The last day I spoke to the Bill I noted that when people talked about the development at Abbotstown, they referred to it as a national development. It has sometimes been said the facility has been developed at the expense of other local facilities. That is anything but the truth. The level of expenditure by the Government, in particular by the Minister for Arts, Sports and Tourism, on local sports facilities, should be acknowledged. In the period 1998 to 2004 more than 4,500 local projects were funded, in particular under the national programme for the provision of swimming pools. There is a new swimming pool under construction in the Clondalkin area, while all local GAA and soccer clubs have benefited. Gone are the days when children used to change at the side of the field.
One problem is that some clubs are very small and fragmented. In many cases South Dublin County Council has taken the lead role in bringing together a number of local clubs to provide combined facilities funded under the sports capital programme. That is a model which needs to be rolled out in other areas because we have many small soccer and athletics clubs which do not have a membership of sufficient size to justify owning their own facilities. South Dublin County Council has delivered such facilities in taking the lead role.
People look at the Government's commitment to sport and agree, for example, that it has provided funding for the GAA for the development of Croke Park, the National Aquatic Centre and the redevelopment of Lansdowne Road. However, these are major projects for elite athletes and sports persons.
The Government is committed to providing sporting facilities for all people, at all levels, throughout our community. National facilities are absolutely essential. Ideally, they will used by the elite sports stars whom we, as a nation of sports lovers, admire. Such stars are the catalyst which encourages people to take up sports. If one looks at the history of sport here, any time Ireland has performed well abroad at a major international event, whether it be winning medals in boxing, performing well in the World Cup or even when a county wins the All Ireland, locally the knock-on effect is an enormous take-up of that sport by children. A national stadium can be the catalyst that encourages people to participate in sport.
Recently I attended a conference dealing with childhood obesity. It was worrying to note that obesity levels in children here are not in line with the European average but are closer to the average in the United States of America. That is a worrying trend but developments like that proposed at Abbotstown can play an important role in this regard. We should not think of the development as being solely for the use of elite athletes. While it is intended as a facility for elite athletes, it will also act as an inspiration for young people entering a career in sport and will benefit the health of the nation.
Obviously, we all take pride in our elite athletes and sports people when they take part in international competition and that is something we want to promote and foster. Every time we participate in the Olympic Games, the post-mortem afterwards centres on what more we could and should do for our athletes. The development at Abbotstown will address that to some extent.
The Community Games is one of the leading organisations promoting sport. It also promotes community involvement, active citizenship and participation in sporting activity, not just for the sake of winning. For years, many of its national events have been staged in Santry and Mosney. I hope the facilities developed in Abbotstown will be made available to the Community Games organisation. It is a large organisation that actively encourages young people to engage in sporting activity at all levels. For people in many areas that lack sporting organisations and facilities, the Community Games is their introduction to sport. I will not name all the famous athletes who have come through the ranks of the Community Games and gone on to win international recognition but I hope the organisation will be provided with the opportunity to avail of the facilities at the Abbotstown complex. The facilities at Mosney are no longer of the highest standard and an organisation like the Community Games should be given the opportunity to organise events at Abbotstown.
I take issue with a point raised by Deputy Joe Higgins with regard to the management of the new board. He argued that the management should be made up of nominees from various sporting organisations rather than be appointed by the Minister. I disagree. If the former was the case, membership of the board would become a popularity contest and a power struggle between the bigger sporting organisations. The section in the legislation that provides for the Minister to appoint the chairman and 12 people to the committee will ensure that we have the correct mix of management expertise and sporting enthusiasm on the board, which is critically important. If we did not have that type of mix, Abbotstown would not develop to its full potential.
Phase one, which is well planned at this stage, comprises the national field sports training centre, catering for rugby, Gaelic games, soccer and hockey as well as an indoor training centre which will provide facilities for more than 30 governing bodies of sport, including basketball, badminton, boxing, judo, table tennis and so forth. Many of the latter sporting organisations have not, to date, had adequate facilities to enable them to participate at the highest level or attract international competitions here. The development at Abbotstown will assist them greatly in this regard. I do not wish to go into details on the lay-out of the centre, but the fact there is a national training centre as well as a sports hall that can house approximately 1,500 people, will allow many sporting organisations to participate at international level and entice international athletes here.
On the subject of enticing and encouraging participation and bearing in mind the Olympic Games of 2012 in London, I would like to see this development well under way by then. It would be a unique opportunity for a small country like Ireland, in the run up to those games, to have many international sports people coming here, participating in sport. It is participation in sport at that level that acts as a catalyst for young people entering into sport. The date 2012 needs to be firmly set in everyone's mind because that year will provide an international opportunity that we, as a small nation, might not see again. It will provide an opportunity to attract to this country, athletes of the calibre that Ireland would not normally see, in a range of disciplines. I hope everything will be done to have the authority established and the facility up and running in a successfully by then. I commend the Bill to the House.