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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 22 Mar 2006

Vol. 616 No. 5

National Sports Campus Development Authority Bill 2006: Second Stage (Resumed).

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

I welcome the production of this Bill. It has been promised for some years and the development of the lands at Abbotstown for sports and amenity purposes is something I strongly support. When I was elected to the former Dublin County Council in 1991, the land was owned by the Department of Agriculture and Food and used for various agricultural purposes. I moved a motion that it should be designated in the county development plan for amenity and sports purposes for the growing population of Dublin 15 and as a regional park. I have always been a strong supporter of amenity, recreation and sporting facilities on this land.

The debate on this Bill gives us an opportunity to ask the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, the Minister for Finance or the Taoiseach to clarify the position regarding the National Aquatic Centre, which is the first part of the series of proposals to be developed on the Abbotstown site. I speak as a strong supporter of the aquatic centre. It is appropriate that the aquatic centre is located in its current location. I supported that as a member of the county council from the time the idea was first floated. Approximately €63 million has been spent on the National Aquatic Centre.

Yesterday, we had the judge's rulings on the dispute between Campus Stadium Ireland Development and Dublin Waterworld, the managers of the facility. The Minister must make a full statement clarifying what went on at the National Aquatic Centre. A three-part consortium — a firm of architects, a construction company and a management company — was given over €60 million of State funding to design, build and subsequently manage the pools at Abbotstown. What we know at this point is that the cost of this project, as with many other Government projects, was considered by many observers to be very high and that pools of equivalent quality in other locations in Europe, for instance, are developed for approximately €20 million less than was paid by the Irish taxpayer for the facilities at Abbotstown.

Since it opened and hosted a successful part of the Special Olympics, of which we are all very proud — many Members of this House but, more particularly, large numbers of individuals from every walk of life took part in and gave their support to the Special Olympics — the development does not appear to have had a lucky moment. The first problem was the storm during which the roof blew off. I raised that issue in the House and pointed out, based on solid engineering advice available to me, that the roof should not have blown off in the second year of completion of the building of the facility. The Taoiseach and others said it was due to a hurricane. There were very strong winds on the day but there was no hurricane at the location. Furthermore, the Taoiseach went into denial mode about the seriousness of the problem but the pool had to be closed for many months, the staff were laid off and left with an uncertain future and very expensive remedial work was undertaken by those involved in the construction.

That disaster put a huge dent, so to speak, in the National Aquatic Centre but it was followed by the running rows between Campus Stadium Ireland and the company managing the facility. We have heard unfold, in dribs and drabs, a story of incredible complications that would not be out of place in a thriller involving last-minute meetings during which people were persuaded to take part in management companies. We had information yesterday to the effect that the management company arrangement was the subject of a sub-lease to a businessman which, to quote the judge and a witness in the case, was tax driven.

This facility was built entirely with €60 million of taxpayers' money. How could there possibly have been a tax break element to it? It defies logic. Perhaps it was possible, in the way that the Minister, the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance created Campus Stadium Ireland Development, to assign some capital values which in turn would attract some tax break advantage to what I assume is essentially a sub-lessor businessman. That is an outrage. We are well used to people having tax advantages conferred on them by the Government in a way that at times is inappropriate and enables multimillionaires to reduce their annual tax bill to zero, but what happened yesterday and what was disclosed in the court case defies reason. I expect the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism to give the Dáil a detailed explanation of what happened regarding the arrangements for the contract for the National Aquatic Centre and the various ramifications.

It must be borne in mind that others tendered and offered to build this facility. I understand some of those offers were considered to be potentially significantly more beneficial to the Exchequer, the taxpayer and the users of the facility, but they did not appear to be part of the inside circle that resulted in the selection of the three-part consortium. We are still unclear as to what happened. Tribunals have incurred a bad name and the mechanism by which the Government has established tribunals has ensured they will go on potentially for decades. I believe we are in tribunal territory in terms of what happened here.

Some months ago I had an opportunity — I do not know if the Minister has had this opportunity; I am sure he will not want to know — to visit the complex and I was shocked by what I saw in the basement areas. This is a new facility — it is not yet three years old — but metal fittings in the basement areas are already corroded and rusted. There are large cracks in the wall of the basement area under the pool and, most tellingly, the water consumption for the centre is way off what was included in the original specifications. As I am sure the Minister is aware, that is of major significance because swimming pool water must be treated to a very high level. The swimming pool in Abbotstown is leaking large volumes of water, resulting in high costs for water charges.

The roof blew off and that should never have happened. From the limited amount of information provided by the consultants, we know that it was not due to a hurricane or tornado as claimed by the Government at the time, rather it was due to faults in the construction which were subsequently rectified. The Minister claims that it will not cost the taxpayer anything, but its construction cost 20% more than equivalent facilities on mainland Europe and its roof blew off within two years. A two-year old building should not show severe cracks in the under-floor and underwater area that require the construction company to patch them up, nor should metal fittings become completely corroded. A video was shown on RTE which showed water seeping from cracks into the lower part of the building. Large water volumes have been lost through seepage into the Tolka river. It is a disgrace that a project can cost more than €60 million and be riddled with problems after the Special Olympics finished. Was the construction rushed for the Special Olympics? What about the three members of the Government who have personal responsibility as shareholders in Campus Stadium Ireland Development?

Section 38 of the Bill seeks to continue that latter arrangement and tries to rectify it. The Taoiseach, the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism are the shareholders in this company, so the buck stops with them on how the contracts were awarded and on how a €63 million project had to close its doors and lay off its staff. The staff received very little information about the closure and the people in west Dublin who worked there are very concerned about the future. A €60 million project should have a life of 20 to 30 years and I want to know if the future of the centre is threatened. Has the Minister made an inquiry into everything that went on? I asked the Comptroller and Auditor General to carry out an audit of this development and he will do so in due course.

The bill for the electronic voting experiment must have risen to €60 million. The Luas came in almost five years late and at almost double the cost. The port tunnel will be an excellent project whenever it is finished, but it has come at double the cost. Taxpayers have been taken for a ride and the National Aquatic Centre is a monument to this Government's inability to manage projects.

Section 38 is an extraordinary provision. It states:

The Taoiseach, the Minister for Finance and the Minister 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.

This is to rectify retrospectively what the Government did by administrative arrangement. The Dáil normally does not legislate retrospectively. The three culprits are seeking to give themselves retrospective powers that most constitutional lawyers would argue they never had in the first place. We need an explanation. The explanatory memorandum provides none and I can only guess that there must be doubts about the legal capacity of the three Ministers to form a private company without statutory authority and to enter into contracts relating to the acquisition, holding and transfer of shares in it. It would also affect their capacity to transact business for public purposes with public moneys through the medium of that private company and it would impugn the validity of the Votes of money made by the Dáil and confirmed in Appropriation Acts. That is why we deal with money Bills in this House.

In correspondence with the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Commission on Electronic Voting, I raised the issue of whether the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government had statutory authority to enter into contracts for the purchase of electronic voting hardware and software. We have argued that Ministers acquire capacity from two sources, namely, the Ministers and Secretaries Acts and from the various Acts conferring additional powers on particular Ministers. We raised this issue on several occasions, as we did with the deal that was made with the religious congregations. The Minister needs to make a full statement on this to the House.

When I was elected to the old Dublin County Council in 1991, I moved that the land at Abbottstown be reserved for amenity, recreational and sports use and for parkland. I have always supported the development of appropriate amenity and recreational facilities there. However, we want local representation on the board of this body and we want more detailed information about the plans for development on the site. Dublin West is very built up and this is one of the last reserves of land for amenity use in the area, which is now larger than Limerick city and almost as big as Galway. There is a need for recreational and cultural amenities.

What are the details of this development? Can local people obtain any more information? Work is being carried out at the perimeter of the site, which was an old farm with stone walls. Many of the stone walls on the Corduff side appear to be taken down at the moment. Local people could do with an information board to show what is happening on the site. They support the development, but they need more information about what is planned.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the chance to contribute, and preface my remarks by congratulating the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy O'Donoghue, on his efforts not only in sport but in the other elements of his portfolio. I have a great deal of contact with him on various issues, something understandable given my major urban constituency. His work gets a great deal of credit on the doorsteps. I will speak at length on sport, but he knows we have been very keen to promote local tourism in Tallaght, and he has been of great assistance in that regard.

Within his arts remit, he has been particularly helpful to my community, visiting the Civic Theatre on more than one occasion, and I am proud of his commitment. I note that colleagues have taken advantage of the business of this debate to discuss a wide range of issues, and I hope that I will be granted a little latitude, since I would like to discuss my constituency, the merits of sport, and recent developments. I hope the Ceann Comhairle will be amenable.

I have a strong commitment to the concept of sport for all, and I am glad the Minister supports that. I have occasionally said that I bring my life experiences to my politics. I had the opportunity of working with the Community Games organisation, being national public relations officer for ten long years from 1979 to 1989. It was a remarkable period for me in the sense that it gave me a very strong community base. Colleagues may be surprised to learn that I had the chance to work not only with organisations in Tallaght but throughout the Dublin region and across the country. I was very happy and comfortable in that, and I have always believed that the Community Games have made a tremendous contribution since their foundation in 1967.

It was good to hear other colleagues speak on the subject during the debate. I listened very attentively to Deputy Dennehy speak with reference to Cork. There has been great achievement in that regard, and the Community Games organisation can certainly be credited, in its early years and since, with identifying the need for sports facilities in many communities throughout the country and helping organisations mount campaigns. I was delighted to be in Dublin Castle recently, where my party leader, the Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, paid a very genuine tribute to Joe Connolly, who founded the Community Games, which are still going strong, in 1967. I have seen the organisation go into every community in the country. It can be credited with great achievements as far as identifying community facilities is concerned.

I know the Ceann Comhairle had a long-standing interest in the Community Games, which I am glad to acknowledge. The organisation was about seeking out the child that might not otherwise have had the chance to be introduced to cultural and sporting activities. Over the years, they were particularly successful in identifying Irish talent, and Roy Keane, John Treacy, Sonia O'Sullivan, Niall Quinn and many others had the opportunity of finding their way first in the Community Games and then going on to greater glory. The first Community Games, held in 1967, produced the young Eamonn Coghlan, and that is a great tribute to it.

It is important that we examine the concept of Community Games and how sport has developed. When even my Opposition colleagues tell me that the economy is doing well and that we are a great and rich country, I highlight the importance of our taking advantage of that wealth to provide facilities for future generations. People are entitled to make political points about how Government moneys should be spent and what should be done. Over the years, there have been many demands for health, education and housing, and that is absolutely as it should be. Sometimes, as the Minister will know, cheap political points are made regarding finding money to build first-class facilities.

However, we have an obligation to future generations when it comes to facilities, not only those in communities but also more major ones. I do not wish to upset anyone by talking about the famous Abbotstown bowl, but money should be available to the Government to provide facilities. That is why I strongly support what the Minister is attempting with the national sports campus development authority. Abbotstown is a fine site, and what the Minister proposes will attract a great deal of support and attention. Many colleagues on the other side would, if they had the opportunity, do exactly as the Minister. I heard Deputy Dennehy give credit to the Minister's colleague, Deputy Deenihan, yesterday. Many have taken a very fair stand regarding the development of sport and sporting facilities, and that is only right.

It is important to convey to the Minister the strong impression that as a country we are achieving a great deal in sports. Over the past few weeks we have been the envy of many larger states. Our rugby team performed heroics last Saturday. I would love to say that there was someone from Tallaght on the team, but I am afraid not, although Malcolm O'Kelly is a member of the St. Mary's Rugby Club in Templeogue in my constituency, and I am proud of him. Deputy Dennehy spoke a great deal last night about Derval O'Rourke, the young athlete from Douglas of whom we are all very proud. I need hardly remind Members that the current captain of the Irish soccer squad, Robbie Keane, is a Tallaght man, and there are other members of my community on that team too.

It is important we appreciate the great strides Irish sport is making, providing clear vindication of the Minister's policy on supporting sport and new facilities. There is no question that if we continue to provide world-class facilities in Lansdowne Road, Croke Park, and elsewhere — since there are gaps — we will continue to reap the benefits. Future generations will thank us for that, and there will be more people like Robbie Keane, Derval O'Rourke and Malcolm O'Kelly, those Irish stars whom we all revere. It is important that the Minister understands the merits of that policy.

I do not intend to upset anyone, but I attended a soccer tournament in a local school last night and was prevailed upon at short notice to tog up and play with Deputy Crowe and Senator Brian Hayes. Members should not tell them that I mentioned it, but it was an amazing experience. I am often keen to challenge young people's cynicism regarding politics, a task we all face. They must understand that we politicians have all done it, and some are far more famous as sportspeople than I could ever be. To see young people respond to politicians helping a good cause and participating shows that one is on the right road.

The session was in St. MacDara's in my constituency, where a PE hall has been provided for the last few years. On my way to Dáil Éireann this morning, I visited Firhouse community college to have another look at the PE hall there, which has been funded and developed and is now open for the school's use. We are trying to create a situation whereby the Department of Education and Science would fund the further development of services. I strongly support the concept of giving people in school and the wider community every opportunity to play and involve themselves in sport. While I accept that not everyone will wish to do so, many will.

I wish to discuss my community. As the Minister is aware, I represent Dublin South-West, which embraces the rural areas of Brittas and Bohernabreena, as well as the major urban areas of Firhouse, Templeogue, Greenhills and Tallaght, the third largest population centre in the country. We have been fortunate that the Government and the Minister have been able to fund good projects in the community. All the local GAA clubs have benefited, such as St. Jude's, Faughs, St. Anne's in Bohernabreena, St. Mark's in my parish of Springfield, Thomas Davis and Ballyboden St. Enda's.

The Minister is aware of the current debate regarding facilities in Tallaght which continually fills the newspapers. Members should be brave enough to record that successive Governments, and this Minister in particular, have been extremely generous in that regard. Public money has been spent appropriately by providing good facilities of which people can take advantage. All can support such a policy and understand its merits.

Many other worthwhile developments have taken place in Tallaght. The soon to be opened swimming pool in Jobstown will provide a major boost to both the estates in Tallaght west and Tallaght and will supplement the facilities already available in Tallaght community school. People will be keen about this facility and I look forward to its opening, as well as to the Minister paying a visit to view it.

Over the years, Tallaght has been earmarked as the site for a number of different facilities. For a while, the FAI seriously considered the possibility of building its national soccer stadium in Westbrook in Tallaght west. I was Cathaoirleach of the council from 1999 to 2000, when that campaign was under way. I have always regretted that someone lost his or her nerve and the project did not go ahead, as it was an ideal location.

Tallaght is the third largest population centre in the country and has made amazing progress as far as the provision of facilities is concerned. The Luas runs there and will be extended as far as Citywest. Many new hotels and infrastructure have been constructed and Tallaght also has The Square shopping centre, the hospital and a Garda station, which may be required with regard to the provision of sports facilities. It is an ideal location.

I have used the business of the House to raise the issue of the further development of facilities in the Tallaght area. In particular, I have referred to the athletics track on the Greenhills road which was developed by South Dublin County Council in 1999 and which opened during my term as Cathaoirleach. It is now operated by the Tallaght Athletics Club and could be developed further by the provision of a tartan track. I am proud that Tallaght has a young population and we have the potential to provide future Irish stars in that respect. The Minister has been looking forward to the London Olympics and considering how Ireland might plug into its inherent potential by providing first class facilities for use by our athletes and sports people, as well as by visitors on their way to London. In terms of development, six years is not that far away.

I strongly support the Minister's actions and achievements, especially regarding the national sports campus. While other Members have asserted that this debate should not be concerned with small facilities, my constituency is not a small place and I have made a strong case for its potential. Places like Tallaght should be able to provide such facilities to visitors and for future sports events. I understand the Department has examined this possibility and I hope it will continue to so do.

No debate about sport or sports in Tallaght would be complete without a passing reference to its soccer stadium. Earlier, I was tempted to wear my Shamrock Rovers scarf. Yesterday however, I engaged in some banter with Deputy Kenny, who incorrectly thought I was posing as a Glasgow Celtic supporter — which is not to say that I would not support Glasgow Celtic. I calmly told him I was proudly wearing my Shamrock Rovers colours. Recently, I have been asked by many people in Tallaght whether I am making a statement by so doing. I am, as I strongly believe in the merits of developing the stadium in Tallaght. It is important for both Tallaght and the region as a whole. The Minister has bravely stood by his decisions in that regard and has major support in the Dublin region and beyond for so doing. In Tallaght, people do not stop me to complain about this issue. They have been extremely supportive of it.

I refer to the development of the national sports campus and what the Minister is trying to achieve with the proposed management structure. I have read through the Bill and its explanatory memorandum. While some minor amendments will probably be required, the Minister is on the right track and I strongly support him. When this Dáil term ends — I am confident it has another 400 or so days to run — the Minister will be able to look back on a period of achievement as far as his sports remit is concerned. At the outset, I noted that the Minister can also look back on his achievements in tourism and the arts, the details of which may be discussed another day. As far as sport is concerned, he will be viewed as the Minister who has provided systems and infrastructure. While there will always be issues about leaky pools in this imperfect world, I will not become as excited as Deputy Burton in that regard and I support the Minister's statements in this respect. His remit is to provide, on behalf of the State, first class sporting facilities that will be of use to future generations. In that respect, the Minister should understand that Members will support him.

Earlier, when I ambushed the Minister by raising the Shamrock Rovers issue, I did not wish to dwell on the subject. However, the Minister should know that there is much support in Tallaght, Dublin and elsewhere. For example, at a match two weeks ago at which Rovers made a temporary entrance to the first division and had a great win, people discussed the need for a first class modern stadium.

Without wishing to repeat myself, the Leas-Cheann Comhairle knows I am proud of Tallaght and its infrastructure and that it is a great place for a soccer stadium. Shamrock Rovers will play football there every second Friday and will also provide something which, as this Bill demonstrates, the Minister is keen to promote, namely, a major community service. The players will train in the area and the club will become involved in all the local schools. It has a number of community projects in hand, including a scholarship. I applaud the work of the 400 Club under the chairmanship of Mr. Jonathan Roche with the support of Mr. Ray Wilson. Mr. Wilson lives in Sidney and I am glad he is here today. What he is trying to achieve on behalf of Shamrock Rovers will get a great deal of support.

I am grateful for the opportunity to support the Minister and I look forward to supporting his Bill.

In so far as the Taoiseach has a political philosophy on anything, is seen to believe in anything and is seen to have a passion for anything, it seems to be sport related. The Taoiseach has been central to the debates and arguments on Abbotstown. I suppose, to be fair to the Taoiseach, he had a vision for Abbotstown. Thanks to the then Attorney General, now Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, he had to compromise on the original vision. What was developed in Abbotstown in terms of the National Aquatic Centre has turned into a fairly squalid tale the reasons for which need more explanation in this House.This Bill raises more questions than it seeks to answer. It has been on the Government's legislative programme for the past two years, indicating that the Government gave this Bill some priority.

Why was there such a delay in introducing it? Yesterday's event might provide one explanation. This Bill is not overly complicated or particularly long and does not contain any extraordinary structures or end goals. I suspect one of the reasons its introduction was so delayed was the matters pertaining in the High Court, decisions that might have been made outside of this House and the suspect clause in it that gives retrospection in decision making powers of Members of the Government on Abbotstown, which is a matter we on the Opposition benches have every right to view with suspicion. The Minister should explain why such a clause is deemed necessary and why there has been such little glee about the Bill.

Ireland is seen as a sporting nation. However, the indicators in terms of the educational standards and health standards signal something different. The failure of successive governments to properly link a national sports policy with the education system has led to the health indicators of our young people, in particular, going ever downwards. This nation has a growing problem with obesity, particularly childhood obesity and related factors that spring from those bad health indicators, particularly an unacceptably large growth in the numbers of people suffering from type two diabetes. A government that sees these indicators and fails to put in place preventative and supportive measures has questions to answer on a national sports policy.

It has often been said that this is too small a country to compare with the more successful sporting nations but any analysis of countries that are successful in international sports would indicate that it is not necessarily a question of the wealth of the country or even the degree of investment. First, there is a national culture in terms of encouraging participation in sports. I will use the opportunity of this debate to point to two examples of different types of countries seen to be internationally successful in many sporting endeavours. The first, Australia, has a population of no more than 25 million people. It hosted the Olympic Games in 2000 in Sydney. It is very successful in swimming, athletics and team sports. It has taken a long time to get a successful international soccer team together but at least it will participate in the World Cup this year, while we will not. Australia has an active national sports programme based on a national sports training centre, which is one of the visions for this Bill. However, the national sports centre in Australia is linked, not to the largest centre of population nor even to its administrative capital, but to an out of the way, but still convenient location for athletes to develop their skills away from the hubbub of everyday life in an environment where they can reach their greatest potential as athletes.

The other example I would point to is Cuba. Although still a communist state, this island country with a population of no more than 9 million people successfully competes in international sports. It is a country with a very low standard of living whose per capita income is one of the lowest in the world due to the economic blockade from its near neighbour, the United States. A comparative study of Sydney Olympic Games results done on the basis of the GNP per capita and population levels in Cuba showed that the Cuban equivalent of the level of achievement of the United States — which is usually seen as the most successful sporting nation and usually gets in the region of 200 medals between gold, silver and bronze — would be 3,000 medals. Whereas Cuba has a low economic standard it has policy initiatives encouraging participation in sports and in breeding excellence.

We have heard talk in this debate already of the phenomenal achievement of a constituent of mine, Ms Derval O'Rourke, in winning a sprint event. That was a very real achievement. Athletics Ireland has a proud record in middle distance running among both men and women, but we have never really achieved in the area of sprints and hurdles. We had a hurdler in the 1928 and 1932 Olympiads who won two gold medals, Mr. Bob Tisdell, but he lived and did most of his training outside of the country. Ms O'Rourke is the first example of someone born and trained in Ireland winning an international competition, and yet her most recent experience of State support and intervention was contact with the Irish Sports Council which saw her subvention as an athlete cut in half prior to her participation in the World Indoor Championships. That is the mixed message we are sending to athletes, people of ability in this country.

The Government has a sports policy that puts an obscene amount of emphasis on horses and dogs before emphasis is put on people. Some 37% of the budget the Minister has at his disposal is spent, not on people in general or on athletes, but on horses and greyhounds. It is difficult to find any other developed country that would determine such a ratio for its sports budget. The Minister might argue that he has overseen an increasing sports budget and the Taoiseach may argue that the Abbotstown sports complex, as it might develop, is an attempt to redress that balance.

The horses and dogs get prize money.

If we are talking about economics, the great pride we seem to take in the Cheltenham festival represents a net loss to this country, where thousands of people go over to the south east of England to spend their money rather than stay in Ireland during the national holiday, an event we are supposed to be seen to be celebrating. Deputy O'Donoghue, as Minister with responsibility for tourism, seems to wear two hats, encouraging people to take part in a sport outside of the country while attempting to bring people into this country to spend their money. I do not know how he can square that circle. No amount of prize money from greyhounds or horses will address that balance.

If we adopted that logic, St. Patrick would never have come here in the first place.

He did not come willingly. If we are to get into that argument we could be here for a long time.

The economics of sports has always been self defeating. Despite increasing budgets with which the Minister has had to play around, the proportion of money spent on sports is still far smaller than that spent by other countries, which give sports a better priority and get a better payback from such investment in terms of greater use of the education system and certainly a greater benefit for the health of the nation. There is a lack of joined up thinking and interaction between the Minister and his Cabinet colleagues in this area. The Government does not have a national sports policy. Most of our sporting achievement is down to individual effort and brilliance and often occurs by accident. The reason the Government does not have a sports policy is the lack of interaction and drive at Cabinet level.

As someone who represents the second city, I question the location of a national sports centre in the greater Dublin area. National training centres in other countries are not located in their capital cities. For example, the UK centre is in Birmingham and the same scenario applies in France and Germany. The parcel of land involved solved a number of problems for a few Ministers. First, the former Minister for Finance, Charlie McCreevy, was responsible for the State laboratory, which needed to be modified and brought up to speed. The State was sending specimens abroad for analysis which should have been analysed here. However, the decision could have been taken to redevelop the laboratories at Abbotstown. Instead, it was decided to sell the buildings and move the laboratory to the constituency of Kildare North.

Once that decision was made, the Taoiseach identified Abbotstown as the site for what the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform described at the time as a Ceaucescu-like project. That never got off the ground and the nation was treated to a bizarre minuet between the GAA, the FAI and the IRFU regarding the location of a national stadium. The Croke Park edifice was magnificently redeveloped while the soccer and rugby organisations were left in limbo. Progress has been made on the Lansdowne Road stadium but, because of the planning process, we do not know how that will play out. Even though the Taoiseach's vision for Abbotstown failed, it was still considered to be the site for the prototype national sports training centre. Perhaps the Taoiseach should be encouraged to pursue this if there is no alternative use for the site, even though the greater Dublin area is not necessarily the only or best location for such a facility.

Is there a need to add to the infrastructure of sports organisations by establishing a national sports campus authority? Sports Campus Ireland operates the National Aquatic Centre at Abbotstown. The Irish Sports Council, the Olympic Council of Ireland, which prepares and supports athletes who participate in olympiads and a multitude of sports governing bodies are in place. Where is the coherence? Why add to the confusion? The Minister failed to explain this when introducing the legislation but he will need to do so when he replies to Second Stage.

The Taoiseach stated, in responding to the latest crisis regarding the National Aquatic Centre, that the transfer of its lease to a shelf company with a share capital of €127 was done without the permission or knowledge of the Government but I do not buy that. The organisation that decided to transfer the lease to Swimworld, which, in turn, transferred it to a mysterious person in Limerick who, ultimately, controlled the centre, was established by the Minister and many of its members were appointed at the behest of the Taoiseach. Many of them were and, I presume, continue to be, close to him. Given that relationship, I cannot accept the Taoiseach does not know how current events came to pass regarding the National Aquatic Centre.

The ultimate irony is that the Minister is taking upon himself the right to appoint yet another authority in the suspect way that all such authorities are appointed in the State, which has been the practice of this Government, in particular. When such bodies are appointed, their membership has less to do with experience and interest than knowledge of and involvement in the political parties in Government at the time. I can reference how this has worked to the detriment of the organisations involved throughout the panoply of State agencies. Yesterday, a story broke about the membership of the advisory committee of the Environmental Protection Agency. The Green Party has called for strong reforms of this body. A member of the advisory committee, who was appointed by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, intervened to legitimise the practice of illegal dumping. If that happened in this organisation, I presume it has happened in other State bodies because of the method of appointment of members. People are not scrutinised via an open and transparent process.

The Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism awaits a report on the incidents relating to members of Bord na gCon, particularly one man whose background ordinarily would have prevented his appointment to any body, not least an agency representing the State. As long as parties persist in making political appointments to State agencies, people will be appointed for the wrong reasons. They do not add significantly to the work of these bodies and they may damage them.

A commission is needed to take such appointments out of political hands and I have little faith the Government will institute such a change. If other political parties accept that such a need exists, my party would be willing to talk to them about such change. My fear is that the appointments to the national sports campus authority by the Minister and his successors will be made on the basis of political patronage and advantage and that secondary consideration will be given to sports issues and the effective management of the campus.

The legislation seemed innocuous, despite its long gestation. As time has gone by, it has developed more sinister characteristics and we need to spend more time properly analysing and parsing its implications during its passage through the House. If we do not get it right, the sporting future of the State, in which people rightly take pride, will be put at risk because the campus will be treated as a political vision rather than a sporting need or a vehicle to meet the health needs of the citizens of the State and its children, in particular.

I welcome the Abbotstown sports campus project. Its development is positive news, shows optimism and is an example of what the Government is about. We are a sporting nation that can hold its own with any country in the sports arena. Our people have proved they have a love and capacity for sport. I am delighted this development, at an estimated cost of €119 million, will go ahead. A sum of €9.5 million has been provided in the budget to commence the project and the balance of funding will be provided over the period 2007 to 2010.

Ireland has many excellent sporting facilities, for example, Croke Park which is among the finest stadiums in the world. We look forward to the development of the Lansdowne Road stadium. As its record shows, the Government is committed to sport . I thank the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy O'Donoghue, who has been the best Minister for sport in the history of the State. Through his example, hard work, commitment and dedication he has proved his love of sport.

Involvement in sport is great for people. It is great to be healthy in mind and body. We have some fine sports facilities throughout the country, including in my constituency of Longford. People deserve a campus like Adamstown. They look forward to it and it is only right to proceed with the project.

There are some fine sports facilities in Longford. Longford rugby club has two all-weather pitches and the club provides great assistance to our youth through its many underage teams. I invite anybody listening to me with an interest in sport to contribute to the Victor Connell fund. Victor is a young Longford man who was, unfortunately, seriously injured in a match last November. We wish him well and hope people rally around to support him, as the people of Longford are doing.

I welcome the news from the Minister of a new six-lane 25 m swimming pool for Longford. I thank the town council, the county council and the staff of Longford sports and leisure club for their efforts to get this facility. In particular, I thank the Minister for his speedy attention to the request for a new county swimming pool. There are many excellent swimmers in Longford, including some who have broken records and won European championships. Longford swimming club and all who participate in it must be complimented on their achievements.

Longford tennis club has floodlit hard courts which are an asset to the town as they are an attraction to foreign investors in the town. The town has a successful badminton club at the Longford Slashers sports complex, a major complex which contributes to quality of life for Longford constituents. Basketball is strong in Longford and facilities are available at the magnificent Mall complex on a 22-acre site. I compliment all those connected with the Mall complex on its excellent condition. When the swimming pool is up and running we will have a wonderful facility. Recently, both the ladies and gents Longford basketball teams participated in all-Ireland finals. The Longford ladies won their competition. I compliment Mick Murphy junior and Mick Murphy senior and all involved in the basketball club.

Handball is a minority sport, but a wonderful new handball facility is under construction at Abbeylara. This will be the best handball facility in Leinster. I compliment Fr. Michael Campbell, Councillor P. J. Reilly and the Reilly girls, and the people of Abbeylara for their commitment and dedication to providing facilities for this wonderful sport. When the facility is up and running, anybody who would like to visit it will be more than welcome.

Due to Government commitment, Longford GAA now has a great stadium at Pearse Park. Compliments are owed to Martin Skelly, chairman of the county board, Pat Cahill, vice-chairman, and everybody else connected with the county board and GAA in Longford on its development. The Minister also was not behind the door on this development. He made a major contribution to the new stand and pitch. We look forward to our Dublin friends' visit to Longford for the first round of the Leinster championships. We hope to have a good sporting game. Longford is a beautiful town and we invite all of them to come and see it, even if it is only for one day. We intend to win that day, but if Dublin brings its own referee it will have a sporting chance. The Longford team has some excellent footballers this year.

I also compliment the Longford soccer club and everybody at Flancare Park. The soccer stadium is an excellent sporting facility that seats 6,000 people. Jim Hanley is the chairman and he is supported by a good committee and Longford town supporters club which is second to none. The soccer club supporters have earned the reputation of being the best behaved supporters in the Thirty-two counties. The club is seeking additional funding for a new pitch in memory of the late Shane Brennan — may he rest in peace — a young star with brilliant talent who died tragically. The Brennans are highly thought of in the community and, hopefully, the new pitch will go ahead.

There is great participation in underage soccer throughout the county. In Abbeycartron, Tom Cunningham, Ray Masterson and others cater for up to 1,000 children every Saturday. A similar project began in Ballymahon last week. I compliment the chairman, Colm Ledwith, Tony Tiernan and all in Ballymahon on the excellent work they are doing. We wish them well and I thank the Minister on their behalf for the assistance he has given.

I am glad to see that the Longford boxing club has been reformed. We wish Tony Carberry and all at the club well.

I am reluctant to intervene, but the Deputy has mentioned many names. While I know this has been in a complimentary manner, it leaves open the opportunity for another Deputy to criticise those named. It is a rule of the House that names of people outside the House should not be mentioned.

I apologise. I will refrain from naming names. I compliment everybody connected with the Lanesborough boxing club on all the work they are doing, especially at under-age level.

Horse racing was mentioned earlier. We are known all over the world for horse racing. Ireland is considered to be one of the best places in the world for horse racing. When one goes abroad and mentions Ireland, people talk about horse racing and the Punchestown festival, which is the largest in Europe. Every bed and breakfast and hotel is full for a 50 mile-radius every year during that festival. Some criticised the initial investment but we need to promote tourism and Ireland. We must be forward thinking. There are also excellent facilities at Leopardstown, Galway, Kilbeggan and in counties Westmeath and Roscommon. Some very famous people from County Longford have been involved in the horse racing industry. Deputies know to whom I refer — a person who was successful recently in Cheltenham.

We also have greyhound racing in County Longford. I will refrain from naming people, but there is an excellent committee involved in the County Longford greyhound track, about which we hope to hear good news shortly. The facility there is excellent.

Why would we not have the Abbotstown development? We need and want such a development. We owe it to our athletes and our people to prove that we can compete at the highest level and have the best facilities in the world just outside our capital city. It is no longer acceptable that people must travel to England, Scotland, Wales, Germany, France, Holland and elsewhere to see our athletes perform at the highest level. We want Irish sports people performing at the highest level at home so that Irish people can see them without the burden of having to travel abroad. I wish our athletes the best of luck in the next Olympic Games.

Longford has many famous sports people who have represented us well in various fields, including showjumping, horse riding, racing, football and high jump among others. The list is endless. I congratulate the Longford GAA team that won the national football league in 1966. This is their 40th anniversary and I wish them well and hope they have a joyous celebration.

I thank the Minister for the major contribution made to sport in Longford and throughout the country. A great deal of money has been invested in sport but perhaps this year a little more money could be spent. Unfortunately, with the level of demand on the resources available to the Minister, it is not possible to keep everybody happy. However, he has done a great job in trying to help everybody out and spreading the money across all sports all over the county and indeed the country.

The GAA deserves special mention for the Gaelic football clubs in Longford, which provide excellent facilities. Nobody can question the facilities sporting organisations are providing and everybody is supportive of them. I do not know anybody who is against sport or does not want to go ahead with the proposed Abbotstown development. It is in the best interests of the people and everybody connected with sport.

We need vision and leadership in this country and we have both in the current Government. We had great leadership and vision when it was proposed to develop Government buildings. Many people said the result would not justify the cost. In retrospect, it was excellent value for money. It is a wonderful monument to the people and a place of which we can be proud. It allows us to hold our heads up high and is a place to which we can invite the Heads of Government from all over the world.

We are as good as anybody, if not better than most. We hold our head up high in the sporting field. We need and want the best facilities. The people should be given what they want, namely, good sporting facilities. We should not hold our athletes back anymore. They should not have to go abroad for training. They should be able to train here with their people and in their country. Then they will have pride in their hearts and will go out into the world and win for Ireland, for themselves and for the Irish people. Deputies should not try to delay this proposed development because it is positive. It is good news and something of which we will be proud and which will contribute to the betterment of the nation. In years to come, people will look back and ask who developed the Abbotstown campus. They will say it was a great idea and the brainchild of visionaries who had a great belief in the people.

While we look forward to getting out there in Abbotstown, I do not think I will come out of retirement. I had a short sporting career. It was nothing too illustrious but I participated in various sports and was glad to do so. I encourage as many people as possible to participate in sport. When one looks at sporting participants and club members from towns and villages throughout Ireland, they are not in trouble, their names are not in the newspapers and they do not appear before the courts. Sport gives people comradeship, friendship, fellowship, loyalty, spirit and pride in their country, town and parish. It makes them proud to be Irish. Sport is for everybody. It is good. We have many good things in this country, but sport is especially good.

Let us welcome this investment and commitment with open arms. Let us move forward to allow the commitment to be brought to fruition as quickly as possible, not in the interest of individuals or vested interests but of all Irish people. I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for his patience and everybody for listening. I am sure this Bill will have the full support of all Members of the House. I do not believe any Member of the House will question the commitment and good intent of this Government in providing sports facilities.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the National Sports Campus Development Authority Bill. In case Deputy Kelly believes Fianna Fáil is the only party interested in sport, he only has to look at players in the Fine Gael Party such as Deputies Kenny and Deenihan, the proud holder of many medals. I would not claim, no more than the Deputy, that I was a great athlete but I am proud of those on all sides of the House who partake in sports. At the weekend, the Oireachtas Members rugby team beat the folk across the water, or as the late Brian Lenihan would have said "the old enemy". It highlights the camaraderie regarding sport in all parties.

The investment of €15 million, a small amount, in the Punchestown Equestrian Centre was good for the area. It furthers the argument that money should be spent on sporting facilities. The site at Abbotstown for the proposed sports campus has been controversial for many years. It is the Taoiseach's pet project to show his unquestionable support for all sports but also to create a living memorial to his term in office. It has become clear that his original proposal was unrealistic and unworkable. Hopefully Croke Park and Lansdowne Road, when it is eventually restructured, will be stadia that will do Ireland proud.

The work already done on Campus Ireland, including the provision of the infamous swimming pool, raises further questions. Leaks at the National Aquatic Centre have shown the workmanship on site was faulty. That part of the roof was blown off and the centre had to be closed for months raises more questions. How could such a structure be constructed in such a faulty manner, particularly when the lives of many children using the centre could have been put in danger? Some 30 years ago I was involved in the building trade, selling structured steel, and the buildings it was used in have not yet been blown down by the wind.

The independent report carried out on the damage to the centre by Kavanagh Mansfield and Partners Consulting Engineers found "the damage to the Competition Hall roof was caused by the failure of elements within the [roof] assembly", the actual workmanship. The report continued:

This failure could have occurred at wind speeds within normal design parameters for a building of this size in this location. Exceptional storm conditions need not have been present for this damage to occur. The roof failed due to lack of resistance to the wind suction forces which were exerted on the day of the storm. Those forces did not exceed those which can be estimated for design purposes as possible to occur by reference to the normal design code. We conclude that the roof decking did not comply with the normal design codes or in that regard with the Building Regulations ...

The engineers concluded they were concerned about the safety of the roof. The building was designed to accommodate young people for sporting events but was assembled in an offhand way. It is important that the proposed authority ensures no one is again put at such a risk.

The Government has approved the establishment of the national sports campus development authority to oversee the planning and development of a campus of sports facilities at Abbotstown, County Dublin. I have no problem with that other than to question the suitability of access to the location. I also question the cost of clearing the site and transferring its previous occupants to County Kildare. If a GAA club, for example, wants to avail of a grant from the national lottery, it must show ownership or long-term lease of a pitch. The land in question is owned by the Minister for Agriculture and Food. How will this be reconciled?

The Government is providing the capital cost of the project over the next five years, an estimated cost of approximately €120 million. No doubt it will justify the expenditure. I fully support all realistic sporting structures that encourage our youth into sport rather than depending on other forms of entertainment, namely drink and drugs. A recent report highlighted the seriousness of young people drinking. I again ask that legislation be introduced to deal with drinks advertisements.

Millions of euro have been spent on the site, together with the €120 million project costs. That makes it more difficult, therefore, to explain why a cross-Border project such as Scouting Ireland based at Castle Sanderson on the Cavan-Fermanagh border did not justify the expenditure of €4 million. That project, like the national sports centre, would have been a marvellous opportunity for young people and their visiting friends from international scouting organisations to have a proper and safe outdoor pursuits area. Like Campus Ireland, it was a long time under discussion. It meant the bringing together of all the scouting organisations into one body. However, no funding has yet been made available. I urge the Taoiseach to ensure funding is made available before it is too late. He visited the site before the last election when some seed money was provided. It was, however, not on the same level as that provided for Campus Ireland or Punchestown Equestrian Centre. It is difficult to advise those involved in scouting that their needs are not as high a priority.

The Ballybay wetlands project is another example. It provides outdoor activities and research opportunities for schools in the Border region. Less than €1 million would make the project viable. Ballybay Development Association has put its money where its heart is but has been ignored. The project did not even justify a visit from Fáilte Ireland. The tourism industry in the area is depressed, yet Fáilte Ireland does not believe it is worth its while to visit the site.

I raise these issues to highlight the lack of fairness. I am not against the Abbotstown project. It is vital that our young people have the best possible facilities to train for national and international sport. Ireland has seen positive results in the past few weeks. The gold medal winner in athletics, the ten victories in Cheltenham and the rugby team's victory in London attracted positive publicity and were good for our sporting and national image.

Sport is our great national passion. Involvement in sport provides a source of well-being and an emotional outlet for people of every age and from every corner. The Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism emphasised that sports funding in 2006 exceeds €243 million and that the Government has spent more than €750 million on sport since 1997, although the budget was only €17 million then.

When one examines the overall figures and goes through the annual allocations on a county-by-county basis, there are clearly enormous differentials, which worry me. I pay tribute, however, to the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, and his personnel who facilitated Monaghan Town Council and county council in building a very impressive swimming pool and leisure centre. The county council and town council staff, together with the builders and all concerned, deserve enormous credit for the speed at which the project is moving forward, in spite of the long delays in getting initial agreement. Monaghan's swimming clubs have a proud record and, hopefully, this new facility will once again give them an opportunity on their own doorstep.

The people of Cavan and Monaghan, with the support of many others who cross the Border twice a week to take part in the national lottery, provide more than their fair share of funding for sports grants. I urge the Minister to ensure that this generosity is returned at least to the two projects I have mentioned.

Only recently, I, together with my Oireachtas colleagues and a group representing St. Tiemach's Park, Clones, met the Minister regarding the future restructuring of that vital facility for the nine counties of Ulster. This cross-Border facility has been the centre of activity for the majority of Ulster finals over the last century, but without proper funding that may not continue. The centre of activity could easily move nearer to Belfast and would thus not only be a major loss to counties Monaghan and Cavan, including Clones, but also to the Irish taxpayer as significant money is spent on food and beverages during those activities in the Border region. I would welcome an early commitment on that project.

On a positive note regarding the national sports campus, there is no doubt that the selection of London as host city for the 2012 summer Olympics will open up opportunities for us to present Ireland as a high quality centre for elite athletes and teams as they finalise their preparations for the games. We must move quickly and use this opportunity to provide such facilities.

I clearly remember when my colleague, Deputy Gay Mitchell, as Lord Mayor of Dublin, urged the capital city to bid for the Olympic Games, and his remarks were treated as a joke at the time. The provision of such services would be a start towards that end, however, and perhaps some day we will see his dream fulfilled. We should not be shy about promoting that goal.

Major questions remain to be answered about this organisation, including the issue of the shell company and other question marks that hang over the National Aquatic Centre. In recent days, some of the issues regarding the use of the centre have been raised in court. I would also question the formation of the authority and to whom it will be answerable. I have no doubt that the Minister of State will tell us who he has chosen to go on the authority. I am worried that all these independent authorities are not answerable to this House and that the House is becoming irrelevant. As a farmer, I was a member of such an authority, the Irish Livestock and Meat Board, for some time.

Only recently we established the Health Service Executive. I tabled a fairly simple question to the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the other day, but she said she had no responsibility for the matter I raised. She had to refer it back to the HSE for a reply. The National Roads Authority is another example, although I am a lot happier with the work it is doing now, mainly because it is doing a really good job in Monaghan. We must ensure that these groups are answerable to somebody so perhaps the Minister of State will clarify that matter in his closing address.

Section 25 of the Bill gives authority to withhold consent to the renewal of a lease or tenancy where such a lease or tenancy would prejudice the running of the site. This is an important point because we have already seen the difficulties with people who were involved.

As regards membership, section 18 contains the standard prohibition on members of the authority holding political office. I presume the Minister is referring to Members of the Oireachtas as well as members of town or county councils. What worries me, however, is that once these people are appointed one discovers that they are highly political. The only reason they got those positions is that they are political and hold membership in certain political parties. There is an onus on the Minister to ensure that the best people are appointed to this authority and that it is seen to be independent, understands what it is doing and knows something about sport. While I would not put myself forward as such a person, the situation should not be treated lightly.

The national sports campus development authority can have a major role in the future of sport in Ireland and in that context there is an onus on the Minister to ensure that the right chairperson is appointed with an appropriate board to ensure that the authority is run independently and properly for the benefit of all sports people and the economy generally. We cannot hand over €120 million of taxpayers' money and national lottery funding to any old group that will do any old job. We must ensure that those in control know what they are doing and will ultimately deliver for sporting organisations.

I am glad of this opportunity to speak on the National Sports Campus Development Authority Bill, which is very important for the development of sports in this country. I compliment the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, on his campaigning zeal in ensuring that the measure is now before us.

The purpose of the Bill is to provide a statutory basis for the authority, which will oversee the planning and development of a campus of sports facilities at Abbotstown beside my constituency in County Dublin. It is so close that part of my constituency is called Abbotstown. We live cheek by jowl so I look forward to the great benefits to be reaped from this development by my constituency.

In the past, the development of this sports campus has been used as a political football, if I may be allowed to mix my metaphors. Unfortunately, it means that serious damage has been done to the public perception of the project and to the public interest, especially when we consider the great benefits that this sports campus will bring to many people throughout the country, including athletes, players, supporters, trainers and everyone else involved or interested in sport. I hope a certain level of maturity has been reached in this respect so that we can look forward to the development of this campus as a truly magnificent testimony to the national enthusiasm for sport. It is, therefore, timely and beneficial to have this debate and move forward with the project.

To understand the importance of the Bill, we must consider the place of sport in the country's social fabric and its hugely positive influence. Many speakers have rightly taken time to reflect on the relevance of sport to the nation, especially in an international context. It is often said that we are a nation of sports fans but it is also true to say that we are emerging as a nation of sporting stars. One only has to consider the events of last week to see the proof of this. Derval O'Rourke, a young woman from Cork, took gold in the world indoor athletics championships. For the second year running, we had huge successes at Cheltenham — I hope others benefited more than I did — ensuring that Ireland's reputation in international horse racing was reasserted in a most glorious and positive manner. On Saturday, the winning streak was capped by a marvellous performance from the national rugby side against England at Twickenham.

These events were preceded by a renaissance of the GAA, where the organisation, which has been at the heart of our local communities for more than 100 years, has re-emerged and renewed itself during the past ten or 15 years. The redevelopment of Croke Park during this period has provided us with a stadium that will stand up to comparison with any stadium I have ever seen. In the past ten days the Cathaoirleach of the Seanad and I visited Cardiff Arms Park when we attended the opening of the Welsh Assembly building. Croke Park is a fine stadium compared with Cardiff Arms Park. At the same time, the emergence of the Irish soccer team as a competitive international force capable of qualifying and competing in European Championships and World Cups has given us the belief that we can compete internationally and pit our wits, in athletic terms, against anybody in the world.

This affinity with sport does not end in front of our television sets. We are also emerging as a nation of sports participants, whether it is at our local GAA club, in a dance class at our local parish centre or at a newly built local authority gym such as we have in my constituency in Finglas and Ballymun. I thank the Minister for Sports, Arts and Tourism, Deputy O'Donoghue, for his support for both. He had the pleasure of being present at the opening of the new €23 million facility in Finglas approximately one year ago.

We have seen that participation in sport provides us with a unique source of well-being and is an important emotional outlet for people of every age and from every part of the country. It is now widely accepted that the benefits of sport have far-reaching positive consequences for society as a whole. While the emphasis may be slightly different, I believe the impact on Ireland of the Ryder Cup later this year will be similar to that which the Special Olympics had a number of years ago. It is for these reasons that this Government continues to support the development of a vastly improved network of sports facilities within communities across the entire range of sporting activities.

When I was elected to the House in 1997 I heard people complain, as I did myself, about the lack of facilities whereby players had to change in poor facilities and participants had to shelter under bushes to avoid inclement weather conditions. That is changing rapidly. It is hard to believe that when the Government took office in 1997, the total budget for sport was approximately €17 million. The annual sports budget has increased dramatically and by the end of 2005, Government spending on sport since 1997 totalled €740 million. This year, the provision for the development of new sporting infrastructure and supporting sporting programmes is more than €150 million.

The sports capital programme continues to be the primary vehicle through which financial support is provided. It has funded approximately 5,000 sporting facilities at local, regional and national level with a total spend of €400 million. In 2005 alone, the sports capital programme funded 645 projects and awarded grants amounting to €63.239 million.

While some of the focus of this sports funding has been on the development of a range of regional and national multi-sports centres such as the redevelopment Lansdowne Stadium, Croke Park and the National Aquatic Centre, the provision of facilities at local level through clubs and community groups has been hugely beneficial for many communities. When we consider that, in consultation with the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, 202 of the grants awarded under the 2005 sports capital programme were for projects located in areas designated as disadvantaged, we can understand the huge effect this funding has on our communities. Some of us represent communities with a relatively high level of disadvantage.

I do not need to look too hard to see the effect that this funding has in my constituency. I have seen large clubs such as Ballymun Kickhams, Ballymun United, Na Fianna GAA, Erin's Isle GAA club, Johnstown Park and Tolka Rovers benefit from these grants. I have also seen how smaller clubs can flourish, thrive and meet the needs of a community on what many would consider to be small grants. Clubs such as Valley Park United and Finglas Kempo Karate are two prime examples of how a small amount of money was able transform a club into a considerable player on the Irish scene. I hope funding through the sports programme continues. I know Finglas Celtic, a successful club, is awaiting the Minister's consideration and I hope that funding will be forthcoming.

Over recent years in the constituency of Dublin North-West, we have also seen the development of a number of local authority owned sports facilities, such as new leisure centres in Ballymun and Finglas, which are hugely beneficial to the communities. Yesterday, I attended a meeting on the increased usage of the Finglas centre because there is not enough room for all the cars driven to and parked there. I suggested some people could walk but we live in a different era. It shows the success of high quality facilities which attract many users.

Following the allocation of an €800,000 grant, new indoor tennis courts have been developed at Albert College Park by Tennis Ireland for use as a national tennis training centre. The new facility is primarily used for training young people. However, the wider community, including local sports clubs and DCU students, also have access to the facility.

What is interesting about funding in constituencies such as Dublin North-West is that it is not just about upping the number of people participating in sport. It is about the added benefits that come with the increase. Together with the obvious physiological benefits, sport has been shown to improve emotional and cognitive skills including self-esteem and problem solving. These improvements can impact directly on behavioural risk factors and, as such, sport may be a useful intervention strategy, especially in reducing the much discussed anti-social behaviour.

Two key aspects of sport and physical activity are that they reduce boredom in youth and decrease the amount of unsupervised leisure time. Preventing and reducing boredom is important owing to the reported links to depression, distraction and loneliness. In addition, there is consensus that if youth lack stimulation and have little to do, they will seek their own, often anti-social, activities. Sport and physical activity programs provide an effective vehicle through which personal and social development, especially in young people, can be positively affected.

I get no great satisfaction from stating that in my constituency during recent months we had an outbreak of anti-social activity culminating in gangland killings, shootings and, unfortunately, quite a number of suicides. Developments such as the network of sports halls throughout the country sponsored by the Departments of Education and Science and Arts, Sport and Tourism and linked to schools will be beneficial. I believe in the importance of sport in the education system. At times it concerns me to see management bodies prepared to sell useful recreational spaces and allow them to be developed for housing and other purposes, important though they are.

To return to the national context of this Bill, a report by the ESRI last year identified the main social and financial aspects and advantages of sport in Ireland. It stated that the economic value of sport is €1.4 billion per annum. In this context, Exchequer support of €740 million for sport over the past seven years can be seen as a very worthwhile investment.

This leads to the conclusion that there is a compelling business case to be made for the development of the sports facility at Abbotstown. The case was always existed but the issue has been subject to a rather crude political debate. Such a campus would increase participation in sport at all levels from the passive amateur to the high-performance athlete. Apart from the beneficial effects on the health of the nation and helping to address many social problems, as previously outlined, the sports campus could generate substantial tourism revenue and significant employment.

Campus Ireland will be a busy and highly productive national sports centre, helping to attract great events to Ireland as well as showcasing the best of Irish sports talent. I am confident that the mix of campus and public amenity around it will make Abbotstown a thriving, vibrant centre all year round. I also welcome the allocation of a site to the St. Francis Hospice organisation to construct a much-needed facility for the area and I compliment the Taoiseach and the Government on agreeing to it.

Furthermore, and particularly in the context of the London Olympics in 2012, the campus will not only generate revenue but will also involve the building of high class, international standard sports training facilities throughout the area. Sporting facilities are set to benefit from the announcement that London will stage the 2012 Olympic Games. In most cases that will mean upgrading and improving what already exists and significant investment if they are to become attractive and viable locations for foreign teams looking to set up training and holding camps before moving on to London. Cyprus, for example, provided several training venues ahead of the Athens Olympics. Maybe it is a little too early to start talking about what facilities might be targeted but the opportunities for presenting training venues to other countries are extensive.

The obvious spin-off from this will be countries seeking to come and set up their pre-games training camps here. While there are many outstanding facilities throughout the country, such as the universities, a facility in Abbotstown would be a great advantage. Such developments will surely contribute to the social and economic regeneration of the surrounding area. l am well aware of the burden being carried by Dublin 15 in general and Abbotstown in particular. Deputy Joe Higgins also understands the burden borne and the challenges facing the Blanchardstown area.

Many have argued that if we proceed with the campus, substantial investment will be needed. At times it will undoubtedly lead to increases in traffic in the area. We have a responsibility to minimise that and to accept that some element of additional cost is involved. Even if there were no campus, however, we would still need to invest in road, rail, Luas and metro to achieve the best possible quality of life for thousands of families in Blanchardstown and the surrounding areas. Blanchardstown's population is large enough already for it to qualify as one of Ireland's ten largest towns. The plans are ready, progress is being made, consultation is beginning and metro north and west, in particular, will alleviate many of the concerns people raised in objecting to the development of this project.

There is an opportunity cost associated with the use of a site owned by the State for the campus. This site was chosen after careful study by PricewaterhouseCoopers and is not only the most accessible to the whole of Ireland and to the world through its proximity to the airport but also a significantly versatile and flexible one.

The sports campus must be built on a value for money basis. The community must be able to see what it gets in return for any investment it is asked to make. Where that is fair, a proportion of the cost of the surrounding infrastructure should be added to the cost of the campus, especially if an independent view held that the infrastructural need arose directly from the campus. When costs are being measured, it is fair to set out the benefits of these improvements as well.

It must attract and retain the support of sport as a whole. This must be an inclusive project which will promote participation at every level as well as support for the elite athletes we need to develop. It must be accessible to the whole community. The vision behind this project included the notion that it might be a visible manifestation of an island at peace with itself. It must be accessible to all on the island.

The campus must be part of an overall strategy for Irish sport. Investment must continue throughout the country through the national governing bodies and in people as well as in bricks and mortar. We ought to aspire to the best national facilities and put an end to young lads having to change in the ditch. Our young people deserve the best facilities.

From the point of view of an enduring life and viability for the project and because it is the right thing to do for the community, the campus must reflect the best architectural practice, amenity value, and state-of-the-art facilities. There should always be room for an independent overview of a great public project such as this, and accountability must be a fundamental principle. Those benchmarks should apply to this project.

To allay concerns, it is important to outline the careful planning that has already gone into this project. The Government decided in 2004 to proceed with the phased development, as financial resources permit, of a sports campus on the State-owned lands at Abbotstown. Campus and Stadium Ireland Development Limited, CSID, was requested to put forward proposals. With the assistance of experienced project managers and sports consultants, CSID prepared a development control plan. Wide-ranging consultations took place with the Irish Sports Council, the Olympic Council of Ireland, the major governing bodies of sport and other key stakeholders and interest groups to identify the requirements for sports facilities.

Meetings also took place between CSID and Fingal County Council, which was completing its county development plan for 2005-11 at the time. During the consultation process it became clear that there was need to develop at national level top class sports facilities to cater in a dedicated way for elite professional and amateur sports people. There is also a need to provide a wide range of facilities, which would be available to the national governing bodies of sport and to the local community for individual and community related purposes.

We want a campus similar to that of the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra, with similar results. Australia got its act together after poor performances at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, and in 1981 opened the Australian Institute of Sport to put it at the forefront of world sport by providing world class training facilities. Nineteen years later, it achieved this when it won a record 58 medals, including 16 golds, at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. It has won medals too at the recent Commonwealth Games.

We are only now examining the possibility of something that Australia envisaged 30 years ago and it will be another 25 years before we will see tangible benefits of such a far-sighted sports policy. On that basis, a proposal was prepared as phase 1 of the programme which would provide pitches and facilities for the three major field sports, rugby, soccer and Gaelic games, including shared core facilities such as accommodation and a gymnasium.

This phase also includes sports halls to cater for a range of indoor sports with spectator accommodation and publicly accessible all-weather floodlit synthetic pitches. More than 30 sports can be accommodated in the proposed indoor sports centre, including hockey, hurling, tennis, gymnastics, badminton, basketball, martial arts, bowls and boxing. It has been estimated that this first phase of the programme will cost €119 million and has a four to five-year delivery schedule.

There should be enough flexibility in the project to accommodate new and emerging sports. Many young people are interested in ice hockey and skating and until recently had to travel to Belfast to participate in those sports. Every few years some new sport emerges and we should try to provide for that.

I welcome this once in a lifetime opportunity, commend the Minister and his team on supporting this project and on the way they have driven sports policy to date. I wish them well with this project.

I wish to share time with Deputy Joe Higgins.

There is no doubt that sport plays a significant part in all our lives. One does not need to be an elite athlete. Even a couch potato is involved in and enjoys sports. We all benefit from the achievement of the few top class sports people. Facilities are critical to delivering good performance but there is little value in having top class facilities without the feeder facilities too. It is important to have not only the showcase as a centre of excellence but also consistent investment in sports locally.

It is not possible to produce good results without individual commitment. That is assisted by public endorsement of the kind of facilities likely to feature at Abbotstown. It is important to invest in those showcase facilities. The location was widely discussed many years ago. I share the concerns of many about the location. The debate has come and gone but facilities in foreign cities have rail links which is more satisfactory than facilities to which transport is car-dependent as Abbotstown will be. The previous speaker noted that the occasional congestion arising from the development is a burden on the surrounding community.

We all got a great lift over the past week from Ireland winning the Triple Crown and from the great results in Cheltenham. The opposite occurs when we do not get good results. We have had a number of very barren Olympic Games and it is clear we need to improve and professionalise in a very deliberate manner. The quicker we proceed with that, the better, and we need the facilities, the approach and the individuals to do so.

Most of us have had the opportunity to travel in recent years and we have seen top class facilities in countries with economies much poorer than ours. When one sees them, one can get quite angry and ask why we cannot have the same class of facility. It is about time we spent money on what we need to spend it on, and we definitely need to spend money on sport.

I am concerned that significant funds will be pumped into this centre of excellence at the expense of feeder services. Since July 2000, the closing date for applications for swimming pool projects, some 55 projects have been dealt with and 25 have been grant aided nationally. I understand that 15 are complete with ten at construction stage. Others remain at various stages. Swimming can be enjoyed across the spectrum and it keeps people healthy whether they are very young or elderly. It is a most inclusive sport. Last year the Government is estimated to have spent some €500 million in the health services specifically dealing with obesity, yet the health advantages of sport have not been recognised and it has not been provided for sufficiently in terms of investment.

The cost of using facilities is as important as having them available. If, for example, a family of two adults and three children want to spend an afternoon at the National Aquatic Centre, the cost would be €54. That is not affordable for a family on welfare. We must find another way of making these facilities available, such as the so-called leisure passport used in the UK where, depending on their income, people are allowed a certain amount of time to use sporting facilities. Such an approach must be considered. A critical mass of people will be needed to make these facilities viable, but they will not be used only by elite athletes. We should not be elitist about who gets to use these facilities.

The census of population is due to be taken in April and it will show the huge level of growth which has continued to take place right across west Dublin, Kildare, Meath and Wicklow. The fact that one has to book an hour in swimming pools in these areas some three or four weeks in advance in the summer indicates an appetite for such facilities which is not properly provided for.

There is a link between the location of facilities and the people who emerge to participate in sport at elite and other levels. For example, the Salmon Leap canoe club in Leixlip has had an Olympics participant in all the last six Olympic Games. I hope that one day we will pick up a gold or silver medal, but those participants at least compete on a par with counterparts in the rest of the world. If one does not provide the facilities, one does not get the athletes. I do not think that north Kildare has a particular aptitude for paddling but it is clear that the facility there is the determining factor in producing people who will ultimately take part in events such as the Olympic Games.

I thank Deputy Murphy for sharing her time. I agree with the principle of a national sports campus. However, I seek many assurances on how it will be developed, run and managed, exactly to whom it will be available and on what basis. Any national sports campus must be open on an equal basis to all citizens with regard to sports and recreational outlets.

As we know, in most communities, sports and recreation, including football, tennis and other activities are largely driven and maintained by the voluntary effort of local people who put in a great deal of time and commitment for no monetary reward but to make a contribution to society, their neighbours, communities, their children if they are parents, and other people's children. Local initiative, effort, commitment and volunteers are critical to the maintenance and development of sports and recreation in Ireland. I want to see that tremendous cohort of people and organisations of ordinary people facilitated in the national sports campus. I do not want it to become merely a place for the elite of sport. There is a place for the training of those who will participate at a high level in this country and internationally, but the bulk of the resources should be for the development of sport and recreation for ordinary people and children.

I am concerned, indeed revolted, by the ongoing and increasing commercialisation of sports and sporting activities. In most sports now, well known sports people are bought and sold by private enterprises pushing products, whether useful or not, to make massive profits. This has been raised to an exploitative level in our society, with parents in particular feeling the pressure of this exploitation because of the methods of advertising and so on which induce their children to pester them to buy products related to a specific sport or sports person which are branded by particular commercial and capitalist enterprises.

The sports campus provided for in this Bill should be free from all that. It should be open on an equal basis to all groups and people to advance the idea of sport and recreation and should not be dependent on the commercialisation of sport. In particular, it should have no truck with companies pushing alcoholic products in our society or any other products damaging to health.

I am concerned about the framing of some of the provisions of this Act. Section 7, for example, provides that one of the mandates of the authority shall be to develop and provide on the site such facilities and services of a commercial nature complementary to the sports campus, including residential accommodation. What exactly does that mean? In regard to residential accommodation does it mean that once again the builder friends and the developer friends of the parties in government will be given lucrative contracts to erect expensive hotels or accommodation for which people will be forced to pay through the nose if they are to use the national sports campus. What is needed on a campus such as this is good quality affordable residential accommodation which the small clubs and people from around the country can utilise when the national sports campus is made available to them.

When it comes to the appointment of the authority, sadly we have the same old story with the Minister giving himself the full powers to appoint the chairperson and the authority. I have on many occasions in the nine years since I became a Member rallied against the practice of the political parties of the Government of the day appointing to such bodies individuals whose main characteristics and qualities are their level of loyalty and cronyism to the parties in power, rather than necessarily the expertise they can bring to the body to which they are appointed.

The board of the national sports campus should be democratically elected from grassroots organisations throughout the country, representing the different interests, the sports and the participants for whom this sports campus will be a facility. Certainly nobody should be in a position of authority, as a member of the authority or a chairperson, who has a conflict of interest. I mean that in a very wide sense. The Minister is in charge of another body, the chairperson of which uses that facility, which is hugely publicly funded, as a personal fiefdom, virtually as an adjunct to business arrangements. That should not happen in this case.

The establishment of the national sports campus development authority will mark the dissolution of Campus and Stadium Ireland Development Limited which, unfortunately, bearing the hallmarks of the Government, has been shrouded in shadowy deals which, even in the past few days in the High Court, have come back to haunt the Taoiseach and the Government. Anything of this nature that the Government touches unfortunately seems to finish up mired in controversy and in allegations and suspicions of stroke politics. The National Aquatic Centre is far from satisfactory. I will have to come back to that again in this Dáil. We need a facility that is far more open and transparent and can be utilised by ordinary people.

I wish to devote my last few minutes to what the Minister said about how the development of the national sports campus ties in with the Fingal County Council objective of a regional park for the people of Blanchardstown. When I became a member of Dublin County Council 15 years ago one of the main objectives of the council at that time was the creation of a regional park in Blanchardstown and these lands were to be the heart of that park. Despite many of our best efforts and struggles we were frustrated by the Department of Agriculture and Food and other bureaucracies. We have the spectacle of Blanchardstown designed to grow to 120,000 and probably 150,000 people if intensive developments continue to be crammed in, without a facility such as a regional park.

I welcome the fact — in fairness the Minister alluded to it — that a consultative process is to be set in train by Fingal County Council, which will include the local people, as to how this facility can be brought about and utilised for the people of Blanchardstown. In his statement the Minister said, in regard to this process and the local authority, that he will highlight where zonings may need to be changed to facilitate the optimum development of the site. He referred correctly to the huge growth of the greater Blanchardstown area but incredibly for 2,000 of those homes that have been built in the past four years the developers were allowed by the management of the local authority to provide on site not a single acre of class one open space in Tyrellstown. The developers were allowed to make a financial contribution towards the provision of open space in Timbuktu or somewhere else off site which has not been provided.

Given that the Government did not lift a finger to control profiteering and speculation in building land, the developer was obliged to hand over the price demanded by the landowners for a few square perches of land. This is in a development in Tyrellstown of 2,000 homes. That is incredible. The local authority and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government — therefore the Government — owe a debt to the people of Blanchardstown to ensure some recompense is made in this development surrounding the national sports campus.

Fáiltím go bhfuil campus náisiúnta spóirt á chur chun cinn, ach caithfidh sé bheith ann do leanaí agus gnáthdhaoine na tíre seachas do mhionlach beag. Caithfidh sé bheith oscailte do ghnáthdhaoine ar bhonn réasúnta ionas gur féidir leo é a úsáid. Ar an dóigh sin, beimid in ann an dul chun cinn is cuí a dhéanamh maidir le spóirt agus caithimh aimsire do na dreamanna mórthimpeall na tíre a bhfuil an áis seo ag teastáil uathu.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the National Sports Campus Development Authority Bill. The purpose of the Bill is to establish the authority on a statutory basis. It will succeed the existing limited company Campus and Stadium Ireland Development Limited in its functional responsibility and will continue the role of overseeing planning and development of the sports campus at Abbotstown.

I compliment the Minister not only on this legislation and the establishment of the authority but on the vision that has gone into Abbotstown and what will be a national sports campus. Much of the preliminary work for the authority has been done. From the point of view of the general facility and what we are trying to achieve, much has been done in that regard.

Having listened to the contributions and speaking to others, it is interesting to note that while everybody welcomes the idea of a national sports campus, different people have different ideas. At the same time people are asking that the campus not be provided if it means Leader facilities will be jeopardised, as Deputy Murphy said. Never before have such resources been put into a wide range of sporting facilities in our local communities. Every Member here can identify the sporting facilities that have been provided at local level in their own areas.

One of the first comments made about the national sports campus at Abbotstown is in regard to the National Aquatic Centre. It is interesting that many people have not seen the centre. They think it is nothing more than a glorified swimming pool, but it is much more than that. It is unfortunate that when people talk about it, they do not realise what is in the centre. Apart from an international size swimming pool, there is a fun park for children and, as far as I know, Ireland's only international standard diving facilities are all contained in the National Aquatic Centre. Those are top class facilities. I and my children have used them on many occasions. I am disappointed to hear people running down the facility because it is top class. I have not seen better anywhere in the country. I would go as far as to say the facilities at the NAC are as good as any I have seen abroad.

It is regrettable that we do not take a little more pride in what we have achieved to date because from my point of view and that of the country, it is an excellent facility. I acknowledge the storm caused a problem with the roof but how many of us have had building works done where some aspect did not work out? It is worth noting that in this case the problems that occurred were put right by the contractor without additional cost to the State.

Deputy Burton said that she had been told such a centre could be delivered in another country for €10 million or €20 million cheaper. I was surprised to hear the Deputy make that argument, which is not valid, because our cost base is based on a certain minimum wage and so on which does not necessarily apply in other countries. I did not hear her say she could buy a Big Mac for half the price in Portugal or Spain. That is the nature of her argument. The contract for the National Aquatic Centre was awarded on a competitive tendering basis and many comments have been made about that.

I want to refer to a specific point which comes from the Committee of Public Accounts. It published its sixth interim report in November 2005. The first finding of the committee on page 2 states that the National Aquatic Centre was completed in March 2003 on time and within its budget of €71 million. Many of the comments I hear do not reflect that Committee of Public Accounts finding. We are too quick to knock the National Aquatic Centre, which is a fine development at Abbotstown.

I acknowledge and compliment the contribution of the Government, particularly the Minister, who is present, to sport generally over the past few years, which it continues to make. Deputy Murphy indicated that having Abbotstown as a national centre of excellence was not sufficient if it meant that feeder facilities throughout the country were deprived of funding. That is not the case. In constituencies throughout the country we can see the development of a range of sporting facilities not seen before. In the area where I was born and grew up, the difference between the facilities where I played and those where my sons now play is like chalk and cheese. The transformation of sporting facilities at local level has been significant in recent years and that should be recognised. We can all argue that there should be more, but the transformation has been staggering. I will refer to some of the specific developments later but while I remember to do so I compliment the local authority in my area, South Dublin County Council, which in many instances has been the lead agency in bringing together a variety of clubs and organisations to ensure maximum resources were achieved and facilities utilised to their optimum. I will examine those facilities in more detail.

The sports funding, to put it in context for the current year, is just under €250 million. The Irish Sports Council will get over €40 million. I understand the swimming pool programme will get €100 million and funding will be given to the greyhound and horse racing industries. In the allocation of funding in the current year — the Minister can correct me if I am wrong — approximately €10 million will go to the national campus. It is worth noting that the figures indicate money is being allocated at local level, apart from funding athletes directly, and that is significant.

The Minister also is providing in the current year €20 million for the redevelopment of Lansdowne Road for the IRFU and the FAI. The total funding from the Government on that major project will be in the region of €190 million but it is important to take that in context. People who spoke in the debate on this Bill are concerned that all we are doing is providing a national sports campus and nothing else, but that is not the case. Much more than that is being provided. Deputy Joe Higgins spoke about equality of access and so forth. This is a national sports campus. There will be a community facility in that but it is worth remembering the objective to be achieved in the provision of a national sports campus. A national sports campus cannot be taken in isolation from the other facilities available. That is the point I would make in terms of facilities at local and other national stadiums.

On a personal level — the Minister will not be happy to hear me say it again — I am disappointed with the redevelopment of Lansdowne Road in its current location. That is a personal view.

It is called parochialism.

No, it is my view on it. I would like an integrated development, although I am aware others have a different view.

On the swimming pool programme, Deputy Murphy mentioned the number of pools that have been completed. In my area, work on the Clondalkin pool started in January. It was intended to be a refurbishment programme but the pool was so old it was cheaper and more cost effective to start from scratch. That project is under way and I thank the Minister, his Department officials and the local authority which provided significant funding for the project. As I said, in many cases the local authorities have been very proactive and engaged in this area.

We talked about the local improvement in sporting facilities. As the Minister is present I acknowledge that in my area almost all the GAA clubs, including the Round Towers and Lucan Sarsfield clubs, have seen significant changes, including new changing facilities, all-weather facilities, floodlighting and so on. The changes that have taken place in the past six or seven years have been significant. When I played football with Round Towers, neither our club nor any other had changing facilities. By and large, we changed in the bushes at the corner of the field, but that day is gone. Equally, the facilities in soccer clubs like Esker Celtic and Lucan United have changed significantly. Many of them now have changing facilities or are in the process of construction as we speak.

I acknowledge that many of the smaller clubs have received significant help from the local authorities in advancing their projects. Many of the projects and developments have taken place on lands owned by the local authorities. There has been close co-operation between the Department and the local authority to bring these facilities on board. When we talk about a national sports campus we must keep in mind that local facilities, the feeder facilities Deputy Murphy spoke about, have been provided for a number of years and continue to be provided.

Debate adjourned.