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——