Other Questions.

Tourism Industry.

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

6 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if he has received a copy of a new study commissioned by the Irish Tourist Industry Federation that the recent trend among visitors here of taking shorter trips to urban centres may be in decline; his views on whether this represents a significant threat to the economic well-being of these towns and cities and to the tourism industry in general; his plans to encourage better marketing of towns and cities as weekend destinations for tourists; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28317/05]

Brendan Howlin

Question:

14 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the efforts he is making to encourage tourism in non-east coast and western parts in view of falling visitor numbers to the regions; his views on whether tourism in regional areas is in serious decline; the way in which he plans to address same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28319/05]

Denis Naughten

Question:

39 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the steps he will take to address the increase in regional imbalance within the tourism sector; the specific steps which he will take to support tourism in the Border, midlands and western region; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28305/05]

Kathleen Lynch

Question:

42 Ms Lynch asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism his plans to implement the PricewaterhouseCoopers report on regional tourism structures; his views on whether the existing structures are able to meet the needs of modern tourists; the timeframe for the implementation of this report’s recommendations; the main findings of the report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28321/05]

Dan Neville

Question:

43 Mr. Neville asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the future role for regional tourism associations in the context of the PricewaterhouseCoopers report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28298/05]

Pádraic McCormack

Question:

47 Mr. McCormack asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism his proposals for the reorganisation of local tourism bodies; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28085/05]

Michael Noonan

Question:

49 Mr. Noonan asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the timescale for the implementation of the PricewaterhouseCoopers report on the regional tourism authorities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28328/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 6, 14, 39, 42, 43, 47 and 49 together.

As the House is already aware, I have no direct responsibility in relation to individual actions or measures relating to tourism promotion or development in so far as specific areas of the country are concerned. These are day-to-day functions of the State tourism agencies.

The ITIC report referred to indicates that, contrary to the Deputy's suggestion, an increasing share of holiday bed nights is being spent in urban as opposed to rural locations in Ireland and that this decline is attributable in the most part to a decline in bed nights from the British market.

The ITIC report has made a number of recommendations to address this difficulty, many of which are already being advanced by Tourism Ireland, Fáilte Ireland, Shannon Development and the regional tourism authorities. National tourism policy has been evolving in recent years, with a particular emphasis on putting policy measures in place to achieve a wider spread of tourism business arising from the New Horizons policy review.

The development of good quality direct access to the regions has been a major impediment to growth in the past. Fortunately, this has improved greatly in recent times and this summer has seen the greatest ever number of air seats to Ireland and particularly servicing the regions of the west and north west. These new routes from Britain, mainland Europe and the US continue to be promoted heavily by Tourism Ireland in order to optimise their tourism impact.

The ITIC report is confined to examining trends in overseas holiday business to Ireland. If domestic tourism was included, the picture would be significantly different as a large proportion of this business favours the regions rather than Dublin. As the ITIC report rightly identifies, visitors cannot be forced to go to a particular location against their will. The responsibility primarily lies with the individual communities and operators in the regions to present and market compelling attractions, facilities, accommodation and experiences that deliver value for money and quality service.

As I have already advised the House, Fáilte Ireland, in response to a recommendation in the tourism action plan set out in the report of the tourism policy review group, towards the end of last year commissioned PricewaterhouseCoopers to conduct a major study of regional tourism structures, as it sought to determine how best to carry out its new development mandate countrywide. The report has been published and is available on the Fáilte Ireland website. This work was supplemented by a short engagement facilitated by a small independent group, chaired by Mr. John Travers, with the relevant parties in order to satisfy interests in the Dublin region that the mechanisms of consultation were complete.

The PWC report highlights the need for a much wider brief for regional tourism, playing a strategic rather than administrative role and inputting more directly into national policy. It recommends a greatly increased emphasis on targeted marketing, product development and enterprise support. It suggests establishing an integrated linkage between regional tourism strategy and national policy and exploiting avenues to leverage increased resources.

At the end of July, I indicated to Fáilte Ireland that I was satisfied it should proceed with the proposed revision of regional tourism structures on the basis of the PWC and Travers reports. An implementation group is being established to assist Fáilte Ireland in implementing the recommendations. Mr. Finbarr Flood has agreed to chair this group and has already begun his work. Fáilte Ireland expect that changes will be seen in the regions by the middle of next year.

At a time of overall national tourism growth, I remain concerned that the issue of regional spread should be proactively and energetically addressed. In that context I am pleased the programmes and initiatives being operated by the State tourism agencies and the action plan set out in the report of the tourism policy review group fully reflect this objective. Such programmes and initiatives include the strategic investment in the sustainable development of tourism capital infrastructure in underperforming areas through the tourism product development scheme, which aims to match the quality of the product available on the ground with ever greater consumer expectations; the different levels of support offered to regional tourism authorities for marketing purposes; an expanded domestic tourism marketing campaign; the use of predominantly rural imagery in the advertising and promotion of Ireland, both at home and abroad; the regional coverage with respect to visiting media; and the specific focus on achieving a wide spread of visitors in respect of access to transport policies.

In total this year, Fáilte Ireland is investing in the order of €27 million on developing regional tourism, from supporting local festivals to building capability and strengthening the tourism product. To assist the promotion and development of tourism by the regions, Fáilte Ireland is channelling in the region of €7.4 million directly into the regional tourism companies to strengthen and enhance their operational and marketing capabilities this year. This investment is designed to ensure both a high quality visitor servicing experience at key tourism information offices and also a strong overseas promotional effort.

In their programmes for 2005, both Tourism Ireland and Fáilte Ireland are rolling out a number of innovative approaches which should heighten the regional impact of Ireland's marketing activities both nationally and overseas. All regions will feature prominently in the full range of marketing activities; a dedicated marketing fund for tactical co-operative initiatives with the regional tourism authorities and their members is available for 2005; a region to region approach is being adopted in Britain which is capitalising on direct access links to the regions; specific marketing campaigns involving joint co-operation activities by the regional tourism authorities and other regional interests have been launched for both the western seaboard and the north west this year; a sponsor a region approach has been adopted in Europe whereby each market office is focusing attention alternately on a particular Irish region in order to enhance the awareness of the local trade of what that region has to offer; an enhanced consumer website with increased functionality and a strong regional input is providing for more dynamic and up-to-the minute packages to entice the domestic traveller; and a strong focus on event-based holidays is being complemented by a more streamlined and targeted festivals and cultural events fund which will continue to favour the lesser-developed regions.

I thank the Minister for such a detailed reply. It seems Ireland has become a short-stay destination. The Ryder Cup was referred to in the previous question. Golfers stay longer and I am hopeful the Ryder Cup will have an influence in tempting people to travel outside the Pale and visit golf courses in the regions. I suggest they be given a badge to allow them visit all the golf courses in a particular area as is the custom for racecourses.

The CEO of Fáilte Ireland has stated Punchestown will be highlighted as being a national festival, on a par with Cheltenham. This aspect of promotion of value for money can be repeated in other areas of tourism. The Galway races has its own niche in the tourism sector. I note that national hunt racing does not seem to be a problem yet the only big days for flat racing are when the classic races are run and the biggest day is derby day. We do not seem to be successful in attracting interest from the US and Europe for flat racing compared to national hunt racing. Has Fáilte Ireland or other tourism agencies examined the uses made of grant funding? We certainly have a wide spectrum of opportunities, including the website, which must be oriented towards developing tourism. Are we getting true value for the money being invested to attract visitors from the United Kingdom? Given the high value of the British pound against the euro, one would expect to see a major increase in the British market, but that does not appear to be the case. This is reflected in what I said earlier about flat racing. We have the Curragh meeting and many other classic flat racing events but we do not seem to be drawing British tourists to them.

What can be done to increase the percentage of visitors from the United Kingdom? It seems obvious from a monetary point of view, given the value of the pound, that British tourists should be attracted to this country.

The festivals and cultural events initiative has been an enormous success. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the support given by Fáilte Ireland to various festivals throughout the country, which has not been and possibly cannot be quantified, has been an enormous success. The numbers of visitors coming to festivals that have been supported by Fáilte Ireland is quite impressive.

It is more difficult to attract visitors to flat racing meetings. However, it should be noted that in excess of 60,000 visitors come to Ireland every year for horse racing. Punchestown is a good example of an outstanding festival and others like Fairyhouse, Galway, Listowel, Tralee, Killarney and Laytown have also proven to be tremendous successes. There is a great deal of synergy between Horse Racing Ireland and Fáilte Ireland and a recognition that they should work together to ensure we maximise the potential which these events have for attracting visitors to the country.

The Ryder Cup is simply enormous for Ireland and in particular for Deputy Wall's native county of Kildare. It will attract approximately 40,000 visitors per day, which is the maximum amount the course can hold, and the television audience will be massive. It is estimated that the television audience could be up to 1 billion people worldwide. The kind of coverage that this event will afford the country could not be bought if one went to the marketplace seeking to do so. It is important that the Ryder Cup is an enormous success and I have no doubt that it will be so. All the portents suggest that people are organising extremely well for it in Kildare and that the country in general is prepared for what will be a massive influx of visitors. Even now it is almost impossible to book accommodation within an 80 mile radius of the K Club for the duration of the Ryder Cup.

Last year we were concerned that there was a 1% decline in UK visitor numbers. That is quite serious in terms of the British market because 4.75 million of our visitors come from Britain, so a 1% drop represents 47,500. However, the first six months of this year show an increase of 2%, which is very encouraging as it represents an increase in UK visitor numbers of 95,000. That is due to an increased marketing fund and a very aggressive marketing campaign that has been going on in Britain for almost a year. That campaign has focused on promoting the regions because visitors who bring their cars to Ireland, with their families, are the ones who go out into the regions. That is why we have been working so hard to attract back the British visitors. During the World Cup, when the inclination might be to back some side against England, people might remember our British visitors.

Does the Minister envisage that the recommendations contained in the PricewaterhouseCoopers report will be implemented for the 2006 tourism season? If not, it would be advisable to postpone any proposed changes until the 2007 season. We had difficulties this year in north Kerry when the transition from Shannon Development to Fáilte Ireland meant that promotion of the region never really got off the ground. People were appointed too late and promotion simply did not happen. If major changes are planned for the regional tourism authorities, RTAs, that will lead to disruption and will affect the promotion of tourism in the regions. Will the Minister confirm whether the changes proposed will be in place by 2006? If not, I suggest that they are put in place for the 2007 season.

There are approximately 61 tourism information offices throughout the country. People in places such as Listowel are fearful that some of these offices will be closed following the review. Will the Minister clarify if this is so? Will he give a commitment that none of the existing tourism information offices will be closed following the review?

The Irish Tourism Industry Confederation report, referred to in the question, identified north Kerry as a special pilot area for marketing and future development. Will the Minister give a commitment to this House — I understand he has already given one to Kerry representatives from Cork Kerry Tourism — that north Kerry will be declared a pilot area for future tourism marketing and development because it has underperformed for some time now?

Is the Minister concerned that the number of visitors from the United States has decreased this year? In terms of regional tourism, US visitors traditionally went to places like Kerry and the west because, generally speaking, that is where their ancestors came from. There has been a decline in tourism along the western seaboard and in the regions because the number of tourists coming from the US has dropped.

The number of hill walkers coming to Ireland has almost halved since 1999. This is because a number of walkways are no longer accessible to walkers because landowners have fenced them off. Also, in some parts of the country there is a hostile reception for walkers. Does the Department or Fáilte Ireland have any proposals to encourage more hill walkers to come here? I understand that there is an initiative by the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, who has brought together a type of rural forum, but it does not appear to be making any progress.

The hill walking issue is the responsibility of my colleague, Deputy Ó Cuív, who set up a council known as Comhairle na Tuaithe, which is charged with trying to open up the countryside. I understand that the council has made some progress in this respect and it is important that it does so. The number of hill walkers coming here has been reduced significantly because of a decision by a minority of landowners to close off their lands to walkers. However, there are vast expanses of the country where hill walkers are quite welcome and where landowners do not inhibit walking in any way. We should accentuate the positive whenever we can.

With regard to the marketing of north Kerry, arrangements may have been reached at the Cork Kerry Tourism level which would not have reached Fáilte Ireland or Tourism Ireland. I will investigate the matter and communicate with the Deputy.

With regard to the US market, the first six months of this year indicated a decline in the numbers coming from the United States, despite the fact that we have increased capacity. This should level out, particularly because of the decision of American Airlines to fly into Ireland this summer. The increase in capacity from approximately 1 May was 17.5% from the United States, which should have been reflected in increased visitor numbers. We will only know this when we see the figures from the Central Statistics Office.

Reports that tourism offices throughout the country will close as a result of the PricewaterhouseCoopers report on regional tourism is not correct. I am not aware of any suggestion that offices should close in Listowel or elsewhere. The PricewaterhouseCoopers report indicated that there was a greater role for regional tourism authorities, that there should be six of these, that there should be an umbrella group, that the chair of each regional group should be on the umbrella group and that the tourism groups at a regional level should be involved in future product development, enterprise support and marketing.

Mr. Finbarr Flood, who is chair of the implementation group, has already begun his work and I expect all the work will be completed by the middle of next year and that all the relevant structures should be in place by then. That is the assurance I have been given. Before going into high season next year, the relevant authorities and their powers will have been reinvigorated, renewed and expanded.

National Conference Centre.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

7 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the position regarding plans for the delivery of a national conference centre; if the tenders received by 20 May 2005 have been considered and evaluated; when a final decision will be made on this issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28324/05]

I refer the Deputy to the text of my reply to Priority Question No. 1 on this matter.

I accept that.

Ticket Touting.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

8 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if legislation to deem ticket touting an illegal activity will be brought forward; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28092/05]

While my Department has no statutory or regulatory responsibility in the area of ticket touting and ticket forgery, the three main national governing bodies of sport, the GAA, IRFU and FAI, were consulted by departmental officials on the issue some time ago. These consultations revealed a strong commitment on the part of the governing bodies to the elimination of ticket touting in respect of the sporting events under their control and they have systems in place to deal with ticket touting which enable them to trace any touted ticket to the person to whom it was issued and to take any action considered appropriate. In addition, a number of organisations have sophisticated systems in place aimed at eliminating ticket forgery, which can be experienced at major sporting events, and which prevent forged ticket holders from gaining entry to events.

Legal advice obtained by the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation in 2001 indicated that responsibility for arrangements to ensure the availability of tickets on a fair basis and the enforcing of such arrangements is primarily a matter for the event organisers themselves. In light of the policies of the major sporting organisations in combating ticket touting, the enactment of legislation may not be required at this time.

The Minister may be aware of a Private Members' Bill which I introduced in May regarding ticket touting, the Prohibition of Ticket Touts Bill. In view of the fact that the IRFU, the FAI, the GAA and Ticketmaster supported the Bill, and Ticketmaster said it was a genuine attempt to tackle the scourge of touts, the Government should accept the Bill as a positive way forward. Will he give a commitment today that, if I introduce the Bill during Private Members' time, the Government will support it in view of the support it has received from everyone involved in organising concerts or major games?

Will the Minister agree that it was a scandal that the ticket touts who ripped-off people who bought tickets to attend the Eminem concert last summer were refunded the money? This indicates the need for legislation in this whole area. Is he aware of legislation in most states in the US to cover this activity, which is referred to as ticket scalping? There is legislation in England that forbids the sale of tickets near sports grounds and so on. As far as I am aware, this is now the only country that has no legislation to deal with the scourge of ticket touting.

Before the all-Ireland, in front of the Gresham Hotel, I witnessed an individual who arrived from America that morning paying €2,000 for two tickets, which is not fair. The GAA, the FAI and the IRFU will find it very difficult to track tickets because they can be passed on to different people. A ticket could change hands four times before someone eventually sits on the seat. It is very difficult to track tickets.

Procedures have moved on from the days of the old cardboard tickets. Because of modern technology, it has become much easier to trace tickets.

The Bill was introduced in the House some years ago. At the time, it was referred to various Departments, including the Attorney General's office. The Attorney General expressed grave doubts about the constitutionality of the provisions in the legislation, including the question of proportionality. Where sanctions were concerned——

Is that legal advice available?

At the time, the relevant Departments and the Attorney General raised serious concerns about the proposed legislation and their views have not changed in the interim. Some sporting organisations are of the view that the legislation would only drive the practice underground and would not resolve the problem. I am not denigrating the proposed legislation, I am stating the position in this regard.

Will the Minister make the legal advice available to me?

No, I cannot.

Despite the Minister's reservations, I support the concept of legislation to deal with this problem. The fact that unfortunate people with young families are being ripped-off outside some of the major events by the touts is not acceptable. I ask the Minister to re-examine the legislation to ensure that what he said is the up-to-date position in the matter. He should reconsider the matter because the touts are as active as ever. They are creaming off money to a greater extent now than was the case in the past.

The Minister should reconsider the position and support Deputy Deenihan's Bill, which is sensible and would have broad party support. Many of us who have been involved in sporting organisations for more than 20 years support that position. Does the Minister accept it is unacceptable that members of the GAA and the FAI who coach under age teams must pay extraordinary prices to attend important fixtures in Croke Park and Lansdowne? People who train under age teams were last night asking me to try to get tickets for the international soccer match. Many emigrants must pay over the odds for a ticket when they return to Ireland to see their county team in Croke Park. A number of them paid €1,000 for tickets for this year's all-Ireland football final. Legislation must be introduced to address this problem.

My Department has no role, function or competence in ticket distribution.

The Minister's predecessor accepted an Opposition Bill in this regard.

The Garda has a role in the prosecution of ticket touting as a criminal offence, not my Department.

Deputy McDaid accepted a Bill when he served as Minister of State in the Department.

Ticket distribution is the responsibility of the sporting organisations. Their representatives have assured the Department at a number of meetings that they are strongly committed to eliminating ticket touting and they are doing their best to ensure tickets end up in the proper hands and not the hands of ticket touts.

National Archives.

Catherine Murphy

Question:

9 Ms C. Murphy asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism his views on establishing a single national repository to store archival records that have been generated and stored electronically given that such records will require updating in line with both software and hardware system upgrades; the way in which he will increase the storage space available for archival material; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28307/05]

Catherine Murphy

Question:

32 Ms C. Murphy asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if an assessment has been made or will be made of the extent to which archival material is stored electronically throughout the State and in public bodies; the annual cost or estimated annual cost of software and hardware upgrades necessary to stay in line with information technology industry advancements; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28306/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 9 and 32 together.

The records of all public bodies are increasingly being created and maintained electronically. The long-term preservation of departmental records in electronic form is the responsibility of the National Archives. However, in the short term each Department, office or court is responsible for the preservation of its own electronic records, that is, until such time as they are obliged to lodge them with the National Archives in accordance with the relevant legislation. All other public bodies are responsible for both the short-term and the long-term preservation of their own electronic records.

The National Archives has in the past undertaken surveys by questionnaire to assess the extent of record-generating computer systems across the Civil Service and the types of records being generated by such systems. It is evident there are large quantities of such records. More recently, pilot surveys have been undertaken focusing on specific specialised systems. Systems surveyed have included those of the Revenue Commissioners and the Land Registry. The National Archives has also undertaken a number of pilot projects to establish how certain types of electronic records might be preserved over time.

I am responsible for the State papers transferred to the National Archives. The work of the body is set out in the National Archives Act 1986. The Act requires the National Archives to acquire, preserve, restore and display departmental records and to make these available to the public. Section 14 of the Act empowers the Minister to approve a place, other than the National Archives itself, to receive deposits of specified departmental records and for this to constitute a transfer to the National Archives. I do not propose to remove all archival material held throughout the country by different bodies into the care of the National Archives.

The body is considering how best to meet its responsibility to effect the permanent preservation of digital archives. In many cases, long-term preservation may best be effected by transfer to the National Archives. In other cases, particularly where specialised, purpose designed systems are concerned, it may be wiser, safer and more economically sensible to preserve digital records within the agencies in which they were created. Should that option be pursued, the National Archives would have to be satisfied that it would enable it to meet its responsibilities regarding the preservation and access by systematic monitoring, inspection and reporting. Typically, the National Archives website would become a hub through which such records would be made available for public inspection.

The problems involved in storing electronic records are different from those connected with the storage of paper files. Large electronic record keeping systems require only a small fraction of the space required to hold the paper records. Electronic record keeping requires ongoing expenditure on hardware, software and human expertise on a scale that has no parallel in the world of paper records. Stored in the right conditions, paper is inherently durable whereas there is no proven long-term storage medium for the preservation of records in digital form. To guard against loss of records due to the physical deterioration of the media on which they are stored, regular and continuing migration of such records to new storage media is required. Records created in proprietary software systems will have to be carried forward through later versions of these proprietary formats or, if practicable, exported to non-proprietary formats for permanent preservation. Maintaining functionality of systems over time in these circumstances will be difficult to guarantee and potentially costly to implement. Migration of records to new systems and formats will have to be undertaken in ways that will ensure their authenticity, reliability and evidential value over time.

I thank the Minister. This is quite a challenge for the State as a large number of paper records exists. While I accept records are archived primarily for their legal admissibility, they have a significant heritage value. Professionals with both archiving and information technology skills are needed to decide which records are appropriate to maintain and a significant number of people with these skills would be required to service each State body. A perfect system is not available because the technology involved is being progressed all the time. Britain has instituted a location where records are stored, upgraded and maintained and it is a cost effective way to archive.

The Minister replied to a parliamentary question I tabled on Tuesday on this topic in the context of the decentralisation programme, which poses additional challenges. He stated a risk analysis is under way. Who is carrying it out? When is it likely to conclude? He also stated an individual had been appointed to the National Archives to work on the issue of best practice in this regard but the individual had resigned recently. Is one person sufficient to do this work? When will that report be available?

Computer systems have been revolutionised, even over the past 30 years, and the notion of storing large spools of records is laughable. The Minister must consider this in deciding in what format material should be maintained and the number of records to be held, which should be minimised so that only the most important records are archived. We are all guilty of information overload and, for example, many of us keep e-mails, which are not relevant. However, this is not only an IT issue but an archival issue in terms of which records are appropriate to archive. Will the Minister consider using one location for archiving? Given the experience in the local authority system where archivists are employed intermittently or are sometimes shared among several local authorities, there are not sufficient people with the necessary skills available to decide what needs to be stored and how it should be stored throughout the country.

Whatever combination of solutions is devised, it is essential that both knowledge and physical resources are developed to ensure records and other cultural objects in digital form can be preserved. As the Deputy stated, as a first step in a more substantial programme of work, I appointed a member of staff of the National Archives to examine the issue of electronic records. Progress has been made in the development of an electronic records unit within the National Archives. The development of strategies for the long-term preservation of electronic records covered by the National Archives Act 1986 and for drafting guidelines for the management of electronic records to ensure their survival as archives continues. Unfortunately that programme has been interrupted by the resignation of the recently appointed specialist member of staff. We are actively engaged with the Public Appointments Commission to have this specialist vacancy filled. I hope we can do so in the short to medium term.

Once the vacancy has been filled work will recommence on developing a strategy for the long-term preservation of electronic records. Further initiatives to increase the skill base in the National Archives are being pursued to ensure that all Departments and Government offices will be provided with best practice guidelines for the maintenance of electronic records.

It is difficult to give an estimate of the timescale to Deputy Murphy nor can I provide a meaningful estimate of the cost involved. The current premises at Bishop Street are entirely inadequate. A new premises is required, whether refurbished at that location or moved to another location, such as Parnell Square. These matters are being studied at present.

There is a vibrant chair and board of the National Archives. Over the past few years various proposals have been made and the board has done an excellent job beneath the radar. We are conscious of the importance of the material concerned and anxious to ensure the survival of records in whatever format and that the format survives the test of time.

Sports Facilities.

Pádraic McCormack

Question:

10 Mr. McCormack asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if a national audit of all sports facilities has been undertaken; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28086/05]

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Question:

17 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the position regarding the carrying out of a national audit of sports facilities scheduled for 2006-07; if guidelines have been issued to the inter-agency steering group regarding the scope of such an audit and if it will include school facilities; if such an audit will be used as a baseline year to measure progress in the targeted provision of facilities for those who need them; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28287/05]

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

20 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if a nationwide audit of all sporting facilities at primary and secondary schools will be requested by him; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28090/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 10, 17 and 20 together.

An inter-agency steering group comprising representatives from my Department, the Department of Education and Science, the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Department of Finance, in addition to representatives of the Irish Sports Council, Campus and Stadium Ireland Development Limited and the County and City Managers' Association has been established to oversee the development of a sports facilities strategy.

One of the first tasks to be addressed by the group has been to define the scope of the proposed audit of sports facilities. In doing so it consulted with the Sports Council for Northern Ireland, which has recently completed work on its own audit of facilities.

It has been decided to divide the work into two distinct phases, initially concentrating on the establishment of a comprehensive database of national and regional sports facilities with the second phase focusing on sports facilities at local level. This approach is based on an immediate need to assemble data on existing key strategic facilities which is vital to the formation of an effective long-term strategy. This element of the overall project will be supervised by a sub-group which will be assisted in its work by a representative from the Central Statistics Office experienced in data collection and questionnaire design.

It is likely therefore that obtaining information on sports facilities located at third level educational facilities will form part of the first phase while information on sports facilities located at post-primary schools will form part of the second phase of the audit. While it will be a challenging task to carry out such a comprehensive exercise, it will be of enormous value in establishing the level of need that still exists in the sports sector and in helping to determine future priorities.

We cannot have an effective national sports policy unless there is a national sports audit. The programme for Government for 2002 promised a national sports audit and in June it was announced that one would be carried out immediately. We have still not received it. How long does the Minister envisage the audit taking?

I carried out a survey of primary schools in this country in May. Out of 3,500, some 1,400 schools replied to me and 70% of schools stated they had no PE hall. The information is available to the Joint Committee on Arts, Sports, Tourism, Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. When will this audit be completed and how long will it take to complete? Will the Minister provide the resources to ensure it can be completed as soon as possible? I see no reason there should be a long delay.

Carrying out an effective and comprehensive national audit of local facilities is a major undertaking in respect of complexity and time. The Sports Council for Northern Ireland embarked on a similar exercise in recent years and it took two to three years to complete the task. In total 1,900 individual sites were identified containing some 10,000 sports facilities. In the past seven years in this jurisdiction we have invested €386 million in almost 5,000 facilities. Many facilities existed before that, although there were not as many as we would wish. This audit will take time and although we will put resources into carrying this out it would be foolish to think it can be done overnight.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.