Priority Questions.

Arts Funding.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

71 Deputy Olivia Mitchell asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if he has had discussions with the Arts Council since budget 2009 on the implications of the cuts on venues, events and artists as well as on Arts Council staff numbers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41832/08]

As the Deputy will be aware, under measures introduced in the 2009 budget, all Departments and State agencies are to achieve a range of reductions and savings in 2009, both on pay and non-pay expenditure, and the Arts Council is no exception. These include a 3% reduction in the level of its 2008 pay bill, while also meeting the cost of the recently negotiated second pay agreement under Towards 2016, and at least a 50% reduction in its consultancy and advertising budgets.

My Department advised the Arts Council of the requirement when informing it of its allocation for next year and is awaiting details from the Arts Council of its proposals to implement the adjustments. The Arts Council is statutorily independent, under the Arts Act 2003, in its funding decisions and I have no role in funding allocations made by the Council. I have therefore not discussed 2009 allocations by the Arts Council to individual artists and arts organisations.

As Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism I am committed to securing the best possible funding deal for the Arts Council and the arts sector generally throughout the country. By any standards, however, the Arts Council has seen dramatic increases in its funding allocation in recent years, increasing by more than 71% from €47.67 million in 2002 to €81.6 million this year. These are significant amounts of taxpayers' money in any context and have effectively transformed the arts, by facilitating increased access to and participation in the full spectrum of art forms throughout the country. The Government's sustained commitment to the arts is evidenced by the substantial increases in funding, including supplementary funding of €3 million at the end of 2007. The Government is committed to supporting the arts and will continue to work with the Arts Council as part of its programme to achieve that.

The Minister's press and media people are to be congratulated on the positive spin they can put on the worst of news. Unfortunately, the arts community can do sums and it knows how much the reduction is, despite every effort to make it seem as if it was a fraction of 1%. The actual cut to the Arts Council is 10%.

It is nothing like that.

No matter how the Minister tries to dress it up the reduction is 10%. The total reduction is approximately €9 million.

The Minister indicated he is awaiting a report from the Arts Council. To all intents and purposes there is not an Arts Council at the moment because since August it has been operating at half strength. The Minister is aware that five members are needed to form a quorum and it is not always possible to get five people together. Even if it were, it is unreasonable to expect five or six people to make decisions of that magnitude. The cuts will cost jobs to individual artists and perhaps result in the closure or temporary closure of venues at weekends or on week days. There will be a great reduction in activity right around the country as a result of the cuts. It is unreasonable of the Minister not to have nominated a new chairperson and other members to the council. Will the Minister indicate when the appointments will be made and whether the Arts Council has been in communication with him in respect of the allocation to the Abbey Theatre, for example?

I do not accept what the Deputy said and she would not expect me to. There should not be any effect on organisations throughout the country. It has been made clear to the Arts Council that the administrative reduction of 3% in its budget should come from within its own staffing and administrative requirements, which are substantial. That might be difficult in these times but we all face those realities. In fairness, most of the people in the arts to whom I spoke said that in spite of the difficulties they are pleased the arts was not used as the whipping boy, so to speak, in terms of taking the brunt of overall Government reductions and that, by and large, in the overall scheme of things they have done fairly well.

Equally, I do not accept that the Arts Council cannot function at the moment. It has a quorum and the members should get on with their job instead of waiting around. It is important they continue to do their work. They have the capacity to do it and they should move forward.

It is an independent function of the Arts Council to allocate funding to whichever bodies they wish.

I am sure the members will make the decision to allocate the greatly reduced funding they have at their disposal. No matter how the Minister dresses it up, it is €9 million less than they had last year and only a fraction of the budget is spent on administration, and a fraction of that is to be saved. Whoever did the spinning for the Minister may have assumed nobody else could do sums but that is not the case.

When does the Minister intend to appoint a chairperson to the Arts Council? Is it true the position has been offered and turned down on several occasions? That is the information I have.

The Deputy should not believe everything she reads in the newspapers.

I do not believe everything I read in the newspapers but I would like to hear directly from the Minister when a chairperson of the Arts Council will be appointed. The last body for which a board was not appointed, namely, the National Archives, has been more or less abolished.

Deputy Mitchell well knows that last point is utterly incorrect and I do not accept it. The allocation to the Arts Council in 2002 was €47.6 million.

My question was when would the Minister appoint a chairperson.

Deputy Mitchell made a comment and I am replying to it. The allocation next year is €75.708 million. That is a huge budget by any standard involving substantial funds. I expect to be in a position to make the announcements with regard to the Arts Council shortly.

National Sports Campus.

Mary Upton

Question:

72 Deputy Mary Upton asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the progress of the national sports campus; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41674/08]

Following the completion of the move by the FAI to the former State Laboratory building at Abbotstown last year, work has been advanced on providing a headquarters for the Irish Institute of Sport. That involves refurbishing an existing building on the Abbotstown site. Construction is expected to commence before the end of the year and the Irish Institute of Sport is expected to move into its new headquarters during 2009.

Following the appointment by the National Sports Campus Development Authority, NSCDA, in April last of project management and design teams, detailed plans for phase one of the campus have been completed by the authority. The NSCDA expects to apply for planning permission for the campus project before the end of 2008. The facilities in respect of which the application for planning permission is being prepared are in accordance with the development control plan as originally approved and include a national field sports training centre catering for rugby, soccer, Gaelic games and hockey; a multi-sport national indoor training centre to provide world class training facilities for more than 20 sports; sports science and medical facilities; accommodation for sportsmen and women; and all-weather synthetic pitches for community recreational access.

I regard the development of the sports campus at Abbotstown as a crucial piece of sporting infrastructure in the support of our athletes as they get ready to represent us in European and World competitions. I am reviewing with the NSCDA how we might best advance the campus project from 2009 taking into consideration the current difficult economic constraints.

I did some sums also on the funding allocated to arts and sport. My read is that there is a drop of 8% for them. That is a substantial cut and is significantly more than in other Departments. I raise that against the background of what will happen to sport in general and, in particular, to the national sports campus. Am I correct in thinking that only €4.4 million has been set aside for 2009?

That is correct.

That will not develop anything like the requirements that are set out. Where will that leave our commitment, for instance, to the Irish Institute of Sport, to the preparation for the London Olympics and the general enhancement of facilities and support for our elite athletes? To a certain extent, arts and sport have become the fall guy in the budget. They were the soft option. We have to look at what is happening to sport in general in the country and get back to making the commitment that is needed to enhance and support it.

Let us compare the great sporting achievements in recent days with the lack of achievement in the Olympics. We must be aware of the importance of sport and also the need to support it. If we do not support the national sports campus I do not see how we will make any progress.

The athletes would be disappointed with the Deputy's comment on the lack of success at the Olympics.

There were a number of successes in terms of best achievements and best times achieved and we won a silver medal and two bronze medals, albeit in one sport, namely, boxing. Nevertheless, one can never be prescriptive about the sport in which one would like to win medals. We did win medals and I hope we will win more in 2012, as I am sure does the Deputy.

Everybody is discounting the cost of the Lansdowne Road redevelopment in my budget. The State allocated over €191 million therefor. We are not building stadia such as that at Lansdowne Road every year and it is clear that subtracting a sum such as €191 million from the overall budget results in a significant drop in the Department's capital. This sets the context for 2009.

We have not engaged in the planning process for the campus yet and it will take a considerable amount of time next year. That there is not a huge allocation for next year does not mean the project cannot get under way. By the time the planning and design considerations are cleared, it will probably be very much towards the end of next year. I would like to see some of the facilities built at Abbotstown. If we cannot complete the full phase 1 programme, which is unlikely given the current economic climate, we will still be able to work on a number of significant projects, such as the national indoor training centre. This will provide facilities for over 20 sports. The hockey facilities are such that teams now have a great shot at doing extremely well in the Olympic Games in 2012. I am working with the company at Abbotstown to determine how to make progress in this regard.

Although the Minister said there will be a slowdown next year, can I take it there will be a catch-up thereafter? We would be quite happy with that but it is not the message we are meant to be hearing. It would be great if there were a catch-up and we could survive without the planning process moving ahead as quickly as hoped if, in the following year, the funds were made available again. Can we assume this will be the case?

It is unlikely it will be possible to spend the full €160 million in the next three years. I do not want to see the project abandoned. It is too central to the development of sport in this country and the ability to attract many different nations here prior to the 2012 Olympic Games. The Australians have already made inquiries about the National Aquatic Centre. They have seen it and believe it is a wonderful facility for swimming, diving and training. I would like to enhance the aquatic centre site at Abbotstown by providing some more facilities, which I hope will be built over the coming years. I am considering the cost of this in addition to the structure to ascertain what we can deliver.

Tourism Industry.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

73 Deputy Olivia Mitchell asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism his views on the implications for the tourism industry arising from various new measures introduced in budget 2009; his further views on the potential impact such disincentives will have on the number of tourists visiting here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41834/08]

The total allocation for tourism services announced in budget 2009 is €161 million. The maintenance of this significant allocation for tourism services in 2009 reflects the Government's continuing commitment to the development of tourism. Although there will be marginal reductions in the budgets of the principal tourism agencies, Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland, these should be largely absorbed by savings in pay, overheads, consultancy and non-programme advertising.

The tourism marketing fund for 2009 is €48.5 million, which is the same as the amount available for frontline international marketing activities in 2008. The total is slightly reduced because of once-off expenditure in 2008 on the development of advertising and promotional materials relating to the Tourism Ireland brand. The allocation for 2009 will enable the tourism agencies, in partnership with industry interests, to continue the Super Regions campaign as well as Discover Ireland's Wonderful West campaign, in line with the commitment given in the Shannon Airport catchment area economic and tourism development plan. Furthermore, given the overall economic climate, the tourism agencies should also be in a position to negotiate better value in terms of advertising and marketing space.

Fáilte Ireland's allocation of nearly €81 million will, in addition to funding its operations, assist tourism development through business supports and training in conjunction with funding festivals, sports tourism events and domestic marketing. In 2009, capital funding of €11 million is being provided to support investment in key tourism infrastructure, attractions and visitor facilities. The allocation for 2009 reflects a careful assessment of the range and quality of applications under Fáilte Ireland's tourism capital investment programme in addition to the anticipated draw-down of funds by approved projects in the coming year. More broadly, the thrust of the Government's budgetary strategy is right for tourism, as it is for other sectors. It will bring order and stability to our public finances and will enhance our productive capacity.

In the current difficult international economic environment, the Government has had to make some difficult decisions, both in prioritising expenditure and raising revenue through changes to taxation. In anticipation of the imminent publication of the Finance Bill by my colleague, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, it would not be appropriate for me to discuss the implementation of taxation measures that will shortly be considered by the Oireachtas. I am confident the overall approach in budget 2009 will help the tourism industry, with the other sectors of the economy, to return to sustainable growth in the medium term.

I do not know if the Minister is aware of the latest CSO figures, which indicate that in September visitor numbers from Britain decreased by 17% and visitor numbers from the United States decreased by 10%. The recession is really beginning to bite. Given that we know there is a global recession and that the travel industry is contracting, it is very important to retain our market share such that we will have a tourism industry when the recession ends.

The Minister surely agrees that a €10 departure tax was the last measure needed by the tourism industry, particularly because our Achilles heel is our being an island country. We depend on the airlines to bring in travellers. Some 95% of all visitors to the country come by airplane. Aer Lingus has already announced the tax will cost it €30 million next year. I am not sure if this figure applies to the whole of next year. Clearly the airline cannot afford to lose €30 million in addition to the losses it is already expecting. Surely the tax was not the Minister's idea. Was he even consulted on it? If one cared about tourism, it would be the last step one would consider. The holiday home tax falls into the same category. Who regarded these taxes as a way to help the tourism industry, which is one of our more important service industries and which, I hope, could be one of our growth industries? Are they the Minister's idea?

The Deputy has the luxury of picking on one or two measures. The reality is that it would be wonderful if in this country we could provide everything for nothing. We cannot and must have funding in place to provide for everybody and everything. Of course one would prefer not to have the sort of taxation required but it is fair and balanced.

The very substantial fee passengers are paying to bring their clothes and toiletries with them is being absorbed without problems. The fuel surcharges levied over the past 12 or 18 months – not for the first time – seemed to be absorbed also. Very significant costs were involved. The Finance Bill will be published tomorrow and we will then see the exact detail. It is clear we need to keep resources in place for tourism and marketing. I have managed to do so, as has been recognised publicly by the industry.

I returned last week from the World Travel Market in London. It was quite an eye opener for me. There were 41 Irish stands, whose representatives were from all over the country. I believed there would be many downcast industry representatives but I discovered the opposite. They were very steeled towards what was happening in the international market and were very keen to seize the opportunities that might arise next year, bearing in mind that there might not be as many as there were heretofore.

The nine-month figure for the period to the end of September suggests visitor numbers have decreased by 1.3%. I accept the number pertaining to September has decreased by approximately 10%. This is very much in keeping with international norms. Many countries' numbers have decreased substantially more.

We are only interested in this country. Can I take it from the Minister's comments that he agrees with the tax and believes it will not have an impact on Aer Lingus and will be absorbed by passengers? Does he believe passengers will continue to travel in the same numbers and that Aer Lingus was misrepresenting the facts when it stated it will have to absorb €30 million next year?

As I stated, we would all prefer if there were no taxation. The fact is that there must be and that we must be able to provide services. This year we are allocating just under €50 million for marketing alone. We need to have the resources to do so. Overall, €160 million is being allocated for a broad range of tourism activities.

I appreciate that the marketing budget was kept intact but the reality is that people cannot come here if there are no inward flights. No amount of marketing will do any good in that case.

That does not have to be the case. People should consider some of the activities taking place in the industry.

Olympic Games.

Mary Upton

Question:

74 Deputy Mary Upton asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism when the review of the performance of athletes and the preparation for the Beijing Olympics will be completed; when he plans to publish this review; when a new high performance strategy for London 2012 will be initiated; if there is funding for a new round of this programme in budget 2009; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41675/08]

The Irish Sports Council, ISC, which is funded by my Department, has statutory responsibility for encouraging the promotion, development and co-ordination of competitive sport and the achievement of excellence in competitive sport. In this regard, the ISC works in partnership with the Irish Institute of Sport, the Olympic Council of Ireland, the Paralympic Council of Ireland and the relevant national governing bodies of sport in the preparation of Irish athletes for the Olympic and Paralympic Games. My Department has allocated €53 million to the ISC for 2009 which will allow the council to continue to provide high performance support for elite athletes.

I understand that the ISC has established a review group to examine the preparations and performances at the 2008 Beijing Games in order to prepare for the 2012 London Games. The overall aim of the review is to make recommendations to the ISC in respect of structures, programmes and investment policy which should be pursued based on the outcomes of the 2008 Olympic and Paralympic Games. I understand that the review will be completed shortly and it is anticipated that the report will be published in December.

I recently met a number of the key stakeholders involved in the support of our elite athletes to discuss how we can best build on the success we had in Beijing and the supports required in terms of coaching, programmes, facilities and funding to ensure the optimum performance of Irish athletes at the London 2012 Olympic Games. It is my intention that the issues arising from these meetings will dovetail with the review being carried out by the ISC.

I intend to meet with the Olympic Council of Ireland and the Sports Council shortly in order to identify the challenges which must be met in the preparation of our team for the London Olympic Games.

The Minister mentioned the Irish Institute of Sport and its very important role. What is its status? I have raised this question a number of times with regard to legislation. It is important that there be clarity concerning its role. The Minister indicated to me previously that the institute may not have a statutory basis and that it may be subsumed, for example, into the Irish Sports Council. People must know its exact status. I am not clear what the current position is with regard to its chief executive since the resignation of the previous incumbent. We must identify where the institute is going and what is its status. It was established to help elite athletes.

Is the Minister convinced that the facilities, supports and backup we will have in place will be adequate for our athletes to compete well in 2012? It may be just as important that athletes from other countries should be able to avail of our facilities. That is a significant issue in the economic debate. What does the Minister think will happen with regard to athletes from other countries who want to train to the highest level? The ideal is to provide that service here for them as well as for our own athletes.

The Deputy's question is interesting. I have met with representatives of the Irish Sports Institute which gave a fantastic presentation within the past few weeks. The range, breadth and depth of its activities with athletes is extremely substantial and would be equivalent to that provided by any international body of a similar nature.

It is unlikely that I shall set up the institute on a solo statutory footing. It is not necessary to do so and might not contribute anything. The institute has conveyed to me it wants to have the structure in place and the key people to deliver the kind of training needed.

There is another misunderstanding abroad concerning sport in Ireland. I was in Limerick this week and saw the facilities there. Some of the best known world athletes are coming to Limerick. I am currently trying to get a visa for Usain Bolt, who wants to come to the University of Limerick to train and use the facilities there. The All Blacks team told me that the facilities in Limerick were the best it had encountered and that there was only one other facility in the United Kingdom or Ireland that it considered to be on a par.

I agree with Deputy Upton. We need more facilities of this standard in order to have greater accessibility to and participation in sport in order to produce more athletes. That is my intention and the structures that the Institute of Sport is putting in place with the Irish Sports Council are very important.

The third point is vital to me. I have recently met with approximately 17 sports bodies. Their views on the various structures, what they believe works and what does not, have been an eye-opener for me. I am taking all that on board in looking at the overall structures and how we might progress in getting the maximum out of all the resources we are providing.

I shall take a brief supplementary question.

I thank the Minister. We have some good facilities and the Minister appears to be very happy with them. We both agree that we would like to have betterones.

Boxing has been our greatest success over the years in terms of Olympic medals. Our boxers bring home medals. Yet it is one of the least well supported sports in the country in terms of resources; it must be acknowledged that this is probably because of the work of amateurs and volunteers, particularly the latter. I have been in boxing clubs in my own constituency where they have to put up the ring, take it down, hoosh it into a corner and then put it up again when the boxers need to train. There are sports that are neglected but these are the ones that bring the greatest kudos in terms of Olympic medals. Perhaps we should spread the largesse and see how the sports in which we may be more successful can be better supported.

Deputy Upton makes two important points. The National Stadium has had significant resources spent on it and it works extremely well and efficiently for boxers who make good use of it. I wish to add to that capacity in terms of provision of facilities that are urgently required. These can be built out of facilities at Abbotstown.

The Deputy's point concerning funding is a very good one. This is quite clear when one drills into the sports capital programme and looks at the amount of resources going to boxing. One of the problems boxing clubs have lies in matching resources. These are not as wealthy as some of the soccer and GAA clubs, and others. I am in talks with the Irish Amateur Boxing Association to see if we might put together a package that would allow resources to be better accessed by boxing clubs. Like Deputy Upton, I have boxing clubs in my constitutency. We all have. The money that goes to them is often very little although they can do a considerable amount with few funds. We must look at sports that have impediments in matching resources because they are not able to compete for matching funds with the bigger sporting organisations. I agree with the Deputy and it is my intention to try to put more resources into boxing clubs. They have proved themselves and they deserve it.

Sports Funding.

John O'Mahony

Question:

75 Deputy John O’Mahony asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism when Government grants will be paid to inter-county GAA players in respect of 2008; if he will guarantee that these grants will be paid in 2009; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41833/08]

In the agreement reached in November 2007 between my Department, the Irish Sports Council, ISC, the GAA and the Gaelic Players Association, provision was made for the introduction of two schemes through the ISC to recognise the outstanding contribution of senior Gaelic inter-county players to our indigenous sport. Additional costs associated with elite team performance would be met and aspiring teams and players encouraged to reach the highest levels of sporting endeavour.

It was agreed that the schemes would be funded through the ISC and the implementation of the schemes was a matter for the ISC and the GAA. An amount of €3.5 million was provided to the ISC in 2008 to fund the schemes.

As the Deputy is aware, the ISC has statutory responsibility for encouraging the promotion, development and co-ordination of competitive sport and for increasing participation in recreational sport. The council provides annual funding through the national governing bodies of sport and the local sports partnerships for programmes and initiatives aimed at achieving these objectives.

In light of the current economic constraints and the reduction in the ISC's allocation of funding in the 2009 Estimates, I am having discussions with the Council on optimum funding options for next year in order to maintain its existing programmes while building on recent progress. The future funding of the Gaelic players schemes will be considered in that context.

I thank the Minister but he has not answered the question I asked. I imagine the payments for 2008 are paid out at this stage——

——or will be before the end of the year. What is important——

The ISC is waiting for the request from the GPA. That may have been presented in the past few days but up to a week ago the documentation had not been received from the GPA.

It is important for the future of these funds or grants. We have talked about percentages, reductions and budgets. The players and the GAA understand that there must be savings and cutbacks. I would like to put down a marker here, namely, that the principle of grants for players be maintained, whatever the budgetary conditions are. Perhaps people at large do not understand that elite senior inter-county players have very little flexibility in their jobs with regard to overtime. A cost analysis was done in recent years that examined how much players lose from their income. It is important we continue to recognise their input. Will maintaining grants in some form be a priority for the Minister in 2009?

While I would like to be in a position to provide the maximum amount of resources to every player or athlete in every sport, the resources available to me are finite. Taxpayers have invested vast resources in the three largest sports organisations, the Gaelic Athletic Association, Football Association of Ireland and Irish Rugby Football Union. While there is nothing wrong with this, I am convinced that with relatively small sums of money we could achieve much greater success, including at Olympic and world level, in a large number of sports. However, I do not have unlimited resources.

To achieve good performances at the Olympic Games or in world athletics or boxing championships we must make fair and balanced decisions. Some of the large sporting organisations have the capacity to raise substantial sums of money. They are cash rich, although they make good use of the significant funds that flow through them. This capacity is not present in other sports. We constantly ask the reason Ireland is not successful in some of these sports at international level. I want fairness and for us to do well in these sports. Any assessment of the budget will show that in recent years the GAA, FAI and IRFU have received an incredible amount of resources from taxpayers. While this has the proper course of action, it is not sustainable.

Substantial Government investment in stadiums is no good without players. For the first time, a GAA player has failed a drug test. While I do not wish to pre-empt the decision of any eventual hearings, I assume that if a player is found innocent in such a hearing, the grants paid out to him or her would not be affected. Assuming the player in this case is innocent, surely it is possible to hold hearings and have the player's name cleared before information reaches the media.

The Deputy should not stray into matters of this nature.

I do so in the context of the grants paid to players.

Processes are in place to resolve the issue in the public domain to which the Deputy refers. I do not propose to get involved in the matter as it has no bearing on or connection to the GPA players grant system.

We have had a reasonable discussion. A fundamental question arises as to whether the taxpayer should fund individuals who belong to strong and relatively wealthy organisations. The question is whether this approach is sustainable.

If the overall view is that we will not support minority sports, which is a term I strongly dislike, and decide that 25 sports are unimportant and all our resources must be invested in one area, that is fine. I do not believe, however, that this is what everybody wants. If, on the other hand, we decide we want to fund all sports, limited resources available for this purpose. We must decide what is fair, what the taxpayer wants and where the resources should go.

The grants system is unique.

Yes. People believe the Government has its own money when this is not the case. The amount of taxpayers' money allocated to the GAA, FAI and IRFU has been vast by international standards.