Priority Questions.

Departmental Expenditure.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

76 Deputy Olivia Mitchell asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the details of changes to the allocation of expenditure within his Department for 2009; the changes to programmes, initiatives or projects within his remit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16749/09]

The supplementary budget for 2009 was a necessary measure to bring stability to the public finances, to restore economic activity and to enhance Ireland's competitiveness. It is critical that we manage the immediate economic difficulties in order that Ireland is well positioned to take full advantage of the international recovery when it arrives. This has meant that certain measures have been necessary, including a reduction in the budgets of Departments. In my Department, the budget for 2009 is €531 million, a reduction of 27% on the 2008 figure of €727 million. In addition to this, the National Gallery Vote, for which I also have responsibility, has a budget of €11.2 million in 2009, down 11% on the 2008 figure. Notwithstanding the cuts in funding for this year, my Department will press ahead with the implementation of a broad range of programmes across the arts, sport and tourism sectors.

The allocation for expenditure in the arts, culture and film sector for 2009 is €180 million, a reduction of 18.5% on the 2008 allocation of €221 million, including the National Gallery Vote. Within this, there is a reduction of 42% in capital expenditure, owing primarily to the completion of once off projects such as Wexford Opera House and the Gate Theatre extension. The bulk of the cuts in this sector have been concentrated into capital expenditure to protect day-to-day expenditure and ensure venues stay open, job losses are minimised and the contribution of cultural tourism enhanced.

The allocation for sport this year is €195 million, a reduction of 42% compared to the 2008 allocation of €336 million. The 2008 figure, of course, takes account of once-off expenditure of €116 million on the Lansdowne Road project. Taking this amount out of the calculations, the reduction in funding for sport for 2009 is of the order of 11%. This allocation will allow all commitments made up to, and including, 2008 under the sports capital and local authority swimming pool programmes to be met. The provision of €56 million for the sports capital programme will ensure that existing commitments will be met and that a range of modern, well-equipped and well managed facilities will be brought into use.

Similarly, regarding the local authority swimming pools programme, while there will be no new round of the programme in 2009, the current round provided for 57 swimming pool projects. Of these, 43 projects have been completed and opened to the public and our priority now is to work with the relevant local authorities to open the remaining 14 pools to the public. The allocation for tourism is €153 million, a reduction of 9.5% compared to the 2008 figure of €169 million. I have sought to minimise the reductions in the tourism services budget in line with the Government's stated priority of protecting economic sectors that contribute to job creation, foreign revenue earnings and tax yield for the Exchequer. Tourism supports an estimated 288,000 jobs and generates €4.8 billion in foreign revenue earnings and €2 billion in tax revenues.

The tourism marketing fund, which stands at €47.25 million, has been largely protected as a strategic priority. Experience has shown that maintaining marketing spending in difficult times can position Irish tourism for a faster recovery. This marketing fund, used by both Tourism Ireland and Fáilte Ireland, is enabling a major reinvigorated marketing programme to be rolled out in 2009 to promote the island of Ireland as an attractive destination for visitors.

The allocation of funding for the agencies and bodies under the aegis of my Department is outlined in the Revised Estimates published last week. As the Deputy will be aware, it is a matter for the agencies to determine how best to allocate that funding within their organisations. The arts, sport and tourism sectors are important drivers within the economy as they contribute to both economic growth and employment levels. I have sought to minimise the reductions in funding to these sectors and I am satisfied the levels of funding available for 2009 will ensure that they continue to contribute to Ireland's economic recovery and growth.

I will concentrate on the areas in which there have been significant changes in spending. We now know there is no swimming pool programme as such, as we are just paying off the remaining bills on pools that were agreed some years ago. The actual amount allocated is down by €6.5 million this year. Does the Minister expect that the bills will not come in from the local authorities or groups that are building these pools, or will they be kept waiting for their money? Will this cause problems for local groups and local authorities? Will the funding be carried over until the following year or the year after that?

I have spoken about cultural infrastructure many times and I am devastated to find it is probably the area that will take the biggest hit. Despite the amount of money that has been available in the past 15 years, few of these projects have been carried out. The budget is down this year from €35 million, which was low anyway, to €19 million. The Minister mentioned a 42% drop in funding. Are there any new capital projects under the heading of cultural infrastructure?

The other big drop is in the product development allocation to Fáilte Ireland. I am sure the Minister, like all of us, has been reading the papers and has seen that our traditional attraction as a nice place to go with nice people and nice scenery is not working for us in the same way it once did. It is no wonder, as there are lots of nice places to go with nice people. We must offer people something more. I appreciate that the marketing budget has been maintained, but one must have something to market. It is very short-sighted to cut the product development budget at a time such as this when we have never needed it more. The budget has been halved. What projects, specifically, will Fáilte Ireland not be able to carry out as a result of this?

I would not necessarily agree with all of what the Deputy has said. Under the swimming pool programme, as I said, 57 projects were approved in the first round, and this round is still being completed, while 43 projects have been finished.

It is some achievement in terms of volume. We have gone from having no swimming pools in some communities to having 43 around the country, which will make an enormous difference.

That is incorrect, as many of those are refurbishments. The pools were already there.

Allow the Minister to answer the question.

The reduction takes account of the reallocation of the budget. Those projects that we expect will require funding this year under the swimming pool programme will get it. Some are delayed for various reasons to do with the local authorities themselves. Our best estimate is that the money I have provided in the portfolio is more than enough to meet the requirements for this year.

On the issue of cultural tourism, I took the view — with which I thought the Deputy would agree — that it was important to maintain jobs. Large numbers of facilities such as small theatres have been opened across the country, many of them in conjunction with local authorities, and I wanted to make sure we did not see some of these closing down through lack of funding. Thus, I tried to maintain the funding on the current side to keep these attractions open, and I decided that if there were to be reductions they should be on the capital side in the short term. That is not to say we would not like to do more. It is an important area. The view of people I have spoken to in different parts of the country was that they did not want to see this substantial range of new small facilities shut down. That was the option that was chosen.

The Department has had to take its fair share of the pain, like anywhere else, but it is proportionate. It has been recognised by the arts, sport and tourism sectors that the measures have not been excessive, as they have been at certain times in the past. We have tried to manage the process in as fair and balanced a way as possible. I cannot off the top of my head say what projects are being carried out by Fáilte Ireland, or where its processes are, but it will still be funding major capital projects this year, some of which were only announced in the recent past. Some are going through the process of approval and vetting at present and there is money there to do this.

Departmental Agencies.

Mary Upton

Question:

77 Deputy Mary Upton asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism his views on whether it is appropriate that two different bodies which receive funding from his Department both produced external reports on the Beijing Olympics at a cost to the taxpayer; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16367/09]

Both the Irish Sports Council and the Olympic Council of Ireland conducted reviews of the performance of Team Ireland at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. The commissioning of these reviews is a matter for both organisations in the context of their roles in supporting Irish elite athletes. The Irish Sports Council, 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. The Olympic Council of Ireland is the agency responsible for the organisation and participation of the Irish team at the Olympic Games and is a member of the International Olympic Committee, the organisation governing the Olympic movement worldwide. The Irish Sports Council provides annual funding to the Olympic Council for administration and programme costs aimed specifically at meeting costs related to attendance at the games.

I recently completed a series of meetings with a number of the key stakeholders involved in the support of our elite athletes, including the Irish Sports Council and the Olympic Council of Ireland, 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 Olympic Games in 2012. It is my intention that the issues arising from these meetings and the reviews carried out by both organisations will inform the high-performance strategy for the London games. This should ensure there is an integrated approach between all stakeholders.

I hope the Minister had a tad more clarity following his meetings with these two organisations than I have had from meetings and correspondence with them. It seems ridiculous that two reports were written about the Beijing Olympics. The report of the Irish Sports Council cost €30,000, while the Olympic Council of Ireland told me it had spent €6,231 and stated: "This was paid from our own resources and not from Government funded money." It was reassuring to hear the money was not from Government sources. However, the Irish Sports Council gives the Olympic Council of Ireland a grant of €518,000 and I do not know which part can be chopped off and designated not as Government money but as somebody else's money.

I agree with the Deputy.

I ask the Minister to knock heads together. Is there some way to bring these two organisations together so they can co-operate? We would not then have this totally unnecessary duplication. Each organisation engaged a highly reputable consultant but, reading the two reports produced, one would think they were about two different sets of games as there was much discrepancy between them. We are talking about the spending of public money on internal sports politics. The Minister will agree with me that this House is the place for politics and out there is the place for sport. Can the Minister knock their heads together?

The Deputy and I aread idem on this. I find it quite distressing, to be honest. The fractious relationship between the Olympic Council of Ireland and the Irish Sports Council is unfortunate for sport. However, it is a matter for both governing bodies how they conduct their affairs. I do not have a role in the commissioning of reports. What struck me about the two reports in question is that each blamed the other organisation for the perceived ills in the system. Therefore, I am not sure whether either report made a rounded and mature contribution to the issues that must be tackled.

In this context, I have been engaged with discussions with representatives of a range of national governing bodies. I considered this the best way to obtain an understanding of the issues and, following from that, I am intent on implementing several changes in the future. Only yesterday evening, I attended the annual general meeting of the Federation of Irish Sports, which represents all the various sporting bodies. I was pleased to accept the invitation to speak at this very well attended event. I have spoken to representatives of the federation about the issue the Deputy has raised and it is well versed in this regard.

I agree with the Deputy that problems have arisen because we have two substantial competing bodies peopled with large personalities. That is part of the difficulty. My mission, which is shared by all Deputies in this House, is to ensure the best outcome for Irish athletes.

I thank the Minister for his reply. I have calculated that more than €36,000 was spent in producing these two reports, yet one is little wiser after reading either of them. How are we to know which is the substantive report that spells the situation out as it really is? The Minister knows better than I that this €36,000, for which we can deduce that little value has been obtained, could have been well spent in supporting sporting activities in constituencies throughout the State. With the next Olympic Games in London getting ever closer, a continuation of this faction fighting will be of no benefit to Irish sport and Irish athletes.

I am sure we are all agreed that it was proper for a review to take place. The difficulty is that the two bodies concerned did not come together and co-operate in this review. The bottom line is that they must work together for the betterment of the athletes they purport to represent. It is regrettable that this did not happen. As the Deputy rightly pointed out, we did not achieve the required outcome. We must ensure that the two bodies work in close harmony in the future to achieve the best outcomes for Irish athletes.

Tourism Promotion.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

78 Deputy Olivia Mitchell asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if he has had representations from a group (details supplied) seeking his support for a food tourism initiative; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16471/09]

To date, I have not received such representations from the group in question. However, I am available to meet with the new president and chief executive of the group and will be glad to receive details of any specific initiative from them. Any initiative that is received will be examined and considered.

I understand the group has made a written submission to the tourism renewal group. This submission will be considered in the context of the group's work. The tourism development unit in the Department has already agreed to meet with the group and is awaiting further contact from its chief executive so that the meeting can be arranged.

It is great to discover the type of activity that can be generated by a parliamentary question. Before I submitted this question, there was no indication that the meeting to which the Minister referred was likely to take place. Nevertheless, I am pleased that some progress is being made in this area.

As I have said before in this House, the old methods of promoting tourism are no longer effective. Dining is a leisure activity in its own right and many people choose holidays based on their interest in food. For visitors to France and Tuscany, for example, a great part of the attraction is the food and wine. Some of our brands, such as Clonakilty sausages and Dairygold butter, already enjoy wide recognition internationally. We must work to develop the potential of the dairy and beef industries. Irish beef is more highly regarded outside Ireland than it is at home. There is the potential to build a food tourism sector but there must be investment. Will any money be available from the product development fund to bring together the elements of the industry, including food festivals, food trails, cookery schools and so on, in a more comprehensive way in order to sell Ireland as a food destination? If we are to differentiate our product from that of every other country, we must develop this type of niche offering.

Good Food Ireland has received significant support in recent years. For example, representatives have travelled to the various destinations with the Volvo Around the World Race, where I understand they enjoyed enormous success, with funding from Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland. I attended a dinner last night at which some 300 foreign travel groupings were represented and some 280 from the island. Everybody was blown away by the quality of the food and by the presentation made by Good Food Ireland. I agree with the Deputy that it is important to continue to improve the image of Ireland in terms of the quality of food now available. That product development has been led from the front and a huge internationalisation effort has taken place in the past 12 months which is strongly supported by the agencies. The feedback I am receiving from people who have visited target countries is that the campaign has worked extremely well.

I have already raised with the Minister the decision of the Dublin Institute of Technology to break up the faculty of food and tourism at Cathal Brugha Street. The Minister has dismissed this development as unimportant. However, it is considered of immense importance by all those involved in the food and dining industries, including the Restaurant Association of Ireland. I accept that the Minister is not responsible for education, but I urge him to recognise the significance of this in terms of its implications for tourism. As far as I can see, the only reason for breaking up the faculty is to suit the timetabling requirements of the college.

I have tried to get some answers on this issue. Tourism Ireland is in discussions with the Dublin Institute of Technology on the restructuring. I have not had a detailed response but the information I have received is that the Tourism Ireland representatives are satisfied there is no diminution in the quality and organisation of the courses offered by the institute. There is nothing further I can do as this is not my area of responsibility. However, I will take up the Deputy's point if she still has concerns in this regard. Tourism Ireland considers the food and tourism courses offered by the Dublin Institute of Technology as very important and would not wish to see any diminution of quality.

My point is that while the tourism industry in general is fragmented, this was one faculty that brought all the elements of tourism together. It seems this decision is being taken merely to facilitate laboratory availability.

The bottom line is that quality and access for students are as good as they ever were and will, hopefully, get even better.

My point is not about access but about retaining a single facility.

Yes, I understand the Deputy's point about retaining a single facility. It is my understanding that the Dublin Institute of Technology is moving its tourism courses more into the business sector. I will get back to the Deputy on this issue.

Grant Payments.

John O'Mahony

Question:

79 Deputy John O’Mahony asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism when he will make an announcement regarding the payment of grants to inter-county GAA players for 2009; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16552/09]

The funding of the Gaelic players grant schemes is a matter for the Irish Sports Council, ISC, in the context of the distribution of its budget for 2009. In the agreement reached in November 2007 between my Department, the 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 inter-county players to our indigenous sport by meeting additional costs associated with elite team performance and to encourage aspiring teams and players to reach the highest levels of sporting endeavour.

It was agreed that the schemes would be funded through the ISC and that 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. 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 addressing the public finances, all areas of expenditure have been examined. Following this process, the budget for sport, like all areas, has been impacted. Nevertheless the huge social and economic benefits of sport are acknowledged by this Government and are reflected in the unprecedented level of Government funding for sport over the last number of years.

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, in order to maintain its existing programmes while building on recent progress. The future funding of the Gaelic players' schemes is being considered in that context and a final decision on the matter will be made shortly by the Irish Sports Council when it will finalise its budget allocations in the context of the recent publication of the Annual Estimates for 2009.

I was hoping the Minister would say the grants would be funded or even reduced by a certain percentage. I thank the Minister for his assurance that the Irish Sports Council will make a decision shortly. Is that correct?

It is the council's call. It will decide how to distribute the budget.

I think the Minister will agree that the grants were instituted by his predecessor, who saw the need for them. Gaelic players have spoken to Deputies and other people who are involved. They are anxious but very reasonable in their approach. They would be willing to accept cuts similar to those applying in other areas of sport. High performance athletes are losing their jobs or are unable to work flexible hours because of their commitment to Gaelic games. No one would suggest that this scheme would keep them from emigrating but it would be another support structure.

Given the circumstances the Minister has outlined, would he like to see the grants retained?

I would like to fund everybody. Unfortunately, budgets have contracted somewhat. It is a matter for the Irish Sports Council to provide funding to as many bodies as it can.

The taxpayer has, rightly, provided huge resources to the three major sporting bodies, particularly in Croke Park, Lansdowne Road and Thomond Park. That has allowed those bodies to generate enormous profits. They have the ability to generate substantial sums of money while many other organisations do not have that facility. I pose this question. As the generosity of the taxpayer has provided so much money to those bodies, could they, perhaps, look to this matter? The GAA, for example, has stated publicly that it is, and wishes to remain, primarily responsible for player welfare. As Deputy O'Mahony has said, this is a very important issue of player welfare. There is a challenge here for the organisation to respond to the extraordinarily different economic circumstances in which we find ourselves.

Is the Minister suggesting that the GAA should fund these grants because of the revenue these players generate?

The taxpayer cannot continue to pick up the entire cost of this scheme in drastically changed economic circumstances. I am trying to be fair and I am not saying "No". However, I am clearly signalling that the resources required to continue the scheme at the level previously anticipated are not there. I place that in juxtaposition with the huge earning capacity of the three major sporting organisations, which the taxpayer helped to fund, and I ask who has the primary responsibility in this area.

Olympic Games.

John O'Mahony

Question:

80 Deputy John O’Mahony asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the progress made in attracting Olympic teams from other countries to use the Republic of Ireland as a training venue for the London Olympics 2012; the countries with which discussions have been held; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16236/09]

The London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics task force was established in August 2006 to ensure Ireland can identify and maximise the complete range of opportunities arising from our proximity to the Olympic and Paralympic Games in London 2012. The task force included experts from the sport, tourism, cultural and business sectors and was supported by staff within my Department.

The recently published task force report, which is available on the website of my Department, makes a number of recommendations arising from an audit carried out of high quality sports facilities in Ireland and the findings of a report by Indecon International Economic Consultants on the economic evaluation of the benefit to the island of Ireland of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games. It highlights the opportunities for Ireland from the London 2012 games in the sport, tourism, cultural and business sectors.

In this regard, I understand that Enterprise Ireland has been proactive in ensuring that Irish businesses are aware of the opportunities for benefiting from the business opportunities which London 2012 will provide. A dedicated website has been established to assist Irish business to avail of these opportunities. The tourism agencies have committed themselves to an energetic approach to the marketing of Ireland particularly in the lead up to and during the games while the artistic and cultural agencies stand ready to organise events which will showcase Ireland to the world. Work is also going on in that area.

On the sporting side, the task force report puts forward proposals for investment in sports facilities which would increase our attractiveness as a training destination for Olympic teams in the lead up to and during the games. However, we must be realistic in this area particularly given the current economic conditions.

My Department is engaging with the relevant sporting, tourism and cultural agencies on how best to promote Ireland internationally in the lead-up to the London 2012 games. These discussions are taking account of the current economic situation, the findings of the London 2012 task force report and my recent meetings to identify the challenges which must be met in the preparation of our team for the London games.

I take it from the Minister's reply that most of the potential is in the tourism and cultural area rather than in the provision of training facilities for teams.

That has always been the case.

The focus of my question was on the availability of sports facilities in Ireland. We have the National Aquatic Centre, but teams who train there do not have campus style accommodation as they might find in other centres. I am reminded of an answer given by the Minister last year on the development of sports facilities at Abbotstown. Can we take it that high performance facilities will not be developed there in time for the teams to prepare for the London Olympics? What facilities will be available in Limerick, for example? Swimming facilities are clearly available. What can be provided for other sports?

The Australian team found the diving and swimming facilities at the National Aquatic Centre superb. They are looking at the centre and I am sure other countries' teams will also be interested in it. The facilities in UCD are much admired and will be used. Limerick is already an international facility, as we know from the world renowned athletes who are using it at present. The All Blacks rugby team used the Limerick facilities and said they were second to none. Team members told me they were in the top two training facilities in the world, which was a great compliment to Limerick.

I would like to do more at Abbotstown in advance of the 2012 games but that is unlikely. Phase 1 is being completed at present. All the design work has been done and it must then go to planning. That will be done shortly so that we will be ready if resources can be provided in the future. I would not like to suggest that there will be massive expenditure or substantial facilities built in advance of 2012.

The indications are that teams will not comeen masse to Ireland. Elite athletes no longer do that. We are more likely to see specific aspects of teams or countries with smaller teams. That is what sporting people have indicated to me.