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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 9 Mar 2006

Vol. 616 No. 3

National Sports Campus Development Authority Bill 2006: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

It gives me great pleasure to address the House on the occasion of the Second Reading of the National Sports Campus Development Authority Bill 2006. The Bill before the House provides for the establishment of the National Sports Campus Development Authority, which will succeed in function and responsibility the present limited company, Campus and Stadium Ireland Development Limited, known as CSID, and continue the role of overseeing, planning and developing a sports campus at Abbotstown.

Sport is our great national passion and involvement in sport provides a source of well-being and emotional outlet for people of every age and from every corner of the country. It is a great character builder and acts as an antidote to anti-social behaviour. Beyond the intrinsic value of participation in sport, it is also a key element in social and economic life. Active participation in competitive or recreational sport contributes enormously to the physical and mental well-being of the individual and, by extension, the whole community and nation. Success at national and international competition creates a sense of pride, excites interest and raises morale. Involvement in sport creates a sense of unity and identity for communities, towns and villages in every part of the country. The achievements of our top competitors and the hard work, commitment and dedication which lie behind their success all serve to inspire, encourage and raise the spirits of us all. Young people in particular need role models and heroes who will inspire and encourage them.

Sports funding for 2006 exceeds €243.295 million, with the Irish Sports Council budget increased to €40.9 million, the local authority swimming pools and sports capital programmes allocated €100 million and the horseracing and greyhound industries receiving €70.1 million. An amount of €20 million is provided in my Department's Vote for 2006 for the IRFU-FAI led project for the redevelopment of Lansdowne Road stadium, to which the Government has agreed to provide funding of €191 million, phased over five years.

The Government has spent more than €750 million on sport since 1997. Between 1998 and 2004, a total of almost €331 million was allocated to more than 4,721 projects throughout the country under the sports capital programme. Under the local authority swimming pools programme, 18 swimming pool projects have been completed since 2000 and many more are under way at locations throughout the country. The annual sports budget has increased from €17 million in 1997 to €243.295 million in 2006.

We have made considerable progress in bringing our sporting infrastructure into line with best international standards. I am particularly pleased that substantial funding continues to be made available for continued investment in sports facilities in order that, at last, we will have modern well equipped and well managed sporting facilities. The enactment of the Bill and the development of the Abbotstown sports campus will contribute to the provision of modern, well equipped and well managed sporting facilities which will attract many more people into sport.

On the Abbotstown sports campus, the House will recall that in January 2004 the Government decided to proceed with the development of a campus of sports facilities at Abbotstown. Having consulted widely with the major governing bodies of sport, stakeholders and interest groups, CSID, the company charged with developing the project, drew up proposals for the phased development of a sports campus at Abbotstown. During the consultation process it became clear that top class sports facilities to cater for both elite professional and recreational sports people are needed at national level. At the same time, a wide range of facilities need to be provided, which would be available to the national governing bodies of sport and the local community for individual and community related sports. On 15 November 2005, the Government decided to proceed over a five year period with the development of phase one of the sports campus at Abbotstown as set out in the development control plan prepared by CSID. Phase one of the plan will provide: a national field sports training centre catering for rugby, soccer, Gaelic games and hockey; a national indoor training centre which will provide world class training facilities for more than 30 governing bodies of sport, such as badminton, basketball, bowling, boxing, judo and table tennis; accommodation for sports men and women; sports science and medical facilities; and all weather synthetic pitches for community use. This phase of the sports campus is part of a necklace of sporting facilities to be located at Abbotstown, of which the National Aquatic Centre is a key component.

The dedicated space to be provided for Gaelic games, rugby, soccer and hockey is presented as a shamrock concept to be developed around a central core building which will be shared by all the elite training sports teams and athletes. This central core will provide living accommodation, restaurant, fitness training, gyms, sports medical and recovery areas. Dedicated changing and training facilities and pitches will be clustered around this block. A range of pitches will be provided in each of the three dedicated areas to ensure that teams can train in a secure and private location in any weather conditions. There will be natural turf and synthetic pitches, some of which will be floodlit. A multi-functional national indoor training centre will be provided, with changing facilities, a sports hall with 1,500 spectator seats and an ancillary hall suitable for a wide range of indoor sports. It is intended that the training requirements of up to 30 national governing bodies will be met in this centre.

The development control plan is the blueprint for a campus of sporting excellence at Abbotstown. The primary aim of the sports campus is to provide world class sports facilities for Irish sportsmen and women so that they can train and prepare for competition at the highest level. The development will be a key element of a co-ordinated strategy in partnership with the Irish Sports Council and the national governing bodies of sport to promote sporting excellence and participation. Our sportsmen and women are entitled to the best of facilities and supports if they are to compete successfully at national and international competitions. For teams and individuals to succeed at the highest level, there is a need to put in place a support system capable of identifying and developing potential by providing access to a professional and administrative structure and a network of coaches and facilities. Reports on the performance of Irish athletes at the Sydney and Athens Olympic Games concluded that the existing support system in Ireland falls well short of best international practice. Accordingly, a holistic environment in which to train and prepare for world class competition is required to break through to a more success driven system. The facilities must be on a par with facilities available to athletes in other countries. A failure to invest in cutting edge sports facilities means that Irish sportsmen and women will continue to be disadvantaged when competing at the highest level. The facilities the Government intends to develop at Abbotstown will rival those available anywhere else in Europe or beyond.

The Irish Sports Council's blueprint for high performance sport in Ireland is set out in its high performance strategy. A key element of this strategy is the identified requirement to put in place systems and infrastructure to enable Ireland's best athletes to fulfil their potential. The ISC has recognised the need for state-of-the-art services and facilities if the strategy is to succeed. The Athens review has acknowledged the commitment of the Government to the delivery of a modern sporting infrastructure and advocates a further stepping up of investment in elite sport facilities. The development of the proposed facilities at the National Sports Campus will be the central feature of our planned investment strategy for elite sport.

The Irish Sports Council's strategic goals are built around the concept of participation, performance and excellence. They pose a challenge to all agencies involved with sport to consider their objectives, structures and strategies in pursuit of these goals. For Ireland to produce teams and individuals who win at the highest levels, we will need professionally administered organisations with an effective strategy to generate participation, investment and commitment in our sports men and women. We will also need a network of facilities from local to national level to be built around the concept of a centre of excellence, such as that proposed for the National Sports Campus.

There are growing concerns in Ireland and internationally about the low level of physical activity, particularly among young people, and obesity has become a critical public health concern. In this regard, investment in sport can yield a very tangible return in improved fitness and health for the individual, with a consequent reduction in the demand on health services. It can at the same time provide a channel to reduce anti-social behaviour and encourage personal development and the generation of community and team spirit.

The selection of London as the host city for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games and Paralympic Games opens up opportunities for us to present Ireland as a high quality centre for elite athletes and teams as they finalise their preparations for Olympic competitions. This will only come about if early planning is undertaken and opportunities are recognised. I have been made aware by the Olympic Council of Ireland that a number of national teams have indicated that they would consider using Ireland as a base leading up to the games. Participants wishing to prepare for games look for locations which are not directly caught up in the hype of Olympic preparations in the host country but which provide climatic conditions similar to those likely to be experienced at the Olympic rounds. This country is ideally situated to fulfil this requirement.

However, if Ireland is to be attractive to potential participating athletes, high quality sporting and residential accommodation such as those currently planned for development in the first phase for a sports campus at Abbotstown and the proposed Irish Institute of Sport will need to be available in time to be effectively marketed. Some such facilities already exist in the University of Limerick and I understand that the university's authorities are developing plans for adding to these facilities. I am also setting up a high level group which will be mandated to promote the attractions of Ireland as a high quality locations for Olympic preparations. I need hardly mention the potential business and tourism gains to be realised.

Funds for the delivery of the campus project have been provided in my Department's capital envelope for 2006 to 2010. The estimated cost of the project is €119 million, with a four to five year delivery schedule. This year, expenditure of almost €10 million will be incurred as the project gets under way. I met the board of CSID on 8 December 2005 to discuss the realisation of the plans for Abbotstown and have urged it to progress the project at full speed. I pay tribute to the members of the board, and its chairman, Mr. Con Haugh, for their dedication to the project and work in bringing it to this stage.

Already, discussions have been held with Fingal County Council on planning and zoning issues. The Fingal county development plan contains a specific objective for the lands at Abbotstown. This objective obliges the county council to "undertake a study to determine a suitable mix of sporting and appropriate commercial, leisure and amenity uses in order to create a vibrant and sustainable sports campus." This study shall also "investigate the possibility of opening up these lands for recreation use for the residents of the greater Blanchardstown area." Under the chairmanship of the OPW, a group consisting of CSID, Fingal County Council, the Departments of Finance, Agriculture and Food and my Department have commenced the preparation of the study, which we intend to complete by the end of May. The study will investigate the scope for opening up the Abbotstown lands for recreational use by residents of the greater Blanchardstown area. Deputies will be aware that this is a rapidly growing area with a population that is already greater than the size of Limerick. It is important that we do not allow growth to get out of control and that we put in place the support structures to support that growth, particularly in the areas of sport and recreation. One of the advantages of this study is that it will provide a framework against which individual planning applications will be considered. It will highlight where zonings may need to be changed to facilitate the optimum development of the site. The process of the study will involve the preparation of a draft for public consultation and approval of the elected members. Fingal County Council's objective is that public consultation will commence no later than July and I am confident the deadline can be achieved.

The development control plan proposes to retain the buildings already on site which might be adapted for use as administrative offices. I fully support this proposal and it makes eminent sense to utilise these buildings. The Government decision gave approval for the use of the former State laboratory building at Abbotstown as a possible location for new headquarters for the FAl. The organisation is currently located in Merrion Square and is anxious to move to more adequate and spacious headquarters. Deputies will also be aware that the FAl is interested in developing a football academy on the site. Discussions to facilitate this are already advanced and involve my Department together with the OPW, the Department of Agriculture and Food, as well as FAl and CSID. This will be a timely move and will reflect the new direction and vision of the association. It is my intention that the national headquarters will be in operation in Abbotstown before the end of this year. In addition to providing the sports facilities I have listed, the Government also gave approval for the provision of a parcel of not more than three acres of land on the Abbotstown site, adjacent to the James Connolly Memorial Hospital, to build a hospice. Discussions have commenced between CSID and the voluntary hospice group St. Francis Hospice to agree a suitable site. The Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Brian Lenihan, and others have been particularly interested in that matter.

A key requirement for the success of the campus is that the national sporting organisations and relevant stakeholders will use the proposed facilities to their fullest extent. There has been broad support for the campus among the national governing bodies, as is evidenced in the development control plan. Detailed discussions have also commenced between CSID and the national governing bodies of sport that will use the proposed facilities on the campus to agree details of their specific requirements and put in place user agreements with them.

The establishment of the national sports campus development authority is a further important step in the Government's plan for the development of national sports facilities and programmes.

For the benefit of the House, I will go through the various sections. The Bill contains three parts. Part 1, Preliminary and General, covers sections 1 to 4, inclusive. This part contains standard provisions regarding Short Title and definitions of key terms used in the Bill. It also provides for the laying of orders made by the Minister before each House of the Oireachtas.

Part 2 covers sections 5 to 30, inclusive, and deals with the establishment of the authority, describes the authority's functions, provides for the transfer of the Abbotstown site from the Minister for Agriculture and Food to the new authority and the membership of the authority. Sections 5 and 6 provide for the making of an order by the Minister to set a day for the establishment of the authority, which will be known as the national sports campus development authority, and which will have, with the approval of the Minister, given with the consent of the Minister for Finance, the power to acquire, hold and dispose of land and other property.

Section 7 describes the authority's functions. The primary functions of the authority will be to develop a sports campus on the site; to furnish and equip it; to manage, operate and maintain it; and to encourage and promote its use by professional and amateur sports people and members of the public alike. The authority may develop facilities and services of a commercial nature, complementary to the sports campus, arrange for the development of medical and research facilities for sport on the site or elsewhere or arrange for use of the site by a national sports body for purposes connected with sport.

A development plan for the campus must be submitted for the approval of the Minister and the Government and before the commencement of each phase, details of which must also be submitted for approval. Section 7 also provides for the conveyance of the site currently owned by the Minister for Agriculture and Food to the authority and that pending such conveyance, the authority may develop the land. Schedule 1 contains a description of the land at Abbotstown owned by the Minister for Agriculture and Food.

Sections 9, 10, 11 and 13 provide for the establishment of a board consisting of a chairperson and 12 members and also for the appointment of a chief executive. The chairperson will hold office for a period of five years, the ordinary members first appointed to the board will hold office for periods between three and five years, but thereafter any appointments will be for a period of five years.

The powers given to the authority are provided for in various sections of Part 2. Under section 8, the authority is empowered to enter into agreements with others to carry out its functions, make charges, recover debts and engage consultants. Section 11 provides the right to establish committees to assist it in the performance of its functions. Sections 14 and 15 provide for the appointment of staff, with the approval of the Minister given with the consent of the Minister for Finance.

Section 25 gives the authority power to withhold consent to renewal of a lease or tenancy where such lease or tenancy would prejudice the running of the site. Section 28 provides for the establishment of subsidiaries, a company, or the entering of a joint venture, with the consent of the Minister and the Minister for Finance. Section 29 allows the authority to borrow with the consent of the Minister and the Minister for Finance. Section 30 gives the authority the power to acquire by agreement land adjoining the site for access purposes or, if authorised by an order of the Minister made under Schedule 2 of this Act, the right to acquire such land compulsorily.

Section 18 contains the standard prohibitions on members of the authority holding political office, either at local, national or European level, and also provides for secondment arrangements where persons employed by the authority secure election to office at these levels. Section 19 empowers the Minister, with the consent of the Minister for Finance, to advance funding provided by the Oireachtas to the authority. Sections 20 to 22, inclusive, contain standard provisions to the submission of audited accounts and annual reports to the Minister, which the Minister will subsequently lay before each House of the Oireachtas. The accounts of the authority will be audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General. Section 24 allows the Minister to give general policy directions to the authority.

The Bill also requires the attendance of the chief executive before Oireachtas committees and the Committee of Public Accounts in sections 20 and 21; the disclosure of beneficial interests by members, staff, consultants, etc. in section 16; and the non-disclosure of confidential information except as required by law and application of freedom of information legislation in sections 17 and 23. Part 3 deals with transitional provisions and covers sections 31 to 38, inclusive. This part provides for the dissolution of CSID and the transfer of existing staff to the new authority. CSID, soon to be the national sports campus development authority, has already begun the process of delivering a range of facilities to be used by elite athletes and the sporting public.

Ireland is on track to provide state-of-the-art-facilities for sports men and women to train and prepare for competition at the highest level. A considerable effort had been put into the discussion and planning stage of the project, which has been given the green light by the Government. This development is crucial to the future development of sport. The proposals for the campus are exciting and I am looking forward to their realisation.

I also look forward to a scenario in the context of the London Olympics of 2012 whereby Ireland, with these state-of-the-art facilities, will offer an attractive option as a training base for international Olympic teams in the years leading up to the staging of the games in London in 2012. In commending the Bill to the House I apologise to the main spokespersons for my inability to stay for their contributions. I must attend a function which has been organised for a long time. I will read with great care the statements of the Opposition spokespersons with regard to the Bill with a view to possible amendments. My colleague, the Minister of State and the Department of Education and Science, Deputy de Valera, will represent me.

The Minister is excused. I hope he does not have to travel by air or he may be back with us again.

I welcome this Bill, which will provide for the establishment of the national sports campus development authority on a statutory basis. I join the Minister in recognising the work of Mr. Con Haugh and his officials in bringing the development to this stage, and his stewardship of the project over the past five years or so.

The primary functions of the authority will be to develop a sports campus on the Abbotstown site; to furnish and equip it; manage, operate, and maintain it; and encourage and promote its use by professional and amateur sports people and members of the public alike. The campus will provide a central building, which will include living accommodation, gymnasia, fitness training and sports medical and recovery areas. It will also provide training areas for rugby, soccer and GAA and hockey field games. Each of the three areas will have a range of natural turf and synthetic pitches, some floodlit, which will allow teams to train in secure, private locations. The plan also envisages a national indoor training centre and a sports hall that will host over 30 indoor sports, with a capacity of 1,000 spectators.

The development of Sports Campus Ireland is certainly a significant development as Ireland lags some considerable distance behind its principal competitors in the provision of training facilities and coaching expertise for our elite and emerging athletes. We are only beginning to catch up in recent years with the establishment of the NCTC and the provision of the 50-metre swimming pool in Limerick, the National Aquatic Centre in Abbotstown, the National Rowing Centre at Inniscarra, the Ríocht running track at Castleisland, County Kerry and the National Hockey Arena at UCD. However, we are still light years behind counterparts, including the UK, the USA, Australia, New Zealand, former east European bloc countries, Russia and others.

New Zealand, for example, has a similar population, but we lag behind it in terms of expertise and facilities. That is reflected in New Zealand's performance in world sport, be it in rugby, Olympic sports, hockey or cricket. It will take years of sustained and targeted investment to develop a range of top class facilities to enable our athletes to train in Ireland and compete successfully on a world stage. Currently, many of our athletes who wish to succeed on an international level must go to other countries, the US in particular. Some athletes would like to stay or study here, if only facilities were available. We must give our athletes a choice if we are to exploit all the talent available in this country. I will refer to this in greater detail later. Some athletes would stay and study in Ireland if they had the facilities. We must give our athletes this choice if we are to exploit all the talent available to us.

The campus will also provide office accommodation for many of our national governing bodies of sport. The FAI, in particular, is very enthusiastic about moving its headquarters to the existing State Laboratory building at Abbotstown. It is trying to operate from two locations. Its current headquarters in Merrion Square are cramped and outmoded. As a result of these conditions, the FAI has to hold most of its meetings in hotels, which is an unnecessary drain on its resources. Its technical and club licensing departments work from offices at Dublin Airport. This is not the way for a modern sporting organisation to do its business. The provision of an administrative headquarters at Abbotstown will immediately solve this problem by bringing together various departments and affiliates under the one roof. This will streamline operations and build on the synergies that will exist from having its staff together.

Abbotstown will also be the location of the FAI's national academies, where the top under age players from throughout Ireland will come together for intensive coaching and training sessions. The provision of residential accommodation will mean that these sessions can be held over a number of days as players will be able to stay on site. All its international squads and emerging talent programme participants will be able to avail of this.

However, not all sporting organisations have their future plans tied into the campus development. The Athletics Association of Ireland continues to pursue its own plans for an indoor arena and a new headquarters at the national athletics stadium in Santry.

The Golfing Union of Ireland is going ahead with its plans for a €5.5 million headquarters and golf academy at Carton House in Maynooth. The general secretary of the GUI said recently that the campus will be of no advantage to his organisation. We have not heard from other organisations but some will find it advantageous to locate in Abbotstown while others will not.

I welcome the fact that the Minister said the existing buildings on the site in Abbotstown will be used as much as possible by the organisations that will set up there. I am particularly pleased that the FAI will use the fine State Laboratory building. There are fine buildings on the site in Abbotstown and it would be a waste of resources if they had to be demolished to make way for new buildings. Some of them are so well designed they should be the subject of preservation orders.

While welcoming this Bill, it must be placed in the context of a longer term national plan or vision for the development of elite sport in this country. The Bill, as I am sure the Minister will agree, is not an end in itself. The campus, when developed, must be seen as part of an overall national sporting infrastructure. It must be linked to the national training and coaching centre in Limerick and other designated regional centres so that all our athletes and those with potential, including those who are attending primary and post-primary schools, will have access to the necessary training facilities, coaching personnel and other back-up support within reasonable reach of their homes.

A young, talented player at any sport needs good coaching that involves nutrition, training programmes and appropriate competition, and must also attend school. I will mention an aspect of the development of our elite sportspeople which is sometimes not taken into consideration. I have recently received feedback from parents of particularly gifted young athletes. Irish parents are discerning and placing their children's eggs in a sporting basket is a risk that most will not take lightly. We need, therefore, to develop facilities at local and national level to accommodate the particular circumstances of a study-sport balance. If somebody is involved in sport while at the same time striving for academic achievement, sacrifices are needed and a balance needs to be struck. The only way to achieve that is to have facilities as close as possible to where a person studies and lives. For that reason, Campus Ireland will not be the complete solution, though it will be an important part of promoting elite sport in this country.

Other countries have special dedicated schools for exceptionally talented students. We are probably too small to go that route, but we can provide a better structure to nurture this talent by focusing better supports at local, regional and national levels. Talented young people cannot travel long distances on a regular basis to access the support services they need. It is a long journey from west Cork, Donegal or south Kerry to Dublin. It is unfair to ask young people to travel from different corners of the country to Campus Ireland on a weekly basis, although they may be able to do so on a quarterly basis, so the facilities will have to be provided elsewhere.

Even in Dublin, as we know, getting from one side of city to the other every day is almost impossible for children trying to pursue their chosen sport. I was recently speaking to a member of the UCD rowing club, which trains at Islandbridge. At times it takes them one and a half hours to get there from college by public transport. Then they have to return, which takes up a considerable amount of their time, especially at examination time. That is why we should have a spatial sports strategy for the provision of facilities for the nurturing of our future elite sportspeople. We need to establish one stop shops at a local level. There, young people could access coaching, regular monitoring of training, information on nutrition and, especially, advice on how to balance a study-sport lifestyle that will not impede their future opportunities for earning a living after they have finished their elite sporting career.

In this regard we could learn from other countries, such as the Netherlands, where elite athletes are provided with a structured support system that ensures there is suitable employment at the other end of what is often only a few years at the elite end of sport. They manage to do this by encouraging companies to adopt their sporting elite. There is a payback for both the companies and the individual sports player in such a system. This could be encouraged through modest changes in the tax system.

The proposed Irish institute of sport must also figure prominently in any future vision of elite sports policy in this country. I am glad the Minister referred to the proposed institute. I have been trying to raise this question with the Minister in the House for the past year but my questions have been disallowed because the Ceann Comhairle's office said the Minister had no responsibility for the institute. He has confirmed today that he does have responsibility so the next time I ask a question about the Irish institute of sport, I hope it will be accepted.

The Athens review report of March 2005 recommended the establishment of such an institute with a view to establishing a sustainable infrastructure for the long-term development and support of the high performance system in Ireland. Following the publication of the Athens review report, the Irish Sports Council undertook a comprehensive consultation process to develop detailed proposals for the establishment of an institute of sport. The Sports Council appointed two committees to produce the proposals — an advisory group and a strategic technical group. The groups included many overseas experts with an in-depth knowledge of sports institutes, including Roslyn Carbon, former medical director with the English Institute of Sport, and Brian Miller, a member of the British athletics sports science panel. The work of both groups has been completed and the report on the proposals for the establishment of an Irish institute of sport has been approved by the board of the Irish Sports Council and is with the Minister for his approval. I call on the Minister through his leading official and the Minister of State, Deputy de Valera, to make this a priority. In fairness to him, the Minister has put in place many important parts of our arts and sports infrastructure including the refurbishment of Lansdowne Road, but this is a critical matter. I appeal to the Minister to put it in place as soon as possible as it will not incur a significant cost.

Through the Minister of State, who comes from the Clare constituency and will have an interest in this matter, I call on the Minister to designate the National Coaching and Training Centre in Limerick as the national institute of sport. The facilities proposed for the institute are an extension of what the National Coaching and Training Centre has endeavoured to provide in recent years but without the required funding. The NCTC should be provided with the necessary additional funding to employ the sports science and medical staff envisaged for the institute.

I also suggest a hub site should be established in Dublin as part of the same management structure. There are many opportunities to create a hub in Dublin. For example, the new Campus Ireland could be an ideal site. Dublin City University has an advanced, elite department and has developed its athletics programme successfully without much help or assistance and UCD has a well structured sports programme. Given that the NCTC has been established in Limerick, it would be timely to give it recognition and provide the proper facilities and resources to allow it to develop into an institute of sport.

Every country is examining Australia's model for an institute of sport, which has been successful. We should examine that model as much as possible. A number of institutes of sport in England also operate successfully. Investment in coaches and residential training should also occur as part of this development. The new structure could link to the Northern Ireland institute of sport as part of an all-island approach and to the UK network of institutes in the lead up to the 2012 London Olympics. In addition, investment should be made in national governing bodies, NGBs, to maximise their coaching structures and performance management capabilities. Regional nodes should be set up linking to the NGB regional squad structures and the established network of sports science and medical supports.

Creating another structure could lead to a dilution of focus. In other words, designating another structure as an institute of sport would lead to unnecessary duplication and a waste of resources, particularly when that structure is already in place. I am saying this as it is the right option and not because I went to a physical education college in Limerick or have an affinity for or connection to the University of Limerick in some way. Apart from the NCTC, Limerick has a university, a college of science, an arena — one of the finest facilities in Ireland — and the boathouse being developed by Limerick's rowing club. All of the facilities are in place. Limerick also has good access compared to Abbotstown. Two reasons people such as I argued against siting a national stadium in Abbotstown were access and traffic congestion, which the campus development could also experience. For this reason I am making a strong argument for the designation of the National Coaching and Training Centre in Limerick as the Irish institute of sport. This is the most sensible way forward.

I will speak on a subject that is probably not very popular in the House but must be addressed, that is, the new authority to have responsibility for the National Aquatic Centre. I suggest the authority carries out an independent expert review of the reported defects and severe leaking of highly chlorinated pool water into the subsoil at Abbotstown. A number of reports have been carried out, but apart from the report on the storm damage to the roof to which I will later refer, I am unaware of an independent structural report carried out by an expert group of engineers. I appeal to the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism to ensure that is carried out before or concurrently with the commencement of the new authority. I will not take sides but what has happened at the National Aquatic Centre has tarnished the image of what should be a great facility for Ireland.

The pool was obviously built in a hurry and there was much pressure placed on the builder and everyone concerned to have it ready for the Special Olympics. At the time, I am sure we all called on the Taoiseach, the Minister and CSID to finish the pool for the Special Olympics. On 26 March 2002, the Taoiseach admitted the National Aquatic Centre was a rushed job when he stated in the Dáil that if all procedures had been followed to the letter of the law, we would not have been in a position to complete the swimming pool in time for the Special Olympics.

Due to storm damage to the centre's roof, it was closed from January to May of 2005. Storm force winds ripped a 25 m section from the roof on New Year's Day causing more than €1 million in damage to the roof structure. The independent report carried out on the damage by Kavanagh Mansfield and Partners consulting structural and civil engineers found that "the damage to the competition hall roof was caused by the failure of elements within the roof assembly". It goes on to claim that this failure could not have occurred at wind speeds within normal design parameters for a building of this size in that location. Exceptional storm conditions need not have been present for the damage to occur. The roof failed due to lack of resistance to the wind suction forces exerted on the day of the storm. The forces did not exceed those that can be estimated for design purposes as possible to occur by reference to the normal design code. The report concluded that the roof decking did not comply with the normal design codes or, in that regard, with the building regulations. The engineers also stated that they were concerned about the safety of the roof.

I suggest the new authority, on the direction of the Minister or its new chairman, should appoint Kavanagh Mansfield and Partners to carry out a structural report on the entire building. Only then can the new authority determine what repairs are necessary. It is important the report be carried out as soon as possible. If it is not, the new authority might become preoccupied with other problems in the National Aquatic Centre. For example, a legal case is ongoing and there will probably be others. There is a dispute about rental payments and who is responsible for what. If we had a proper engineer's report on the centre and the defects such as those found in most new buildings at some stage, it would remove an argument from the equation. I suggest this way forward.

The British Olympic diving team had to cut short its training schedule at the National Aquatic Centre, NAC, because of a defective diving board. The defects in the building have been highlighted by a number of journalists, including RTE's chief reporter, Charlie Bird. The Government and CSID have pointed the finger at Dublin Waterworld for not maintaining the building properly. A snag list was drawn up before and after the opening of the NAC. It seems this process is incomplete and major structural defects in the building have never been corrected. The first task of the new authority is to correct the defects at the NAC and stop the blame game. As far as I know, Ireland has no diving programme or policy but the fact that the British Olympic team is using our facility is an endorsement of the centre. The building must be put in proper working order.

The Minister referred to a group of people, including the OPW, CSID and the Department of Finance, to consult with Fingal County Council and undertake a study to determine a suitable mix of sporting, leisure and amenity use to create a vibrant and sustainable sports campus. The campus should be used by the public as well as elite athletes.

The Minister referred to the value of sport. Young people are in the Public Gallery this afternoon. I surveyed 1,400 primary schools recently and received feedback from the principals of those schools. This conclusively showed that physical education is not being taught in our schools and that is why, according to the Irish Heart Foundation, one in five children in the five to 12 age group are overweight or obese. We do not have sufficient facilities available in our schools, a point I have highlighted several times since I published the report. Only 23% of primary schools have a sports hall. Irish weather is unsuitable for taking children outside during most of the year. It is impossible for teachers to implement a physical education programme without facilities. While many facilities have been provided by the national lottery, I suggest giving preferential treatment to any school or local club that agrees to provide a hall on, or adjacent to, school grounds. In some cases, this would solve the problem.

Of the schools that had sports halls only a small percentage had halls over 170 sq. m. This is the size of two badminton courts. This Bill is another part of the jigsaw in the development of infrastructure in sport. I see exciting possibilities for the new campus and, under the direction of people such as Con Haugh, it may make a major contribution to elite sports and creating a sporting culture. The Bill should not be seen as an end in itself. We must examine what is happening in our schools and communities. I look forward to addressing various issues on Committee Stage, such as the structure and size of the proposed authority and the type of person who should be a member of the authority.

We have waited a long time for this legislation to reach the House. Difficulties with Abbotstown had to be addressed before we debated this Bill. Ireland is a sports mad country and we have set standards that prioritise our national games. We must try to change this mind set and portray Ireland as a country with international ability at various disciplines. The Abbotstown campus is a first step as it will provide facilities for minority sports, giving them a prominence they have not enjoyed heretofore. The lack of public relations and financial backing are reasons these disciplines remain minority sports.

During Question Time the Minister suggested at least 30 national organisations would be facilitated in Abbotstown. I hope the authority will examine creating a co-operative for minority sports, providing office staff and allowing these sports to develop. These sports have not been able to attract young people into the discipline. When children enter school they are asked if they want to play football, hurling, soccer or rugby. This reflects the mind set of the Irish sporting public, which encompasses everyone in Ireland to some extent.

Our boxers and athletes have tried to meet the maximum qualifying standards for the Olympic Games with the minimum number of competitors. As a small nation we do not have sufficient numbers to raise the standard in various disciplines to qualify for the Olympic Games. The advantage of London being the venue for the Olympic Games is a major factor. The costs accruing to the Irish Sports Council and the Olympic Council of Ireland will not be as high as for previous Olympic Games. The problem of relevant qualification pertaining to the different disciplines will raise its head and while this occasion should allow for the largest national team to be sent to London I wonder what the rewards will be when it comes to success. Is success measured by the country's attendance and participation or by the winning of medals?

The proposal is to look after the elite sportspeople through funding of the sporting bodies but sports at school level must be encouraged. This facility is to be welcomed. My predecessor as spokesperson, Deputy O'Shea, always supported the establishment of a centre of excellence. If this centre is regarded as solely provided for the elite athletes, we will not reap the significant and beneficial rewards. Young people must be attracted to sport. Thirty national sports will be facilitated as detailed by the Minister in his contribution. I hope that when Abbotstown is up and running, it will provide a central focus for many sporting groups which will encourage a diversification from a more narrow mindset which concentrates on the national sports and rugby and soccer.

The Minister referred to the role of sports in developing a healthy society. The proposed centre at Abbotstown will be a means of preventing anti-social behaviour among the young which is widespread in every village, town and city. Senior citizens are suffering as a result of anti-social behaviour and sport and recreation is the one way to combat it. If youngsters can be shown that sport and recreation are alternatives to anti-social behaviour it would create a far healthier society. Senior citizens could enjoy living in their own area and enjoy watching and supporting local youngsters playing sports on the playing fields. This would help eliminate the major social problem of anti-social behaviour which afflicts every village and town.

Recently the Community Games was the subject of a question to the Minister. Given the amount of land included in the proposed development, I ask the Minister to consider whether a mechanism is available to allow for the Community Games to be part and parcel of the overall structure. The Community Games includes a variety of activities such as drama, art and the many aspects of sport. It would be a natural progression for them to attach themselves to a particular sport or discipline and standards would rise as a result. If standards do not improve there could be disappointment in ten or 12 years' time when we may not attain the success we hoped for. If the enthusiasm and energy of the sporting associations does not reap the rewards in an improvement in performance in the Olympic Games, this disappointment may create problems in the aim of a better society being achieved through the provision of sporting and recreational facilities.

The national lottery has been a means of providing funding for sporting facilities in towns and villages. There has been a decrease in the number of people willing to help as volunteers and this may be due to longer commuting times. Participation in sporting activities has decreased as a result. I ask the Minister to facilitate schools and those living in the extensive catchment area of Abbotstown. He is allowing for private entrepreneurs to provide facilities. I hope he will allow young people to come to the centre at Abbotstown where they can see the elite athletes.

I ask the Minister to consider providing national lottery funding to the various clubs which are encountering difficulties because of the decrease in the numbers of volunteers, in particular clubs in less well-off areas, to hire mentors or coaches. The facilities may be in place but the national lottery funding may be a means of providing funding at local level to pay for the necessary training of youngsters. A young person who is involved in any sport or recreation will not have anti-social behaviour problems. In recent months the newspapers highlighted occasions on which a person with a sporting background was in trouble with the law because it is an exceptional occurrence. Those with no background in sport or other recreation, such as drama, are reported in the newspapers every day of the week as having problems.

I cannot understand section 38, which provides: "The Taoiseach, the Minister for Finance and the Minister [for Arts, Sport and Tourism] shall have, and be deemed always to have had, power to hold and transfer shares in the Company and the establishment of the Company shall be, and be deemed always to have been, as valid and effectual as if they had that power at the time of its establishment." I would like the Minister to explain that? The Labour Party has raised it several times in the past on similar Bills but has not received an answer. We have argued on the indemnity deal on some aspects of Bills, and this was strongly contested by the Taoiseach. He claimed that as a statutory corporation the Minster had a general contractual capacity. We wonder if he is now getting different advice and whether we will be able to discuss that matter. I ask the Minister to clear up the matter when he sums up on Second Stage.

Like the Minister and Deputy Deenihan, I congratulate and thank Mr. Con Haugh, who has always been available to Opposition spokespersons who wanted to speak to him. With his staff he has done much work on this facility.

If we are to achieve international success at the Olympic Games we must broaden the range of sports followed by the Irish sporting public to include Olympic disciplines. Given that Abbotstown will facilitate 30 different disciplines, people may value sports they did not previously recognise. I was at a meeting of the Committee on Arts, Sport, Tourism, Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs when the Young Dáil officials visited. One of the young people said he was not interested in soccer or football but liked to kick a ball around. Some of the disciplines to be newly available at Abbotstown may be of interest and benefit to that young person who feels that GAA, soccer and rugby are too competitive for his physical well-being or attributes.

I welcome the Bill. We will discuss it further on Committee Stage when some of the matters raised here will be discussed by way of amendments or by the Minister clarifying some of the aspects of the Bill.

With the Chairman's permission I would like to share my time with Deputies Crowe and Finian McGrath, in that order.

I welcome the Minister back. I agree with the statements by Deputies Deenihan and Wall. I will not explore the minutiae of the National Aquatic Centre or the issues Deputy Deenihan raised. Suffice to say that the new sports campus development authority will have its work cut out on that. As the Minister has opened the debate to include wider sports issues, I will not say much on the Bill. Given the raison d’être of the Abbotstown facility, it is in the wrong location. Ideally it should serve the needs of the Blanchardstown area. Although one could argue that it is within a ten or 15 minute walk of the railway line to Sligo, most of the city and country will reach Abbotstown via the M50, which, as the authorities have acknowledged, will still be congested after the widening works are completed. This is despite the cost overrun from €300 million to €800 million, which the Taoiseach said in this House could run as high as €1 billion. In the absence of a cross-city metro system, a network of Luas lines or investment in the Dublin Bus network it is difficult to see how the country will benefit from this national facility. This facility is primarily for elite athletes and then for the local community. I have concerns on the commercialism of the final entity versus its ability to be available cheaply to the local community.

Assuming the project will go ahead at this location, I am concerned about the residential aspect. Will this mean more housing beside Abbotstown or housing for the people using the centre, an elite athletes' village? I support the latter but I do not support an excuse to raise revenue for the local authority or the Government by building more houses. Given the large population increase in Blanchardstown, which used to be part of my electoral standing area over the years, this is not the right location.

The Minister acknowledged that there are growing concerns in Ireland and internationally about low levels of physical activity, particularly among young people. Obesity has become a critical public health concern. Investment in sport can yield a tangible return in improved fitness and health for the individual with a consequent reduction in demand for health services. This is why I have called for increased sports funding. Even the dogs in the street or, I should say, the dogs at the track know the problem lies with funding. The Minister has acknowledged in previous replies that 37% of sports funding goes to dogs and horses. I will discuss that in more detail later.

They get prize money whereas footballers do not.

Footballers get broken legs.

The most important area is outside the remit of the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism. There is a serious deficit in schools. As Deputy Deenihan said, people must get involved at an early age and the schools are the appropriate forum. Deputy Deenihan's survey pointed out that schools suffer from a deficit of sport equipment, as have surveys by the GAA, the IRFU and the FAI. Given that schools are lucky to have the most basic PE hall, teachers view the PE curriculum as a joke, particularly the water safety aspect. I have heard that schools may practice water safety using a bench, without ever touching a pool. That is the biggest joke of all.

It is no wonder we go on to under-perform on the world stage, as witnessed by our poor medal haul in successive Olympic Games. In terms of Olympic achievements, Ireland continues to lag behind developed countries with a similar population as well as those with fewer resources. This is not the fault of the athletes who most recently went to Athens, did their best on the day and did Ireland proud. Given the lack of joined-up thinking between Departments such as Education and Science, Arts, Sport and Tourism, and Health and Children our rare successes have been achieved in spite of rather than because of a strategy. Otherwise, it would not be taking nigh on 50 years to honour Ronnie Delaney, for example.

Following on from the Olympic Games there was the same talk from the Taoiseach and the Minister about commitment to developing sport. At the same time schools are suffering from serious under-investment in physical education facilities. For four successive years the paltry grant of €600 to €1,200 for sports equipment in schools has been withheld. The Taoiseach has promised additional funding for sport. It is as well that schools should be targeted for a start, since survey after survey has shown that if children get involved in sport they are much more likely to continue this into adulthood. Again, I will call on the Department of Education and Science — not the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, he will be glad to hear — to increase this grant and to target funding into schools building projects. This might include lottery grants for individual primary and secondary schools or for projects involving links with local sports clubs. Sharing and clustering facilities in line with the integrated public partnership approach proposed by the Green Party would mean facilities could be open all day and run cost effectively for the benefit of the community. Schools in rural and urban areas could also benefit in terms of how extensions to existing facilities might operate. There are issues involved as regards security and management, but these could be dealt with later on.

Although there has been preliminary work on an audit of sports facilities which was promised in An Agreed Programme for Government, we are still waiting for it. We will not have such a countrywide audit by the time of the next general election, so we will not know who is taking part among the various social, economic and demographic groups. We do not have the data to allow for a more precise type of investment where it is most needed.

The message to the Minister is to work from the bottom up. We need to look at a beauty facility such as the Abbotstown sports campus, but we also need to look at long-term funding so that carded athletes can develop their abilities with reasonable financial security. We need to be able to identify top performers at an earlier age. That means the countrywide roll-out of local sports partnerships and development through the schools system. The high performance strategy identified the need to establish clear pathways to the top, according to the Irish Sports Council. Those support structures will not be available unless there is investment in the schools system. The Department of Education and Science should take over that aspect of sport for young people or the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism should be made totally responsible for the provision of facilities in schools. A gap there needs to be addressed.

I mentioned earlier that Government funding had gone to the dogs. It certainly has, with some 37% of the Department's sport funding going to the horse and greyhound industries. In response to my raising the issue before, the Minister made a few jokes, which was fair enough. However, he made no comment on the €16 million that Coolmore Stud, for example, was able to spend on a horse which will reap it a good deal of money in the long-term. He did not mention, either, that the horse and greyhound industries are based on gambling and to a lesser extent, alcohol. These are pursuits I do not intend to criticise in their own right, but they are the wrong areas to fund while we are talking about obesity and trying to get people involved in sports. Perhaps the horse and greyhound funding, after 2008, should be abolished and real investment could be put into people instead. We are looking towards the 2012 Olympic Games and the Paralympic Games where, as the Minister has said, there are opportunities to promote Ireland as a high technology centre. We will not have high-tech well-developed athletes competing in that, however, or young people reaching their sporting potential, because they will not have had the funding. If one does not have the proper play areas and facilities one cannot get involved in sports. We have seen the romantic dream in a particular television programme where an individual goes to Mongolia or Brazil on behalf of someone who is working here — I cannot recall the name of the programme. One sees the children out in the dirt tracks kicking ball. There are very few sports in which a ball can just be kicked around and people develop into top class athletes. Most of them need facilities. In this context, if the Minister will not reduce the funding for the horse and greyhound industries, can he at least, in conjunction with his colleagues in the Departments of Education and Science and Health and Children, look at increasing funding for sport and people? That means starting from the bottom and providing facilities that people need.

In his reply to a priority question last week from my colleague, Deputy Ferris, the Minister stated that in regard to the possible difficulties affecting the development of Lansdowne Road there was no "plan B" at the present time. However, if the redevelopment runs into difficulties as has been widely predicted, an alternative might be needed. The question is, therefore, whether this Bill is laying the ground for such an alternative. If that is the case, surely the Government ought to be more honest about it. I say that because of the widespread belief that even though the Minister and other supporters of the original proposal to build a national stadium, including the Taoiseach, were overruled by the PD minority in Government in 2004, they have not entirely given up on the idea. Any impediment placed in the way of the re-development of Lansdowne will be seized on as an opportunity to proceed with a full-scale stadium capable of hosting international soccer and rugby internationals at Abbotstown.

The question must be posed as to whether the Government has any real commitment to the Lansdowne project. I say this on the basis of the likely foreseen difficulties in securing planning permission and the Minister's stated position on Lansdowne in recent years. In February 2003, when the proposal to build a national stadium at Abbotstown or another site was still a live option, the Minister told the House that he saw the provision of a 65,000-capacity stadium as essential to meet the future requirements of international fixtures in soccer and rugby, and the optimum if the project was to be financially viable. Last week he stated that the redeveloped Lansdowne Road venue would have a seating capacity of 50,000. Does he believe this is a viable figure and if so, what has happened to change his mind in the interval?

Croke Park has happened.

Will this relatively modest capacity be another reason an alternative facility based at Abbotstown is required. My party has no ideological objections to the development of such a facility. We certainly support the development of a state of the art sports facility to cater for other sports. However, we believe that more transparency is required, particularly in regard to precisely what is being proposed for the Abbotstown site.

The text of the Bill does not make the position clear, although the reference in section 7 to professional and amateur sports people clearly allows for scope for the development of a stadium as originally envisaged. Section 8 provides for the involvement of non-statutory bodies that would facilitate such a proposal. In this regard, perhaps the Minister might indicate his thoughts on the Community Games, which many of us support each year, and the whole question of a permanent home for them. I am told they are to be held at Mosney in 2010. As part of this proposal, the Minister might look at the Community Games, as one of the organisations involved with so many young people from different backgrounds, keeping them out of trouble and so on. Anyone who goes to Santry or Mosney every year will see many of those young people representing their communities. In many cases it is their first step on the ladder, and some of them have gone on to gain international recognition and support elsewhere.

It will be interesting to observe what moves follow the likely passing of this Bill and what takes place during the planning process for the re-development of the Lansdowne stadium. I am certain the GAA, at least, will watch closely, as I am aware of a growing feeling among members that they are not being told the full story about the decision to allow international rugby and soccer fixtures in Croke Park during the redevelopment of the IRFU stadium. A number of GAA members who originally supported the opening up of Croke Park to international rugby and soccer including, I am reliably informed, full-time officials, have changed their mind because they believe they have been treated as pawns in a wider game that includes the possible revival of the national stadium proposal.

It is also feared that the short-term contract may need to be extended if the redevelopment of Lansdowne Road stadium runs into difficulties, pending completion of an alternative site, which would obviously take a number of years. In this scenario, the GAA would, once again, be subject to considerable pressure from several quarters to make another magnanimous gesture. Many people feel that such a gesture would not only be at the possible expense of GAA sports but would be used as a fig leaf to cover the failures of others, including the State.

I also strongly believe that while a modern national facility to cater for sports such as athletics and swimming is necessary, priority should be given to the provision of modern facilities at local and regional level. There is no point in having an athletics track capable of hosting international events in Dublin if talented young runners around the country do not have access to adequate training facilities within a reasonable distance of their homes.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the very important debate on the National Sports Campus Development Authority Bill. When we debate this legislation, it is important we touch on sport in general because, frequently, we do not sufficiently value sport's contribution to society, particularly the immediate effect on people who participate in sport. The benefits of participating in sport encompass health, fitness and personal development for young people and adults. If someone participates in sport from a young age, it can gave him or her a positive sense of the competitive side of life, which will benefit him or her in the long term. This is why this debate is so important.

Before we address the details of the legislation, we should highlight and set down our priorities as a society. While I accept that sport is important, other issues must come first. It is amazing and rather odd that we can build a magnificent stadium at Croke Park with excellent facilities that are far in advance of those in other international stadia but we cannot solve some of our social problems, particularly those pertaining to health. Yesterday, we heard about the 450 people left on trolleys in accident and emergency departments in hospitals. It is amazing that we can combine our talents and intelligence to build a massive stadium yet we have been unable to resolve the accident and emergency problem over the last number of years. Sport is, therefore, linked to health and poverty.

However, there is no contradiction between my previous comments and my belief in the importance of sport. We must prioritise certain areas. Issues such as the crisis in accident and emergency departments, people with disabilities and people living in poverty must be top of the social and political agenda. It is only then that we can get on with developing other issues.

Sport for children is extremely important. There has been a decline in children's participation in sport, particularly in recent years. We now live in the computer age and children spend hours in front of computers, particularly after they come home from school, and do not take part in activities in which they would have participated 20 or 30 years ago, such as playing football or other games. We must connect this issue with the issue of health.

I commend teachers, particularly primary school teachers who are directly involved in coaching and teaching physical education. Not only do they make a significant contribution to the health of young children, they are also facilitating the release of energy and aggression. Students from schools with a strong involvement in sport, particularly those located in disadvantaged areas, are less likely to become involved in crime and other anti-social behaviour. If one examines the lives of many children who get into trouble with the law in some communities, the sad reality is that they are not involved in sport. There are many creative people working in the primary education sector and many excellent physical education teachers in secondary education. When we plan the curriculum, we should design sports to suit the needs of children. Not all children are good at soccer, rugby or Gaelic football so a wider range of sports should be made available to ensure these children are catered for.

It is important to value the contribution sport has made, particularly over the last ten years, to the personal development and inclusion of people with disabilities. From my work with families of people with disabilities, particularly those with physical disabilities, I know sport has had a major impact on them. The contributions they have made and their inclusion in society must be supported. There should be no holding back when it comes to funding sporting projects, particularly for people with disabilities.

I congratulate the Irish soccer team and its new manager, Steve Staunton. Before his appointment, many cynics queried his suitability for the role because of his lack of experience. I was one of the people who stood by and supported him, particularly with regard to the question of his experience. I also wish the Irish rugby team well in Saturday's match against Scotland. When we examine sport in more detail, we can see that it has created role models for both children and adults. People like Padraig Harrington and Damien Duff have a major contribution to make towards the formation of progressive and sensitive people.

However, we must also support our own clubs. I am saddened when people support clubs in other countries at the expense of their local clubs. As a supporter of Shelbourne Football Club, which is based in Tolka Park, I commend the club for the magnificent work it carries out in the general area. In the wake of the recent riots in O'Connell Street, residents in the Richmond Road area are concerned about potential trouble at the next match between Shelbourne and Linfield. I have informed the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform of my concerns. Windows in houses on Richmond were smashed following a match between Shelbourne and Glentoran. I appeal to the Minister to wake up with regard to this issue because we do not want to see trouble at one of our football matches.

We should also commend the magnificent work carried out by Cumann na mBunscol over the years in our primary schools. It has contributed significantly to the development of children's sport and health and fitness issues. We must also commend the clubs in our constituencies which have made a major contribution to sports. I am thinking in particular of clubs in my constituency such as Craobh Chiaráin GAA Club in Donnycarney, St. Vincent's GAA Club in Marino, Clontarf GAA Club, Whitehall Colmcille and the Parnell Gaelic Football Club. I urge the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism to fund and support all these clubs in the interests of the local community because they play a very valuable role.

A few Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas football team are present. I commend Deputy Deenihan on the magnificent work he has carried out for charities through our football team.

Hear, hear.

I understand Deputy Glennon has had problems getting on the first team but we can work on that. He should get back to his training.

Hear, hear.

It is nothing new.

We might find room for him.

Was he on the hurling team? Did he turn up for the hurling match? I commend the Oireachtas football team and Deputy Deenihan for the work they have done and the amount of money they have raised for GOAL and other charities since I entered the House.

When one examines the details of this legislation, one can see that the Government has approved the creation of the national sports campus development authority to oversee the planning and development of a campus of sports facilities at Abbotstown in Dublin 15. The Bill's primary purpose is to provide the statutory basis for this authority, which I welcome. Sections 5 and 6 of the Bill provide for the making of an order by the Minister to set a date for the establishment of the authority, which will be known as the national sports campus development authority and which will have, with the approval of the Minister and the consent of the Minister for Finance, the power to acquire, hold and dispose of land and other property. I hope that if someone comes up with a sensible idea which will benefit sport and communities in Ireland, the Minister for Finance will not stand in the way.

Section 7 describes the authority's functions. The primary functions of the authority are to develop a sports campus on the site in Abbotstown; furnish, equip, manage, operate and maintain it; and encourage and promote its use by professional and amateur sportspeople and members of the public. Section 7 is important because it deals with the professional and amateur aspects, and there is a role for both. We have an extra onus to ensure those involved directly in amateur sport get priority under the plan.

A development plan for the campus must be submitted for approval by the Minister and the Government before the commencement of each phase. Details of the phases must also be submitted for approval. I welcome some of the progressive developments that have taken place in the FAI under the leadership of John Delaney. There is a sense of excitement and expectation. It is a new management team who have massive knowledge and experience. The planning application has been lodged for the new stadium and an agreement has been reached on Croke Park, which is a brave and popular decision. In the meantime, we are preparing for the Euro 2008 qualifiers, which will give another boost to the country and create positive energy.

I welcome the Government's approval for the sports campus. While these are the big events, as Members we must ensure the local events get priority. I urge people to support their local clubs because these are the backbone of the national bodies. These clubs bring the children up through the system and make a contribution in their local communities. As I said earlier, clubs like St. Vincent's in Marino, Craobh Chiaráin in Donnycarney, Clontarf GAA club, Whitehall Colmcille and Parnell GAA club have made a massive contribution to the community spirit in my constituency.

Section 24 allows the Minister to give general policy directions to the authority. As the Minister is elected by the people, it is an important aspect. While it is right to put an emphasis on amateur sport and health and fitness, access to sport for people with disabilities should also be taken into account. Social inclusion means making it possible for people with disabilities to become involved in sport in their communities. We saw an example of this during the Special Olympics where people got involved and a buzz was created around the activities, particularly the event in Croke Park. I was there with my family and many parents and friends of people with disabilities, and the way in which the children were directly involved played a major part in involving them in the community spirit. I urge the Minister to deal with this issue in a positive and constructive way.

The arts are also important for society. They are something that people may not take seriously, but they are important for children. While there may be children in the system who are not especially interested in sport, they may be interested in music and the arts. There should be no elitism in the development of this area.

Section 29 provides that the authority or a subsidiary may borrow with the approval of the Minister given with the consent of the Minister for Finance. Section 30 provides that the authority may, for the purposes of providing access, acquire by agreement or, in accordance with Schedule 2, compulsorily, any land adjoining the Abbotstown site or any interest in or right over such land. Schedule 2 details the provisions relating to the compulsory acquisition of the land referred to in section 30, including that such acquisition must be authorised by an order made by the Minister. This is an important aspect. When dealing with planning issues, we must ensure that local people are directly involved and considered in a positive manner.

I thank the Minister and commend him on bringing this important legislation before the House. Sport is not just about the cream of society but about everyone. Everyone should get involved in sport and in their local club. They should choose the sport they like and make a contribution to the club, society and the country.

For a minute I thought I was listening to Deputy O'Connor reading out a litany of the clubs in his constituency. Perhaps Deputy McGrath is spending too much time listening to the Deputy. He will be pleased to realise that his influence has gone across the city.

Across the country.

It is a pleasure to speak on the Bill and to congratulate the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, and his officials, especially Mr. Con Haugh, on all the achievements that have been made over recent years in sport in Ireland, particularly the very positive and benign influence of the Government in the major developments that are taking place.

Listening to some of my colleagues on the opposite side, I wonder on what planet they live. Deputy Crowe should realise that it is not possible to have an Olympic swimming pool in every village. He appeared to think it was. He also appeared to want running tracks at every crossroads, which is not the way life is. Deputy Gogarty complained about the amount of money allocated by the Department to horse and greyhound racing. Obviously he is not a fan of either sport, because anyone who goes to either a race meeting or a dog track and witnesses the economic and sporting activity which takes place hand in glove will realise the advantage this is, not just to the economy but to the social fabric of the country, especially rural Ireland.

Section 26 of the Bill is a standard provision requiring the authority to provide itself with a seal. Perhaps that would be the Green Party's best contribution to the Bill. Deputy Sargent has a whole sanctuary of them at Garretstown.

Here they seem to hate horses and dogs more than motor cars.

It is a pleasure to speak on the Bill, even though my time will be divided between this afternoon and the next day. I reiterate my compliments to the Minister and his staff.

Sport in Ireland has come on in leaps and bounds over recent years. The number of women participating in sport, which I will deal with in the other part of my contribution, is growing at a phenomenal rate. One only has to look at ladies' football under the auspices of the FAI and camogie and ladies' football under the auspices of the GAA to see the amount of participation that is taking place in every parish throughout the country. Participation is what sport is about. It is not about sitting with one's feet up, however enjoyable it may be, looking at Sky Sports or whatever.

While it is important to the economics of sport, we should not get carried away with that end of sport which I have often referred to as the show business side. While a positive advantage may accrue from that side of sport, the reality is what the Minister's approach is all about. He is trying to provide the facilities so that ordinary men, women and children can participate fully in the healthy activity of sport and if by chance they want to move into an elite sport, this facility will be available to as many people as can avail of the opportunity. We tend to get carried away by the show business aspect of sport and we tend to think it is the reality. It is a tiny percentage of the numbers participating in sport. It bears little reality to the sport to which I refer in which we all participate at some stage and, I hope, for lengthy periods in our lives. I hope increasing numbers of young people will become involved in that end of sport.

Debate adjourned.