Sport and Recreational Development.

A few months ago I asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism about his plans for Abbotstown. I received a reply some time later stating that initial plans had been drawn up and that they would be brought to Government. However, something has gone wrong since then. According to media reports, the plans have now been shelved or scrapped. I hope the Minister will be able to throw some light on this and explain what has happened.

I live in the area of Abbotstown and there was great concern when the stadium was proposed for the area. The proposal was rejected by the local people because of the lack of proper public transport infrastructure in the area. This land has been in State ownership for many years. The Government has taken steps to move the State Laboratory from the site. I am not sure how much work is being done on the State farms anymore, although there is still some work taking place. The land is extremely valuable but the people of Blanchardstown and surrounding areas have always believed it would be used to provide a national park.

The plans suggested by the Minister were well received by the population of Dublin 15. These plans were for sports facilities and headquarters for national sporting organisations. There has been huge investment in the National Aquatic Centre, which also has problems but I will not discuss them today. The Abbotstown site was to be used to provide sporting facilities to cater for our athletes who wish to train at a high level. Indeed, we are sadly lacking in facilities for people who wish to train for participation in the Olympics. The Minister said previously that the facilities at Abbotstown would be available to athletes who will participate in the London Olympics. It was believed Ireland would have a part to play in the event through providing those facilities. This site, therefore, was to be of benefit both locally and nationally. We need such national facilities for our athletes.

I am concerned about any suggestion that these plans have been scrapped. If they are scrapped, why is that so? Does the Government have another plan for the lands at Abbotstown? Suggestions that any of the land should be sold for housing will be met with enormous resistance. I am not sure if the Minister is familiar with the Blanchardstown area but it has absorbed a huge amount of development. It is built to over-capacity given the infrastructure. The area has absorbed its fair share. The land at Abbotstown has always been earmarked. It was understood that when it ceased to be used by the State Laboratory and farm, it would come into public ownership in terms of providing local and national facilities. I hope the Minister will throw some light on this issue.

I acknowledge the positive interest Senator Terry has always had in this matter. Sadly, the development of Abbotstown became a political football, if I may mix metaphors, last year. Serious damage was done to the public interest. I am not a sportsperson, I must admit, but I believe that sport plays a vital part in the life of a nation. Traditionally we have not looked favourably on this area, nor have we made appropriate provision, but I will be providing Senator Terry with some assurances in my response. The Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy O'Donoghue, has asked me to apologise on his behalf for his inability to attend today.

An ESRI report was launched yesterday which identified the main social aspects and advantages of sport in Ireland. These aspects did not inform any part of what I believe was a very crude and ill-informed political debate that raged about Abbotstown. The ESRI report stated that the economic value of sport is €1.4 billion per annum. In this context, Exchequer support of €611 million for sport over the past seven years can be seen as a worthwhile investment. The annual sports budget has been increased dramatically in the last seven years. It was only €17 million in 1997, which strikes me as an extraordinarily low base, but it has now risen to €130 million in 2005. By the end of 2005, Government spending on sport since 1997 will total €740 million. This Government intends to continue to target funds at strategically identified sports facilities appropriate to a nation at the economic level of development which Ireland now, thankfully, enjoys.

There is a compelling business case to be made for the development of sports facility at Abbotstown. In fact, the case was always there but the issue was subject to a rather crude political debate. Such a development would increase participation in sport at all levels from the passive amateur to the high-performance athlete. This would have beneficial effects on the health of the nation and help to address many social problems. Among many other benefits, the sports campus could generate substantial tourism revenue. In fact, Senator Terry spoke of the London Olympics in 2012 with this very point in mind. The campus will not only generate revenue, but will also involve the building of high-class, international standard sports training facilities which can contribute to social and economic regeneration. In this context, I am well aware of the burden being carried by Dublin 15 in general and Abbotstown in particular.

Investment in sport yields multiple returns in terms of improved health for the individual, less demand on health services by those of middle and older age, reduced anti-social behaviour among young people, economic regeneration and improved employment opportunities. Sport contributes to community regeneration. There is nothing that binds a community together better than sport. It also contributes to personal development, increased community safety, increased voluntary involvement and healthier lifestyles. Young people benefit from sports facilities, which also enhance their education. Sport also improves the local economy through employment and sport tourism and benefits the environment.

As Senators are aware, the Government decided in 2004 to proceed with the phased development, as financial resources permit, of a sports campus on the State-owned lands at Abbotstown. Campus and Stadium Ireland Development Limited, CSID, was requested to put forward proposals. With the assistance of project managers Davis Langdon PKS and sports consultants Holohan Group, CSID prepared a development control plan. Wide-ranging consultations took place with the Irish Sports Council, the Olympic Council of Ireland, the major governing bodies of sport and other key stakeholders and interest groups, to identify the requirements for facilities. Meetings also took place between CSID and Fingal County Council, which was completing its county development plan for 2005 to 2011.

During the consultation process it became clear that there is need to develop, at national level, top class sports facilities to cater, in a dedicated way, for elite professional and amateur sports people. At the same time, there is a need to provide a wide range of facilities which would be available to the national governing bodies of sport and to the local community for individual and community related sports. On that basis, a proposal was prepared, as phase one of the programme, which would provide pitches and facilities for the three major field sports rugby, soccer and Gaelic games, including shared core facilities such as accommodation and a gymnasium. This phase also includes indoor sports halls to cater for a range of indoor sports with spectator accommodation and publicly accessible all-weather floodlit synthetic pitches. Over 30 sports can be accommodated in the proposed indoor sports centre, including hockey, hurling, tennis, gymnastics, badminton, basketball, martial arts, bowls and boxing. It has been estimated that this first phase of the programme will cost €119 million — although one is always wary of giving hostages to fortune by providing specific figures — and has a four to five year delivery schedule.

Other developments, including an arena and headquarters for major governing bodies of sport have been left for consideration in future phases of the development. A number of buildings remain on the site at Abbotstown, which have been surveyed and can be cost-effectively refurbished and developed for alternative use. When the campus project proceeds, as it will, consideration can be given to the use of these buildings as headquarters for national sports organisations.

The Minister has received the development control plan for the sports campus at Abbotstown from CSID. The Government had an initial discussion on the proposals last month. The allocation of the necessary funding to enable the project to get underway will be considered in the context of the multi-annual capital envelope for the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism, which will be agreed prior to the budget.

Again, I thank Senator Terry for her very positive support for the project.

I thank the Minister for his response and I am glad to learn that many aspects of the campus project will go ahead. However, the one thing that is missing from the Minister's response is a date. I am also not convinced that there is a strong commitment to obtain funding in the budget. Is there a possibility that the campus project will not get funding this year, which would delay the entire project? While we have a five-year delivery schedule, we do not have any date for the turning of the sod and there is no strong commitment to obtain the necessary funding in the budget. Will the campus project be competing with other projects?

The Senator will appreciate that I cannot predict the details of the Minister for Finance's budget, nor can any other Deputy or Minister who might come before this House. There is a commitment to this and the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy O'Donoghue, has made a very valiant case for the project.

All of us in public life must deal responsibly with an issue like this and I agree with Senator Terry that Abbotstown is a worthy project. While I am not the world's most avid sports fan, I believe it is a development that will contribute hugely to the life of the nation. It ill behoves us, as was done when the proposal was first mooted, to spend our time destructively scoring political points. We should take the appropriate approach, as Senator Terry has done, and be supportive of the positive aspects of development. The Minister's personal and continuing support for the project cannot be questioned.

The question of what will be allocated to mult-annual budget envelopes will be resolved on an inter-ministerial basis between now and budget day. The Senator will appreciate that my job is to obtain as much money as possible in my Department's envelope and I know that the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, is doing the same, and doing it very well, for his Department.

I thank the Minister again and wish to send back a message to the Minister for Arts, Sports and Tourism to let him know that I support him in what he is trying to do. I believe that Deputy O'Donoghue wants to go ahead with this project and I hope that his colleagues in Cabinet will support him and that funding will be provided in the budget.

Similar encouragement from other Members of Dáil Éireann would be helpful.

The Seanad adjourned at 3.10 p.m. until2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 11 October 2005.