I call on Deputy Joe Carey, whom I understand is sharing time with his constituency colleague, Deputy Pat Breen.
Sport Ireland Bill 2014: Second Stage (Resumed)
With your permission, a Cheann Comhairle, could I share time with Deputy Noel Coonan?
By all means, we can share time.
Thank you, a Cheann Comhairle. I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the Second Stage debate on the Sport Ireland Bill 2014. The purpose of the Bill is to establish sport Ireland as a new body, which will replace the Irish Sports Council and the National Sports Campus Development Authority. With the passage of the Bill, sport Ireland will continue the work currently being done by the Irish Sports Council to promote, develop and co-ordinate sport in this country. The new body will also continue the work of the National Sports Campus Development Authority.
Sport is essential to the lives of Irish people. I have had the pleasure of attending four senior All-Ireland hurling finals in which my native county of Clare participated and, thankfully, it won three finals since 1995. We also had recent success in the under-21 age group this year, which in fact completed three in a row. I congratulate all those involved in the team, both the management and those on the panel. Such victories gave a huge boost to people in County Clare. I congratulate all those who participate in sporting activities: the players, mentors and all those who give their time voluntarily to coach young hurling teams, camogie teams, soccer teams or Gaelic games. It is important that young people participate in sport.
The Government will be judged on its record. The reinstatement of the sports capital programme in 2012 was essential. I congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, for pursuing the agenda and delivering on it. Money spent on sport is a wise investment in people’s future. More than 2,030 applications were received in the most recent round of applications for funding, the second highest number of applications for the scheme, which illustrates the continued requirement for investment in sporting facilities throughout the country. I listened to the opening address of the Minister of State in the Second Stage debate. He made the case for the continuation of the sports capital programme next year. I support that aim. It is essential that we continue to invest in sport and have a properly funded sports capital programme. It would make sense to have an annual sports capital programme. Given that the public finances are shaping up it would make sense to invest in sports capital projects.
I congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, and his officials for securing four games in the 2020 UEFA European Football Championships, Euro 2020. It was a big coup for this country. It will be first time we have hosted such an event. I wish him well in his efforts to secure the Rugby World Cup for this country.
I also wish to stress the importance of investment in the horse and greyhound industry. The inaugural Irish Champions Weekend for horse racing was held recently. An upset occurred with The Grey Gatsby beating Australia. However, it was a great race. It highlighted what could be done in terms of existing events and with co-operation between Leopardstown and The Curragh racecourses. A big crowd of people attended. It is important to invest in horse racing because it sustains the tens of thousands of people working with horses in this country. It is important that we look after the industry, promote it and invest in it. In addition to the Irish Champions Weekend there are week-long festivals in Galway and recently the festival was held at Listowel. Such festivals mean a great deal to the local economy and it is important to continue to invest in the sector. The same is true of the greyhound industry, due to the local jobs produced in rural areas.
I wish to inform Deputy Breen that Deputy Carey is sharing his ten minutes with Deputy Coonan.
Thank you, a Cheann Comhairle, for your co-operation in affording me the opportunity to address the Bill. I extend my congratulations and welcome to the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, for introducing the Bill and for the work he is doing as Minister of State with responsibility for sport. In the so-called good times we did not have a round of sports capital funding but as the economy began to improve, he reintroduced the scheme in 2012. Such a scheme was welcome and is encouraging.
It is important to recognise the benefit of sport to the entire community but in particular to the youth. There is an old saying that the idle mind is the devil’s workshop. It has been proven that there is nothing better for the community and young people than involvement in organised sport. The return is evident in abundance in terms of the effect that has on community life and the health and well-being of the young people involved. I say well done to the Minister of State.
Deputy Carey referred to the significant number of applications for the sports capital grant. I sometimes asked myself if the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, had responsibility for sport because when it came to allocations of the grant in Tipperary another Minister claimed credit for all the allocations. However, it is clear that the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, is really the Minister for sport. While Mayo might not reach the pinnacle in terms of All-Ireland football glory, the Mayo Deputy has reached the pinnacle in sport in this country.
Initially, I was concerned about the proposed amalgamations in the Bill because amalgamations are not always for the best. A bigger group can often be less effective than a smaller, more active group. In the context of local government when town councils were dissolved problems arose with the larger areas of responsibility and the services provided. However, I welcome the assurances given by the Minister of State that it will not be the case in the context of sport Ireland and that it will be of much more benefit to sport to have both the Irish Sports Council and the National Sports Campus Development Authority united.
I share the view expressed by Deputy Carey that sports capital funding should be provided on an annual basis. There is no better investment for the country.
The news that Euro 2020 games will be played in Dublin has been welcomed but every year the GAA has four major games in Dublin and the capacity of its stadiums should be compared to that of the Aviva Stadium. The GAA caters for the entire country and we should not forget the work of the GAA in our delight at the news about Euro 2020. I ask the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, to bear in mind that the GAA caters for the entire country. Thurles is a provincial town but it has Semple Stadium, the home of hurling. I wish Tipperary well on Saturday in the All-Ireland final replay and I know the Ceann Comhairle will be there to cheer the team on - he is impartial but I expect him to show his true colours on that occasion. We should focus on rural Ireland and continue to support the GAA - we must not lose sight of the tremendous work it does across the country.
Speaking of facilities, the Curragh is often mentioned to me, one of Ireland's prime horse racing venues. The facilities at the Curragh need to be updated and substantial investment is required. The Curragh is the pride and joy of Irish racing but people who visit from abroad are often taken aback at the standard of facilities, which should be modernised. Thurles is the home of hurling but it has a fine racecourse that has hosted many good trainers and breeders and needs development.
I welcome the spirit of this Bill and, as my time is up, I will not delay my colleague, Deputy Pat Breen, who is from Clare. Clare won the hurling All-Ireland last year and had hard luck this year but Tipperary will try to pick up the mantle. Finally, congratulations to Kerry on winning the recent football All-Ireland final.
The contributions we have just heard show the spirit of two good punters and I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. It is great to see the Opposition has such interest in this important Bill as the other side of the Chamber is empty. The Bill provides for the merger of the Irish Sports Council and the National Sports Campus Development Authority into a single authority, sport Ireland. This merger is in line with the Government's programme to rationalise a number of State agencies and is driven by our goal to ensure better service delivery and value for money for service providers, State agencies and, above all, taxpayers. The Bill also provides for sport Ireland to become the statutory body with responsibility for our anti-doping programme and makes provision for the sharing of information between sport Ireland and such organisations as the Garda Síochána, Customs and Excise and the Health Products Regulatory Authority. This is essential if we are to stamp out doping in sport.
The Irish Sports Council, ISC, was set up in 1999 and it has a number of very important functions to support sporting activity - its remit extends beyond supporting just elite international athletes. The ISC has been to the fore in encouraging greater participation at every level in sport, especially local level. This is hugely important because physical inactivity is now recognised as a serious risk factor for a number of chronic illnesses including heart disease, stroke, diabetes and some cancers. Experts believe that we can reduce our risks of developing these diseases by 50% simply by being physically active. The Minister of State, Deputy Ring, has focused on this, given his special responsibility in the area of sport. Sport is very important in the lives of many people, especially in my county, and Deputy Carey referred to this. The Clare team won the senior All-Ireland hurling final last year and was hurling champion at under-21 level three times in a row, which was important. These young players are role models for young people in Clare because participation in sports and leisure activities is rising throughout the country.
A key factor in this increased participation is awareness of the various activities that are available and this awareness has been driven by the development of the local sports partnership. In 2001 the Clare local sports partnership was set up and it has been successful because it brought together all of the key agencies in the county such as the vocational education committee, VEC, the local authority, Clare youth services, Clare Local Development Company, the chamber of commerce, the Clare Community Forum, the Clare sports forum, FÁS and the HSE. It has also been successful because it tailored its activities to cater for the local community and ensured that there was some activity in which everybody could get involved, no matter the level of fitness. Next week, in an effort to encourage people to improve their health and well-being during the autumn, a community active leisure week is being organised at the Shannon leisure centre. I wish everyone well with this initiative and encourage as many people as possible to avail of the various activities that are taking place in Shannon. Nationally, some 200,000 people participated in locally delivered programmes last year and an additional 200,000 took part in women in sport activities. Local sports partnerships are critical in the battle to encourage people to live a healthier lifestyle and I urge sport Ireland to continue to support local sport partnership programmes.
Leisure activities are not just important from a health point of view, but make a huge contribution to tourism development. Last year, some 685 trails were registered with the Irish Sports Council under the national trails register, amounting to over 9,000 km of trails, and included walking, cycling, greenway and equestrian trails. This additional investment in various trails is testament to the renewed interest in participating in these activities and marketing promotions such as the Wild Atlantic Way. The Minister of State is very familiar with the Wild Atlantic Way because he initiated it with his Department. It is a fantastic programme that has greatly increased tourism and walking activities.
Now that Shannon Airport is on the up again we are encouraging tourists to land there, and I know the Minister of State will not mind this as Knock Airport does not take trans-Atlantic flights. Cycling and walking trails are a new initiative that can form an important part of sport tourism. The development of greenway infrastructure will be critical to sustaining this segment of the market and I would like to acknowledge the support of the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, for these projects. We are at an advanced planning stage of the greenway route that will link Ennis to Lahinch via Corofin and Ennistymon and the Minister has provided €40,000 in seed funding for the project. There is an idyllic coastline in County Clare and we already have a beautiful 20 km coastal walking trail which links the Cliffs of Moher to Doolin. When the Minister of State is in the area I encourage him to take this walk as it is a great magnet for tourism in Clare.
Last weekend we had the centrepiece of the GAA football season and millions of people all over the world tuned in to watch the All-Ireland football final between Kerry and Donegal. Only three weeks ago the same was the case for the hurling final and this week everybody is eagerly awaiting the hurling replay on Saturday evening between Tipperary and Kilkenny. There is great anticipation around the Ryder Cup, especially given that Paul McGinley is captaining the side. The majority of Irish people love sport, whether it is hurling, football, golf, rugby, soccer or athletics, and while I know that the sports capital programme referred to by other speakers is not relevant to this Bill, funding is a real issue for many local sporting organisations. I am glad to say that my county shared in the €40.5 million which was spent under the programme this year and I compliment the Minister on the increase in funding. The increased funding is allocated on a per capita basis and this has been instrumental to the success of many clubs in County Clare. Sports clubs that receive such funding are very grateful as it means a lot to small parishes so I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Ring. Like the other contributors, I hope the Minister of State succeeds in his efforts relating to a new sports capital scheme for 2015.
There was not a dry eye in this country when Katie Taylor won a gold medal at the London Olympics. The Minister of State, Deputy Ring, was there to congratulate Ms Taylor and was a bit shy on television. The victory lifted the country but it is important that we do not forget that her victory and those of other elite athletes would not be possible without the support that they received from the Irish Sports Council. Without such help they might not have won those medals. In 2012 some 67 medals were won at various world and European competitions, compared to six medals in 2001.
One can see the increase in the number of medals won by Irish athletes as a result of the Sports Council, and all those associated with it are to be complimented on the work they have done. The high performance programme has paved the way for our increased success.
At the London Olympics Irish athletes competed in 13 of the 26 sporting events. We won five medals and for the first time since 1980 we won medals in more than one sport. We should not forget the Paralympic team, which was most successful in winning 16 medals, including eight gold. If we invest in our athletes they will deliver success, as we have seen in recent years. They deserve our support and I hope that sport Ireland will continue to invest in this programme. I am sure the Minister of State will comment on this.
I wish to turn briefly to the anti-doping aspect of the Bill. Part 4 outlines sport Ireland's responsibilities in terms of addressing doping in sport. While we all like to believe no doping exists in sport, events have taught us otherwise. One of the most high-profile cases involved Lance Armstrong, and as a result of a doping investigation, he lost his seven Tour de France titles.
The Irish Sports Council has responsibility for our anti-doping programme and in 2013, the programme cost more than €1.2 million. A total of 1,093 blood and urine tests were carried out in Ireland and overseas. At the European team championships last year, 49 pre-competition and 43 post-competition urine tests were carried out, and the success of the anti-doping programme in Ireland is because of the co-operation received from the national governing bodies and athletes. Initially the Sports Council carried out this function in line with our commitment to the Council of Europe ruling, but in more recent times additional requirements have arisen given our ratification of UNESCO convention which commits the Government to full compliance with the world anti-doping code launched in 2003 and revised in 2008. The Bill will put anti-doping on a statutory basis and will give sport Ireland a stronger hand in the battle against doping. The majority of our sports people do not resort to the use of drugs to enhance their performance. It is worth pointing out that Irish athletes are among the most tested in the world and it is important that we continue this programme to maintain and enhance our teams' reputations abroad.
I commend the Minister of State on bringing the Bill before the House and I have no doubt that the merger of the Irish Sports Council and the NSCDA into one entity, namely, Sport Ireland, will have undisputable benefits for the development of sport and related leisure activities throughout the country.
The next speaking slot will be shared by Deputies Anthony Lawlor, Paul Connaughton and Catherine Byrne.
I will start by giving out to the Minister of State because he is too fair. His predecessors used to curry political favour in the home county of the Minister with responsibility for sport or the Minister for Finance. The Minister of State has been most fair in giving each county a fair share of the funding available based on population. Limited though the funding is, each county has benefitted on a pro rata basis and I congratulate the Minister of State on this, even though I am giving out to him for being too fair.
My county received a number of small amounts of funding for various groups which I know will be used to great benefit, as it was on the previous occasion, particularly as the amount of matching funding required by the clubs or organisations was reduced from 30% to 15%. A former Minister from my constituency, Charlie McCreevy, dished out allocations of €700,000, €800,000 and €900,000 and clubs had to come up with 30% of it. As a result some of them are now in financial difficulties because they had to borrow to provide the matching funding. The Minister of State has been smart enough to recognise a small pool of money can go a long way to get more people participating in sport at local level.
I congratulate the Irish Sports Council on its phenomenal work. Everyone speaks about the elite athletes, and I congratulate the two sailors who qualified for the 2016 Olympic Games. However, when one looks at the figures beyond the elite athletes one sees that 700,000 kids participate in sport, which to my mind is a huge success for the Irish Sports Council. The establishment of the sports partnerships in each county, and the annual funding of €5 million allocated to them, has accrued benefits in getting people participating in sport.
There are 685 walking trails throughout the country. Walking trails cater for someone as young as three years of age to someone as old as 100 and are of huge benefit to cross-sections of the population. I will be parochial and ask the Minister of State to examine the canals running through Kildare. I have been pushing hard for many years for these to be opened for cycling and walking. Kildare is bereft of tourism and we do not have a Westport or the glorious sights along the Atlantic Way such as there are in Mayo. We are fortunate to be the thoroughbred county and horse racing is our main sport. I must say to the previous speakers, who are from Tipperary and Clare, that Kildare won more all-Ireland hurling championships this year than either Tipperary or Clare, or Cork for that matter as I see Deputy Creed looking at me.
I remind Deputy Lawlor he is sharing time with two colleagues.
I appreciate that.
He is only getting good now. Let him off.
For winning an all-Ireland, I suppose.
The canals are a potential tourism facility in Kildare, and if they were opened up to cycling and walking, it would be excellent. I can see huge potential in the long term.
Investment in sport occurs in a number of ways and one way which goes unnoticed is how the Tús scheme works for sports clubs and sports organisations in helping to maintain what they have and allowing improvements to be made.
I am delighted we will amalgamate two organisations. The National Sports Campus Development Authority started off on a bad vein with the Bertie bowl, and thanks be to God this was got rid of years ago. It also had problems with the pool. We will have a national sports centre run by the Sports Council, which has an interest in sport. With the amalgamation of the two bodies will we see a reduction in staff and the associated administrative costs? If amalgamations take place in the private sector, inevitably there are staff reductions. Will we see this in the short term or will it take longer to reach the objective of reducing the costs of running the two organisations?
I have not seen any mention of a board in the Bill. The Sports Council board has nine members and there are 15 on the National Sports Campus Development Authority. Will there be a board? People speak about gender equality. I am very much in favour of putting people on boards who have the capacity to add to the board and are not put on it for the sake of being put on it. I would welcome as many sporting people as possible because they have a knowledge of sport.
My next point is not associated with the Bill. It is with regard to a serious problem with young people, which is concussion in sport. I have written to the Minister for Education and Skills and perhaps the Minister of State will be able to help me in this matter. There is a good programme in Northern Ireland for schools to ensure the implementation of the procedure to be followed when concussion occurs. Perhaps we need to implement something similar in our schools. I have seen it at national sport level but not in school sports and we need to address it.
The Minister of State might contact his colleague about implementing what is going on in the North of Ireland at the moment with regard to concussion in young people.
I wish the Minister of State the best of success with this. He is most unfair in being even throughout the whole county. I hope we will have the next round of sports capital grants as soon as possible.
Leaner government and a common-sense approach to the nation's housekeeping is what the Government is about. The Sport Ireland Bill 2014 is another example of the practical steps being taken to simplify and slim down the number of Government agencies. The Bill provides for the dissolution of the Irish Sports Council and the National Sports Campus Development Authority and the merging of their functions into a single entity, sport Ireland.
Earlier this week we had further evidence of the common-sense approach taken to sports and sporting facilities with the news that sports facilities are to be exempt from commercial rates which will come as a very significant boost to sports clubs across the country. Many sports clubs will welcome the extra money they will retain in their coffers and will put it to good use enhancing the availability of sports across the country.
The health-giving properties of sport for the mind and body are well known. In an era when child and adult obesity is an increasing problem it makes sense to channel further investment into sports facilities at community level. Combatting obesity through sports and making sports more attractive and accessible to all form one element of our national approach to sport. However, there is a darker side to sport in some cases and the Bill designates sport Ireland as the anti-doping organisation for the State.
Almost three years ago the public service reform plan was announced. It had at its heart a plan to reduce the cost of government and seek better value for money while at all times placing customer service at the core of each service. That plan sets out 48 rationalisation measures involving 30 actions and 100 agencies. Today's Bill emerged from that rationalisation drive.
The past three years have seen very significant developments at the National Sports Campus at Abbotstown. Three years ago proposals were submitted for the development of a national indoor athletics track, a national indoor sports centre and gymnastics training centre. In 2012 ownership of the lands at Abbotstown was transferred from the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine to the National Sports Campus Development Authority. Last year saw the Irish Sports Council and 20 other national governing bodies move to Abbotstown. We also had the opening of the National Modern Pentathlon Centre, the National Horse Sport Arena and the National Diving Training Centre.
The Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, has announced €13 million for the new national indoor training arena. Earlier this year all-weather synthetic pitches for Gaelic games, soccer and rugby opened. All of this represents a significant action by the Government and significant commitment to the development of sport in Ireland. It is most encouraging for international athletes, too many of whom in the past had to train in substandard facilities.
I issue one word of caution over the development of this world-class campus which relates to cherishing all our athletes and potential athletes equally. The new sports campus adjoins the M50 which will make it accessible for many people. However, we must look at the effect of such centralised facilities and the impact on athletes whose homes are more than 100 miles from these facilities. Do they have an equal opportunity to access these facilities or can supports or measures be put in place to make those facilities more accessible? Pardon the pun, but is it a level playing field for all competitors? I recognise that centralised facilities must be convenient for as many people as possible and cannot be located in remote areas, but I am sure measures could be put in place to reduce the expense and inconvenience for people whose homes are a long way from the new campus.
I welcome the Bill and the practical approach that underpins it will pay dividends for Irish sport, but I want to see the benefit of that spread among athletes from all corners of the country.
Deputy Lawlor and others raised the issue of sports capital grants. While they can be somewhat of a pain in the neck for public representatives it is good to see after two rounds the amount of good work that has been achieved from relatively small amounts of money, with clubs spending it to increase activity in our community. I would like to see another round of sports capital grants if that is possible under the tight budgetary circumstances the Minister of State faces.
We have a major issue in the country with mental health and particularly suicide among young males. At times we have a tendency to suggest that we should do something about it through schools. We seem to put everything through schools and on top of teachers. Sport can play a very active role in this regard. We have coaches in every kind of sporting activity teaching these young people in the evenings when they are out of school. Maybe these people have not been given adequate training to understand the signs of young people who may be in trouble. We talk about people falling through the cracks. Surely it is better to offer a sort of 24-hour service than just an eight-hour service when they are in school. Perhaps there could be an overall approach involving the Departments of Transport, Tourism and Sport; Health; and Education and Skills. We should bring in all these coaches who deal with these people on a totally different level to see if they can help in combatting this terrible scourge.
As the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, said yesterday evening, the Bill brings responsibility for the implementation of Irish sports under one single agency, which I welcome. With the merging of the two bodies as part of the Government programme for rationalisation of State agencies it makes sense to have one unified body responsible for all sports and sports activities. This new body will look after the development and management of sporting facilities and will implement a high-performance programme and general participation in sport.
I welcome last week's great news that Ireland is to host some of the Euro 2020 games, which is very positive for the tourism and sporting sector here. I commend the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, on helping to bring this event to Ireland. I also commend the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport on its support of sport in Ireland, particularly through the sports capital grants, which the Government reinstated in 2012. I was delighted to learn that seven clubs in my area received funding of more than €382,000.
Last year we were very proud that our international athletes won over 67 medals in international competition at junior and elite levels. Our recent success at the Paralympic Games and the Special Olympics shows that nothing can stand in the way when one comes to competing at international level. I agree with the Minister of State that sport is a very important element of the lives of Irish people, both socially and from a health perspective. Sport plays an important role in young people's development. Not only does it enable young people to get fit and learn new skills, but it also helps them to become team players and interact with their peers. It encourages healthy competition and sportsmanship, and respect for the opponent. It also encourages leadership skills and helps young people to grow in confidence.
I hope sport Ireland will also play an important role in supporting our sporting clubs and organisations throughout the community. Sport is the glue that holds communities together. On a personal level, from a young age I was involved in sport - in soccer, running, basketball and long jump. I had the proud privilege to play soccer locally and play in the national league. Crucial for me, as a young person, was the Community Games. Being involved in the Community Games played a huge part in encouraging me and many other young people to get involved in sport and to continue their love of sport through the years. Sadly in some communities the Community Games is no longer functioning as it did in the past, which is a shame because it has helped young people who normally did not have the opportunity to be involved in other sports to come along and take part.
While physical education in schools may not be in the Minister of State's jurisdiction, it is important to mention it. I come from an area with two schools that do not even have a gym. One of the class teachers goes in and performs the PE class, which is a terrible shame. We are always trying to encourage young people to take exercise and particularly with the younger age group because of obesity and things like that. It is a shame to think that in this day and age certain schools do not have that facility.
I wish to deal with drugs in sports. I commend all those who participate in sports and do not use drugs. It is sad that some people who participate in sport use drugs occasionally because it undermines the whole ethos of sport, which is about living a healthy lifestyle and being involved.
I commend the Bill to the House, which represents a very important step. It is very important to unite groups to work together, not just for communities but also for national sports.
The next speaking slot is being shared by Deputies Creed and Dowds.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on the Sport Ireland Bill which is a welcome and overdue piece of housekeeping in respect of the administrative structures for Irish sport. In welcoming the merger of the Irish Sports Council and the National Sports Campus Development Authority, I pay tribute to the staff of both organisations.
I have no doubt but that under the new aegis of sport Ireland, whomsoever may be at its helm will be as committed as were its constituent parts to the promotion and the best interests of sport in Ireland. In the brief time available to me, I wish to raise a number of issues that sport Ireland might take up as issues of interest to it and to the public at large in respect of sport and participation. I also wish to raise some issues the Minister of State might usefully pursue. At the outset, I congratulate the Minister of State on his tenure as Minister and, in particular, on his success in securing funding in difficult times for sport infrastructure nationwide. I also thank him for the even-handed approach he has adopted with regard to the distribution and allocation of that funding, which I believe is significantly at variance with that of his predecessors.
One issue that sport Ireland may take up but the Minister of State in particular must take up is the inaction by the Government on the issue of alcohol abuse. At present, the Government's approach to this issue is borderline shambolic. It is stumbling from proposals for minimum pricing and is long-fingering proposals in that regard. Abusive alcohol consumption is a cancer in Irish society and is closely associated with sporting organisations, which is very regrettable. According to figures provided by the National Off-Licence Association before an Oireachtas committee hearing, incredibly Irish taxpayers subsidise the below-cost sale of alcohol to the tune of €21 million per annum through refunds to the multiples that have grossly offensive advertisements in the daily newspapers every day of the week, as well as in every Sunday newspaper, which are designed to increase footfall in order that they may sell other products to consumers. Members must get serious on this issue, as the current position is borderline shambolic. The Government appears to have abdicated its position on minimum pricing until such time as the European Commission rules on the Scottish proposals, which are now under appeal there. The Minister of State should be in no doubt but that we are dealing with a powerful vested interest in the form of the drinks industry. Members have seen the tobacco industry flexing its muscles on plain packaging, but equally I have no doubt Members are witnessing arm twisting behind the scenes by the drinks industry with regard to minimum pricing. I note that at the stroke of a pen in the morning, the Government could reinstate the ban on below-cost selling of alcohol as was provided for in the groceries order that was abolished in 2006. This measure is long overdue and I urge the Minister of State to take it on board. Taxpayers are subsidising the multiples to the tune of €21 million in selling below-cost alcohol. Were it possible to ring-fence that funding for the Minister of State's Department, he could make a great deal of progress on capital infrastructure nationwide.
Section 4 provides that sport Ireland will have responsibility for tackling doping. This is welcome and I also welcome the role played by the Irish Sports Council in particular in this regard, as well as the funds it has committed. I raise two related issues, the first of which is the use of creatine and sports supplements in sport, particularly in physical contact sports, which is not exclusively but perhaps predominantly associated with rugby. I believe that all physical contact sports are experiencing the increasing use, by young people in particular, of supplements and creatine. It is important to put on record the comments of people who I consider to be prominent and I hope I will not misquote them. Tony Ward, who is a former international rugby player and is a high-profile individual, is on the record as stating he considers the supplement or drug culture now infiltrating the game to be legalised cheating. Ruth Wood-Martin, who is the nutritionist with the IRFU, has stated that no player under 18 should use supplements and should avoid creatine. She went on to state that some supplements may be harmful and routinely contain banned substances. As for the long-term consequences for the young people concerned, this is a ticking time bomb and many parents in particular in a way are almost helpless to counter the growing demand from their children, who like everybody wish to be the next Brian O'Driscoll or the next Paul O'Connell. I dare say this is not exclusive to rugby because I am sure it is crossing over into other physical contact sports, including the GAA codes, soccer and so on. Clear and binding protocols on all bodies affiliated to the Irish Sports Council or sport Ireland are required in this regard.
The other issue I believe must be taken up is that of head injuries. There has been extensive coverage in the media of the adverse consequences, which regrettably in some of the most extreme cases include death but which routinely involve dementia and brain damage. I note that Dr. O'Driscoll resigned from the IRFU medical advisory group because of its failure to abide by or adhere to recognised international norms in this regard. Every day, the newspapers carry sad stories about individuals who have suffered in this regard. The Minister of State will be aware of the clash of the Mayo titans that took place recently down in Limerick. While it may or may not have been a contributory factor to the outcome, I believe that Cillian O'Connor and Aidan O'Shea clashed accidentally on the pitch. Although both were taken off, both actually came back onto the pitch. While I appreciate they had medical advice on the sidelines, had binding protocols been in place one must question whether that would have been allowed. I believe it is time to tackle the issue head on. The entire area of head injuries associated with sport is a silent global epidemic and it is a matter that should be tackled head on.
Another ticking time bomb for society is obesity. A HSE task force on obesity, which by coincidence was chaired by Mr. John Treacy, head of the Irish Sports Council, produced a report in 2005 which found that in Ireland, 39% of adults were overweight, 18% of adults were obese, and 2,000 premature deaths were associated with it at a cost of approximately €4 billion per annum to the State. While this report was from 2005, I have not seen any great evidence that the State is sufficiently exercised to address the issue. I will turn to some of the more interesting comments in this issue. At a conference held by the Irish Heart Foundation, the former Secretary General of the Department of Health, Dr. Ambrose McLoughlin, stated the obesity problem is so bad that the present generation of parents may be the first to bury their own children. This is a wake-up call as to the scale of the problem. Professor Donal O'Shea, a consultant endocrinologist, stated the health service is close to being overwhelmed by the number of obese children. He stated there has been an increase of 1,200% at the extreme end of obesity, that is, those with a body mass index score in excess of 52, whereas an index score of between 18 and 25 is considered to be the norm. These statistics should be real wake-up calls. While this is somewhat like the point made by my colleague, Deputy Connaughton, there almost is a knee-jerk reaction in such circumstances to load a great number of things to do onto schools, which have a role to play. While sport Ireland will have many roles to play, it could usefully take up this issue of obesity and be the advocate for cross-departmental change in this area.
There is no single issue that will solve this problem but as I stated at the outset, it is a ticking time bomb that must be tackled. For example, I have referred to alcohol advertising but Members will have seen the recent Coca-Cola advertising whereby one can now get Coke with one's name on the bottle. This constitutes pernicious advertising targeted at children who increasingly and regrettably lead sedentary lifestyles with less activity, sitting before televisions, playing Xbox and so on. Members must challenge this culture and must challenge the advertising that is targeted selectively at children to consume products that are not compatible with a healthy lifestyle. If I may use the term, there is much food for thought in this area and while I am not being prescriptive as to what is the best way to tackle the problem, sport Ireland should champion the cause of healthy lifestyles, with sport being a part thereof. It is true that those who participate in sport go on to be higher achievers in respect of academia and, therefore, Members should encourage children to participate.
In that context, I wish to raise one further issue. The Minister of State has rightfully received plaudits from many corners with regard to the funding for the sports capital grants. It might be time to consider whether that funding could be used for purposes other than capital provision, which includes new dressing rooms, playing pitches, flood lighting and so on. Is there a case, for example, for ring-fencing some of it for children from poorer backgrounds who may not be able to afford the cost of participating in certain sports? As the father of three young children, I am aware of the pressure parents are under at this time of year. As well as the usual back-to-school expenses, there are costs attached to children participating in GAA, basketball, swimming and so on. Unfortunately, some parents will not be able to afford those costs. If a portion of the sports capital allocation were ring-fenced for initiatives to facilitate access, particularly to minority sports, it could benefit a lot of children.
In fairness to GAA and soccer clubs, cost has never been a stumbling block to participation in those sports. On the other hand, in the case of swimming, for instance, access may be a problem. In rural areas, in particular, the only pool might be in a hotel which charges for admission. If schools could access facilities pertaining to minority sports by way of a fund from the Minister of State's Department or one channelled through the Department of Education and Skills, participation levels might well increase. Lest my comments be misinterpreted, the point I am making stands as a tribute to Gaelic games, rugby and soccer. However, I would guess that up to 90% of the sports capital provision goes to those three sports. The Minister of State has spoken in the past about how we can increase participation in minority sports. The suggestion I have made might offer a way forward.
I welcome the Bill and commend it to the House. I congratulate the Minister of State on his achievements in office.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. I agree with Deputy Michael Creed's comments on below-cost selling of alcohol. We must tackle that issue as rapidly as possible. I also concur with his comments regarding minority sports. In the case of boxing, for example, even though it has provided Ireland with more Olympic medals than any other sport, it is in many ways a poor relation. This might be because those involved in it are not as well organised as their counterparts in the GAA, for instance, when it comes to seeking grants and so on. Neilstown boxing club in my constituency was waiting years to secure a premises, while the club is Palmerstown is still seeking one.
The Bill before us will help to improve the governance of sport in Ireland. I welcome the merger of the Irish Sports Council and the National Sports Campus Development Authority. It is an example of common sense governance which should also save the taxpayer money without having an adverse effect on services. Several speakers referred to the importance of sport in Ireland, of which there is ample evidence in every community across the land. I concur with the remarks by my colleague, Deputy Jack Wall, regarding its importance in keeping young people away from bad influences, including drugs. Sport has positive benefits on a range of fronts, including health - both physical or mental - the capacity for developing friendships, and so on. Moreover, these are benefits which impact both individuals and communities. There is a great deal of pleasure to be had from sport even if one is too old to participate and is merely a spectator.
I commend the Government on its decision this week that sports clubs will not be liable for commercial rates in respect of non-commercial components such as dressing rooms and so on. This should lead to substantial savings for many clubs. I am aware of the difficulties this issue was causing in my constituency for such organisations as Round Towers GAA club and the Clondalkin and Lucan rugby clubs.
I take this opportunity to highlight the potential threat posed by the practice of match fixing. While the Bill assigns a role to sport Ireland in tackling doping, it does not mention any function for the new entity in combating match fixing or other sports fraud. Earlier this year, the Union of European Football Associations, UEFA, called on governments across Europe to insert a specific crime of match fixing into criminal justice legislation. This would make it easier to bring forward prosecutions and secure the conviction of any persons threatening the integrity of sport in Ireland. While we have not yet had any high-profile instance of match fixing, there have been numerous prosecutions by our nearest neighbour, the United Kingdom. We must be proactive in guarding against such a development here. I am drawing up a draft Bill on this issue and, when it is ready, I hope to meet with the Minister of State to discuss whether it might be a runner. I look forward to hearing his views on the matter and hope he will refer to it in his reply.
Several speakers referred to the huge growth in the numbers of walking and running groups throughout the country in recent years, a development which I hope sport Ireland will support. Last year, I introduced the Access to the Countryside Bill 2013 in this Chamber, which seeks to improve access for walkers and runners. That Bill is awaiting reception in the environment committee. One of the proposals it contains is to give walkers and runners the option of using footpaths instead of dark roads in remote areas. While some might consider the Bill as focusing on urban concerns, my view is that it would in fact offer most benefit to rural dwellers. I hope the Minister of State will bear the proposals in mind when reflecting on ways to encourage greater participation in sport. As well as addressing that objective, the Bill also has potential to provide an economic benefit by way of increased tourism. The Minister of State will be well aware of how the local economy has benefited greatly from the lovely pathway and cycleway between Westport and Achill in his constituency.
Deputies Gabrielle McFadden and Michelle Mulherin will share time, with each having ten minutes.
I begin by noting that there is no Opposition Member in the Chamber. Clearly, Deputies on that side of the House do not consider this Bill of sufficient importance to participate in the debate and are not particularly concerned about the well-being of people in this country.
On Sunday, Rory McIlroy will compete as the world's number one in the greatest golf competition in the world. The value of sport to Ireland's international reputation is incalculable. Sport is serious business, contributing between €1.4 billion and €2.4 billion to GDP and supporting in excess of 40,000 jobs. Sport is said to be the fastest growing niche of the global tourism industry. Indeed, sports tourists have been found to spend almost twice as much as so-called ordinary tourists. In my home town of Athlone, we have an annual triathlon, triAthlone, and we have even hosted a European championship. It is impossible to get a bed in a hotel or guest house in the area on those weekends. The Dublin to Galway cycleway, into which the Minister of State has had a major input, is very beneficial to all the towns along the route. The same is true of the Mayo greenway and the Wild Atlantic Way. These initiatives have shown the clear connection between tourism and sport. At the same time, such measures also benefit local communities and the well-being of residents. We are all aware of the value of sport to the health and well-being of the nation.
I support the provisions we are discussing today.
The purpose of the Bill is to provide for the formation of a new statutory sports body, sport Ireland, or spórt Éireann, which merges the two exiting sports bodies, the Irish Sports Council and the National Sports Campus Development Authority. I welcome this merger as it is part of the Government's programme for the rationalisation of State agencies, which was promised. It brings responsibility for the implementation of Irish sports policy under a single agency. The new agency will take over responsibility for the relevant functions currently performed by the Irish Sports Council and the authority. Sport Ireland will continue the good work currently being done by the council in promoting, developing and co-ordinating sport in Ireland and the work of the authority in developing the National Sports Campus at Blanchardstown.
One aspect of the Bill I particularly welcome is the provision to statutorily underpin the national anti-doping programme and the Irish anti-doping rules. The clampdown in doping in Irish sport will receive a major boost from this merger. Under this new plan, the Garda, Irish Medicines Board and, where necessary, customs officials will be able to share information. It is vital for the reputation of Irish sport that all athletes are competing on an equal footing. The decision will allow sport Ireland to protect a culture of clean sport. This work is important for everyone who loves sport, whether competing, training or just spectating. It will allow young people and serious athletes to compete in the true spirt of sport.
As others mentioned, many sports clubs have benefitted from the sports capital grants. My constituency was very happy to have benefitted from them. Many clubs of all sorts of descriptions and sizes received grants, including Gaelic, soccer, boxing and rowing clubs. It is not necessary part of the Bill but is there a possibility, when the Minister of State has funding again to give out grants, to have a preliminary check for applications, where a preliminary application could be sent in, checked and returned to a club before the closing date so it could adjust its application, if necessary, and it does not get the news at the last minute when it is too late to do anything about it? That would alleviate much of the frustration clubs feel. Having said that, many clubs and groups in my constituency were very happy to benefit from the Minister of State's very fair way of distributing the money throughout the country and not only his constituency, as has happened in the past.
I compliment the Minister on all the work he has done on sports tourism. As I mentioned, it is a vital part of regrowing our tourism industry, our economy and our international reputation.
The purpose of the Bill is to provide for the establishment of sport Ireland, or spórt Éireann, and for the dissolution of the Irish Sports Council and the National Sports Campus Development Authority and to amalgamate and rationalise the activities of each of these organisations. It gives us a great opportunity to look at the significance of sport in our country.
I commend the Minister of State, my colleague in County Mayo. He has embodied the whole idea of sport and has brought great energy and passion to the job. Although he is the Minister of State with responsibility for sport, he has sometimes doubled up as the Minister for Health to try to get the nation healthy. I congratulate him on that and I know many people feel the same way about how he has undertaken his job as Minister of State.
When we think of sport, we initially think of all the headline things, such as an international soccer match and the All-Ireland and the highs and lows that go with them. Sport is unifying and gives us a great sense of both national and county identity. If anything unites people of different political persuasions, beliefs or otherwise in County Mayo, it is when the county jersey is worn. It is the same everywhere. We all get together and put on the Mayo jersey, or the jersey of whatever county we come from. We are very proud it, even though, for the most part, other than cheering on the team, we have very little to do with it. It is the same when an Irish team or athlete competes on our part. We get such joy and a thrill from seeing the spectacle of the participation and the hoped for win, which may come from it. However, we all know those are the headline sports but there is so much more going on in terms of sport.
Sport is an integral part of creating a healthy nation. It is fair to say that the most successful nations are those whose governments have invested in the health of their citizens. This is very visible in things like education, health care and social welfare. In the case of health care, it is only recently that the Government has moved from being a mere bystander in this crucial health component, physical exercise, to actually facilitating individuals and groups and not only professional or elite athletes. The importance of sport is getting through to people and they are being facilitated. Facilities are being put in place and groups and organisations are being funded. Deputy McFadden referred to the best example of this, namely, the sports capital grants. Many sporting organisations around the country have benefitted from sports capital grants. They are putting in so much effort to bring sports to children and adults and it gives them such a boost.
The Minister of State has endeavoured to deliver and divide up the sports capital grants in the fairest way he can in order provide real benefits to all sorts of diverse organisations, minority groups and sporting groups promoting women in sport, which would not have received the same attention in the past that sporting organisations supporting men would have had, which are all to be commended.
As we look forward as a nation, we should look at how we want to grow a healthy nation. Physical exercise, like a healthy diet, is a learned habit and a responsible Government encourages and invests in this. It makes economic sense in that we have a more productive nation and people who are less inclined to be sick. We know that many illnesses, including certain types of diabetes and certain mental health issues, are related to, or at least made worse by, lifestyle. It is great we have many mod cons and technology which, in many ways, takes physical labour out of our lives, work and leisure time but there is a price for that. It means we have to push people towards exercise.
We all have our own experiences and knowledge of groups which are pushing out the boundaries and employing new thinking in bringing sport to the ordinary person. In my town, Ballina Athletic Club has a fit-for-life programme. Periodically, it runs a scheme called coach to 5 km. In the past, people would have been fearful saying they were going for a run or a cycle because they thought one had to be gifted in some way to be athletic. Now one sees the joy and thrill of people who never in their wildest dreams thought they were athletic. I would count myself among them. I would not have been sport inclined. I played basketball but I think I got on the team because I was tall and not because I was athletic.
People have a sense of personal achievement when they challenge themselves. Often the challenge in life is not about being better than the person beside me but about battling with the clock. It is about personal improvement.
I recently attended the launch of a walking festival organised by the Foxford Ramblers, with which the Minister of State will be familiar, for 4 and 5 October. The Foxford Ramblers meet on a weekly basis to go on walks and open trails to people in a guided and safe manner so they can see the fantastic Mayo countryside. The poet, Pat Upton, recited poetry at the launch which blew me away. It was inspired by the landscape. He brought home to me that when one gets onto the wilds of the trails or climbs a mountain, whether Nephin or Croke Patrick, the experience goes beyond the physical to enter, in his description, a soulful experience. He spoke about how he sees the landscape reflected in the people, whether in Kerry or Mayo, with the distinctions this entails. He was describing something one feels instinctively when one goes on a trek for several hours. It is uplifting for the soul and the mind. Given our great landscape and our issues with mental health, going outdoors for physical exercise could be seen as a tonic.
I recently attended my first active schools flag event at Behy National School. The active schools programme aims to bring sports to the daily lives of children. It goes beyond the 30 minutes or one hour of physical education provided in class to educate children about the importance of healthy lifestyles, diets and minds. A healthy body equals a healthy mind and these children will be more fit for life and learning. It is fantastic.
There are also knock-on effects for tourism and economic value from initiatives like the Great Western Greenway. We are also commencing the development of a greenway between Ballina and Killalla along the River Moy. I thank the Minister of State for the €250,000 in seed money provided for this project. We are now looking for further funding through the rural development programme and Leader. This will be a major tourist attraction for north Mayo and will help to put the area on the map. The project also goes hand-in-glove with the Wild Atlantic Way. I acknowledge all that the Minister of State has done in this regard and he is welcome to come back to the area for walks. It is a pleasure to deal with him on these issues because he likes to see progress and to work with local groups.
I welcome this legislation and congratulate the Minister of State on bringing it forward. Anyone who has listened to the debate on the Bill would be impressed by the contributions from a number of Deputies. It is clear, in terms of representation in this House, that a considerable number of people agree not only with this legislation but also with all the work that the Government and the Minister of State is doing in the area of sports, health and fitness. This includes improving aspects of our heritage and culture to facilitate more sporting activity. There is in-depth knowledge in this Parliament and I welcome that Members of Fine Gael are able to bring that knowledge through that Minister of State to influence national policy.
This Bill merges two quangos, which I welcome. On entering Government we made a commitment to reform the political system, to reduce the amount of money the State was spending and to increase the efficiency in how the money is spent. An important part of this process involves merging or abolishing quangos. We have not dealt with all of them yet but this is a process that takes time. This legislation is welcome as part of that process.
I had a conversation recently with a colleague who was knowledgeable about the doping aspects of the Bill. It is great to hear that we are regarded as a standard bearer and role model in respect of certain aspects of doping. Doping and performance enhancement has become a critical aspect of sports in the modern age. Sports have the ability to lift a nation but they also have the ability to shame a nation when doping scandals come to light. We have dealt with several such scandals in this country. It is a difficult matter which nobody likes to see. The more we can do in this area to protect our honour and integrity as a sporting country, the better.
Several speakers referred to the sports capital grants programmes. The Government has implemented a number of initiatives but few are as tangible in communities and constituencies as sports capital grant projects. Considerable moneys have been invested in a fair manner in local sporting activities around the country. This is a good example of how the Government, by giving a little support to a community, can make a big difference in improving facilities and increasing participation in particular activities and sports. The programmes also provide an important regional stimulus in certain parts of the country. I do not know if the Minister of State has costed this as part of the expenditure review underway with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform for 2015 but another sports capital grant programme would be excellent for the country. The numbers may not allow it, however, because we are not yet out of the water in terms of repairing the public finances. If there is leeway due to additional taxes or buoyancy in the economy, this is an area in which money could be spent.
We are using sports all the time to bring money into the economy. I welcome the recent announcement on the European games. We have also attracted American football games which have brought significant amounts of money to Dublin and to the rest of the country. We must continue to host these games because not only do they get Irish people interested in the sport but they also bring people to the country as tourists and show them our positive face. As we repair the public finances, we will have to find similar creative and endurable ways for people to spend money. The US football games in the Aviva has been a way of doing that and it should be encouraged. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Donohoe, and his predecessor, Deputy Varadkar, as well as the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, have been creative in this area.
We have been debating the Rugby World Cup bid for the past two years. This is another example of how we can be creative with our facilities and our love of sport in order to showcase Ireland to the world and to put on an incredibly important event. It would add an extra element to our great tradition of Rugby. We are hoping to bid for the tournament in 2023. The committee, which is chaired by Hugo McNeill, has finished its work and the Minister is now considering the matter. Considerable work remains to be done but people are very excited about the matter. By chance, I met a group of students from my old school, St. Michael's, who were visiting the Houses. I estimate that 50% of the students' questions were about the Rugby World Cup bid. The questions were not about the Dáil or what was going on in the Chamber even though they came to observe our debates. They wanted to know whether we will be hosting the tournament, which stadiums will be used and where the All Blacks would be training and playing. We should not get too excited about it because it may not happen and it is a legacy this Government would leave for the future but it would reach every corner of Irish life and its impact would be felt on all parts of the island. I look forward to hearing more about it. Perhaps there will be an opportunity to discuss it further during Question Time next week.
Deputy Mulherin touched on the idea that when we speak about sport, we are not just talking about organised team games but about activity and getting people turned on to the idea of getting out and doing something. We are seeing much more of that. Getting up in the morning or going out in the evening for a run is a means to fitness, and the park at Sandymount strand is very busy, which is fantastic. One project is being progressed, albeit too slowly, and that is the Sandycove to Sutton cycle way. That will be the longest cycling route in Europe when completed, and we are almost there, with just a small gap needing to be completed. It is a fantastic segregated cycling route mostly off the main road on the northside, and we want to see the same on the southside. One could cycle along Dublin Bay when it is finished. People will take part and it will be something to do on a Saturday, Sunday or in the evening. A leisure cycle is good for fitness and health, and there are positive aspects around that. The Minister of State might be interested in examining that, and I would be more than happy to introduce him to the campaign committee and show him some of the route. It is a fantastic project design, and although some money has been put into it by councils, it needs a bit more political support and attention to get it completed.
I have received feedback from friends who participate in sports which are less well-known, and they have told me about the attention that this Government and the Minister of State has given to smaller sport activities. I visited University College Dublin for freshers' week and I met some of the people involved with the fencing society, martial arts and shooting club. These sports do not have significant participation or cannot raise much money like the more popular sports such as football, rugby, etc. Every bit of help they get is fantastic and with the recent sports capital allocations, in my own constituency many small clubs involved with martial arts, rowing, etc. got a bit of money, which made a major difference. I spoke to members of a rowing club in Dún Laoghaire and although it received a small amount of funding from the Government, it was enough, with its own efforts, to pay for a new boat. That would dramatically change the prospects for a rowing club, and such a use would do more than an equivalent amount being given to a bigger sport or club. We should not downplay that impact.
Most people remember where they were for Katie Taylor's famous fight. I was in Kerry at the time and we made it to the pub to see the fight when she won the gold medal. One also remembers everybody trying to get to a television screen to watch Sonia O'Sullivan run in the Olympics. There are sports which do not have wide participation because they are not as popular or on television, but they have an ability to inspire the nation when people become good at them and show off the country. As a result, more people come into the sport. It is fantastic that boxing is getting funding. My niece is a big boxing fan and loves Katie Taylor because of what she did. Katie Taylor made her achievements in part because of the way she was supported not just by her community but by the little bit of Government money that went into those facilities.
As we look to next year and beyond with the sporting budget, it would be good to target smaller clubs and societies or non-traditional sports. The impact is disproportionate and with the smaller clubs, there is a better and bigger outcome than what might occur in other areas. I congratulate the Minister of State on this legislation and everything he has done to date and will continue to do. I hope we can get this Bill through quickly and get to the next bit of sporting work we must do.
I welcome the Minister of State and compliment him on his outstanding stewardship in the Department. If we consider sport under the regime of this Minister of State, we can see that every key performance indicator has increased, with positivity and leadership shown in the Department. This goes from the elite sporting athlete to people who are less active. As Deputy Eoghan Murphy rightly stated, with the sports capital programme the Minister of State attempted, successfully, to assist sporting bodies, from the biggest to the smallest, throughout the country, and I compliment him on that.
This Bill is part of the Government's ongoing implementation of public sector reform. When the Government came to power, it set out how it wanted to change and reform the public sector, with clear plans regarding the streamlining and delivery of public services and reduction of agencies. This Bill is concerned with that effort. I am pleased the Minister of State has put this Bill before the House to implement reform in the area of sports policy. The Bill will establish a new body, sport Ireland, a great name, to replace through merger the Irish Sports Council and the National Sports Campus Development Authority. I pay tribute to Mr. John Treacy of the council for the work he has done. Those of us who grew up in the 1980s remember the passion and pride he brought from the racecourse in Limerick to the Los Angeles Olympics, and he is doing the same thing in his current role.
Both of these bodies have been excellent at providing essential services for sport in Ireland, but this change allows the potential for more efficient delivery of these services. When the Bill is enacted, a more streamlined organisation will emerge for the development of sport and implementation of sports policy, which is critical. I know the Minister of State has great plans in this regard, and I hope we will see further strategic thinking regarding elite sportspersons and sporting bodies, particularly on the international stage. It will bring responsibility for sports under a single agency.
Deputy Murphy referred to the anti-doping policy which will become part of the provisions of the Bill, which we welcome. Any of us involved with sport at any level is cognisant that an anti-doping programme, with the Irish anti-doping rules underpinning the programme, is critical in the development of Irish sport. It makes it clear on all levels that our national policy prioritises a sport that is clean and that participation in sport must be clean. Placing our anti-doping policy on a statutory footing ensures that probity and the integrity of Irish sport and its athletes will be a central element. We already have a very successful anti-doping programme and last year, 868 tests were carried out across 32 sports. This shows we are serious about the process, that the programme is successful and that it can be even more robust. Sport Ireland will be a national anti-doping organisation for the State, with its functions and obligations set out under the anti-doping code and the UNESCO anti-doping convention. Anti-doping rules will be quite clear.
It is important that those involved with sport, particularly our governing bodies at a national level, place an obligation on staff, coaches and trainers to comply with national anti-doping rules. It is a heavy burden but I know from being involved as a chairperson in my club that we must recognise it as important work, because we need a strong, single and coherent message on doping and taking illegal drugs. There must be serious sanctions, including loss of funding. Many of our international athletes have spoken out against doping in sport, with some even calling for increased sanctions. I hope that as this provision becomes part of legislation, it will be welcomed across the sporting fraternity. It would be ideal if all countries placed similar obligations on athletes, but all we can do as a nation is lead by example, and I hope we can encourage other countries to take similar measures.
Next Thursday, the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children, which I chair, is beginning an important piece of work dealing with concussion in sport. This is not an issue that just affects sporting people on television or elite athletes. It affects everybody who participates in physical activity. Under the Minister of State's tenure, we have seen a very heavy emphasis on physical activity, whether it is cycling or walking. For once we have seen a joined-up approach between tourism and sport in the development of a tourism product that attracts people to the country. I hope the Minister of State, through his good offices, will persuade local authorities in some parts of the country which should be playing a more significant role to join the movement by promoting active tourism and giving people an opportunity to visit the country. In my area of Cork, the different bodies could do more to promote walking, cycling and other physical activity.
The issue of concussion in sport is as relevant to the school yard, the recreational walker, the five-a-side player on a Thursday night or the club junior hurler or footballer as it is to the elite athlete. Concussion can have a severe health consequence.
Head injury is potentially life-threatening and can impact severely on people's quality of life. The committee will examine the issue, not to admonish people, but to come up with a uniform approach to understanding and educating people about concussion in sport. The hearings will provide an opportunity to explore the treatment policy with the governing bodies along with leading medical expertise and practitioners. I hope that as a consequence of bringing medical experts in to investigate the condition and treatment for it, we will get a better understanding of it and discuss its impact with players' advocacy groups and sporting groups. Sporting organisations are doing a lot of work on the matter. We need to put in place best practice policies for the long-term welfare of all involved in sport.
Sport is not just for the elite players who played in Croke Park last Sunday or who play in the Aviva Stadium. It involves all the people who take to the fields and the courts, indoor and outdoor every day of the week. Sports concerns the health and well-being of our nation. It does not have to be high intensity activity. It is a question of participation in physical activity. The most important aspect of sport policy is encouraging wider participation that will have personal and societal benefit for the nation. I very much welcome the decision of the former Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly, to set up the Healthy Ireland Council and I welcome the appointment of the former Secretary General of the Department of Health to a role in supporting the council.
I pay tribute to the Cork sports partnership, which makes great efforts to encourage participation, organising weekly 5 km runs and Parkruns in Macroom, Clonakilty and Cork city which have been immensely successful. I hope it will involve areas such as Douglas, Carrigaline, Mahon, Blackrock and Bishopstown in its programme. Last June it ran a very successful Cork bike week which was aimed at encouraging lifelong participation in physical activity. All these events are important to communities as they continue the efforts of all involved in team sports and encourage people to participate in Cork sports week. Partnership means encouraging people and working together. The Government, local authorities, the education and training boards, ETBs, and the sports partnership programmes must increase physical activity in a safe recreational environment.
Participation in sport is not just a matter of competition but of encouraging participation for the sake of health and well-being. If we can focus on that and encourage people to remain active we will reduce and tackle obesity, diabetes and heart disease, which have cost the nation billions of euros. I welcome the Bill, commend the Minister of State's work and his leadership role, and hope the legislation will be passed as quickly as possible.
I thank the Deputies for their contribution and for their support for the Bill. I have listened with interest to the input of Deputies on all sides. The various issues raised will be considered further in the Department, as the Bill makes its way through the Houses. I believe that the merging of the council and the authority in one new body is a positive move for the development of Irish sport. They already work closely together and enjoy an excellent working relationship. We are bringing together the expertise of two bodies which have delivered a lot for sport in recent years. I am confident that the good work that is being done for Irish sport will continue into the future under the new sport Ireland structure.
This is turning out to be another great year for Irish sport. I congratulate all our athletes and teams who have competed at international events this year and who have done us proud. This is an exciting time for sport and there is much to look forward to in the coming years.
The announcement by UEFA that Dublin will be a host city for the Euro 2020 is great news for Ireland. We can look forward to the excitement of a major international tournament here with all the benefit that will flow from the massive TV coverage throughout the world. I again thank everybody who was involved in preparing Ireland’s bid. Everyone put on the green jersey and worked together on our bid to ensure that this prize could be delivered for Dublin and for Ireland.
Deputies spoke about the need to increase participation and to get more young people involved in sport. Events such as Euro 2020 have the potential to encourage more young people to get involved in sport. It will be a great opportunity for them to see some of the best that European football has to offer and I hope it will inspire them to get involved in sport. The 2016 Rio Olympics are coming up and I am delighted that already athletes and teams have qualified. I congratulate our equestrian events team and our sailors on qualifying recently. I wish the best of luck to all our athletes in their preparation for Rio.
I will now deal with some of the issues raised during the Second Stage debate. Deputy Dooley referred to section 9, dealing with consultants and advisers. I can assure the Deputy that there is no intention that sport Ireland will spend large sums of money on consultants. In some cases consultants will be required and section 9 allows sport Ireland to engage consultants when that is necessary. This might be for expert services to do for example with sports science and medicine. In all cases, however, sport Ireland will comply with Government guidelines on engaging consultants.
Some Deputies also mentioned the need for a national sport policy. We are working hard on preparing a policy, and I hope it will be ready soon. Among other things, the policy will address the important question of where the focus should be for investment in sport. Deputy McClellan mentioned women in sport. I agree that it is important that women are represented in sport. I will certainly ask sport Ireland to continue to fund the women in sports programme and to deliver strategies for increasing participation by women and girls.
Deputies also mentioned cross-Border co-operation in sport. The Irish Sports Council already works very closely with Sport Northern Ireland. I am confident this co-operation will continue under sport Ireland. Several Deputies mentioned the need to provide support and advice to clubs to help them make their applications for capital grants. We are always open to considering how to improve the way we do things in the Department. I will certainly ask my officials to consider this again for any new round of the sports capital programme.
While I welcome Deputy Dooley's positive comments on the Sport Ireland Bill, I cannot understand his anxiety to revert to the old Fianna Fáil way of delivering sports capital grants. Since coming into office I have given sports capital funding pro rata. I am very proud of that. Every commentator in the media and everywhere else has acknowledged that this was done fairly. Counties such as Clare, Deputy Dooley's home county, have gained since I came into office because I loaded money into counties such as Clare which had done badly in the last round of the sports capital programme. I cannot understand how he would want us to go back to the old Fianna Fáil way by which Donegal, Kerry and Waterford got big funding because the Ministers came from those counties. That is not how it should be done and that is not how it will be done. I hope Fianna Fáil is not saying that if it gets back into power it will do this again.
Deputy Wallace asked about two clubs in Wexford which lodged invalid applications. How could I allocate funding to invalid clubs? It would be like the penalty points situation. Every Deputy from every county and every party would tell me that I took invalid applications and made them valid. That will not happen. A total of 36% of applications in the last round were invalid, but 64% were valid. I am sure Deputy Wallace is not saying that I should give funds to the 36% that were not valid. I could not do that.
We have a very small team in Killarney. People think we have a big staff in Dublin and in Killarney. We do not. When I open clubs and facilities throughout the country that the sports capital programme has supported, many pay tribute to the staff in Killarney and I agree with them. I thank the staff for the way they work and their co-operation with everybody who made applications in the last round. We did make things easier. We had it on computer yet we had many difficulties with invalid applications.
I will give an example. I know a club that did not have its title in order when the first round came in. When they sent it in the second time around, the title was not in order again. They wanted to blame Deputies, councillors and my officials in Killarney for it. The application was invalid the first time and again the second time. No invalid application will be dealt with in my reign as Minister of State with responsibility for sport.
Many Deputies spoke about the sports capital programme, which has been a lifeline for many clubs that have used the funding very well. I compliment these clubs on the way they are able to raise money.
Many other issues were raised in relation to the Bill. I agree with what Deputy Joan Collins said about young people who are honoured to be called to represent this country abroad in sporting events but do not have the money or resources to enable them to do so because of family circumstances. I intend to get the national governing bodies and the Irish Sports Council to try to look at this. I have received a number of letters on this issue throughout my tenure as Minister of State. Parents have written to me to say that their son or daughter has been picked for Ireland, but they do not have the resources to send him or her abroad. No competitor should be prevented from representing our country because his or her family does not have enough resources. It is something we need to look at.
I thank all the people who contributed to the debate on this Bill for their kind comments. I will take up many of the issues that Deputies have raised when we consider this legislation further on Committee Stage. As Deputy Wall said earlier, Irish people love their sport. It does not matter what sport it is. That is why I am glad the sports capital programme that has been in place for the last two years is to continue. I hope the Government sees fit to provide the funding for another round of the programme. I will talk to the Ministers, Deputies Noonan and Howlin, to make sure they see the benefits to rural and urban Ireland of putting that funding in place.
Some very fine speeches were made by the various contributors. My officials have taken note of many of the good ideas that were outlined during the debate. We will examine what has been proposed. I hope we can assist and help along the way. I ask any Deputy who intends to bring forward amendments to this Bill to give the departmental officials sight of those amendments at an early stage in order that, where possible and appropriate, the amendments can be considered on their merits rather than being rejected for technical reasons or because there was insufficient time to consider them fully. I ask Deputies to submit their amendments quickly. We will have a look at them, and if there is anything worth pursuing we will certainly do so. I thank everyone who spoke for contributing to the debate. I also thank my officials in Killarney and in the headquarters of the Department.
Sport is important to this country and its people. This Bill will lead to the amalgamation of two organisations in line with Government policy. There will be no job losses. I reiterate that both of these bodies have very small teams working for them. I intend to look to get more staff into Killarney in the future. I hope to get more staff for the new body as well. I thank everyone who spoke for their passion for sport and for their kind comments. I am delighted this legislation is being supported by all sides. I commend the Bill to the House.