Sport Ireland: Chairperson Designate

I propose we go into public session. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Before we start, I have a query. Mr. Mulvey is very welcome. His presentation runs to 15 pages and I was wondering if we could get a condensed view of it. I do not mind listening through the whole 15 pages.

Mr. Kieran Mulvey

It was not my intention to read out the 15 pages to the committee.

I call the meeting to order. No. 7 is engagement with the chairperson designate of Sport Ireland. The purpose of this morning's meeting is to engage with the chairperson designate of Sport Ireland, the body charged with the merged functions of the former Irish Sports Council and the National Sports Campus Development Authority, to discuss the proposals to take, if and when appointed to the role, and his views on the challenges currently facing the body. We are all by now very well aware of the Government decision in May 2011 which put new arrangements in place for the appointments of persons to State boards and bodies.

Reference to this arrangement is also made in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform guidelines on appointments to State boards of November 2014. The committee welcomes the opportunity to meet with the chairperson designate, Mr. Kieran Mulvey, and to hear his views. We trust this provides greater transparency to the process of appointment to our State boards and bodies. On behalf of the committee, I welcome Mr. Mulvey, whom most members will know well from previous appearances before the committee.

I draw attention to the fact that, by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if witnesses are directed by the Chairman to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. Witnesses are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. I also wish to advise that any submissions or opening statements witnesses have made to the committee will be published on the committee website after the meeting. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

Mr. Kieran Mulvey

I thank the Chairman and members of the committee for inviting me to address them this morning in regard to my nomination by the Government as chairman designate of the new entity of Sport Ireland. I look forward to my engagement with the committee today and I hope that members will, on the basis of what I have to say, endorse my appointment to this critical role in Irish life. I was very privileged to be appointed chairman of the Irish Sports Council and I humbly acknowledge the honour that has been bestowed on me by the Government, and will I hope be bestowed on me by this committee, in being appointed to the chairmanship of Sport Ireland.

As members will be aware from their deliberations on the act leading up to its report of March 2014, the proposal which arises is the merging of the Irish Sports Council with the National Sports Campus Development Authority and the creation of one statutory body, Sport Ireland. That has to be a welcome development in the context of maximising synergies and resources and enabling concentration on the development of sports in Ireland, at local and national level and through the national governing bodies. It will also utilise the physical capacity and capability of the national campus itself, which is a hallmark development for the positioning of national sports in one campus and should add value to that effort.

Sport Ireland will be a composite of four bodies, including Coaching Ireland, the Irish Institute of Sport, the high performance section of the Irish Sports Council and the campus. Creating synergy is important and has already been achieved through Coaching Ireland and the institute of sport working under the Irish Sports Council. The new board will focus on developing potential within the one entity. I do not think it will be difficult to achieve as both the Irish Sports Council and the National Sports Campus Development Authority have worked very closely with the Department and Ministers over the past number of years. It is not as if it is a shotgun marriage - it is a joint venture that has the support of everybody involved. It is positive that we have worked in tandem in the past and hopefully we will do so as one entity in the future.

Since my appointment as chairman of the Irish Sports Council, I have made it a point, subject to the time available, to visit as many NGB occasions as possible, be they conferences, special events, dinners or award ceremonies. I think I have got to most of them, even the Irish Amateur Boxing Association and its national competitions. I have established a very good working relationship with the chief executives, the presidents and the honorary officers of the boards of those organisations. I have met them individually and collectively and listened to them on the subject of their funding arrangements for each year. Despite some difficulties, 99% of the time spent there constitutes a good working relationship among the campus, the Irish Sports Council and the NGBs. Of particular importance to me have been my relationships with the Olympic Council of Ireland and its president, Pat Hickey, Paralympics Ireland and its chief executive, Liam Harbison and Matt English of Special Olympics Ireland. These are very important bodies that do very important work, both nationally and internationally, on behalf of athletes of all capabilities. That is important because dysfunctional relationships among individuals and organisations have riven sport in the past, leading to unseemly rows about certain issues, although thankfully this is not happening at the moment.

Managing the situation over the past five years has been a challenge with the restraints in public expenditure and cutbacks in sport. Particularly important aspects of that have been the continuation of the sports capital programme, which has been a vital component to NGBs, and the effective and generous use by the Department and the Minister of dormant accounts for equipment. That has put Irish sport and the NGBs in a good place, both from the point of view of facilities and equipment, and we are getting a payback from those organisations for the investment of a considerable volume of taxpayers' money over the period. We cannot have much of an argument with the various sports for the return they have made on the taxpayers' investment, through the Government and the Oireachtas. They are largely excellent people of calibre, integrity, ability and achievement.

At an international level this success has been reflected in medalling, which has been a feature in international competition in the past five years. This is the pinnacle which enables us to wrap the green flag around us and we enjoy seeing podium finishes for our athletes and teams and the tricolour alongside the flags of other nations of the world. To use a phrase which may be a bit unfortunate in the current circumstances, we box above our weight in a multiplicity of sports. One of the excellent features in sport in the past number of years is the extent to which, outside our own national sports, participation levels have increased. We are now getting back into sailing and, hopefully, rowing has come of age. We are bringing though individual athletes in track and field to follow what John Treacy and Senator Eamonn Coghlan achieved before them. We have identified and brought forward really good junior talent, particularly through the women in sport programme, without which we would not have Annalise Murphy or Katie Taylor to set an example of excellence. There are hundreds coming through the system.

The high-performance endeavour and special programmes such as women in sport are bearing reward for the nation, not just in our national sports of Gaelic football, hurling and camogie but also in minority sports such as cricket, hockey, equestrian sports, sailing and judo. Merging athletes such as triathletes and modern pentathletes are now featuring at international level, having had little or no participation or excellence in the past. The one great sadness of the Olympic Games in London was that we had two fourth places. We were so close to additional medals and those athletes have continued to perform at world level. The Irish Institute of Sport has been a marvellous development. Coaching Ireland, based in the University of Limerick, is also an outstanding organisational arrangement for developing coaches in all the disciplines.

Those who participate in our main field sports now perform to a level not achieved before. The numbers are on an upward trend and, according to the ESRI's Irish sports monitor assessment, we have almost reached parity in terms of female and male participation in sport. We hope to have this parity within the next two or three years.

The functions of Sport Ireland have been laid out and I will now discuss its targets for the next four or five years. These include: ensuring the board and executive operate effectively; that the interchange with, funding for and arrangements in respect of national governing bodies are brought forward and that targets in respect of participation, winning medals, coaching and success which can be achieved but which are both realistic and challenging are set for them. The national governing bodies will, therefore, be very important. Sport Ireland must also ensure the facilities, coaches and high-performance directors are in place and that local sports partnerships are structured and funded to bring about synergies between sports.

The committee's report dealt with the facilities in which the State has invested and I am very glad of this. The State has provided billions of euro for physical facilities for all sports throughout the country. These must be shared and utilised appropriately and properly, and it is the same for third level and second level institutions, which must be utilised and maximised, with the agreement and support of all of the national governing bodies, to bring forward greater participation. This is not just about people engaged in sport, it is also about wider community activity, including on the part of older and younger individuals who may not be involved in competitive sports but who are involved in leisure sports. I hope we will make more effort in the capital sports programme to ensure that those expensive facilities do not lie fallow and are utilised by local communities. I appreciate there are ownership and leasing issues and that individual sports must take priority in the context of using their own facilities. However, there are times when there is greater availability for local communities and other non-competitive training and coaching activities.

We all remember the controversy about what was euphemistically termed "the Bertie bowl". However, the decision to acquire the 500 acres of land where it was to be situated was a far-sighted one. My regret is that this is top-quality agricultural land and my heart goes out when I see it being dug up in order that buildings might be erected. The land is strategically located in Abbotstown, which is located off the M50, and the facility there is tremendous. It is probably the hidden gem of Irish physical sports development but it is coming on stream in leaps and bounds, with buy-in from the various sports organisations. In addition, some 20 national governing bodies - including that of the FAI - have located their headquarters there and there are more to come on board, including Sport Ireland. We are supposed to be accommodated in Abbotstown House, which is to be renovated. If the yard is available and is restructured and renovated, Sport Ireland will go in there to show there is a physical location for all of the agencies.

I hope that in the next five years we will complete the indoor arena - the project relating to which is proceeding on schedule - and tender for and complete the construction of a velodrome, particularly as we have to win medals in the sport of cycling. From the point of view of developing cycling in Ireland, there is a need for a velodrome and it is the next infrastructural project. After this are two considerations I have heard from certain national governing bodies, particularly the FAI, the GAA and the IRFU, namely, that there is a need for covered stadia, particularly in view of the nature of Irish weather, in order that training can take place on a year-round basis. Perhaps we can examine this matter in the context of development.

There is a need for accommodation on the campus. I am not sure as to the nature of the accommodation required but the project seems right for a public private partnership of some description, particularly in view of the proximity to Blanchardstown Institute of Technology, Connolly Hospital and Dublin City University. In addition, there is a need for the IRFU, the FAI, occasionally the GAA, and hockey and other sports to be accommodated on the campus. There may be a prospect for commercial development, perhaps a hotel or whatever. The big issue regarding the future development of the campus is making it pay so it does not become a burden on the taxpayer and at least breaks even or makes a profit. Perhaps we do not need all of the land. I would need to be reassured about this. There is pressure in the area for further business park expansion and for Connolly Hospital to be developed further. Perhaps we could generate additional funding for public private partnerships which would not be a burden on the taxpayer as private money could be generated to build some of the facilities.

The committee is aware of the legacy issue regarding an outstanding legal case with Dublin Waterworld. This matter is still before the courts and I do not wish to comment further on it. It is an issue to which I must devote my attention immediately because it has proved to be an extraordinary drain on resources and has required major input on the part of the executive of the organisation. We must resolve this matter, either through the courts or by means of another arrangement.

A meeting will be held later today with Cricket Ireland about developing Malahide. We need a national cricket ground because 10,000 people will go to see the Irish cricket team play tests. We want to be a test nation. We have done a deal and signed a memorandum with Fingal County Council, under its chief executive, Paul Reid, and it is ready to go. I hope the Minister can show some largesse because the project will cost approximately €3 million to complete. We cannot erect stands every time Ireland needs to play a cricket match. It is an ideal venue and has North-South connectivity.

The North-South dimension with Sport Northern Ireland is important. A meeting was recently held with Ministers and chief executives, and we have decided to have an annual meeting. We will continue to share operations because we have all-Ireland sports and it is very important that we do not overlap and duplicate facilities which can be available on all of the island to everybody. Everywhere is within driving distance now and one does not need to fly anywhere. The more we keep our coaches and athletes at home, the better it will be for them in the context of increasing capability and creating additionality.

In broad scope, these are the areas I hope to develop. There will be others which the committee will require us to address in our annual reports.

I thank Mr. Mulvey. He has given a very clear outline of the challenges and opportunities that exist, as well as his vision for the maximisation of potential of sport in Ireland with regard to participation and at the high-performance and elite levels.

From time to time, the committee has questions about governing bodies. My general question is whether Mr. Mulvey is happy with the governance of those bodies. In recent days, the issue of boxing has arisen. Mr. Mulvey mentioned it earlier. I welcome the stand he took on "Prime Time" last night and I know the Minister has also been involved and has been working hard on the matter. Have we lost the best boxing coach Ireland has ever had or is the situation redeemable? If we have lost him, how did it come to this? I raised this matter two years ago when concerns first began to arise. Mr. Mulvey mentioned the synergies with Sport Northern Ireland and that there cannot be duplication. Do boxers and athletes in Northern Ireland receive grants from both Sport Northern Ireland and Sport Ireland, while their counterparts in the Republic do not?

Is that still the case?

Mr. Kieran Mulvey

On the issue of governance, the sports council had to undergo a certain governance review in light of other developments. That was conducted for us by the governance specialists in the Institute of Public Administration. They made a number of observations we have incorporated and agreed, and that relates to a lacuna that existed in our organisation about what needed to be done.

We provide governance and code of ethics courses for the national governing bodies, NGBs, of sport. The kernel of the issue is that without appropriate governance, transparency and accountability, everything goes for naught. If they are not established, clear and understood, all the rest becomes tangential. We need structures that are conscious of and conform to normal governance standards. These organisations get substantial amounts of taxpayers' money and that must be accounted for. That is a requirement and necessary.

With respect to the issue with the Irish Amateur Boxing Association, IABA, in my five years as chairman of the Irish Sports Council, it is my view that what we have been trying to manage is a dysfunctional arrangement. I am putting it mildly when I say that. The history with the Irish Amateur Boxing Association is long and there have been problems in successive years prior to and during my time in this job. It is around issues of governance and how the organisation is run at a national level.

I want to make a particular point regarding my interview last night. It was not included in the publicised section but I made an issue about future funding and requirements around a review of engagements. I am not threatening any boxer, coach or club; they will be protected by us. I am saying we are not happy at the top level about how this organisation is being run and its engagement with the "head coach". It does not even call him the director of high performance, which is the post for which we approved funding. We are not happy with the way, since last February, negotiations - or no negotiations - have been concluded. Gross disrespect has been shown to us and the Minister in this matter, and it cannot be allowed to go on. The IABA is a totally funded body, with almost €2 million going in between capital, equipment and day-to-day expenses. It is not about the boxers, clubs or coaches. We are delighted with the calibre of boxers and coaches and the social inclusion that the sport brings in our community. We have a serious problem with the individuals leading this organisation.

How is it we have got to this stage? How did it happen 24 hours before Mr. Billy Walsh departs to the United States to take up an appointment that puts him in direct opposition to Ireland in male and female boxing? We are allowing the best boxing coach in the world to leave and all the organisation gave was one paragraph, saying in effect, "Thank you very much and good-bye, and by the way there is a load of other people ready to take the job". I have never seen such crocodile tears in all my life.

Is it the case that the agreement hammered out verbally changed when it went to contract?

Mr. Kieran Mulvey

I will speak about the deal hammered out. It was not verbal. I am in this business for a long time. Deputies will know that people write down what was agreed. This was agreed and we shook hands on it but it then disappeared in some ether in the IABA of sub-committees or whatever. I do not know and we have never had an adequate explanation.

When was that agreement made? Was it just last week?

Mr. Kieran Mulvey

No, this was on 22 August. We were so concerned about this at council level that I asked council to meet representatives in the IABA as a matter of urgency. We met them at our request. That followed a series of engagements going back to last February. I met them on 20 August along with the chief executive; Mr. Paul McDermott, the high performance and NGB liaison officer with the sports council; Mr. Bernard Allen, vice chairman of the council, former Minister of State with responsibility for sport and former Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts; and Mr. Liam Sheedy, who would be known to members in GAA circles and is chairman of our high performance committee. We put the point to them as to how urgent and essential it was that this should be resolved, as Mr. Walsh had an offer from the United States, which he had not accepted or signed. We needed to move. I got so upset at that meeting that towards the end, I had to ask the directors present if they wanted to keep Mr. Walsh. I got an answer of "Yes". After that meeting, I consulted with colleagues and said it was the most unconvincing "Yes" I have heard in my professional career.

We then insisted that they would meet with us as a matter of urgency within the next 48 hours. I cancelled other arrangements and scheduled at meeting on the Saturday morning in the Clayton Hotel in Leopardstown. Over three or four hours, the meeting took place with Mr. Walsh present, along with the chief executive of the IABA and a board of directors member. I thought the chairman would have at least attended but he did not. I do not know the reason he did not. I attended because I thought it so important. We negotiated a deal over four hours and shook hands and that was to be brought back to the board of directors of the IABA for approval. We were told on one day it would be done but on Monday evening we were told that a sub-committee had decided it would not be put to the board. After that, the issue cascaded.

The Minister called us together in Athlone and I attended the meeting. We heard all the good noises to the effect that the issue would be sorted out and Mr. Walsh would be given a new contract. His permanent contract would be changed to a fixed-term contract. Everything would be okay. The Minister was assured, right up to the weekend, that everything would be all right. It may be for another occasion but the issue was what they were asking Mr. Walsh to do on the non-financial side; there was no problem with the financial aspects, as we, through the State and taxpayers, would have been funding it. I will give an example of a non-financial issue. The high performance or head coach could not engage with the Olympic Council of Ireland, the Irish Sports Council or the media without the written permission of the chief executive officer. We do not operate on that basis. There are meetings on a weekly or monthly basis. Imagine an organisation saying this to its chief coach. Imagine Joe Schmidt being told he had to contact Mr. Philip Browne every time he selected a team, made a decision or talked to the media.

This is unconscionable and unacceptable. I am sorry to be very strong about this but we are losing the best coach in this area. I do not mind if there are other good coaches. We have the best man, who has been poached by the United States with oceans of money. It is not the first time Mr. Walsh has been approached. What do we do on the eve of the Olympics? We let him go.

It cannot be retrieved now.

Mr. Kieran Mulvey

I settle things sometimes at 5 a.m., 6 a.m. or 7 a.m., before the aeroplanes, trains, buses or other things start to run. I do not give up until the fat lady sings. I do not know if Mr. Walsh has signed a contract. He is going to the United States and the organisation has clearly told him good bye and good luck. Even if he did sign a contract, we would end up managing it for the next five years. That is how bad it is.

I have heard many incredible stories over the years as I am involved with sport but never anything like that. Thank you for articulating that account.

I thank Mr. Mulvey for his presentation. He has been before the committee before and his reputation precedes him. My party will absolutely support his appointment as chair of Sport Ireland. We are fortunate to have somebody of his calibre, skills and patience to take on the job at hand. Ordinarily, the witness would be able to leave meetings of this kind quite speedily but, unfortunately, because of what has come into sharp focus over the past number of days, as the Chairman alluded to, the issue is worthy of further discussion.

When somebody such as the witness appears before the committee, generally I ask what we can do for them as legislators. Our role, in terms of sport or any other area, is to enact laws. It is for the Government to provide funding but for us as mere parliamentarians our role is to draft legislation and improve legislation as it currently exists. The witness has set out the background to the current situation in respect of the Irish Amateur Boxing Association. Effectively, it is giving the two fingers to Mr. Mulvey as chairperson of Sports Ireland, it is giving the two fingers to the taxpayers, it has already given it to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport so it somehow believes it is insulated from reality, authority and, more important, the paymaster, the Irish people. That is appalling given the context in which we are trying to develop our high performance sports.

What changes would the witness like to see put in place to strengthen his hand as chairman of Sports Ireland to allow him go back to the individuals, the CEO, the chairman and the board of the Irish Amateur Boxing Association and to put him in a position to say it cannot continue to perform as it has been doing and if it continues to do so funding will have to be removed. Who pays the CEO of the boxing association? Who funds the chairman's trips around the world to various events? I do not know if he is paid as an executive or remunerated through expenses. It is a classic case of the green blazer brigade exercising authority for the sake of it to protect its own castle. It is continuously poking the finger in the eye of the taxpayer. It is damaging the reputation of Ireland abroad that a person of the calibre of Billy Walsh moves to the US. I have listened with interest to what he has had to say in the past couple of days. My heart goes out to him. He is imbedded in Irish sport and his heart is in it. I am taken by what he said that from the age of seven years this was the job he wanted. He has it, he has performed to the highest standard possible and he has been told, "Good luck and thanks for the dance" because a small group of green blazers will not relinquish control.

What legislation does Mr. Mulvey need as part of his armour to put him in a strengthened position where he is not just left with threatening to remove funding at a time when there are so many good athletes? Mr. Mulvey is caught between a rock and a hard place. He has good athletes who are capable of winning and all he can say is that he will hold back the money. Who suffers? It is the athletes and the reputation of the country. What suite of measures needs to be put in place, given that a dysfunctional amateur association is not living up to the standards we all expect? It has the ball and is holding on to it and in the process it is giving all of us the two fingers. It is an appalling situation. It is sad given that there are so many volunteers. In my own county I know the work that is being done by boxing coaches and people who are involved in the sport. They have played such an important role in the lives of teenagers and young people who, in many cases, might have taken another path were it not for the fact that they had the support of volunteers. There is a handful of people at the top who do so much damage to people's lives.

Who are we talking about? Can Mr. Mulvey name the executive? I am sure it is a matter of public record. I would Mr. Mulvey to tell me who is the chief executive, the chairman and the couple of directors with whom he has had most contact. He does not have to cast any aspersion on them, as I am sure he will not. He is a diplomat in that regard but let us have their names out today.

Chairman: I call Mr. Mulvey.

Mr. Kieran Mulvey

I thank Deputy Dooley for his endorsement, which I appreciate. I will have a little more time to dedicate to Sport Ireland, which has been an increasingly onerous but enjoyable task as I am due for mandatory retirement next May. Between last night and this morning I have been displaying my own frustration and anger at this debacle. No blame can be laid at the Sports Council or the Minister on this matter. We have bent over backwards with these individuals.

The Deputy asked a number of questions, one of which was if there is anything that can be done in legislation. I believe we have sufficient powers within the current legislative framework. It is a matter of political will on our behalf and on the Government's behalf. It is a matter for the board of the new Sport Ireland. I know from the board of the Irish Sports Council, with which I am still in a limbo situation, that it was very clear on what we should do. I am echoing its sentiments so I am representing its opinion. Our view is that this cannot continue. One cannot have a situation whereby the will or the genuine interest and concern of the council and the Minister, both ad idem, is ignored, and even more than ignored as the Deputy said. They have been given the two fingers.

The IABA for all practical purposes is almost totally funded by the State. It is not my intention and it will never be the intention of the board to hurt the athletes, the boxers, the coaches and the young people participating. All of those can get a guarantee from me this morning they will not be touched. We will ensure they continue to receive our support to the best financial level we can provide. My concern is that portion of the grant that is given to the IABA for central headquarter administration and cost. I am putting the marker down today and I hope I will be supported on this. We will review that for the 2016 funding round until we are assured that everything that is required from transparency and corporate practice is to our satisfaction and the satisfaction of this committee. It is no more and no less than is required because things have happened in the past, things are happenings and now we have the culmination of this. It is a long-running row. Senator Eamonn Coghlan would know it from his own membership of the council. It is not today or yesterday this arose and it is not just Billy Walsh. Others have suffered. It is not working properly, it needs to be fixed and it has to be fixed.

The Deputy asked who do we fund. I understand we fund everything, including salaries; coaches where they are professional coaches; expenses; travel; the gyms, that is, the capital; and everything else through the capital-----

It is good that Mr. Mulvey is giving the committee all that detail. It means that the expenses of the chairperson, the executive committee and the board of directors - the people I referred to as the green blazers - are funded through Sport Ireland.

Mr. Kieran Mulvey

We would give an administration fund for the running of the organisation.

How much money is that?

Mr. Kieran Mulvey

I do not know but-----

Perhaps Mr. Mulvey will come back with that information.

Mr. Kieran Mulvey

I will come back within the week and find out precisely how our funding is given and establish from the latest set of accounts how it is spent.

I thank Mr. Mulvey.

Mr. Kieran Mulvey

We pay the chief executive and we pay other administrative staff. I am not happy with the way the chief executive has performed in this matter and I am saying it bluntly here. That will be reviewed as well.

Can Mr. Mulvey name the chief executive and the chairperson?

Mr. Kieran Mulvey

Mr. Fergal Carruth. The chairman, Mr. Joe Christle, is not a full-time chairman.

Mr. Kieran Mulvey

Joe Christle.

Is he getting some money as well?

Mr. Kieran Mulvey

I do not know that.

At a minimum, is he getting expenses?

Mr. Kieran Mulvey

I assume he gets some expenses for attendance but I do not know that.

I thank Deputy Dooley. I call Senator Eamonn Coghlan.

I welcome Mr. Mulvey to the committee. From a personal perspective and in my role as a Senator, I thank Mr. Mulvey for his leadership of and dedication to the Irish Sports Council since his appointment. Having been on the board of the Irish Sports Council and having chaired the high performance committee I have witnessed at first hand exactly what the Irish Sports Council has delivered.

Subject to the approval I have no doubt will be forthcoming, I wish Mr. Mulvey and the board the best of luck with Sport Ireland. The Irish Sports Council transformed Irish sport following its establishment in 1999, in particular over the last eight years when it has asked all the national governing bodies to step up to the plate. Where it established criteria for them to be professionalised, most of them have met them. I have seen the transformation of the high performance programme in all sports through to participation in sport in Ireland and coach education. Last Saturday week, I was in at the sports campus and I was never so envious in all my life. It is 30 years too late for me. When I saw the new national indoor arena under construction, I said "Wow" and wished it had been there all those years ago. The facilities are a monument to the people of Ireland, not just the high-performance sportspeople. The public will be able to use those facilities. Having all the NGBs located on campus will be brilliant. They will be able to share knowledge and think and act big. They will raise their level of thinking in world terms to a higher bar.

Each week, we celebrate great Irish sporting performances by individuals and teams all around the world. Sometimes, we cry a little bit when we do not make the semi-final of the Rugby World Cup. The saddest story of all this year was the resignation of Billy Walsh over the last number of days. I have known Billy for many years and understand exactly what has been going on for the past seven years. I have two simple questions for Mr. Mulvey, who may reiterate what he has already said. I know it is not about money because looking at what Mr. Mulvey has shown us, he should be getting double the salary. Given that he is not looking for money, what is Billy looking for? What is the IABA so resistant about giving him? What is it that they will not give Billy? The other question relates to the Chairman's point and the relationship with Sport Northern Ireland. There was some contention with athletes from the Republic of Ireland who felt that while they were getting nice funding from the Irish Sports Council, Olympians and Paralympians in the North of Ireland could get double funding. That was being addressed a few years ago. What is the situation with regard to that double funding and have any decisions been made about it?

Mr. Kieran Mulvey

I thank the Senator for his kind words. I enjoyed a period of time working with the Senator before his appointment to the Oireachtas. Senator Coghlan asked what Billy Walsh was looking for. I think he was looking for respect and, my God, did he deserve it. The second thing he wanted was reasonable authority to run the high performance programme without petty bureaucratic interference day in and day out. They were the two core issues with him. I gave a flavour of what the IABA was looking for in the new contract. How can one have a situation in Doha where a boxer wins a world medal and he turns to Des Cahill to say, "I cannot be interviewed. I have to get written permission from the chief executive". There is a lot said. That exposes a mentality to me. From what I know and understand of what was going on, it was constantly to chip back at whatever authority Billy had achieved within the organisation, albeit that authority was not enormous.

There is a feeling I get sometimes from meeting with the IABA that there is a resentment of the high performance unit and the resources that go to it. It is not out of kilter with the balance in other sports. We maintain that balance. Participation is vitally important. It is not about elites but participation. We develop elites out of participation and that is vital. When we get elite talent, we nurture and care for it by providing the facilities. Senator Coghlan had to go abroad to do it, but athletes no longer have to do that in a lot of sports. We have to arrange for training abroad, but it is not the first criterion.

In regard to the double funding issue, I am not as familiar with that as I should be. We have discussed the matter with Sport Northern Ireland and there is a further meeting this morning. We have to watch that we are not doubly funding. We have a proper and reasonably generous podium finish for our elite athletes on the basis of performance and that is important. The issue in Sport Northern Ireland is a bit more sensitive because we have Team GB who are predators about certain athletes on our island. Team GB has medalled people at gold, silver and bronze at world, Commonwealth and Olympic games on the basis of dual nationality in Northern Ireland. It is a sensitive issue. We must ensure that those we fund in all-Ireland sports are not disadvantaged vis-à-vis the incentives and opportunities that may be available from across the water. It is highly competitive. Team GB sees the GB as GB, with Northern Ireland as an element of that.

I thank Mr. Mulvey for his presentation and wish him the best. I respect his honesty. He was passionate about the way he sees this. I was surprised that he was so straightforward in terms of what has happened. It is a great pity that we have Mr. Mulvey here to talk about all the issues around Sport Ireland but have ended up debating the whole Billy Walsh issue. I will touch on it briefly, but it seems that there will be two casualties. It looks as though the IABA is untenable from what Mr. Mulvey says. Its position is untenable into the future one way or another whatever happens with Billy Walsh. It is deeply insulting that anyone would ask a manager or someone in charge not to have an interview. I can imagine what would happen if someone told Joe Schmidt that he could not be interviewed. That is his job and part of the way a manager runs things. We are going to lose a fantastic man whose record is second to none and it is all down to bureaucracy and positions and people wanting to wield a bit of power. I will say no more on that. I am so disappointed with the IABA.

The sports campus is on the edge of my constituency and is an outstanding facility. With all the different sports that are going in there, it will have a huge impact over time. What other sports does Mr. Mulvey consider need to be addressed from a long-term point of view? There are a lot of sports. I am into karate which is one of the things I have been doing all my life. It is not really recognised in the Olympics. There is also the Irish trotting issue. We have horse racing and the conflict with trotting trying to get on the map, notwithstanding that it is big as a sport in other European countries and in the USA. What is Mr. Mulvey's opinion on some of this? We have not mentioned the Paralympics and our huge successes there. In general terms, we are punching above our weight as a country.

I want to ask about the all-Ireland approach. There is Sport Northern Ireland. The debate many years ago was about an all-Ireland soccer team. We have an all-Ireland rugby team. Is it Mr. Mulvey's intention to engage in that argument again? We should have an all-Ireland soccer team. It should be back on the table for discussion. It is something Mr. Mulvey might let us know about.

We are trying to push the health message to schools. There are issues of obesity for many pupils. Can Mr. Mulvey give us an idea of how Sport Ireland works regarding the different schools and getting the message out?

Mr. Kieran Mulvey

I thank Deputy Ellis for his comments. Sometimes, when one sees something happen that should not happen, anger can come out. I watched Mr. Billy Walsh this week. Deputy Dooley has said that here was a man forced into exile because Mr. Walsh did not want to go. It is as W.B. Yeats said a century ago:

The beating down of the wise

And great art beaten down

What is in us that we cannot recognise, reward and honour success? We may not be unique in that but my God we do it with a flourish - but that is a personal view.

I will now turn to the issue of minority sports, including karate and so on. It is our hope that the dedicated training facilities of the Irish Institute of Sport will be available to all sports. There is an area specifically for boxing which could be utilised by karate and other sports which use the same mats, the same ring and the same training arrangements. It would be useful if the committee could arrange a visit in order to view the facilities.

I have seen some of the developments. The committee has it on the list of things to do and we will make a visit.

Mr. Kieran Mulvey

I understand that trotting is very big in France now. There are 500 acres at the National Sports Campus with a lot of new road space and trail space so perhaps some arrangement could be entered into.

I raised the point because there is a huge conflict between the general sporting industry and the horse racing industry in trying to prevent it getting a grip in the way that it is a big sport in America, Wales and France. It is also very commercial.

Mr. Kieran Mulvey

In my written statement I referred to the issue of obesity and health. We are facing an obesity crisis among our young people. Some of the major ways to avoid obesity are exercise, appropriate diet and food intake and engagement in sport. That many of our young people are spending more time in front of a laptop, iPad or computer rather than being outside is an issue that needs to be addressed. It is a health promotion issue, a sport issue and a cross-departmental issue and we are going to have to create more initiatives around that. Sport Ireland is conscious of this and we have held discussions about it from the health promotion perspective. We need to structure it and roll it out on a larger scale in order to inform people about what can be done. At the other end of the spectrum, we need to educate older people about the benefits of exercise for the prevention and treatment of adult diabetes and for heart health through cardio exercises.

I will now turn to the matter of all-island co-operation. Deputy Ellis would be very aware of the sensitivities around this issue. The relationship between Sport Ireland and Sport Northern Ireland is excellent. I have a very good personal relationship with the chairman of the latter and there is good communication between our chief executives and our boards. The important element is that our boards would meet. Our Ministers and ourselves met recently at Slieve Donard for a breakfast meeting about a European network arrangement around which there is much positivity.

Some sports, such as athletics, cricket, hockey and rugby, have an all-island history which precedes the War of Independence and the Special Olympics and the Paralympics are run on an all-island basis. I will be blunt about it - in Northern Ireland the big issue is what school one went to and where one's political or national loyalties may lie. It is a sensitive matter.

Reference was made to an all-island soccer team. I had thought that it might be feasible but when both teams were in the doldrums it became more difficult. With the tremendous success of the Northern Ireland soccer team I cannot see them wanting to euphorically join up with the Republic of Ireland team anytime soon. I hope we will succeed in our match against Bosnia. We once had a united Ireland team when we played against Brazil under Derek Dougan. He was in there in Dalymount on that marvellous, excellent and wonderful day. However, issues and tensions remain around the idea of a united Ireland soccer team. Perhaps an international body such as UEFA - I do not want to mention FIFA yet - could liaise with the representatives about "the home countries" being too big. With the break-up of the Balkans and with new states emerging, that issue has died a death as the governing body wants everybody in, no matter how small they might be. However, the two O'Neills might be able to talk to one another.

I thank Mr. Mulvey.

I thank Mr. Mulvey for his presentation. I wish him well in his new position, it will be an exciting role. I agree with Deputy Ellis that it is good of Mr. Mulvey to come before the committee and be so honest with us. Such honesty is needed within sport and across all bodies.

Mr. Mulvey referred to female participation in sport. Women's Gaelic football is one of the fastest-growing female sports in Ireland. However, there is a disconnect between the two organisations - the Ladies Gaelic Football Association and the GAA - involved in its administration. People may not realise there are two associations and I will give an example. A new state-of-the-art centre of excellence opened in Meath last month. It has fantastic football grounds, sporting facilities and a dedicated sports building. There was a big event with minor sports and junior sporting activities happening all day. However, I left half way through the event because 15 km away in Navan, the intermediate junior and senior ladies Gaelic football finals were taking place. One would imagine that steps would have been taken to ensure those two events did not take place on the same day. There seems to be a breakdown and I do not know if one could place blame with one organisation. Does Mr. Mulvey feel that something could be done in that kind of situation? Mr. Mulvey referred to the hundreds of millions of euro invested in sporting facilities and the GAA would be one of the beneficiaries of that investment. I understand that women may pay higher rates of insurance per player to play on the pitches so I would appreciate comment from Mr. Mulvey on that.

Mr. Kieran Mulvey

I thank Deputy McEntee for her comments. I always approach GAA matters with a certain tiptoe attitude since the Chairman would be very familiar with the GAA. There is the Ladies Gaelic Football Association, LGFA, then there is the Camogie Association and the GAA, which seem to operate effectively within one organisation. I believe the GAA would like a merged organisation. From a funding point of view, we would like a merged GAA as we would prefer to fund a single body. That body would then decide what needs to be done. Senator Eamonn Coghlan would be aware of that as a policy and that the Sports Council prefers one fund for one body.

I understand that the LGFA fears it could potentially become absorbed in the merged organisation and lose its unique voice. In Helen O'Rourke, it has an excellent representative who bends my ear whenever she meets me about the importance of ladies' Gaelic football retaining its identity. We have discussed the one funding principle and the synergies with Paraic Duffy and with the president of the GAA and it will arise again in the next funding round. Sport Ireland will not force the position because it is a matter for discussion and a sensitive area. I am sure the LGFA would be of the view that it might not be to its advantage to be deprived of separate funding. We must listen to its view.

We must also address the formation of the Women's Gaelic Players Association, WGPA.

They will be seeking similar pro rata funding arrangements as their colleagues in the GPA, whom we fund to the tune of almost €1 million a year. I assure the Deputy that it will be a live issue in the coming months. It is an issue that is not going to and should not go away. It must be addressed. This issue has also arisen for the IRFU with regard to the funding of the international women's rugby team for potential Olympic participation. It arises for the FAI and other sports as well. We have been trying to develop the Women in Sport programme in addition to the other funding. I need to tread very carefully in this area. If we are to achieve satisfaction for all groups, it will require some delicate footwork - if I can use that phrase - in light of the legitimate interests of both sides.

I welcome Mr. Mulvey. Although I do not know him, I must say I was impressed by his straightforward and honest contribution to a television programme he appeared on last night. It seemed to come from the heart, which is not something we encounter in bucketfuls around this place. It was good and refreshing to see someone so impressive whose heart is in the right place.

We all know we have a problem. How do we solve that problem? The next phase needs a leader or someone to solve the problem. Is there some way that the Irish Sports Council or another body could take over the high-performance team in order to ensure that the boxers who represent our country are given every facility and every opportunity to compete with the best in the world? Has Mr. Mulvey or anyone associated with him contacted Billy Walsh? Is all of this being done through the media? Is it a case of "I said, you said"? Has anyone made contact to ask whether the clock can be stopped so that those involved can sit down to solve this problem? If the issue at stake is not money, I think the problem can be solved. From what I understand, it is not about money. That is what I believe on the basis of what I have heard everyone saying. We are where we are. We need to resolve the problem.

Perhaps I should bring Deputy Fitzmaurice up to date. Mr. Mulvey has told the committee that he and his colleagues met Billy Walsh directly at various stages in recent months.

Yes. Can something be done regarding the high-performance team? Perhaps some other body could take it over. Can Mr. Mulvey intervene now, even at this late stage, by putting his neck on the line to ensure this is pulled out of the fire? I ask him to intervene with our boxers, Billy Walsh and whomever else in order to ensure that common sense prevails so that we can go forward to the next Olympics in the best possible position.

Mr. Kieran Mulvey

I thank Deputy Fitzmaurice. I think we might share the same province and the same hinterland as the Chairman of the committee. I thought I put it as plainly as I could last night. I also put it in such terms previously when I spoke directly to the IABA about its engagements with Mr. Walsh and my negotiations with him. The Deputy has asked a direct question. My view on this matter can largely be summarised by repeating that last night I asked the IABA to contact Billy Walsh to give him the contract and the terms we agreed. The Deputy is quite right. That is what the IABA, as the employer, should do. I am not the employer. I am responsible for the funding provided by the taxpayer through the Oireachtas. If the IABA cannot understand what I said last night, we have a real problem. I think I said it as plainly as I could, as people from our part of the country sometimes do. The IABA did not hear anything last night that I had not previously said to it across the table. It allowed this matter to drift. It said it was in negotiations. Then the solicitors on both sides got involved. I know that anyone who has dealt with the IABA in these negotiations, including human resources consultants and legal personnel, have found it to be the most frustrating experience they have ever had. That mirrors my own experience.

The IABA needs to decide whether it wants Billy Walsh. It appears that it does not, given that it has brought the matter to this level. It has allowed this poker game to go to the ultimate point that has been reached by Billy Walsh out of sheer frustration. The president of the IABA told the Minister of State with responsibility for sport last weekend that this matter would be resolved - that everything was all right and that it would be done. We found on Monday morning that it was not done. As I said last night, it is not about the financials because they have all been thrashed out and paid for by the Irish Sports Council on behalf of the taxpayer. Deputy Fitzmaurice is quite right in that regard. It is about all the other indignities that have added to this problem. There were problems in the United Kingdom with regard to high performance. The UK authorities took boxing out of the high-performance system and put it into a dedicated centre in Sheffield. We have a dedicated centre for high-performance boxing in the new institute. That is going to be on the agenda.

Perhaps I could come in at this point because I am due to speak in the Seanad.

I have to follow the order. I will call Deputy Harrington, followed by-----

I indicated immediately.

The committee has agreed an order since the beginning of the year and I follow that order to the letter. I call Deputy Harrington.

Three Government representatives will have spoken.

The order is Fianna Fáil, followed by the Government. That was agreed here by Opposition and Government members of the committee.

We had Sinn Féin as well.

I call Deputy Harrington.

I welcome Mr. Mulvey's presentation.

I ask the Deputy to be brief so that everyone can get in.

I will. I cannot think of anyone more suited to this role than Mr. Mulvey. I fully support his stewardship of Sport Ireland. I would like to ask a question about that body. It is possible that the 2023 Rugby World Cup will potentially be held in Ireland. Is Sport Ireland going to be involved in that process?

The issue of governance is a core one for an Oireachtas committee because public money is being channelled through the Irish Sports Council to the IABA. That is a fundamental issue for this committee. Mr. Mulvey has gone through it. When one looks at the members of the board of the IABA, one thinks on the face of it that they look like people of calibre. The board includes legal representatives, business people, solicitors, managers, building contractors and people involved in boxing and other sports. They should know from their own experiences about their governance responsibilities with respect to public funds and all the rest of it. Does Mr. Mulvey think it would be appropriate at this time to have representatives of Sports Ireland or the Irish Sports Council, or people nominated by them, sitting on the boards of the national governing bodies to oversee how public money is being spent through the governing bodies and to report back directly to Sports Ireland, the Irish Sports Council or the Oireachtas? It seems that this is not just an IABA issue - it could well be an issue in respect of all the national governing bodies. When a dispute like this happens, there seems to be a real disconnect when it comes to accountability for public money. In this case, the Minister for sport has got involved and has clearly been left deeply frustrated. Similar examples can be seen globally. Mr. Mulvey has touched on what has happened in the high-performance units in Britain. We are aware of what has happened in FIFA. Do we have any idea of what the IABA's sponsors think about all of this? If I was sponsoring the IABA, or if someone I knew was sponsoring it, I would not be best pleased about the controversy that has blown up in front of that organisation. I ask Mr. Mulvey to comment purely on the governance issue. Does he have views on how this difficulty could be dealt with in that respect?

I will take the other questioners at this time as well. I call Senator Mooney.

It is always a pleasure to listen to Mr. Mulvey. When I made my initial remarks about the 15-page presentation, I should have realised that, unsurprisingly, he was able to parse it effectively and well. I have read it all, by the way. It is an excellent document.

It is a blueprint for going forward.

I do not wish to further exhaust the well on the issue of the IABA. However, Mr. Mulvey has made his position perfectly clear. The committee agreed to my earlier proposal that it would invite both the Irish Sports Council and the IABA to come before it. I am not so sure there is necessity for representatives from the Irish Sports Council to appear. However, it is still relevant to have the IABA in because I believe it should be called to account, especially in light of the fact that its total funding comes from the taxpayer. It is accountable - whether it likes it or not - to this Oireachtas, to the Minister, by extension, and to the taxpayer. Mr. Mulvey has made his position clear. I agree with the views he has expressed at this meeting as well as his other recent comments on the high-performance unit and the matter of how he will deal with that in its relationship with the IABA. He is going to have to play hardball on this. Obviously, he is dealing with Neanderthals, dinosaurs, people who are not living in the real world in terms of sport.

We are all delighted with the Northern Ireland soccer team’s success in the European football championships. Any sports-loving person will be cheering on Northern Ireland next summer, as well as the Republic, hopefully. I would not like Mr. Mulvey to take his eye off the ball with the ongoing dialogue, albeit beneath the surface, in respect of an all-island team, however. I have been involved in this, no more than others, through my membership of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly going back 15 years. Any time I raised this issue on Northern Ireland radio or television, one would believe I was being accused of treason. There is this sensitivity, as if one were proposing a takeover. The Irish rugby team plays in the green jersey and it is an all-island team. Why should the soccer team not play as one?

I know Mr. Mulvey has exhausted this but I still believe the single most significant movement that can be made towards unifying the peoples of the two parts of this island would be if we had an all-island soccer team. The worst reflection of sectarianism is in the sport of soccer. One need only look at the media reaction to Northern Ireland winning when they went into the two divided communities. The different reactions in the two communities were as if they were living in two different worlds. Catholics just do not support the Northern Ireland soccer team because it plays its home games in a cold place. Windsor Park is a cold place for Catholics and Nationalists. That is sad. I know the Northern Ireland soccer federation is doing its best to try to eliminate that. I hope, however, that this matter will be kept on the agenda by Mr. Mulvey. There never is a good time. The fact the Northern Ireland team qualified on this occasion - hopefully, we will too - is because of the expansion of the European championships to promote smaller countries. It might not happen with the World Cup, however, and it might be a long time before either part of this island qualifies for another international competition.

What is Mr. Mulvey’s view on minority sports? There are 67 different governing sports bodies. One need only think of the success we have had in sports which have received limited funding, relative to the big ones such as GAA, rugby and boxing. There was the excitement created by Annalise Murphy when we were all hoping she would win an Olympic gold medal in sailing in 2012. I know we are an island nation but sailing is not a sport that springs to mind. There is the success of the cricketing team and we came fourth in kayaking at the Olympics. Some years ago, Team GB decided it was going to invest more money in minority sports because it felt, even for a nation much larger than us, there were greater chances of success internationally by promoting some of those sports. Does Mr. Mulvey share that same view? Do we tend to look at the marquee sports when we might have more of an opportunity of winning medals internationally in minority sports? Will he identify those particular sports, encourage them and fund them more?

I have no difficulty with Northern Ireland athletes being double-funded. Mr. Mulvey is correct that it is a hugely competitive area and they are poaching our people. There are people from Northern Ireland who have gone with Team GB and won medals. If a double-funding mechanism is in place because of the unique nature of this island’s make-up, then why not? Good luck to them because sportspeople need as many financial resources as they can get. I know it is a disadvantage from a Southern perspective but, in the overall context, I do not see any difficulty.

I am delighted Mr. Mulvey has been appointed to this particular role, as there could not be a better person for it. I wish him continued success and look forward to further engagement with him.

I welcome Mr. Mulvey. I first came across his name when I was studying the business course for the leaving certificate in the previous century. I acknowledge his vast experience and I am sure he will do a fantastic job in this role.

I give my full support to his approach to the IABA. He needs to use everything in his power, even at this late stage, to retain the services of Mr. Billy Walsh. His record is outstanding and he is a world leader in the discipline. I support Mr. Mulvey’s effort to use every bargaining chip he possesses.

What is Mr. Mulvey’s vision for increased participation in sports for people with disabilities? How best can we use existing facilities and human resources networks, for example, organisations such as the GAA, the strongest of all our sporting organisations, to encourage more people with disabilities to participate in sport? Can we build on the work done by Special Olympics Ireland and other such organisations?

Mr. Kieran Mulvey

To me, the issue of governance is paramount. If one does not have governance, the role I am obliged to perform for this committee and the Oireachtas falls. Most problems start with governance. If governance is not proper and right, it infects an organisation all the way down. I am very conscious that it is hard-earned taxpayers’ money at stake here. We always have to strike a delicate line between oversight and interference. This is one of the issues around which the Irish Sports Council in the past may have had some difficulties. When we see the system of appointment of chief executives, high-performance directors or other staff not done in an appropriate and transparent fashion, it is very hard for us to get involved in the employment relationship, even though we may be funding the outcome. It is a delicate balance.

Do we put people on the boards of the national governing bodies? That has not really arisen. Up to 95% of the national governing bodies operate effectively and have very good boards and chief executives. They have made monumental changes in the past five years. We put on courses on governance, its requirements, codes of practice, as well as financial and reporting accountability. We need to retain that balance. It is only when we encounter an issue such as that which we addressed this morning that it is highlighted. I do not want to put that in the context against the 95% of organisations with which we do not have a problem.

We also audit organisations each year. We will select several organisations for audit. They do not know it. We tell them they will be audited in a particular year, in three-year cycles.

That is how we get through all the national governing bodies of sport, NGBs, and it is done by our independent auditors, who we procure by public advertisement for that purpose. It is a separate reporting mechanism. I take the point that sometimes it would be good to have a presence on the board, but we might then run into issues of autonomy, interference and so on. It is a question of achieving balance and it is problems like these that bring the issue to the fore.

On the question of the national soccer team, the phrase "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread" comes to mind. I lived in Northern Ireland for a while and saw the situation there at first hand. One must always keep in mind that one person's sport is another person's antipathy. Whereas we have had major achievements in terms of co-operation in rugby, hockey, cricket and other sports-----

Practically every sport with the exception of soccer is done on all-island basis.

Mr. Kieran Mulvey

Yes, and that exception is down to raw emotion. I have been in Windsor Park on good nights and on bad nights. The atmosphere can be challenging at times, let me put it that way. This is an issue I assume the Football Association of Ireland, FAI, and the Irish Football Association, IFA, are working on themselves. Together with our colleagues in the North, we act as facilitators and are happy to assist in any engagements that take place. It is an important aspect of what we do.

Senator Mooney also had a question to do with minority sports, which is an issue we do keep on our radar. We apportion funding sometimes on the basis of participation, sometimes on the basis of competition, sometimes in respect of facilities and sometimes around performance. There is no doubt that in recent years, new athletes in new sports have come to prominence. The build-up of cycling, for example, has been enormous; hence the need for the velodrome. The Senator is correct that Team GB has targeted the two sports of cycling and rowing in particular, and one can see the haul it has taken out of them. It used to be just Oxford and Cambridge in the boat race, but now there is so much more going on. We were a great rowing nation in the past. We all remember the achievements of Seán Drea and others.

We had Frances Cryan in Carrick-on-Shannon.

Mr. Kieran Mulvey

Yes. Rowing is coming back to prominence because of the facility that has been created in Cork.

In regard to judo, our problem at the moment is that Lisa Kearney has suffered an injury that will put her out of the Olympics. She was our great hope, having won medals in European and other competitions. Sometimes it is the case that one is relying on one athlete in a particular sport. Arthur Lanigan-O'Keeffe is someone who is coming through almost out of the fog. We are doing our best to bring athletes on within the different sports by funding them and their high-performance directors. We have a broad church and we take a broad church view.

In the context of facilitation, is it the case that the high-performance directors identify the athletes and bring them to the attention of the Irish Sports Council or does the council initiate that type of engagement?

Mr. Kieran Mulvey

We initiate it to some degree. We meet with representatives of each of the NGBs every year and look at their targets, performance, emerging talent efforts and so on. We have that engagement going on all the time. Largely, however, we need the NGBs to come to us and tell us what they are doing. We can then give them assistance to put a plan together and we will examine that plan.

In the context of disabilities, as referred to by Deputy Griffin, I am very conscious of the work of Special Olympics Ireland. Indeed, I was very involved in that even before I was on the Irish Sports Council. We gave Special Olympics Ireland a special grant this year of €0.25 million, in excess of its existing grant funding, to ensure we could have a tremendous presence in Los Angeles. That was on top of the normal allocation. To clarify, we provide Special Olympics Ireland with special funding for the annual games and, in addition, special funding for the international games. One cannot put a price on what has been achieved by that body.

Paralympics Ireland is our most successful sporting body in that we fund more podium finishes in paralympics that we do in athletics. In fact, the Irish paralympics team has podium finished at Olympic and World Games beyond our expectations. We take an all-inclusive approach with that body and work closely with it.

I take the Deputy's point about the big field sports and the need for inclusivity in terms of access to facilities and so on. It is an issue I will take on board. I have not directly approached the NGBs about it but organisations like the Irish Rugby Football Association, FAI and Gaelic Athletic Association certainly are very conscious of it. One of the ways to facilitate that type of inclusivity is by requiring all capital facilities to have full disability access.

There is a great opportunity in that we have these fantastic organisations which are doing brilliant work in nearly every community in the country. In the case of the GAA, certainly, work is going on in every community, and the other organisations are active in most towns and villages. There is an open goal to be scored in terms of availing of the great infrastructure that is already in place to do more.

Mr. Kieran Mulvey

It was awe-inspiring recently to watch able-bodied athletes sit in wheelchairs alongside disabled athletes and play football, basketball and so on. That type of engagement leads to greater integration, as do the great achievements of people like Mark Rohan.

Mr. Mulvey might try to bring the organisations together to hammer out something for the future?

Mr. Kieran Mulvey

Is the Deputy suggesting a national strategy?

Yes, that would be fantastic.

Mr. Kieran Mulvey

I certainly will take that suggestion on board.

I thank Mr. Mulvey.

Everybody has had an opportunity now to put questions to the witness. I thank Mr. Mulvey for joining us today for what has been a very worthwhile engagement. I appreciate that he did not sit on any fences this morning; it is refreshing to have a witness be so direct and to the point. We will forward a transcript of the proceedings to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport for his information and consideration. We can take it that Mr. Mulvey's appointment will be confirmed and, as such, we wish him well in his role. We thank him for all the work he has already done and the leadership he has shown. He referred to the possibility of his retiring in some capacities next year. He might be interested to know there is legislation going through the Dáil which will permit people to stay in public roles for longer.

We would appreciate something like that ourselves.

I wish Mr. Mulvey the best of luck for the future.

Mr. Kieran Mulvey

I thank the Chairman and members for the opportunity to engage with them and for the courtesies they have shown me in the past. I do not take the committee's endorsement lightly. Indeed, I am humbled by and appreciative of it. In accepting this or any similar post, I am accepting the honour and privilege of serving the State and the people of Ireland.

Thank you, Mr. Mulvey. We will suspend for a few minutes before bringing in the next group of witnesses.

Sitting suspended at 11.40 a.m. and resumed at 11.45 a.m.