Like the previous two speakers, I welcome the opportunity to speak on the National Sports Campus Development Authority Bill 2006. I agree with them that sport can be an all-embracing and powerful force in the community. In a comparatively small country such as Ireland the stock of resources matters less than how that stock is used to maximise efficiency. We will never have the resources that sport enjoys in Britain but last week when our rugby team won in such thrilling circumstances at Twickenham, it showed that quality can often be better than quantity. We cannot always beat our chests but there are events, such as that win, about which we can speak gladly.
Sport is a social event and often provides an escape from the complexities and difficulties of everyday life. When we choose to pursue a sporting activity, be it hurling, rugby, soccer or golf we want it to be memorable and worthwhile. Elite athletes whose sporting ambitions are their livelihoods also want to avail of modern and professional facilities.
Those who follow sport also share a sense of community through their allegiance to teams and sports heroes. This can lead to immense pride in respect of local and county teams, and national fervour and patriotism when there is success on the international stage. There were examples of this last week and not just in Twickenham. The games in Croke Park made an impact on Portumna and people there responded, despite the tragic accident that night at the team's homecoming. It brought a sense of euphoria to an entire area. The same was true of Newtownshandrum last year and the year before, and of clubs such as Nemo Rangers and Salthill last week. Sporting success can lift the country too as Deputy Durkan said.
Sport can also be viewed as a natural regulator in society and a natural enemy of disorder and anti-social behaviour through its ideals of fair play, participation, co-operation, social interaction and respect for the rules. As those who have been involved in promoting community games know, the concept behind them is that people participate and medals are awarded. It has become very competitive but the initial idea was to get people competing rather than to focus on winning.
It is important to foster sport at all levels. I hope that when we are finished with the development of the stadia we are discussing such a facility will be provided for community games. We ran into some trouble recently when facilities were not available. For example, Mosney was out of bounds for a time or was difficult to use. I hope the Minister, who is enthusiastic about community games, will comment on whether we can give them a new centre and area of recognition.
People have become increasingly aware of the value of sport in promoting good health. Personal health nowadays covers physical, social and emotional well-being. Meanwhile we suffer from heart disease, cancer, strokes and obesity, all of which are significantly linked to a lack of activity. A sports strategy taking all these factors into account is needed to unite the Departments of Arts, Sport and Tourism, Health and Children, and Education and Science in a common aim. The national sports campus at Abbotstown has the potential to be such a unifying force.
I was one of the few people from outside Dublin who was disappointed when the previous suggestions for Abbotstown and related projects were attacked. Any person who had a real commitment to sport and was not playing a political angle would have supported the concept. Some speakers mentioned minority sports. My major sporting activity was track cycle racing which is almost non-existent, primarily for lack of a velodrome or indoor racing track. This would have been included in the original Abbotstown concept. I was disappointed because people started to score political points and cite figures such as €1 billion when that was a frightening sum. Much damage was done. The same people would now tell us to grab the chance of hosting the Olympics and so on.
The Government has a major part to play because public investment in sport must match the twin aims of cost-effectiveness and the personal development of individuals and communities. It is easy to keep track of economic success indicators but the benefits for the public good in terms of well-being and social capital are sometimes less tangible and harder to quantify but should be of most concern to the Government. While we may debate these benefits now and again, overall programmes must be built on such positive factors.
Government intervention in sport does not cement the divide between the haves and have-nots but contributes to a situation in which sport is made accessible to all. We need to consider many aspects of that idea. I wrote to the Minister for Finance last year pointing out that it is difficult to get insurance cover to use school or other community-based facilities. I suggested that the State find some method of underwriting these insurance costs nationally. The Minister agreed with the idea but qualified it. We should return to the issue. The Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism is interested in promoting any idea that will help to promote sport.
Sports funding for this year is close to €250 million. It is a great deal more than the €17 million allocated in 1997, even allowing for the gap in time. The public supports the idea of spending such a sum on sport, and on preventative medicine rather than hospital-based medicine, as far as possible. Everybody in this House should support that idea. The Minister has taken the lead in that regard and is involved in promoting projects across the sporting spectrum. Regardless of anybody's political affiliations or sporting allegiance, he has given it full support at every opportunity. There are many exciting projects under way, such as the redevelopment of Lansdowne Road and major investments in smaller club grounds throughout the country.
We must compliment the GAA which was building and providing facilities before national lottery funding became available 14 or 15 years ago. This is true not just of the Croke Park development but also of hundreds of county and club grounds throughout the country.
The Minister has been able to assist the development or refurbishment of many pitches and facilities. For instance, in my constituency, Cork South Central, many clubs providing facilities for a variety of sports have benefited from such developments. GAA clubs such as Blackrock, Bishopstown, Douglas and Nemo Rangers have undertaken major projects over the past two years or so. I hope my local St. Finbarr's GAA club will be able to do something similar this year. Major change is being forced on it by a realignment of a nearby national road route and I hope the club will be financed for its project.
Another project in my area has grabbed my attention and I strongly support it because it follows the precept of the Minister to get people to share facilities. This is a gymnasium project based at Coláiste Críost Rí in Bishopstown, which is novel because it would become the centre for the Cork indoor bowls association, and indoor bowls is, for the older sector, the fastest growing sport, certainly in the Cork region. This would also be the home base for the Leevale athletic club, the home club of Derval O'Rourke, while the Bishopstown-Wilton badminton club would also be a tenant. The Minister for Arts, Sports and Tourism, Deputy O'Donoghue, always encourages the sharing of facilities and this project would be a textbook example of the concept. School personnel of the Presentation order and others are behind the project which I hope will be supported.
The Government has spent more than €750 million on sport since 1997, with 18 swimming pool projects completed since 2000, Churchfield in Cork being among them. I had the honour of proposing in Cork City Council that the pool in Douglas be named after a former colleague of mine, a former lord mayor of Cork, the late Gus Healy. I hope that will be one of the pools to be modernised in the coming year.
The national campus at Abbotstown will be the apex of this development in modernising Irish sports infrastructure and will provide top-class facilities to cater for both the elite and community sports people to international standards. Deputy Durkan mentioned how people improve all the time, but we have examples of late starters, probably none better known than the captain of our hurling team last year, Seán Óg Ó hAilpín, who started out at quite an older age for hurling. One is supposed to be born with a hurley because otherwise one cannot play the game, as most Kerry people discover. Seán Óg was a late starter in that regard but it shows that if encouraged, people can develop their talents and do not have to start at the age of five, six or seven.
In 2004 the Government decided to move forward with the Abbotstown development after consultation with the major governing bodies in sport and other interested groups. Phase one of a five-year plan will provide a national field sports training centre, a national indoor training centre and sports science, medical and athletic accommodation facilities following on from the development of the national aquatic centre as part of the Abbotstown project. Training requirements for up to 30 national governing bodies will be met by the development at Abbotstown.
This is the concept we want which is why I am so disappointed we had difficulties in the past. Major or minor, every sporting activity should be encouraged and have facilities. This is an exciting time for sport. The national sports campus will aid dedicated athletes such as Derval O'Rourke from Douglas, our most recent world champion, to continue to prosper on the national and world stage. Deputy Durkan mentioned staging the Olympics and clearly that is what we should aim at, but I also emphasise the community games concept. Reports after the Sydney and Athens Olympic Games indicated that the system of support for athletes in Ireland fell far short of what would be expected internationally, and the national campus will go a long way towards addressing that. We now have a chance to develop modern and up-to-date facilities which will be among the best in the world.
To achieve our goals of participation, performance and excellence we need a network of facilities at local and national level to be built around one centre, the national sports campus. The estimated cost of the Abbotstown project is €119 million. It will have its detractors, as previous efforts had. Some people might say the money would be better spent on health but they might be the same people to bemoan our lack of success on the Olympics or World Cup stages. It is incredible that the same people will have such split views.
As the Minister noted, the 2012 Olympic Games in London will present opportunities for Ireland to market itself as a centre for elite athletic excellence. The timeframe for the campus at Abbotstown appears to fit in too. If we are serious about the development of sport in this country we must invest, and the investment will reap major dividends in terms of elite success and community involvement if it is planned properly and done right. With the national sports campus at Abbotstown, Ireland is going for gold in a big way. We will finally be able to compete in the fast lane of world sport. I wish the Minister well in speeding up the plans as he negotiates his way down the winning straight. He has done some great training along the way.
I also pay tribute to the Opposition. I do not know if Deputy Deenihan is the formal Opposition spokesperson on sporting activities but when I mentioned detractors and critics of the original concept, one of the real exceptions was Deputy Deenihan, a man who gave us rough going now and then — Cork being a smaller, modest county — when he hammered us a few times. However, he always supported the Minister in his genuine efforts to promote sporting activity. I come from a sports-mad county. If this Bill had been discussed this time last year, we might have felt we should have had a monopoly view on it because we had security guards to mind all the silver trophies at various functions. We may have lost our way a little at the outset of this year but I hope we will recover.
Deputy Durkan mentioned Derval O'Rourke and noted that many of her co-athletes are doing very well and are just a few seconds from the centre of the rostrum. We also want to remember the community games, the Special Olympics and those with special needs. Sport is great at joining people and lifting their spirits. To revel in the success, we do not all need to participate, but those who take part in sport will forever talk of the friends they made, the enjoyment they got from it no matter how tough the training or how mad one might have seemed to be. When one has done 5,000 or 6,000 miles of training on a bike, one imagines one might be mad or wonders if one is doing the right thing. However, when we look back at the end of the day, all of us will have enjoyed our time in sport. We must look forward now, and the Minister is doing that by putting the plans in place. With the passing of the Bill which I hope will have support from all, we will move on to a very successful international stage.