because of the fear of being tarnished. A settlement by an insurance company does not tell the whole story of what happened. I ask the Minister to investigate that in whatever way possible.

I want to turn to the question of professionalism and semi-professionalism in sport. The difficulty is where to draw the line. What sports will the council cater for? Are we talking about all sports? Are we talking about rugby, which has now become professional? Are we talking about the GAA, hurling and football? There is an increasing demand from players for some sort of compensation for their time and endeavour and the expenses they incur. If such a payment is made, will the sport be classified as professional or semi-professional? Where athletes have sponsorship and that is classed as a reward, is that professionalism? There are many questions to be addressed in this regard. I hope that on Report Stage we will be able to tease out that aspect.

With regard to membership of the council, last year at budget time the Minister and the Taoiseach allocated £20 million for the GAA. I welcomed that wholeheartedly as being a positive contribution provided that the organisation, under the presidency of Joe McDonagh, would use it to deliver improvements in facilities to people involved at all levels of the organisation. That has been done and it has been seen to be of benefit to clubs and organisations involved in promoting Gaelic football and hurling at local level.

I do not want the Minister to provide finance and to then be labelled in the same way the Minister for Finance was labelled the GAA man for providing funding for the GAA. That is not good enough. Government finance should not be labelled as being for an individual to use for his own purposes or those of his organisation. This is new territory. The Minister should take every step with infinite care so that there will be no labels and no politicising and, most importantly, that the council will be seen to be independent, forward thinking and positive in the development of excellence in sport.

I welcome the Bill and that, after about 20 years of ad hoc arrangements, the sports council is finally being placed on a statutory basis. I also welcome the fact that it is not only given advisory functions but some executive functions as well. That said, there are many functions which a Minister with political accountability and responsibility to the House should retain for himself and this is recognised in the Bill.

There have been many developments arising from the changing attitudes to sport, consultation, research and the development of policy, since the council was first set up in 1971. Given that the definition of sport is so broad, it is understandable why a statutory body is needed to undertake the functions outlined in the Bill. The Council of Europe in its European Sports Charter, to which we are a party, states that "sport means all forms of physical activity, which through casual or organised participation, aims at expression or improvement in physical fitness and mental wellbeing, forming social relationships or obtaining results in competition at all levels". This seems to include all forms of sporting activity, be it leisure, recreation, performance or elite sport.

These elements are recognised in the functions of the council. It will have its work cut out for it. It will not be easy for it to carry out its functions given the attitude, difficulties and numbers involved in sport. The first function of the council is to encourage the promotion, development and co-ordination of competitive sport and the achievement of excellence in same. Why does competitive sport have to be the first function of the council? The second function is to develop strategies for increasing participation in recreational sport and to co-ordinate their implementation by all bodies. The third function is to facilitate, through the promulgation of guidelines and codes of practice, standards of good conduct and fair play in competitive sport. This is welcome because, if there is not fair play in sport, where can one expect it? The fourth function, which is particularly important, is to take such action as considered appropriate, including testing, to combat doping in sport. The council must then initiate, encourage and facilitate research and disseminate information.

Its main aim should be to encourage participation at whatever level because that is the only way we will appreciate the value of sport. Its value has been the wellbeing and the social and economic development of the country. It should also incorporate the health and lifestyle of people, their social and cultural development, education, personal development, tourism and the economy. A sports strategy needs to bear all these in mind, but it also needs to have cognisance of the changing demographic profile. For some time it looked as if the population was static but it is now on the increase again. The strategy also needs to examine sprawling suburban areas, especially in Dublin, where facilities may or may not be available. Other areas it needs to bear in mind are: the services which need to be co-ordinated at local and national level; the fact that all Departments claim some responsibility for sport and its co-ordination; the protection which people involved need and the accountability for that — I welcomed the Minister's initiatives in this area earlier in the year; and funding, its sources — State, lottery or sponsorships — and its distribution.

When discussing sport, we tend to talk about excellence and great achievers. The real place to look is at the bottom and at young people and their involvement in sport. Part of our culture and history is street games such as skipping, marbles, hopscotch and tig. This is improved upon in primary schools. The difficulty is that primary school teachers, of whom I am always in awe, must be experts in everything and are largely responsible for developing the co-ordination, mobility and strength of young students in their care. Every primary school needs a qualified PE teacher and needs time allocated to PE. The skills and talents needed by such teachers are becoming more demanding and extra attention needs to be given to PE in primary schools.

It concerns me that the emphasis in second level schools is entirely on competitive sport. Especially in girls' schools, there is a problem of a lack of involvement. The answer to this lies in transition year which is a gap year in which we can focus on the participation of young girls in recreational sports. During my time as a transition year co-ordinator in Sion Hill in Blackrock, we ensured the programme involved in alternate cycles: sailing, bowling, soccer, modern dance and visits to Loughlinstown leisure centre. We wanted to ensure the girls got a flavour of sport which would stand to them in later life, that they would become accustomed to dealing with and being in leisure centres, and that they knew that taking up a sport, such as sailing, would always be of benefit. The opportunity exists in transition year and the Minister, through his colleague in education, should ensure it is developed in all schools.

I welcome the introduction of sport as a subject on the leaving certificate. It will obviously be based largely on performance. However, it should also be examined to see if the facilities exist to assist students in reaching their potential. Most schools must hire coaches to focus on a certain sport and more finance needs to be available for these people.

In disadvantaged areas, especially in the drugs task force areas of which there is one in my constituency of Dún Laoghaire, £20 million has been made available through a fund for those areas and £30 million through the Young People's Facilities Fund for capital and non-capital funding. This is the one way to encourage young people to keep away from trouble, drugs and cider parties in parks. The work done by organisations such as the Cabinteely GAA Club, the Ballybrack Boys Club and the Ballybrack Athletics Club in dealing with these people must be recognised. The people organising these are all very dedicated and committed volunteers. We laugh at advertisements on television which show women washing the team jerseys in the washing machine at home, but that is the reality. Mothers throughout the country provide the kit and the gear each week. A handful of men train groups every Saturday and on week nights. They operate from containers and are dependent on the local council to ensure pitches are maintained in good condition.

The role of parents needs to be encouraged. If one were to visit Blackrock College in my constituency on a Saturday morning, one would find hundreds of parents supporting their children playing rugby but in other parts of the constituency there is not a parent to be seen. Their presence would mean so much to the children concerned.

I commend Gaisce on its work. To qualify for a bronze, silver or gold medal one must engage in physical activity. What is important, however, is that one can set one's own agenda and targets. There is no competition involved. Once one reaches a particular goal an award is presented.

The sense of achievement that a young person can get from participating in sport is nowhere more obvious than in the disabled who have to overcome many obstacles. The Special Olympics Council is one of our greatest sporting organisations. I sincerely hope the Government is continuing to press to have the Special Olympics Games held here in 2003. The needs of groups such as the Blackrock Flyers which meets every Saturday and the Physically Handicapped and Able-Bodied Club which allows physically handicapped and able-bodied people to learn from each other are great. Teachers and coaches are nervous in dealing with disabled people. There is, therefore, a need for special training. There is also a need for accessible transport and special equipment.

In the opening scene of Bless the Bride, a musical set in the last century in which I participated at school, the girls while playing croquet sing the lines:

Croquet, croquet, gentle but gay

Croquet brings the husbands our way.

That was probably the attitude of women to sport 100 years ago. I am happy to say the position has changed as a result of the achievements of Catherina McKiernan and Sonia O'Sullivan but problems remain. Participation rates are lower among women than men. There is a lack of child care facilities at sporting venues. While the decision to show the all-Ireland ladies football final live is welcome, there is a lack of media coverage. Fewer women are involved at organisational level. There are fewer choices available to women. Some of these issues have been addressed by the National Women's Council which has made recommendations which I hope will be accepted. It is not just the recreational aspect that is important but also the health aspect. Women who play sport do not smoke and they are less likely to develop osteoporosis. The Minister stated that there will be at least three women on the council. I am sure he will not confine himself to that figure.

My involvement in sport extends to running for the DART or for election. I empathise with the more sedentary types, including the thousands of people who gather each week to play bridge and who are seeking to have it recognised as a sport. Chess for young people falls into the same category. They are leisure activities and should be recognised as sport.

The value of our native games continues to be highlighted. As someone who was born and reared in Thurles, I have a natural interest in the GAA and I was pleasantly surprised to learn that one of the strongest clubs in Dublin — Cuala — is in my constituency. It fields 40 teams every Saturday and deserves our support.

Ba mhaith liom díriú ar an tábhacht a bhaineann le cluichí agus spórt sa Ghaeltacht agus mar a bhaineann siad leis an Ghaeilge.

Tá Comórtas Peile na Gaeltachta, mar shampla, an-tábhachtach don Ghaeltacht mar tarrangaíonn sé Gaeltachtaí le chéile atá scartha amach óna chéile, idir Conamara, Ciarraí agus Dún na nGall.

Smaoiním freisin ar eagraíochtaí ar nós Gael-Linn a eagraíonn spórt do dhaoine le Gaeilge, do na scoileanna lán-Ghaeilge agus do na Gaeltachtaí agus a thógann le chéile iad chun spraoi agus sult a bhaint as na cluichí seo.

Sa chathair seo bíonn a lán cúrsaí Gaeilge ar siúl i rith an tsamhraidh, ceann amháin acu, mar shampla, Brú Éanna a reachtaítear i gColáiste na Carraige Duibhe. Tá sin bunaithe ar spórt agus ar chluichí. Feicim go bhfuil an-chuid daoine óga ag iarraidh dul chuig na cúrsaí sa Ghaeltacht, cúrsaí a chuireann béim ar spórt mar an príomh rud agus gur féidir an Ghaeilge a fhoghlaim agus a úsáid tríd an spórt.

Tá moladh, mar sin, ag dul do na cúrsaí sin mar tá siad ag freastal ar an teanga agus ar an spórt.

I congratulate the Minister on introducing the carding system for our elite athletes. I also congratulate Catherina McKiernan on her great achievements. It would be remiss of me, however, not to express my sorrow at the loss of Noel Carroll who made an enormous contribution to Irish sport. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

It is important that we preserve our good name through the carding system and the dope testing scheme. Others have addressed the tourism and economic aspects which extend to angling, golf, leisure weekends and sailing. We have attracted the Ryder Cup and other events such as the Smurfit European Open. A report compiled four years ago indicated that the industry accounted for more than 18,500 jobs. I have no doubt a more up-to-date report would show that the figure is far higher. In allocating sums of £50,000 and £100,000 the Minister should not forget to allocate smaller amounts to smaller groups which can do so much with so little.

In a new era of peace there is scope for greater co-operation between North and South. When one looks at our rugby team and the sporting links which have been forged between Shankill in Dublin and Shankill in Belfast one can appreciate the opportunities open to young people to create a better understanding between communities, North and South.

Debate adjourned.