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.