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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 18 Oct 2000

Vol. 164 No. 3

Sports Policy: Statements.

I convey my thanks to the Leas-Cathaoirleach and Members of Seanad Éireann for the opportunity to take part in this discussion on Irish sports policy and on the issues currently impacting on sport here.

The fact that this debate is taking place is entirely appropriate and timely as we look back on the Olympic Games in Sydney and set about reviewing the supports, programmes and schemes currently in place with the assistance of funding from the State. Mention of the Sydney Games prompts me to draw attention to the fact that the Paralympics are getting under way in Sydney and another dedicated team of Irish competitors will be setting about their challenge of meeting and competing with the cream of the world's elite.

Given certain ill-informed comment in the national press recently, I take this opportunity to record the fact that over the past three years the Paralympic Council and the national governing bodies of sport catering specifically for paralympic athletes have been grant-aided to the tune of £1,031,000. To help cater for special expenditure arising from the Sydney Games, the grant to those governing bodies this year was just under £483,000. Given that the funding provided fully covered the cost of sending the Irish paralympic team to Syd ney, this is the first time in the history of the Paralympics that those involved in the Paralympics did not have to fund-raise to cover the cost of sending a team to the games. That point was covered in a recent letter I received from the secretary of the Paralympics Association. She thanked the Government and the Irish Sports Council for the fact that this was the first time they did not have to fund-raise to cover the cost of travel to the Paralympics in Sydney.

I am sure Members of Seanad Éireann will join me in placing on record our admiration and respect for all of those involved with Irish paralympic sports – the athletes, coaches, mentors and management – who have such a proud record of dedication, commitment and achievement at the highest level of world competition. Accordingly, I take this opportunity to wish our team every success and enjoyment in Sydney. The Minister of State at my Department, Deputy Eoin Ryan, will represent the Government at the games and there were no difficulties about the accreditation sought from the Paralympic Council. I cannot fathom how reporters, such as one who wrote the article I have here, can write such rubbish in our newspapers, non-factual rubbish, without telling people the facts of the matter.

It strikes me as appropriate that at a time when an unprecedented level of funding is going into sport, with great advances in services, facilities and the support of national governing bodies of sport and of our top athletes, there is so much public comment and expressions of disappointment arising out of our team's participation in the Sydney Olympic Games.

The Government signalled its commitment to the development of sport and recreation. Through the dramatically increased level of funding allocated and the new structures and quality of services introduced during the past few years, sport is now an important sector in the realm of Government business.

In the period since this Government came into office, the development of sport has undergone dramatic changes. For example, the grants scheme for national governing bodies has been rationalised, simplified and redesigned to facilitate greater planning by those bodies to develop and promote their respective sports. A number of major improvements have also been made to the international carding scheme, which supports our top elite and developing competitors. Additionally, the Government has completed a comprehensive review of the sports capital programme.

Members will be aware that funding for sport and recreation generally has risen from £13.5 million in 1997 when this Government came into office to over £51 million this year. This increase in funding, taken together with a determination to continue to improve and extend the Irish sports infrastructure and the policies and services available to sports organisations and participants, has resulted in some significant developments in recent times.

When the Irish Sports Council was set up a little more than a year ago, my main aim was to secure a more focused and strategic approach to the promotion and development of Irish sport. In the legislation establishing the council, I envisaged an organisation that would have a positive impact right across the sporting spectrum from our elite sports people, who must be given every opportunity to develop and reach their potential, to the person who wants to take part in sport for recreation, enjoyment and socialisation purposes.

The council recently launched its strategy, A New Era for Sport, which sets out clearly its vision for sport and how it proposes to deliver on that vision. The strategy reflects my wishes in this regard.

The need to break down barriers and increase participation in sport, not only in terms of the number of people becoming involved but also in terms of continued participation throughout their lives, is central to our policy. By concentrating efforts on increasing participation in sport, we can help ensure that a life long involvement in sport is maintained in our society. The more people participate the greater the chance of excellence emerging. The better the achievement of our top sports people, the more people will be inspired to emulate them.

It is recognised at community level that there is a need for a multi-agency approach to promote sport and participation. With a co-ordinated approach, resources can be channelled into optimising participation in local communities with significant social and economic benefits to communities. As Members will be aware, the Government and the social partners made a strong commitment in the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness to support local sports partnership as a means of creating sustainable sports development infrastructure at local level.

Accordingly, I welcome the proposed establishment of local sports partnerships, as provided for in the Sports Council's statement of strategy, as being an incentive to local communities to participate in sport on a regular basis for competition, enjoyment or health reasons. These partnerships will promote local ownership by devolving the power of decision-making to the local level. This focus on local sport will impact on sports standards and develop excellence within sport. The local sports partnerships will also enhance the work of our many volunteers by giving them access to training and other supports, thereby enhancing their efforts on behalf of people in their community.

Speaking of volunteers, I once again thank those thousands of volunteers, teachers, coaches, leaders and instructors who contribute countless hours to ensure that people have the opportunity to participate in sport. Active participation in sport, whether at a competitive or recreational level, contributes greatly to the health and well being of the individual and society as a whole and if sport is to develop within Ireland, it must be fostered at a local level within all communities.

I have frequently stated that it is imperative that we retain the traditional spirit and values of sport, such as dedication and fair play. Taking drugs in order to enhance sporting abilities is contrary to the values and principles of sport and last year I launched Ireland's first ever national anti-doping programme. I am extremely pleased with the progress that the Irish sport anti-doping programme has made under the Sports Council.

In terms of sports infrastructure it is a fundamental component of the Government's sports policy that Ireland should have a network of high quality, well designed and well managed facilities throughout the country. These facilities should be available to meet the needs of competitive sport, competition, training and coaching. Facilities should also be accessible to the individuals and groups who wish to participate at the level of recreational sport, fun and socialisation. To this end, capital funding for the provision of sports and recreational facilities has been increased by over 350% since this Government took office. This increase has enabled my Department to treble the funding under the sports capital programme and to quadruple the provision for the local swimming pool programme, to provide money for the development of Ireland's first 50 metre pool in Limerick to be opened next year – another is planned for Sports Campus Ireland – to provide for £20 million towards the development of Croke Park, to upgrade and enhance major athletics facilities in Navan, Cork, Nenagh, Galway and Castleisland, to provide £4.8 million for the new state of the art indoor athletics facility being planned for Morton Stadium, Santry, to assist the improvements to GAA county grounds and League of Ireland soccer grounds around the country and, this year alone, to assist nearly 700 local clubs and organisations to provide new or improved facilities, with £36 million being allocated.

In addition, the planned facilities at Stadium Campus Ireland will add to the greatly enhanced range of sophisticated, high quality facilities now available in Ireland. I trust Senators will agree that there is now under way an ambitious programme of State assisted expansion in a wide range of sports and recreational amenities, catering for both the elite participant and the general public, right across the country.

Under the national development plan, financial assistance amounting to £85 million will be available over the seven years of the plan to support the development of community sports and recreational facilities in centres to be identified in the national spatial strategy being undertaken by the Department of the Environment and Local Government. In due course, proposals will be sought from local authorities and, where appropriate, voluntary and community organisations, for the provision or upgrading of sports and recreational facilities in the target areas.

There has been considerable expansion in terms of the direct funding of sport, the provision of sustainable, appropriate infrastructure and an enhanced range and quality of supports for national governing bodies of sport and individual top athletes. It is against this background and the under-performance of some of Ireland's competitors in Sydney that this timely debate is taking place.

It may interest Senators to learn that the total amount in grants awarded in 1995 under the then outstanding sportspersons grants scheme amounted to just £150,000. This scheme has been radically overhauled in recent years and in 1998, funding provided under the international carding scheme was £964,365 and this rose to £1,121,866 in 1999 and to £1,199,684 in this Olympic year.

The National Coaching and Training Centre in Limerick receives funding for the development and enhancement of coaching in Ireland as well as for the provision of physiological, scientific, medical and other related services for elite individual competitors and squads. To enable it to provide these services for national governing bodies and elite sports people, over £2.64 million was allocated to the centre between 1995 and 1999. In addition, the national governing bodies of sport received almost £4.7 million in the three years 1998, 1999 and 2000 specifically towards their international training and competition programmes. Canoeing, rowing and sailing received additional special grants for top level elite coaching amounting to £160,000 between 1999 and 2000.

I have publicly congratulated the members of the Irish team in Sydney. Sonia O'Sullivan was magnificent in winning the 5,000 metres silver medal and there were many other fine performances by our team, including the setting of new Irish records and the achievement of personal best performances. I have already asked the Irish Sports Council to carry out an in-depth review of our preparation for and participation in the Sydney Olympics and the supports, programmes and schemes currently in place. This review will focus also on the relationships that should exist between the many agencies involved in the preparation and participation of the team. It is intended that the review will include the National Coaching and Training Centre, the 28 national governing bodies of sport affiliated to the Olympic movement, the Olympic Council of Ireland, coaches and competitors, all of whom will be asked to contribute on the basis of their expertise and experience of these and previous Olympics.

I hope that all the bodies invited will be able to contribute constructively to the review and to use the opportunity to air opinions, including any relating to differences which may have arisen in the build-up to or in the course of the Olympic Games in Sydney. I call on all individuals and organisations concerned to approach this review in a spirit of generosity and co-operation in the interests of Irish sport, and in particular those young men and women who wear the Irish singlet with pride and determination at venues at home and throughout the world. It is my wish that this review will result in positive and constructive outcomes that will lead to an improvement in the performance of our competitors at national and international competition, not just at the Olympic Games. I hope that a more positive and supportive environment will result from these deliberations – a climate that will encourage and nurture young talent, support and respect the elite and ensure co-operation and the sharing of goals among the organisations and agencies charged with the responsibility.

I thank the Seanad for this opportunity to discuss and share opinions on sport. Sport is special to us and it is important that this debate should take place. I look forward to the debate and to hearing from Members so that their views can be taken on board as we review and plan for a productive and successful future for Irish sport.

The statement made by the Minister is very encouraging. However, I felt embarrassed for the nation on the reaction and public discussion of the Sydney Olympics. The clash between the Olympic Council of Ireland and Government policy was disturbing. In his statement the Minister said:

I have already asked the Irish Sports Council to carry out an in-depth review of our preparation for and participation in the Sydney Olympics, and the supports, programmes and schemes currently in place. This review will focus also on the relationships that should exist between the many agencies involved in the preparation and participation of the team.

Obviously that will not be easily forthcoming and the impression of people from looking at television is that it has not been forthcoming for some time.

I understand there is not a shortage of funding in terms of the moneys allocated by the Minister to particular areas, including the coaching centre in Limerick, but at the same time we must readily admit that there is no cohesion among different sports. This is a sad reflection on us all. The Minister does not have an easy job, but from what I hear and from what is happening, particularly in regional areas, I do not think cohesion will be easily brought about among the different organisations, including the GAA, the FAI and the rugby and athletic organisations. There are so many people involved in athletics the Irish Sports Council will have a job bringing about cohesion.

I wonder if money is being allocated in the best manner. Would it be better to simplify things and ensure it is channelled through one body rather than particular bodies? I do not object to the allocation of moneys but we have a great number of sports bodies. I am sad that people who participated in the Olympics admitted on television that the right facilities were not forthcoming, particularly from the Olympic Council of Ireland. It was obvious that there was not a great relationship between the Minister and the OCI – I will not use the term clash. I hope I am wrong, but I do not think I am. The statements made by the Minister in the other House last week and those made elsewhere do not bode well for the future. I understand what the Minister means when he says it will not be easy and that he hopes all organisations will be forthcoming and helpful.

There are people involved in a voluntary capacity in all sports and they deserve great credit. However, the question is how to entwine all groups together so that we can get the best from everybody. I understand what the Minister said about the elite in our sports and I know the president of the Olympic Council of Ireland made the point that only the best people should represent us at the Olympics. However, I do not think we are getting the best from people.

As a Cork person, I am very glad that Sonia O'Sullivan did so well. She richly deserved all our congratulations. Like many others, she is a credit to and a great ambassador for our country. Down through the years, with very little funding from any Government, others did well in boxing and athletics with very few facilities, including Ronnie Delaney and in 1932 O'Callaghan from Kanturk. They gave of themselves and committed themselves to it, but I do not see that the current structure allows us to get the best from all our people, irrespective of the sport.

I congratulate and wish our team which is currently performing in Sydney well. I congratulate the Minister and other people because for the first time they are not short of funding, and rightly so. Why should they be short of funding, particularly when our coffers are full?

Are we spending our money properly? Serious questions are being asked about money which will be invested in the sporting structures and stadia. Last year only 400 of the 2,000 applicants received sports funding. I am not saying they should all receive funding as I know they would seek it year after year, but the number who received funding is not a great proportion of the number of applicants, given the announcements of funding for this, that and the other. The Irish Sports Council should ensure a more centralised structure with one body having a say in terms of funding. However, I do not think we could imagine the GAA asking the Irish Sports Council for an allocation of funds. I wonder if from a political point of view it is wise, even if from a realistic viewpoint it is the right thing to do.

I read with serious concern about the proposed national stadium which will be built at enormous cost. At the same time we are not ensuring it is necessary from a sports perspective. We have allocated £20 million to the GAA – I am not saying it should not have received that amount. More money should be given to sports organisations, be it the GAA, soccer, rugby, athletics, canoeing, golf, etc., to get the best from our people and to bring the best people forward so they can represent us.

An example is the structure in Sweden where there is a strong emphasis in ensuring that the certain few who come to the front are well funded. They represent their country for their sporting lives, thereby promoting Sweden. We can learn from that structure. We should also learn about the way the British structure worked in the past four years and how they brought back medals from the Olympics. We should not be afraid to learn from such experience or to speak against those who are only working for their own organisation, who are giving the impression that what they say is right and that nobody else is right.

I was embarrassed by what happened, particularly after the Olympics, with people making allegations and being brought forward to explain what they felt was best for them. I felt the president of the Olympic Council of Ireland was correct in one or two points, although I did not totally agree with him, in terms of ensuring the elite of our sports world should be at the Olympics. Just because a person is good at their sport does not mean they are good enough to represent us at Olympic level. The problem is who decides on the participants. The embarrassment was most unfair to all.

The carding scheme is an excellent idea and will obviously bring the best to the fore. Spending on it amounted to £964,000, rising to £1.1 million in 1999 and £1.199 million in 2000, which is only an additional £100,000, not a great amount. In comparison to the funding allocated to those currently representing us in Sydney—

The training camps, accommodation etc. were also catered for in addition to that figure.

There was an impression among the general public that the blazer brigade were to the forefront during the Olympics and that is not good for Ireland as a nation. I am not saying the officials should not attend the games as they are obviously required to oversee certain activities. However, the fact that a sports person, a canoeist I believe, sat at a desk arguing with the president of the Olympic Council of Ireland did not create a good impression with the public. I wish him and all our athletes well but we must create a situation in which there will be proper co-operation between all those involved in sport.

A report appeared in the newspapers in recent days which stated that the athletes currently in Sydney were not funded. That was most unfair, particularly as the secretary of the organisation has since stated that sufficient funding was made available. The sooner the better we all start to co-operate with each other.

The Minster referred in his speech to the need for cohesion and co-operation between all of the organisations in this area. Is he not getting that co-operation at present? If co-operation is not forthcoming, the Minister should admit that in this House and people can be told to pursue other approaches to achieving it. Some 50% of the population are under 25 years of age and we have a responsibility to ensure that we attract the best people into this area and pay them properly. That did not happen previously.

I am concerned by the emphasis being placed on the proposed national stadium. There are already numerous stadiums in Dublin which are not being used to their full potential. The first price outlined for the national stadium was £550 million and that did not even provide for an athletics track or a retractable roof. The final cost of the stadium and the associated infrastructure will probably be in the region of more than £1 billion. The relocation of the veterinary research laboratory and the Marine Institute will cost £90 million; the road infrastructure will cost £20 million, as will rail and bus services; cost escalations between 2000 and 2004 will be in the region of £100 million; the inclusion of an athletics track will cost a further £80 million; cost overruns will be in the region of £100 million and VAT costs will amount to £70 million. Those figures are probably quite conservative. I do not believe the stadium is worth this level of investment, nor do I believe that the country needs it.

Croke Park will be an elite stadium when it is completed and I compliment the GAA for that. Eircom is promoting the FAI and we still have Lansdowne Road, the RDS and many other sports facilities. If, with a £1 billion national stadium, we do not see enormous improvement at Olympic level in the next four to eight years, we should reconsider our priorities.

Certain people are calling for a national stadium and their view is being listened to. I am involved in various sports and the people I meet are wondering whether there is a need for this stadium. Are we ready for a £1 billion stadium? Will it be used to full effect or will it only be used six times a year? It will be doing well if it is used six times a year because the GAA will not be in any hurry to move out of Croke Park. GAA, soccer, rugby and athletics associations are the main sports organisations in the country and their co-operation should be sought in this matter. If we do not see a major improvement in sports when this stadium is built, I wonder exactly what its purpose will have been. Will it merely stand as a monument to one particular political party?

Most people in Dublin and throughout the country do not want a national stadium. We should make full use of existing facilities. There is a need for 50 metre swimming pools and I welcome the development in Limerick in this regard. Dublin should also have a 50 metre pool.

Let us consider the level of applications for funding. If only 400 of 2,000 applicants will receive funding in any one year, how can we stand over spending £1 billion on a sports structure? We are putting the cart before the horse. The Minister stated his desire to provide for the future and that is very constructive. However, if I were in his position, I would put money into local clubs and organisations rather than a national stadium. The Minister stated that more than £264 million was allocated to the National Coaching and Training Centre in Limerick between 1995 and 1999. That figure should be increased. I would like to see a situation being created where the best of our athletes would be brought to the front. I do not want to see the construction of a stadium which people will not use and which will be a mere monument and that is exactly what will happen. Who will use the national stadium?

The Holland and Portugal matches at the beginning of next year will create a demand for 60,000 to 70,000 seats each. That is only six months away.

What about the Eircom stadium?

It will not hold that capacity.

The Minister is saying that the national stadium will hold crowds which the Eircom stadium will be unable to hold. If Ireland is not in the World Cup or any other major competition, the stadium will lie idle.

The World Cup and other championship competitions run over two year periods.

I am aware of that. We were not short of room in Lansdowne for international soccer games and neither will we be short of space in the Eircom stadium. There will be one match and we will not be short in the context of the Éircom stadium and the number of people who will be facilitated in it. I cannot imagine putting up a stadium for 35,000-40,000 people and I do not see Éircom promoting anything like that. Obviously it will build a stadium which will be as large as needed for soccer. I do not want to get involved in an argument about which organisations will use it. All I will say is that it will not get the priority we are anticipating.

We can learn a lesson from other countries. We should look at the British experience. For instance, there is a stadium in Newcastle that can be used for many functions, a stadium which will not be a white elephant. The national stadium will be a white elephant. I do not wish to be disrespectful, but if £1 billion is to be spent on this stadium over a four year period and we find ourselves no better off when the Olympics come around again in 2004, it will be a case of having put the cart before the horse. I hope we will be in a much better position by 2008, but to spend £1 billion on a stadium like this while there is no cohesion or co-ordination to ensure that we are getting the best out of all our sports people is to put the cart before the horse, and we do not like it.

I welcome the Minister to the House. These statements on sports facilities are timely.

I compliment the Minister and thank him sincerely for his personal commitment and, through his Department, his financial commitment to many sports organisations. I compliment him on how he dealt with the recent furore at the games. When he landed in Australia the media stopped washing our dirty linen in public. I am positive the Minister was responsible for the fact that whatever problems there were in Sydney were discussed behind closed doors and not in the public domain.

Nothing happened in Sydney. It was only when we came back.

I also compliment the Minister on the fact that on his return he was prepared to highlight problems and say publicly whether he thought changes were needed in various sports and organisations.

Different types of sports organisations have been commented upon. I will come to them later because there are a few other points I want to make first. The Minister was responsible for the introduction of a national anti-doping programme to ensure that no one will be able to point the finger at athletes who represent Ireland abroad. The programme was introduced in August this year and tests have been carried out in more than 300 cases. That highlights that the Minister is determined to have everything above board so that no one can say our athletes are doing anything wrong. It is also important and very relevant to what has happened in the past to have a proper code of ethics for people who deal with young children in sport.

I looked through some documentation in relation to the funding of sports organisations. The Minister allocated substantial funding to the GAA and soccer in disadvantaged areas. That funding is bearing fruit already and we will reap the benefits in the future.

The recently announced allocation of funds to the Morton Stadium must take pride of place. The Morton Stadium has been calling out for proper development for many years. There was an allocation of £4.8 million for an indoor athletics facility. The Minister highlights the six lane, 200m running track, the eight lane 60m track, the sandpits for the long and triple jumps and the shot-put. All these are very important. We have been looking for such developments in our city. We welcome them, but we have heard very little about them.

In the context of the Olympics, we have looked at the perceived problem of qualifying times for athletes. What has happened has happened. I believe that as a rule of thumb, qualifying times should be perhaps 10-15% better than the current qualifying times in order to ensure that our athletes are up there with the top athletes in the world. Because of our numbers and lack of facili ties, up to now, we have been unable to offer athletes proper training facilities. The money the Minister has allocated will provide far better facilities for all Irish participants in the next Olympics to enable them to train and qualify. I was disappointed that some of the newspapers highlighted that not enough is being spent on sport. Substantial funding has been given to athletes. However, I hope that in the future more will be made available. I know the Minister is committed to that.

We have been looking at our qualifying times in the context of the Olympics. During the Olympics we saw a swimmer from a certain country probably in danger of drowning. Only two days later we saw the athlete who beat Sonia O'Sullivan in the 10,000m, the last lap of which was run at a speed that, in my opinion, the human body could hardly do without some type of help or assistance. Looking at it as one who has been involved in sport all my life, that 10,000m was run at a cracking pace by the British girl, and I was certainly amazed to see how that finishing lap was run.

Another area where I hope we will see improvement at the next Olympics is boxing where we were always very prominent. This year we had only one participant. We should look at that. Participants from other countries, while having amateur status, are often members of national armies and participate full time in the boxing arena. How can we compete with that? Some competitors must hold down a nine to five job and put in hours of training that will enable them to qualify for the Olympics. We look forward to more moneys being put into boxing where we have a great opportunity to participate.

I read in the newspapers that we have 37 athletes participating at the Paralympics. Great credit is due to this country for that. We wish them well. We hope they will enjoy themselves and participate to the best of their abilities. I am positive they will return with silverware from the games. I am delighted to hear the Minister say our Government will be represented at the games by the Minister of State, Deputy Ryan. It is proper that Ireland should be represented there.

We compliment the Minister on looking forward and making moneys available. Ireland must prepare for the Special Olympics which we will hold in 2003. There will have to be a lot of developments. Money must be spent to ensure the very best facilities are available for the people who will come here for the world games in 2003. The fact that we are hosting the Special Olympics is a tremendous compliment to the Minister and the people of Ireland.

The Minister has put forward an amount of money for swimming pools. This year we did not have the success that we had in the past. We look forward to success with the building of a new 50 metre pool here, the first of many. I have no doubt that when Irish athletes get the same opportunities to train in world class facilities that other countries enjoy they will be on a par and be able to compete with them. We compliment the Minister on the funding for this project.

Senator Denis Cregan was very critical of the national stadium project. It puzzles me how anyone could criticise such an important project, which is not just for the year 2000. We are looking forward with this new development.

I compliment the GAA on its developments at Croke Park. We also look forward to Eircom Park which the FAI, the soccer association, is developing in Dublin. We are looking at facilities where we will get far more national exposure for our games. At present, Croke Park, with the changing structures in the championships and open draw, will not be capable of staging all the games.

There are other sports arenas. What about Thurles, Limerick and Cork?

We will play a certain number of games in Thurles, Cork and elsewhere.

But a lot of development must be done. We need a national stadium in our capital city. We must look to the future. I look forward to the development in Abbotstown of a stadium that will hold in excess of 80,000 people.

The Minister mentioned earlier the soccer matches that we can attract. We can attract European soccer matches here. The national stadium is within striking distance of our airport. We have a very fine road network in the area. We will not have any problem attracting very important matches to the national stadium.

Only last weekend the Australian rules game took place, watched by 60,000 people in Croke Park. We had to defer the All-Ireland replay because of a clash of matches in Croke Park. If we had a second stadium we would have had no problem holding both matches on the one weekend in Dublin.

There are 29 extra championship games in the All-Ireland next year.

Yes. The new open draw scheme will allow counties, which have sought extra matches for many years, to come forward and prove themselves in a bigger stadium. I look forward to that.

How will the regional stadia be used?

They will all be needed.

They make very little money from one end of the year to the other.

In relation to the development of those stadia, we are not just talking about athletes, we are talking about facilities for supporters. We look forward to major developments in the future. It is thanks to the Minister that most of the GAA county grounds and soccer grounds in major towns have been developed through national lottery and Government funding.

Organisations that are developing facilities with the aid of Government funding must look at minority sports. They should promote and develop them in towns and villages. I am referring to handball and camogie and other sports which have not been promoted or highlighted as much as they should have been. We look forward to that type of development.

We must also involve FÁS in training programmes. It is involved in certain areas but it must move into the picture further in relation to the training of coaches. If we do not get a structure in place that will provide more well trained coaches our sports organisations may lose out. I hope that FÁS will become more involved in that side of sports development.

Sport is very healthy. People who participate in sports will be in better shape. The more people we encourage to take up sports, including minority sports, and the more sports bodies there are, the more people will lead a healthy lifestyle.

In co-operation with the Department of Education and Science, sports organisations fund major halls adjacent to schools. Those facilities must be made available to the general public in those towns and villages. There is very little use in the GAA or soccer club trying to erect a hall when nearby schools have facilities which can be used as community halls. There is an overlapping of facilities. Earlier I spoke about some of the minority sports.

Make it a condition.

I agree with Senator Cregan that in the event of moneys being spent on new schools and on the development of their gyms, they should be made available to the general public. We should highlight this issue. We should ensure that everyone in our towns and villages can avail of those facilities. A lot of them are provided at substantial cost to the taxpayer, yet they are unused for quite a considerable period.

I compliment the Minister on his commitment to sport in general and on his commitment to sports organisations. My final point relates to clubs seeking funding. Many of these organisations make applications without carrying out a proper analysis of what they propose to do. They hope that because they make a simple application they will be entitled to funding. The Minister and his officials arrived at a good solution to this problem by deciding that organisations which will serve areas that are most in need will qualify for funding. Deputy McDaid has done a good job as Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation. The longer he continues in his position, the better it will be for sport in this country.

I wish to share time with Senator Quinn.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I am delighted that the Minister is present to take this debate. While I realise that we are mainly concerned with those involved in sport at a competitive level, I believe there is a need for a broader debate. I am glad Senator Moylan referred to health because it is that aspect I wish to address.

I am sure the Minister is familiar with a report published by the Institute of European Food Studies at Trinity College Dublin entitled A Pan-EU Survey on Consumer Attitudes to Physical Activity, Body-weight and Health. Some of the information provided in this report is quite frightening. The Minister may also be aware that the institute is preparing another report on food consumption in Ireland, North and South. This study, which is a joint project involving Trinity College, University College Cork and the University of Ulster at Coleraine, is being carried out over three years. Already information has been leaked to the effect that over half the members of the adult population on the island are overweight.

During the past ten years people have grown taller but many of them have also become fatter. The average Irish adult is now six kilogrammes heavier than he or she would have been in 1990. That is an astonishing statistic and we must give serious consideration to it. I know everyone will immediately look at the changes in the food we eat to explain this phenomenon. For example, people eat a great deal more fast food which probably has a higher sugar content than other food. However, nutritionists to whom I have spoken insist that the decrease in physical activity in this country has been largely responsible for the huge increase in people's weight.

Who does the washing up nowadays? The answer is the dishwasher. People no longer even have to get up off the sofa to change the channels on their television because they can use a remote control to do so. There has been a massive decrease in physical activity of any kind. I am delighted the Minister referred to the "need to break down barriers and increase participation in sport, not only in terms of the number of people becoming involved but also in terms of continued participation throughout their lives" and indicated that this "is central to our policy", because promoting physical activity and involvement in sport is a matter that all Departments, not merely the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation, will have to take on board. Employers, doctors, teachers and health professionals will also have to become involved because everyone will benefit if we tackle this matter properly.

Too often we end up trying to treat a problem such as obesity rather than taking action to prevent it. I am sure the Minister must have seen reports in medical newspapers in which diabetologists called for the establishment of adolescent type 2 diabetic clinics. When he was studying medicine, did the Minister ever come across an adolescent type 2 diabetic? I certainly did not because it was an unknown species. Now, however, there is an apparent need to establish clinics to cater for these people. While we know that this disease is associated with a genetic pre-disposition, it is much more associated with inactivity and obesity. Apparently, this condition is prevalent among a considerable number of adolescents. Type 2 diabetes has reached plague proportions in Ireland.

When we consider the role played by obesity in the development of hypertension, coronary artery disease, breast cancer and osteoarthritis, it is absolutely essential to tackle this problem at once. The State will incur enormous financial costs if it has to deal with the complications caused by diabetes. Obese men are 40 times likely to contract diabetes and obese women are 90 times as likely to do so. It is estimated that approximately 8% of Irish adults are obese.

People can discover if they are obese by working out their body mass index. This involves placing one's weight in kilogrammes over one's height in metres squared. If the answer arrived at is over three, one is in serious trouble. If the answer is over 2.5, it means one is overweight. People should try to calculate their body mass index in their heads because this will allow them to estimate the level of their mental capacity also.

Ireland is approximately mid-table in European terms in respect of this problem. France, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Denmark are doing much better than us at tackling this problem. However, the problem is worse in the UK, Belgium, Finland and among older Italians and Germans. However, the figures for obesity are on the increase everywhere and if we do not put a stop to current trends we will end up like the Americans. Approximately 25% of US citizens are obese and the complications which arise as a result are frightening.

It is interesting to note that the increase in weight is more prevalent among people with a lower level of education. Therefore, we must ensure that these individuals are made aware of the seriousness of this problem.

In the United States, 35% of all coronary deaths, 32% of colon cancers and 34% of diabetic deaths are associated with obesity and a sedentary lifestyle. These are shocking figures and the worrying thing is that they will apply here in approximately ten years unless we do something about it. There is a willingness among Irish people to become involved in physical activity. That is one of the cheerful items of information to emerge from the report to which I referred earlier. Only 4% of people said they would not like to become involved in local initiatives to promote physical activity. I was delighted when the Minister stated that he intends to encourage the development of local sports partnerships. That is important because it will allow us to identify those who are excellent at a particular sport while also encouraging the general mass of the population to stay in good physical shape.

In 1995 an EU committee of Ministers recommended that a policy should be developed to promote the significance of sport in society. It also recommended that committees should be established in the various member states to promote the concept of "Europe on the move". Finland, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands are the only countries which have established such committees. Perhaps we could establish such a committee in Ireland to act in conjunction with the local sports partnerships.

I would have liked the Minister to place more emphasis on sport in schools. Primary school children in this country have no right to physical education and they are obliged to rely on the initiative of their teachers. Some individual teachers have a splendid record in this regard. Surely, we should try to encourage children to become involved in sports they like rather than allowing them to continue leading the incredibly sedentary lives they lead at present. I was saddened by the headline that appeared in The Sunday Times a number of weeks ago, “Ireland's lazy children are told to shape up”. If things are not organised for them, it is not likely that children will establish their own football teams.

Juliette Hussey who is a lecturer in the department of physiotherapy in Trinity College, carried out a survey in which she discovered that more than 80% of children spend two hours or more watching television each day while they spend very little time engaged in sporting activities. Girls were found to be worse in this regard than boys. Some of them did not spend even 20 minutes per day being involved in physical activity which is a terrible state of affairs. We must ensure that some form of initiative is put in place in this regard.

Secondary school children are supposed to benefit from one and a half hours of physical activity per week. This compares to three hours or more in other European Union countries. In America it is recommended that children of that age should be involved in sport or physical activity at least once a day. We should concentrate on achieving the targets set in other countries, particularly in view of the fact that there is a need to establish adolescent diabetic clinics. The Minister may be aware that Dr. Tony Watson from the University of Limerick carried out a survey on secondary school girls and discovered that 40% of them are seriously overweight and that they take little or no exercise in an average week. As well as emphasising competitive sport, for the sake of everyone's health we need a greater involvement in physical activity.

Some things inadvertently help our health. For example, 50% of Irish adults walk. Perhaps when the Minister for Public Enterprise puts her grand plan for Dublin traffic in place she may also produce a petit plan to encourage us to walk. It is very hard to go anywhere unless one does so. It is also true that 19% of young people, particularly boys, cycle. This is because they cannot afford motor insurance. I urge the Minister to introduce an initiative to make available the healthy and enjoyable aspects of sport.

Psychological and social as well as physical problems result from obesity. I commend a man who appeared recently on television. He weighed 20 stone and became so ashamed when he could no longer tie his shoes that he decided to lose weight. He said you have to smile if you are fat because otherwise people just feel sorry for you. I encourage the Minister to get the local partnerships going and to increase physical activity for all of us.

I thank Senator Henry for allowing me to share her time. I know the Minister's enthusiasm for sport and for anything into which he puts his heart.

Yesterday I attended the funeral of Dave Guiney. Dave and his wife, Phil, came to the House for lunch a year ago. He had enormous verve and enthusiasm. He was born in Kanturk, played rugby for Clontarf and in one day in 1941 won five youth titles for shot putt, high jump, javelin, discus and long jump. He later represented Ireland for 12 years in the shot putt and almost every year broke a record. His impact was felt not just in sport but also in sports journalism and in the books he wrote, particularly about the Olympics.

I attended the Barcelona Olympics when he was chef de mission for the Irish team. After four days, as I was leaving Barcelona I was asked by an American how Ireland was doing in the Olympic Games. I said we had won four gold medals. When the American remarked that this was not a bad performance I explained that we had won those four gold medals since 1896. Dave corrected me in a book he later showed me and pointed out that an Irishman, John Pius Boland, although not representing Ireland, had won a gold medal for tennis in the first Olympic Games in 1896.

Dave Guiney represented so much that is good in Irish sport. He had enthusiasm and a commitment to sport. He brought sport to life for many people and encouraged them to become involved.

Last year when we were dealing with the Sports Council Bill I made heavy weather of the need to maintain a balance between competitive and recreational sport. I drew attention to the danger of competitive sport receiving attention at the expense of recreational sport. Very little has changed since then.

I was pleased to hear the Minister speak of the local sports partnerships. I was particularly pleased to hear him say that "by concentrating efforts on increasing participation in sports we can help ensure that a lifelong involvement in sport is maintained in Irish society". This is not quite the commitment I would like to see. The Minister later said:

In terms of sports infrastructure, it is a fundamental component of the Government's sports policy that Ireland should have a network of high quality, well designed and well managed facilities throughout the country. These facilities should be available to meet the needs of competitive sport, competition, training and coaching. Facilities should also be accessible to the individuals and groups who wish to participate at the level of recreational sport, fun and socialisation.

That word "also" is not strong enough. The Minister should consider changing this emphasis and putting recreational sport ahead of competitive sport.

In recent months parliamentary questions to the Minister have focused on the Olympic Games and the national stadium. The wider world of sport was hardly considered. I hope today's debate will provide an opportunity to take a more rounded look at the question of sport.

I was lucky enough to be in Sydney during the Olympic Games and it was a magnificent occasion. Sydney did such a good job of hosting the Olympic Games that I almost regretted not having supported Gay Mitchell's efforts to attract the 2004 games to Dublin. Australians can be proud of this year's Olympic Games. The games created great pride in that nation. A huge number of unpaid volunteers gave up their time over several weeks to make the games a success. However, when I began to think of the vast infrastructural changes which staging the Olympics would demand and how ineptly we have responded to the need for infrastructural change I realised that Gay Mitchell's dream was impossible and I did not regret not having supported his efforts.

I do not wish to hold an inquest on the performance of Irish athletes in Sydney except to congratulate Sonia O'Sullivan on her magnificent achievement. Baron de Coubertin defined the Olympic spirit as not so much winning as taking part. Coming home from the Atlanta Olympic Games I happened to be on the same plane as the Irish team. Michelle Smith was there with her four medals and I remember the sense of pride and joy in Ireland winning those medals. Within hours young people were declaring their determination to get out and succeed in sport. I support investment in competitive sport because its objective is to create the sort of enthusiasm which Michelle Smith brought home from Atlanta. I thank Michelle Smith for the great efforts she made over several years and for the success she brought to Ireland.

We have got the balance wrong. I do not oppose the Olympics or the national stadium. However, I would not go as far as the Taoiseach when he said yesterday that if we need to spend £1 billion we should do so. Hearing that sort of talk makes me nostalgic for the days when we could say we would do wonderful things if only we had the money. Now that we have the finan cial resources we must remember that other questions remain to be asked. Have we got our national sports priorities right? I am not sure that we have.

Senator Henry and Senator Moylan spoke of the wide range of sports. We must ensure that the national sports policy is directed towards this wide range. We derive enormous benefit in health, enthusiasm and well-being from non-competitive sport. This is where the investment must be made.

I was chairman in respect of the applied leaving certificate, which concentrates on individuals' non-academic talents. Although we pushed to have sport included as a subject in the leaving certificate, we were not in a position to proceed, not only because of the lack of facilities in schools but the lack of facilities generally throughout the country. It is my fear that in spending all the available funds on one or two big stadiums we will lose sight of the benefit to be gained from the required investment in the infrastructure of sport.

The Minister's heart is in the right place. While he has demonstrated enthusiasm and commitment, I would like to see more action in that direction. If we are not careful – nobody can say any of these are not worthy – we will aim at the national stadium rather than the dozens of investments required to generate enthusiasm among young people to follow the great example set by so many others.

I appreciate the opportunity Senator Henry afforded me to take part in this debate. I encourage the Minister to keep his eye on the ball of recreational sport and, when he gets the opportunity, to make the required investments. He is thinking in the right way. I wish to ensure the correct balance is struck.

I do not want to criticise the Minister, but I was disappointed that he did not mention the winner of the hamper competition at Portmarnock Golf Club last Saturday. It is a competition that a grocer and his son seldom win. We hate to deprive other grocers in the area of the business to be generated.

Insider trading.

It has now been recorded.

I welcome the Minister to the House for this debate, which is both timely and opportune. In my short experience it is customary to congratulate a Minister on his or her performance to date. Never has it been more appropriate to congratulate the Minister, Deputy McDaid, on the tremendous improvements he has brought about in Irish sport in the three years he has held his portfolio. The figures, which I will not detail, speak for themselves; they are inarguable. I hope the results will begin to emerge in the not too distant future.

In this context I fully accept the views of Senator Quinn on the distinction between elite and recreational sport. They are two distinct cat egories which have to be looked upon and funded differently. I hope the results will emerge in both areas sooner rather than later.

I join Senator Quinn in paying tribute to the late Dave Guiney, whom I knew both as a working journalist when involved in sport and as a media colleague. The best thing that can be said of him is that he was the quintessential sportsman. In every facet of sport he represented all that was good and all that I would like young people to aspire to in their sporting disciplines. He was so catholic in his range of sporting activities. While he had an abiding interest in the Olympic Games, he had a knowledge, experience and love of all sports. He will be missed from press boxes.

As one of those who called for this debate in the House last week, I welcome the opportunity to contribute. There were several calls for this debate, mainly in the context of public comment on our underperformance at the recent Olympic Games in Sydney. In that context I am envious of Senator Quinn and the happy coincidence of his business trips to Sydney in 2000, Atlanta in 1996 and Barcelona in 1992. In sporting parlance, that is what one would call a hat trick.

Our underperformance at the Olympic Games is a matter of considerable concern. Without getting involved in a scapegoating exercise, I congratulate Sonia O'Sullivan not only on her medal winning performance, but also on her equally magnificent achievement of finishing sixth in the 10,000 metres. We tend to get hung up on prizes and accolades. There is little difference between second and sixth in the world. To produce two such world class performances in a matter of days is the mark of a supreme athlete. Everybody will agree that she is a tremendous ambassador for Ireland.

Senator Quinn referred to the famous phrase used by Baron de Coubertin that it is not whether one wins or loses, but how one plays the game. This was paraphrased by a wag in one losers' dressingroom in which I was seated to read that it is not whether one wins or loses, but where one places the blame. In any analysis of sporting performance blame is a natural consequence – I hope not an unduly negative one.

The athletes – I use the term in its broadest sense – who represented Ireland in Sydney were very outspoken in the immediate aftermath of the Olympic Games. This demands attention and respect as it is rare for athletes who are still active and have a future in their chosen sport to speak in such strident tones and openly criticise the team of which they were a member. In this context I commend in particular our canoeist, Ian Wiley, who, I think, was competing at his third Olympic Games. He has served his country and sport with distinction for many years. He was distinguished by the manner in which he opened this debate on television recently. I hope he has done Irish sport a great service for which we will owe him a debt, but he will only have done Irish sport a great service if we have listened to what he had to say on behalf of his colleagues. Both Houses of this Legislature should take what he had to say on board and do what they can about the matter.

It was particularly disappointing and sad that coaches of team members could not secure accreditation for the Olympic Games. I will not dwell on the fact that our ambassador found it impossible to secure accreditation. I am looking at the matter from the point of view of participating athletes. Whether or not we like them, coaches are part and parcel of international sport. It is incredible and unacceptable that an international athlete is unable to secure accreditation for his or her coach at what is the pinnacle of their sporting careers. To hear that it was declined in favour of officials with roles which, to put it mildly in the context of the task in hand, were questionable is unacceptable. I empathise with the athletes concerned and hope it is an experience that will not be repeated.

The Government no longer funds the Olympic Council of Ireland directly, but we should examine methods of funding so that by the time of the Athens games in 2004 the application of funding to individual athletes is conditional on allowing for the accreditation of their coaches. We are running out of leverage in this area but it may be possible to exercise it on this aspect.

The role of the coach in sport is the subject of a much lengthier debate, possibly in a more sociable forum. While there are some good and bad coaches, no athlete will achieve the target of Olympic participation if they are involved with a bad coach.

The Olympic Games have a magnificent legacy from Baron de Coubertin, a movement with its roots in ancient Greece and the modern revival of the games in Athens in 1896. Internationally, the Olympic movement has weathered considerable storms. We all remember its difficulties when it grappled with shamateurism in the 1960s and 1970s. It eventually adapted and, regardless of whether there is agreement or disagreement with the route it took, it showed it had the ability and capacity to address these major issues. Unfortunately, the movement internationally, and the OCI, with which we are especially concerned in this debate, is structured in a manner that better befits the 19th century rather than the 21st century.

Given that the movement, internationally and nationally, was able to grapple with considerable success with shamateurism in that it saved the games at a time when their existence was threatened, I do not see how it could be beyond our capacity to deal with the requirements of modern democracy. There are major questions about the democratic structure of the movement, internationally and, especially nationally. While democracy might not have been as global in 1896 as it is today, the movement must adapt to it. The principles of accountability and transparency, which are such essential elements of democracy world-wide, are especially appropriate for the Olympic Council of Ireland. I hope the council realises the difficulty it is in, if for no other reason than respect for the tremendous movement it represents.

The council must realise that ownership or possession of the franchise of Olympic participation does not grant a right to neglect the legitimate aspirations and dreams not only of our athletes, but of our young sportsmen and sportswomen who hold the organisation in such high regard and who pay such close attention to what is happening on the sporting stage world-wide, as presented to them through television. The structure of the council presents an interesting analogy with the difficulties the Minister's colleagues are having with the Turf Club, another institution that has probably not moved with the times. It illustrates that large-scale public funding of private institutions is a recipe for conflict. I wish the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development well with their difficulties. I also wish the Minister well when dealing with the OCI.

The issue of drugs and drug abuse was another especially disappointing aspect of the Olympic Games. I congratulate the Minister on the action he has taken through the Sports Council on the fight against drugs on a national basis. It is an area in world sport where we are leaders. We are fighting hard to ensure that the ethos of sport as we have known it remains and is strengthened. Beyond these shores we may not have much control over the ethos, especially in the drugs area, but I hope we will continue with the ethos we have always had. Drugs do not form any part of it.

Senator Henry referred to the health aspect of recreation. The recreational aspect of sport is very close to my heart. I congratulate the Minister on his magnificent work in this area.

Sport is a very positive element of our national culture. The Gaelic Athletic Association must rank as one of the great amateur sporting, indeed any sporting, organisations at world level. We have performed with distinction internationally in soccer, rugby, golf and equestrianism, to a level disproportionate to our population.

Sport has made a huge contribution to the morale of the people. A "Dub" does not have too much experience of the feel good factor from a county winning an All-Ireland Final, but all were able to share in the feel good factor at the time Jack Charlton travelled the world with such success.

What about Leinster?

Modesty forbids my mentioning that. All our sportsmen are national assets, be they budding primary school students with the aspirations and dreams to which I referred, or the Sonia O'Sullivans. They all deserve our support. I congratulate the Minister on the magnificent support he has given them and I look forward to a lengthy and continued programme of support.

Having, I hope, given a balanced view of sport, I must emphasise the necessity for balance in sport. We do not want to become a nation of fanatics. Sport has a role to play in our lives. The riposte to a journalist, attributed to Sonia O'Sullivan's father, John, in Atlanta in 1996, in less happy times for him, Sonia and the family and when the nation was almost in mourning, is magnificent: "What is the problem? Nobody has died." There is a place for sport, but there is a balance to be struck. I congratulate the Minister. He has got the balance right and I look forward to the long-term repercussions of the policies he is implementing.

I welcome this timely debate. Following the Sydney 2000 experience we must review what happened, including the good and bad points. I hope we learn some lessons.

I know the Minister has a great interest in sport, whether it is following the four legged variety or County Donegal GAA. I will not ask him to put them in preferential order, although I am sure I could guess what might be towards the top of the list. I compliment the Minister on what he has done since he took office.

We must develop a two-pronged approach to sport. We should try to get as much from the national cake, so to speak, as possible and use it to develop sport and to send people to the Olympics and to European and world championships. We should also fund other sports which are played throughout the country and which might produce champions. It is important to recognise the role played by teachers, coaches, mentors, those who carry the bags and parents who are involved week in and week out in all types of sport, whether it is helping young Gaelic or soccer players or those involved in the championships. Senator Moylan knows that such people come out when it is not fashionable to do so or when the weather is not good.

The Minister must have a two-pronged approach so that good athletes are identified early on and get the support and backup they need. We should try to make better progress in sports where we have not made the progress we would like. It is also important to spend money in disadvantaged areas, such as inner city areas, to encourage people to participate in sport, such as boxing. Given our long tradition in boxing, it was disappointing that we did not seem to come up to scratch in the recent Olympics.

I saw Colm Murray on the news last night reporting on the Paralympics. While we may be disappointed that Sonia O'Sullivan did not get a gold medal, we should remember the special efforts of people who are less fortunate as a result of hereditary illness or accident and who are doing their best to participate as fully as possible. We may complain that a ball should have been put in the back of the net, a horse should have jumped better or an athlete should have swum faster. However, when we consider the people who are participating in the Paralympics, one realises it is only a game or a race. We all get slightly carried away with sport at times. The Rehab centre is in my constituency and I visit it from to time. I wish the team every success in the Paralympics.

I welcome the fact we will host the special world games in 2003. I presume plans are well underway for this big undertaking. The games will take place in many venues. I hope the Department will not be found wanting in terms of its commitment to the games. This issue will not divide parties and if more money is needed to support the games and the voluntary workers I hope it will be forthcoming. I hope local authorities will help and that the Department will issue grants so that events can take place outside Dublin. We would all like some events to take place in our areas but whether they are in Dublin, Leinster or the new swimming pool in Limerick, I hope they are well organised.

One issue which should be considered is the proposed super stadium, Eircom Park. I read something in this evening's newspaper about it. Croke Park was given an injection of £20 million and it will be a magnificent stadium when it is finished. I disagree with the GAA that there were no problems last weekend. We also have the stadium at Lansdowne Road. There should be a meeting of minds in terms of how these stadiums should be developed. We would love to see more stadiums but we must be realistic. Perhaps one stadium should be used for athletics, soccer or rugby. We are aware of difficulties with the GAA. However, I hope the GAA will not be found wanting if its magnificent stadium is needed for the special games. I hope it will be completed by 2003 and that there will not be any more bickering.

I do not want to dwell at length on what did or did not happen in Sydney. It appears the Olympic Council of Ireland – the men and women in the green blazers – was well represented. I do not know if its full team met the qualifying standard.

It could also have substitutes.

Some of its members are comparable to the swimmer from New Guinea who nearly sank. I would not mind if a few members of the Olympic Council of Ireland sank. It is important to sort out the differences so that we do not have a repeat of what happened in Atlanta when Sonia O'Sullivan was told minutes before a race that she was wearing the wrong gear. I am not saying it made a difference on the day but it did not help. People should work together. It should not be the case that everyone from one organisation can go while the Minister has barely room for his luggage and tickets are not available. This issue must be sorted out.

I am concerned about how the horse industry will be developed and advanced into the next century. I know this is not the Minister's direct responsibility but I am sure he supports his two colleagues. I am also sure there is widespread support among Members of this House and the public for the extra money being sought by the industry, which is a good employer. I hope that arising out of the meeting of the Turf Club yesterday, and the dignified, low key, constructive protest that took place, matters can be advanced. The gap is not too wide between the two sides. What is at stake is an industry that is close to my own heart, and that of the Minister and even the Cathaoirleach. This matter must be progressed but there must be some give and take.

We recognise that the Turf Club has run racing successfully for many years but the running of it is one thing, the promotion of it is another. It is a changing sport. We are looking to get people out and about but the sport is facing competition. The public deserve better facilities. People are being encouraged into ownership.

I do not know whether I have to declare an interest in these matters under this new legislation, where one is meant to be whiter than white, but to be strictly ethical in terms of procedure I declare an interest as one-seventeenth of an owner. I do not want to be hauled before a committee for having spoken on a subject without fully declaring one's interest in it. I hope I have clarified my position vis-à-vis that wonderful legislation.

It is important that more owners are encouraged to get into this area. Syndicates and racing clubs have evolved and the big challenge is to attract more spectators. Major progress has been made in this area and we have seen the great successes at Cheltenham, Epsom, etc. I do not want to dwell totally on the racing industry but I want to refer to the recent big race in Longchamps. It was unfortunate that RTÉ was not in a position to cover that race and that those in single channel land were unable to see it.

I support most of the actions the Minister has taken. I hope lessons can be learned from our mistakes. I am not saying they were mistakes on the Minister's part but perhaps some issues could have been handled differently all round. It is important that at the end of the day the athletes who are participating in these events prosper, although obviously a common-sense approach has to be taken.

I presume when the Minister talks about preparations for Athens 2004 he is looking also at the European Championships, the World Games and other major sporting events. We should learn from some of the hiccups – that is being charitable – that arose both in Atlanta and Sydney. We are a reasonably small country but we should be able to discuss these issues in a mature fashion. If differences arise we should sort them out and not have athletes coming back here complaining about mismanagement. The reality is that if athletes want to train in the proper conditions, they have to go to other countries. They have to make certain preparations and decisions have to be made. That costs money. There is no point in sending someone to London, Florida or wherever for a month, six weeks or a couple of months. They have to have a programme building up to a particular event.

To conclude on a positive note, I congratulate Sonia O'Sullivan who did very well on the track in winning a silver medal, who ran very well in the other race and who, by carrying the flag, was a good ambassador, not just in Sydney but over recent times. She came back from the difficulties of Atlanta and won a silver medal, although we would all have liked her to win a gold.

We must continue to highlight the drugs issue. Participants from some countries were caught at the Olympics but if there had been total screening, more participants would have been caught. I am not overstating the fact but we can be proud of our athletes who went to Sydney. Ideally we would like to have done better but they all did their best. We can go forward from this Olympics.

This is a useful debate and I hope we will have the Minister back in the House at some future stage. I support what he has said. I hope we learn from the mistakes of the past and that we can plan for the future.

I welcome the Minister to the House. All of us are grateful that he has graced us with his presence. Like many people, I could not help but reflect on the rows leading up to the Olympics and the post-Olympics debate. It reminded me of something Brendan Behan said, that whenever a group of Irish people meet in committee or in meetings, the first item on the agenda is the split. If ever there was evidence of that, it has certainly been manifest over the past months.

I read an article in the Sunday Independent of 8 October by Paul Kimmage, a former international sportsman. I do not agree with everything he writes and I sometimes find him to be a bit moralising in much of what he does, although I can understand from where he is coming. He wrote a scathing attack on all those involved in Irish sport, to a greater or lesser degree. Those Members who want to read the article can do so; I will not name names. He referred to the Minister as being bewildered. That was a compliment when one considers that he also referred to other aspects of the Olympics as shameful, humiliating and embarrassing. He was paraphrasing another journalist, Jerome Reilly. Paul Kimmage built his article around an anonymous athlete whom he referred to as “X” arriving back from Sydney disillusioned and frustrated and becoming even more so as a result of all the arguments surrounding the Olympics. He has been dreadfully unfair to the Minister. Paul Kimmage's response to that would be, “He would say that, wouldn't he? The facts speak for themselves.

The Minister has outlined his commitment and his follow through as a member of the Cabinet, the first Minister to hold such a portfolio. That fact is nearly always forgotten. It is as if sport has been at the top table forever. Sport has been at the top table in an Administration only since 1997. Prior to that it was a junior ministerial portfolio and it depended very much on the interests of the individual. Without casting any aspersions on those who went before him, there were some whose appointment to that particular portfolio was questioned by those in the sporting arena as to whether they had any real commitment to sport or if it was just another political favour being dished out by the Administration of the day, but that is history. This Minister has proven his commitment by his actions over the past three years. He has outlined what he has done for Irish sport in the short time he has been in the job and what he is hoping to do for the remainder of his term, which we all hope will be at least another 18 months.

I do not want to get into personalities on this but unfortunately sport, like the music business, is as much about personalities as it is about policy and direction. The article reads:

On the night of the opening ceremony in Sydney, X [X is the anonymous athlete around whom the article is built] and the rest of the second raters [a term attributed to Pat Hickey, President of the Olympic Council of Ireland; I use the word "attributed" because in the absence of hard facts I cannot state any more about whether he used that term other than what I read in this article] were ordered to form a queue while the honourable officers of the Olympic Council of Ireland marched closest to Sonia O'Sullivan behind the flag. James Nolan [one of our international athletes] was given a blazer that was two sizes too small. David Matthews, another international athlete, was given trousers that wouldn't button at the waist. Sonia O'Sullivan was given a tracksuit that would have fitted CJ Hunter. [For those who do not know who he is, he is that rather infamous hulk of a gentleman sent home in disgrace for drug taking.] But the esteemed officers of the council were always impeccably attired.

Of the 63 competitors who travelled to Sydney, there was one boxer and 31 track and field athletes. The boxer, Michael Roche, was accompanied by a manager and a coach. The 31 athletes were accompanied by a manager and four coaches. Patsy McGonagle, the athletics team manager, was unable to secure accreditation for a throwing coach. Sonia O'Sullivan was provided with three accreditations to give to whoever she pleased.

Far be it from me to knock the gloss off a national heroine and I am sure Sonia O'Sullivan accepted what she was given, but is it not an interesting insight into the workings of the accreditation system that our leading athlete, admittedly the one with the greatest medal potential, seemed to have had no difficulty in receiving three accreditations without, according to this article, naming them? Yet the Minister who provides the financial support and who has helped the structure and development of sport over the past three years had to have a public squabble that was deeply embarrassing to him, his Department and to everybody involved in Irish sport over how many accredited passes he would get.

Like Senator Glennon, I am a sports journalist and I have the privilege and honour of travelling to quite a number of national and international sporting events. I was accredited to the Moscow Olympics as far back as 1980. I have a certain amount of knowledge in speaking about this question of the blazers and the suits and I agree with Senator Glennon, it is not confined to only the Olympic Games. I could name several other sporting organisations, although I will not, where "Buggin's turn" works, where, with the greatest respect to them, some people have found it difficult to put one foot in front of the other, not because they have been inebriated but because they are old enough to be my great grandfather and should be sitting at home watching the event on television. Under the Buggin's turn syndrome that operates in many of our sporting bodies, if one happens to be in the right place at the right time and knows the right executive, one has no difficulty getting a trip abroad.

What a trip abroad means is not simply taking off on a plane. It means one travels in the best of comfort. One is met by the representative organisation at the other end and whisked away into the VIP lounge and from there one is whisked away in a limousine, usually with police outriders and their sirens screaming, to one's inner city hotel, which is invariably a five star hotel. When one is safely ensconced in five star splendour, one is called upon to exercise the rather onerous task over the remaining few days of one's visit of attending a succession of lunches and dinners, which even the most robust among us would find difficult to enjoy because of the enormity and frequency of the fare.

Then one has the most difficult job of all, as one who wears a blazer, to turn up for the sporting event to which one has been invited. Does one get a seat in the gods for the sporting events or have a difficulty about accreditation or tickets? On the contrary, one is put into the VIP section in a soft plush seat and at half time, if it happens to be a football match, or if there is a break in the case of an international athletics meeting or another sporting activity, one will be brought downstairs into equally plush surroundings to be subjected to yet another round of food and drink.

How difficult a task it is to represent Ireland at sporting events abroad as one wearing a blazer or a suit? That is the sum total of the involvement. That is what official accreditation means. I can understand why the Minister got so publicly annoyed about what he saw as snub not only to him and his Department but to the chief executive officer of the Irish Sports Council. He knew and those of us who are involved in sport know what the reality of accreditation means. Stories dripped out after the Olympics about spouses being given accreditation. According to Paul Kimmage's article, a leading athlete was handed three accreditations. What was this row about half way around the world? It was about one accreditation. I rest my case on accreditation.

Paul Kimmage's article also states, "One afternoon, while he was exiting the stadium, McGonagle bumped into a fellow he'd never seen before with an accreditation, signifying he was the manager of the Irish athletics team." The official manager of the Irish athletics team met someone who is also supposed to be a recognisable individual whom he did not know and who was wearing an official accreditation. Sonia O'Sullivan was distracted by another official when she was having a warm up, going through her paces. Did the official want to give her some new important information about the competition she was going to face? Far from it, he wanted to have a chat. When David Matthews – to whom I referred earlier as having been given, presumably by the OCI, a pair of trousers that was too small for him, approached Bob Tisdall, the famous Irish Olympian, for an autograph in Sydney, according to Paul Kimmage, he was rudely brushed aside by the same official and informed there wasn't time. Anybody who has ever had any experience of dealing with celebrities big or small in any activity, will find they are the most humane of people. It is usually those who are around them, their so-called minders, who create the difficulties about minor matters such as autographs.

What is being done about it?

Paul Kimmage referred in his article to a reference by Pat Hickey about the Irish Olympics team. Pat Hickey said, "The entire team was delivered to us on a plate and we had no hand, act or part in the preparations over the last four years. There was no consultation and no use made of our experience." He finished by saying this is the sort of experience that Paul Kimmage was talking about. Paul Kimmage, in his article, wonders is that the type of experience that Pat Hickey is talking about.

Paul Kimmage's article also refers to a quote by Patsy McGonagle who said that, "What Irish sport needs now is doers, leaders . who will stand up and make decisions and take the consequences on the chin." The Minister is attempting to put that structure in place in advance of the next Olympics. While I applaud the Minister's initiative in establishing an elite carding scheme and it has generated benefits, can he not seriously consider also extending such a scheme to coaches? I first became aware of the difficulty the few coaches of international repute we have here face in order to progress and advance in their respective sports.

Members will be familiar with Catherina McKiernan. In all the talk and, admittedly, generous and justifiable acclaim heaped on Sonia O'Sullivan, as my colleague Senator Moylan said, we should also spare a thought for Catherina McKiernan. Undoubtedly she would have been a medal prospect if she had gone to the Sydney Olympics, yet injury has blighted her career. She comes from my part of the country in west Cavan. Her coach is Joe Doonan whom I have known through his involvement in community games over the years. As a teacher, Joe Doonan, was given as much latitude as he could by the Department of Education. He made a point to me a few years ago, which I felt was justifiable. In the context of the elite card scheme, he wondered why there could not be an elite scheme for coaches. Take Joe Doonan as an example – he did not put this point to me, although I put it to the Minister – would it not be in the best medium and long-term interests of sport if the people like him, of whom we do not have a bountiful supply, were to be given say £25,000 a year? They could be given a five year programme to structure in conjunction with the Sports Council to identify and develop cross-country runners. The same could be done for other sports.

Should the Sports Council be doing that?

I welcome the Minister's increase to £51 million, but could more lottery money be spent? Why do we seem to have such an inhibition since the beginning of the lottery fund debate, feeling that somehow it is wrong to give money to sport and that that money should be given to health or arts and culture? What is so wrong with giving it to sport? If one asked people on the street about the original intention of spending a pound a week on the lottery they would say almost unanimously that it was to provide and improve sporting facilities. If the Government of the day wants to give money to health or arts and culture it can take the money from the Exchequer, but the people's lottery was set up to provide more sporting facilities for the people. That may not be the most popular thing to say—

But that was the original idea.

—but the structure of the lottery must be looked at. If a percentage increase or legislative change is required, the Minister is at the top table and he would be fighting a worthy battle if he raised those issues.

I would also love to see the Minister make a decision on a submission made to him by Leitrim County Council for a regional sports centre in Carrick-on-Shannon. He will be aware of this submission and I hope it fits into the context of his spatial strategy. The case has been well made by the council and the Minister's officials have given it their blessing in principle. I know the Minister is anxious to develop this type of centre. Now that I have him in the best of company, the Minister might put his hand in his pocket and give us a few million, as it would benefit not only Leitrim but the entire north west.

And cheap at the price.

I know I should sit down while I am ahead, but I hope the Minister will also acknowledge the contribution of the voluntary sector to the Community Games movement. They should be named specifically whenever a Minister for Sport speaks, as they are doing an outstanding job – half a million children are looked after by unpaid officials. I know the Minister supports their efforts and has attended the Community Games finals on numerous occasions. I hope he continues to give them the kind of support they need.

I know why the FAI wants its own stadium. Anyone who follows soccer knows why, but I hope the door remains open in spite of what emanates from Merrion Square and the FAI's determination to have its own stadium. If they are blocked in any way I hope the door remains open to the FAI so that the national stadium will truly be a national stadium.

I will speak in an unstructured way as I wish to return to several issues. For me the lowest moment during the Olympics came when I heard Mr. Hickey of the Olympic Council refer to our athletes as low grade.

He said they were second rate.

He used the term "low grade" and words like it as if these young people, the pride of this country, were pieces of meat. That poses the question: what is sport all about? Is it something that contributes to the community? If sport is merely an end in itself we should not spend a shilling on it; if sport is about the total objective of excellence in sport then we cannot afford to put taxpayers' money into it. However, it is an awful lot more than that.

I appeal to the Minister to ensure that the broadest possible view is taken. I heard an edited interview with him towards the end of the Olympics during which a comment was attributed to him which sounded like he wanted a Government inquiry into the poor outcome. I do not believe he said that, though that is how it was attributed to him. My initial reaction was anger and then I felt I knew the Minister too well and that he could not possibly have said something like that which made no sense.

Sport is about improving the quality of life of all those involved. Those who represent our country give us a lift and show us excellence in our own people, so we gain from that. However, more than anything else, sport is about participation. Many of us, as teachers, and I am sure the Cathaoirleach will agree with this, often saw children who were not very intellectual or academically successful find real success in taking part in sport. Anyone who has ever spent a week teach ing finds that the child who is successful on the sports field, in the swimming pool or wherever gains new confidence which improves that person in other aspects of schoolwork. The Minister should focus on this, as there is much evidence to prove it. That carries over into life for the person who gains confidence from sporting excellence. I was pretty bad at sport, but some of my friends were superb and one shared their exultation when things went right for them. We should look at this as an investment in our community, our generation and our future.

Winning is only about achieving excellence; it is about nothing else. That can be transferred to any part of life. It is not about being the one – it is about being excellent. That is what is important about this.

I do not share the doubts about the national stadium. I put that on the record because I hope that record is checked in the future. It is necessary to be imaginative and creative. Maybe it will go wrong, but in that case let us all go down with the ship. However, this time we are planning ahead, we are anticipating and moving forward and we are making it work. I want to extend the concept of the national stadium, particularly as the man who is in charge of it is the son of a pretty efficient national teacher and will have an understanding of this approach to life.

Apart from the showpiece part of the stadium, I understand there will also be homes provided for many sporting organisations. That is very good as it will give a new synergy, but I will also be making a formal proposal for a school of excellence for promising athletes in their early teens to be included. Such athletes could receive their post-primary education in a context where their skills and talents could be developed while also studying normal academic subjects.

This would be better than rushing children out to a swimming pool at 5 a.m., then home and to school. These children are spending six or seven hours on the road while only spending an hour in practice. If we were better organised they could do two or three hours practice and two or three hours schoolwork in the same period.

My saddest memory of the Olympics concerned a Trinity student swimming for Ireland who did not do as well as he expected. We all understood and he got the normal criticisms in the newspaper. However, he received one criticism that must have been very hard for him and his family, which was that he was not committed enough. A quote was attributed to some colleague of his, which of course was not correct either, that he had not shown the commitment. He was invited on to "Morning Ireland" and he apologised to us for not doing that well and for letting people down. Listening to him on the way to work, I was almost in tears. He outlined a punishing schedule which involved sitting final exams in Trinity while at the same time trying to train. When asked whether he could have devoted more time to his training, he replied that his middle class parents were paying to put him through his post-graduate studies in Trinity and that he felt he had to justify that commitment.

Friends, supporters and local people fundraised behind the scenes for all of our competitors in Sydney. Our rowing team came in for a great deal of criticism but nobody pointed out that they had to train for two years and were drawing the dole during that time. We must recognise how well our competitors do in these circumstances. I am not saying we should merely throw more money at these people but we must invest the available money in a structured manner.

Excellence is identifiable at a very young age. If an eight year old boy runs faster than a 12 year old boy on sports day in a school in the west of Ireland, that should be followed up. When I refer to a school of excellence, I mean a school which would teach the normal school curriculum but which would also develop students' sporting talents. The school would have an academic staff on the one hand and a team of coaches and trainers on the other. That would be expensive but worthwhile.

Will the Minister consider the problems faced by people who qualify for the Olympics? The young man to whom I referred earlier should have been informed when he reached the qualifying standard that he did not have to worry about his exams and that they would be reset for him in December. That may sound outlandish in Ireland where we are in the thrall of third level but that happens in some UK colleges. The young man in question could have concentrated on his exams from October to Christmas.

Last January, I was approached by a young woman who had just qualified for the Olympics. She had also secured a post-graduate place on a primary teaching course. The woman, who was a qualified post-primary teacher, was committed to becoming a primary teacher. However, she also wanted to attend the Olympics and asked me whether I could assist her in any way. I spoke to the college president who was very helpful and flexible and I returned to the young woman with his proposal. She decided she could not accept the proposal because she would not be able to train or complete the college course properly. She decided to defer the college place for one year and I contacted the college president, with whom I am well acquainted, to inform him of her decision. He thought the woman's decision was a very good one but stated that while he would do everything possible to support it, he could not give a commitment that a place would be held for the following year's course. The Department of Education and Science told me the same story. I do not want to have a go at anyone but the college president and I were trying to do our best for the young woman without knowing what would happen. We had to ask her to trust us to work something out at the end of the year and I hope we manage to do that. Young people should not be faced with these worries. The young woman acquitted herself very well and finished tenth in her event which was an extraordinary achievement.

I am trying to highlight the ordinary domestic problems faced by the young people in whom we invest huge expectations and on whom we place huge demands. Let us create a milieu for these people in which they can be supported and develop their talents.

I do not want to focus solely on Olympic sports or athletes. The same conditions and facilities should be provided to people in other sports such as Gaelic football, hurling, soccer, rugby etc. I am a GAA devotee and would strongly defend the organisation. However, if a 20 year old who plays under-21 and senior football at county, provincial or college level fails his exams at the end of the year, having given pleasure to all of us, he will lose all his confidence and all the good that should have come from being a sporting hero will be suddenly lost. I am sure the same applies in women's sports. Colleges must become more flexible in this area and must consider the sheer talent of some of these young people.

I want to conclude by referring to primary education. I was very involved in the organisation of sport at primary level when I was a school teacher and school principal and I found that very satisfying, albeit demanding. When investment in education was cut back in the late 1980s, we stopped building general purpose rooms in schools. The vast majority of schools, be they in Cavan, Monaghan, Offaly, Kerry or Cork, cannot run a PE lesson on a wet day irrespective of how keen the students are. There should be increased investment and expertise in the area of physical education and teachers must be more flexible in their approach to people who may be superb athletes. Schools must implement a proper multi-faceted PE programme which all children can experience.

Where schools do not have a general purpose room, team sports tend to be favoured. Teachers obviously want to organise large numbers of children so 15-a-side Gaelic is a bigger attraction than one-on-one games. We must ensure that schools are equipped with GP rooms in which students can learn other skills, including gymnastics, in order that students' individual skills will emerge and be recognised. One wonders how many other Seán Kellys we might have had if students had bicycles or how many great swimmers we would have if students had access to pools. Teachers need to see students in action in order to recognise their skills. Expert coaches or trainers would recognise potential at a glance. That is the way forward.

There is much work and planning to be done here. We should be looking at the small domestic problems that are created for people. The national stadium should include a centre of excellence. We will not make progress unless we have a huge investment in physical education at primary level, including general purpose rooms in all schools and also access to people who are experts in sports and games development.

Having looked at all that, we should look at the things that make it difficult. It would be helpful to do a survey of the athletes who went to Sydney and ask them, looking back over the previous two years, whether there was anything we could have done that would have helped them, not just in the context of more money but in the context of specific issues on which the money could be spent.

I join in welcoming the Minister for what is an extremely important debate. We should recognise that it is only in the last few years that sport has been put at the top of the agenda of any Government. It is timely that we are discussing this in the post-Olympic period.

From my point of view Ireland's proudest moment at the Olympics was not, as people might expect, Sonia O'Sullivan's winning a silver medal – in respect of which I join with others in congratulating her – but the opening ceremony when Sonia carried in the Irish flag to applause and cheers from the spectators. It really summed up what the Olympics and sport is all about – participation not only by athletes but also spectators. That was probably the proudest moment for me as an Irish person.

The downside related to articles that appeared in the newspapers during the Olympics and particularly following the return of some of the athletes. I concur with the sentiments of some of the other Senators in relation to those. In one of the articles it was stated that there would be an inquiry into the poor performance of athletes. In another, athletes' names and the amount of funding they received were published, together with the position they achieved in their chosen sport. That is insulting to the athletes and downgrades the work they put in, not just in the three or four years prior to the Olympics but possibly for 20 years beforehand. Participating in the Olympics is the goal they have been working towards, and they more than anyone else wanted to do well. They went out there as well prepared as they possibly could be, and people who probably never ran a yard in their life or participated in any sport had the audacity to write about them and criticise their achievements. The country's pride is more important. Participation in sport is more important than achievements at the Olympics.

Sport is just as important for children as education, not just for their physical health but for their general well-being. I welcome the inclusion of physical education within the curriculum over the past number of years. I agree with Senator O'Toole on primary education and general purpose rooms. In my constituency many general purpose rooms are used by remedial teachers looking after children with special needs. As a result, schools are at a loss as to where to bring children for PE. If children are taught PE from an early age, not only do they develop a love of sport but they learn to participate with other team members and to be competitive. This is not always a bad thing but can be a useful attribute. In addition, participation in sport is probably the single most important method of developing confidence in any child. Not every child is an Einstein or particularly gifted academically. We tend to concentrate on academic achievement. However, for the overall well-being of an individual, participation in sport and team events has a beneficial effect.

The Minister has said that to develop sport within Ireland it must be fostered at local level within all communities. I support that. That is why I appeal for greater funding for organisations such as the Community Games. Community Games is a thirty-two county organisation fully supported by voluntary workers in every area. Community Games allows children in every field – sport, drama, arts – to participate at all levels. It is totally dependent on people's generosity with their time, in many cases with their money, their cars and so on. I have been a recipient of the generosity of people in my community when participating in the Community Games. We very often underestimate the role of people in the community who give of their time to the development and well-being of children in their community.

I urge the Minister of State to stress the importance of Community Games to the Minister. I appreciate that the amount of funding for Community Games has been increased at national level. However, Community Games at local level is finding it difficult to continue in existence because it is left to a small number of volunteers to do everything. Sport is an essential part of children's development and recreation. I ask the Minister of State to stress the importance of increasing funding at local level for Community Games.

I wish to put on record the gratitude of my community for the increase in funding over the past few years for very many local clubs and organisations to improve facilities, particularly in the area of sport. The benefit of small amounts of lottery funding to small communities should not be underestimated. Every club and organisation that I know of must constantly engage in fund-raising activities. Every football club in the country must be running a weekly lotto to try to increase funding because they are constantly trying to improve sports facilities for participants. I recognise that the Minister has increased funding for the capital programme by 350% since taking office. I wish to put on record my thanks to him because this affects every community. Funding may amount to only £5,000 for a local snooker club, or it may be £200,000 for a major development for a football club. That does not matter. That extra funding often means a club can continue and encourage greater participation.

I would have some concerns about some of the larger projects to which other Senators have referred, particularly the FAI sports stadium. We must be far-sighted and visionary when we think of what the needs are. We must also have goals and seek to achieve them. I am concerned about the need for two large stadiums in close proximity to each other and I wonder if there will be trouble down the line. I agree with other Senators that if problems develop for the Football Association of Ireland the door should be left open for it to participate in the national stadium.

As someone who participated in various sports without great success in terms of awards, I firmly believe that involvement in sports is the single greatest confidence building measure for a child. If we can build up confidence at that level it augurs well for the future. The Minister correctly pointed out that active participation in sport, whether at a competitive or recreational level, "contributes greatly to the health and well being of the individual and society as a whole". That says it all. It is not what a person achieves but it is participation that counts.

I welcome the Minister to the House. As a teacher with over 25 years experience I have always found that participation in sport was a great leveller, everyone can get involved and everyone has a part to play. It is also very good for team building skills, particularly GAA, rugby and soccer, and can help a child's social and physical development.

Access to sport and facilities is an important issue for all young people. They are fed up with politics – when one talks to them they have no interest because they view politicians as overweight, middle-aged men who have no interest in communities or do very little for them. There has been a great degree of cynicism over national lottery funding, particularly for sport. Although the position was different this year, the division of lottery funds in County Louth last year was disgraceful. The allocations were clearly unfair and unreasonable. They were geographically biased in favour of one part of the county. Due to the furore that we kicked up the funds were distributed more fairly this year. There was no political interference at all. From information I got under the Freedom of Information Act, I learned that no Minister sent a letter pushing one interest over another. That is the way it should be.

Sport should be outside politics. In other words, there should be an agreed agenda on what should happen. It is not helpful to see the public rows between the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation and the Olympic Council of Ireland. It is nice for people to see – and people want to see it – the Minister, sporting bodies and the whole community working together in the interest of those who achieve at the very highest level here. I do not apportion blame to the Minister or anyone else on this issue. We should all be playing on the same team when it comes to having an Olympic parade of our best athletes. They should have the best foot forward, the best facilities and the best support they can get. We do not want public disagreements and haggling. Such a display brings into disrepute the great work that all of those people do.

Sport is not just for the elite. A lot of disadvantaged people do not have access to sporting facilities here. If one goes to Clongowes College, drives up its long driveway and sees the beautiful landscaped gardens and lands there one would say, "Fair dues to them; they are doing very well." Every child that goes to this school has an opportunity to work in a wonderful environment and participate in all of the sporting activities. I am all for that. However, if one goes to St. John's School in Ballsgrove or St. Paul's primary school one will find no facilities. All that is there is a concrete jungle. One will find nothing like what is available in other sectors. This State needs to discriminate positively in favour of disadvantaged communities in terms of sports and other facilities.

It is unacceptable to me and, I am sure, to many people, that many children in primary schools are raised in concrete jungles with no facilities. Obviously, there may be differences between new schools and older schools because there might be space restrictions, but in our educational facilities we need to provide proper and adequate indoor and outdoor playing facilities.

Health is another important issue. Why do people who come from working class backgrounds and people who are unskilled or semi-skilled not live as long as people who come from professional backgrounds? Men aged between 55 and 64 years in Ireland who come from a higher professional background have a death rate of 13 per 1,000 while the death rate for unskilled men is three times higher. It is higher for many reasons, but one of them is that unskilled men do not have the same access to sport, education and, in terms of the totality of a person, a good lifestyle.

Many people who come from deprived communities are faced with dark streets as I talk, not a fine sporting field or recreational area. They are faced with rundown estates and drug dealers on the corner of the road. Unfortunately, the only pleasure that many of them have is experimenting with drugs and alcohol. Every town faces this.

While sport is only one factor in the total development of the person, particularly the young, it is a very important part. Deprived communities and housing estates are entitled to and should be provided with proper recreational facilities, and these should be included at the planning stage.

The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has correctly made play of the £250 million that can be spent on child care facilities here. I am very disappointed that the amount is to be spent over a seven year period. That is not adequate.

The planning for the provision of recreational amenities for young people must be much better and we must be more successful at making amenities available in the community. The policy of municipal and county council authorities is very important in the provision of recreational amenities. Unfortunately, this important issue demands much greater attention than we give it. I am speaking to all public representatives, not just Government representatives. The reality is that local authorities have limited resources and they give priority, as they should, to housing. I do not have a problem with that.

In the context of planning at local authority level, far greater amounts of space should be made available for indoor and outdoor recreational amenities. We should have a constructive policy agreed across the board on the provision of better indoor and outdoor facilities. Perhaps this policy could be driven by the Minister and the Minister for the Environment and Local Government and could be carried out in consultation with other interests. It should also be done in planned stages.

The difficulty is that the richer a community is the more facilities it will have and the more environmentally accessible sport will be. When I say sport I mean recreational sport in the broadest sense. The poorer and more deprived a community, the fewer the facilities it will get. We should look at what is happening. The planning policy has been, and will be, to increase the housing density in urban areas. This means that we will be able to build more houses and they will be smaller. It will also be more expensive for poorer people to buy them.

We are going in the wrong direction in terms of planning. I accept that I may be going against conventional thinking but in my opinion, outside major inner city or large urban areas, we should not reduce housing density, we should leave it as it stands. However, we should increase the recreational spaces available. In 20 years' time, the flats and duplex apartments being constructed now will be home to families whose children will have no decent recreational areas in which to play. We will create a very unacceptable environment if we continue down the road we are currently on.

We must do much more for young people. Sport is a great leveller. I worked as a teacher in the past and I never met a child involved in sport who got into trouble with the law. Active children develop into healthier and better adults. That is the direction we must take in the future. Anything that impedes the development of children in terms of restricting their access to sporting and recreational facilities is not acceptable.

I thank all the Senators who participated in this debate. Everyone wants to ensure we get things right in terms of the development of sport and it is obvious that there is a consensus in this respect. I will now deal briefly with a number of matters to which Members referred.

The first of these is what has been referred to as the public squabble that has been taking place since our return from the Olympic Games in Syd ney. During our time in Sydney we had nothing but good relations with each member of the different organisations represented there. At all times we were concerned with upholding the image and profile of this country. Nothing untoward happened during our stay in Sydney which would have interfered with the performances of athletes.

That said, however, I was not going to turn a blind eye to what I witnessed in Sydney, particularly in respect of matters which affected our athletes and their coaches. I have no objection to people bringing their partners or spouses with them on well-earned international trips. Those individuals sat home on many nights when their husbands or wives attended committee meetings, etc., and I have no hesitation in stating that they deserve recognition. However, the point I made was that this should not happen at the expense of our coaches and athletes, particularly at an international event such as the Olympic Games – the most intimidating cauldron any athlete can enter in his or her lifetime. When I saw what transpired in Sydney, I felt there was no way I could turn a blind eye.

I never stated that I intended to instigate an inquiry into what a certain newspaper referred to as our "flop" at the Olympic Games. When I returned from Sydney I stated that I was in the Olympic village, that I saw no lack of commitment and that I certainly saw no lack of sense of national pride. It is beyond me how people could adduce from that statement that I intended to instigate an inquiry. However, I have since instigated an inquiry into what occurred at the Olympic Games. This will involve all of those who participated and I hope we will have a constructive debate on what took place.

With regard to the national stadium, I am fully aware that there are those who harbour reservations about how moneys from the public purse should be spent. It is part of the duty of Members of this House to raise specific issues in that regard. I made the point recently that I see the national stadium as part of a vision for the future, a vision of where this country should be as it enters the new century and the new millennium. In that context, I made a comparison which, again, was misquoted on the front page of a Sunday newspaper. At the beginning of the last century a piece of land became available at Jones's Road but Cumann Lúthchleas Gael decided it could not afford to purchase the site because its games would never rise to the stature they enjoy today. Consequently, it abandoned its pursuit of the land at Jones's Road. Fortunately, however, an individual purchased the site and held it in trust for Cumann Lúthchleas Gael. Croke Park, a state of the art facility comparable to any similar stadium in Europe, now stands on the land to which I refer.

My analogy about Croke Park relates to the past. In connection with the present, I recently stated that until we put in place the proper infrastructure we would never have been able to able to host the Ryder Cup, the most prestigious jewel in the crown of the sport of golf. My point is that unless we put in place the proper infrastructure we will never be able to hold major prestigious events.

I have a great deal of confidence about the future of sport in Ireland and throughout the world. International television stations are in a position to pay enormous sums of money for individual English Premier League clubs and one station is reportedly prepared to pay £650 million for Manchester United. If they are willing to pay that kind of money for a single club, they must obviously have a great deal of confidence in the future of sport. That is only one example.

Who are we to say where the future of sport lies? Less than six months from now the Irish international soccer team will play host to two of the best teams in Europe, Holland and Portugal, in the World Cup qualifying competition. For the match against lowly Estonia, which fielded eight players from one particular club, 35,000 people packed into Lansdowne Road. In six months' time I imagine there will be a demand for between 60,000 to 70,000 tickets for the matches against Holland and Portugal. Whether one is a member of the FAI or some other organisation, in the interests of commercial enterprise one would want to ensure that one could attract a crowd of that size to attend matches in order to boost revenue.

I have no difficulty with the FAI wanting to build its own emotional home. However, the most conservative estimate indicates that during the next ten years it would be worth £40 million to the FAI to become involved in the national stadium project. With a sum of that magnitude at its disposal, the FAI will be able to cater for its own infrastructure and its junior and schoolboy leagues. To give credit where it is due, the organisation has performed admirably in this regard to date.

Let us face facts. My local club, Finn Harps, has announced that it is in dire financial difficulties. I am sure a number of other League of Ireland clubs are in the same boat. This example shows that if, as in other spheres in the past ten years, a spirit of partnership came to dominate our dealings with the FAI we could improve the lot of soccer in this country. As already stated, I have no objection to the FAI proceeding with its own emotional home at Eircom Park.

Almost every Member who spoke in the debate referred to the contribution to sport made by volunteers. Many people have devoted 20, 25 or 30 years of their lives to their sports. I hope Members recognise that the political will exists to help sport and to try to provide facilities for local communities and organisations. This will ensure that those people who have devoted a lifetime to their sport will know that they have achieved something and that they were responsible for helping to build a stadium, clubhouse or community centre.

I reiterate my point about making a lifelong commitment. It took Sonia O'Sullivan 14 minutes to run 5000 metres and it took Cathy Freeman 49 seconds to run 400 metres. However, it took a lifetime to win those races. After a lifetime's commitment to voluntary organisations we will be happy to have made a small contribution to the winning of an Olympic gold or silver medal.

I will carefully consider the many articles mentioned by Senators. Senator O'Toole made a strident contribution regarding the national stadium. The total cost of the national stadium will be £560 million but the project involves more than just a stadium. The greenfield site consists of 500 acres. An architectural competition is proceeding to design a site divided into four, five or possibly six areas including the stadium and the campus which will provide physiology, medicine and other services. The design will include 100 acres of parkland which will benefit the local community. Another section will deal with the area of commercial, business, leisure and cultural activities. The benefit will not be confined to elite sports people but will be designated for the use of all people who participate in elite and recreational sport.

Senator Henry emphasised the health aspect of sport. It is amazing that the average Irish man and woman is 6 kg heavier than in 1990 and we must consider the problems this can create. We must have a balanced society. I do not object to spending money on our health service. However, there is an imbalance between the amounts of money spent on medicine and on sport. I have been on the front line of medicine for many years. Before I was elected to Dáil Éireann I often felt as if I were working in the basement of a building where a tap was turned on in an upper storey and the water flowing down through the floors. It appeared to me that doctors and nurses were trying to bail water out of a basement instead of going upstairs and turning off the tap.

We would contribute more to the health of the nation by investing in sport and physical education in schools than by spending money on hospitals. It was pointed out today that cutbacks in education spending have left many primary schools with no PE facilities.

Will we have a sports centre in Carrick-on-Shannon?

The performance of Irish sports men and women has been totally disproportionate to our tiny population. We like nothing more than a win by an Irish individual, team or even an Irish horse because it lifts the morale of the entire nation. It takes something special to bring a country to a halt but to bring a country to a halt at ten o'clock on a Monday morning is particularly special. That is what Sonia O'Sullivan did and all credit is due to her and to people like her who have given us such morale boosts in the past number of years.

I enjoyed this debate. I assure Senators that I have taken notes of all their contributions. Quotations from the speeches of Members of both Houses prove exceptionally useful when I go to the Minister for Finance. I thank the Senators who have taken part in the debate. When we examine the achievements of our Olympic sports men and women we should not focus too much on certain specific issues. I can only respond to issues, such as the Olympic Games or the national stadium, which are raised by Senators. I assure Senators that the points raised will be carefully considered.

I thank you, a Leas-Chathaoirligh, for the opportunity to address the House.

Might I make a brief point which may be helpful to future debates? I am disappointed not to have been able to take part in today's debate. I was attending a long and significant meeting of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs which was attended by the Israeli Ambassador and representatives of the Palestinian Authority. This was followed by a meeting I had arranged some time ago with an Iraqi delegation, who had waited for an hour.

Could it be suggested to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, when it is assumed a debate will continue from 4 p.m. until 8 p.m., that provision be made for contributions to be made by Members, even after the Minister has concluded? It seems unnecessarily bureaucratic to stifle debate.

I had wished to make several points. I have a very nice young American political assistant who has been digging out things for me. I have some ideas but I do not have an opportunity to put them before the House. This is not because of dereliction on my part but because of the pressure of our commitments. I offer these remarks to the House for its consideration.

I have no problem in coming back to the House.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

There are many demands on Senators, particularly on Wednesdays. I am sure the Senator can pass his points privately to the Minister. A further debate on some of the issues raised today would be useful. However, Standing Orders required that when no one was offering the Minister be asked to conclude.

I congratulate the Minister and thank him for his interest in this debate. I wish him well and I hope he receives the co-operation of the Irish Sports Council. I know the council will support him. I understand what he means.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

When is it proposed to sit again?

At 10.30 a.m. tomorrow.