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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 28 Jun 2006

Vol. 184 No. 7

National Sports Campus Development Authority Bill 2006: Committee Stage.

Sections 1 to 4, inclusive, agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 5 stand part of the Bill."

Can the Minister give me any reason for not including a fixed time limit? We are told the Bill is of considerable urgency and yet there is no establishment date. It is when the Minister is ready to do so. This is an old issue of mine. I would have thought it would be appropriate to include a date — a maximum of three months, two months or one month. In the case of a body which is urgent, which is limited and focussed, which effectively exists already and which we are only simply putting on a statutory basis, it seems strange that somebody, whether the Minister or the Chief Parliamentary Counsel, insists on leaving this open-ended date for establishment. I would like to hear the Minister's view on it.

The section provides that the Minister will set an establishment day for the National Sports Campus Development Authority and that it will be set by order. The advantage of a section like this is to allow all necessary arrangements to put in place after the Bill has been enacted.

Question put and agreed to.
Section 6 agreed to.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 7, subsection (1)(d), line 9, after “generally” to insert “, with special emphasis on female participation”.

This line should be included in this worthwhile Bill. In sport as in public life, my party is conscious of ensuring female participation.

As Senator Feighan will be aware, one of the stated functions of the authority is to encourage and promote the use of the sports campus by people participating in sport at professional and amateur levels and by members of the public generally. In this context the authority will encourage and promote the use of the campus by a wide variety of groups. This promotion will be targeted at both male and female sportspersons and I am reluctant to make specific reference in legislation to any particular group as this could simply result in tokenism.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question proposed: "That section 7 stand part of the Bill."

I have a couple of questions for the Minister. I may have missed this matter, although I looked through the definitions. Subsection (2) states that the authority may develop and provide on the site such facilities and services of a commercial nature. As there are now so many definitions of commercial, what does that mean? Does it mean that the revenue must exceed the outgoings on an annual basis? Must the authority consider the capital cost and the need to fund capital costing in a discounted fashion, or what? Deciding that something is commercial is not quite as easy as putting two words in a Bill because one must decide whether one will include the capital cost of the project and if one does not, it is effectively running costs that one is paying for. It is probably a pity that there is not a definition of "commercial" in the Bill. Although I have a couple of other questions, they are not connected with this one. I wish to know the Minister's view of what is meant by the term "commercial nature".

Would this authority have any function in the management of projects other than this particular one? For instance, there is an excellent facility in Ennis where a large number of pitches of various kinds and tracks have been put in place, mainly by the local authority. I am sure that especially in many of the cities there would be a necessity for a facility, although perhaps not as all-embracing as the one referred to in the Bill. Under its functions, would this authority have power to organise a similar type of complex, facility or development, for instance, adjacent to Limerick city, Galway or any of the bigger towns?

On Sunday there was an open day at the Lee's Road development, of which you are aware, a Chathaoirligh, where there was a significant turnout from the people of the town of Ennis who very much appreciate the funding the Minister gave towards the facility, which is managed and run by the town council. Perhaps an authority like this should have an additional function to move in to areas, not where there are developments such as the one in Ennis but where developments similar to those planned in Abbotstown might be put in place. Would the authority have any function to operate in such situations?

The specific remit of the authority is to develop a sports campus at Abbotstown, not anywhere else. The reason commercial buildings are mentioned in the context of the campus is that they might be complementary to the campus. For example, the GAA authorities have seen fit to construct a hotel connected to the Croke Park stadium. In the same way, it might be necessary for the authority to construct such a building. The objective is not to depend on the Exchequer or any other body for funding at any time. The objective must be to ensure the campus is run as economically as possible. Provision should, therefore, be made in the legislation for the construction of commercial properties.

That is not what I asked the Minister. Does "commercial" mean the developments mentioned in section 7(2)(a) would have to be entirely self-financing? For instance, would the developers have to include the cost of the site in their budgets? Would they pay the market value for the site and fund the capital cost or would such projects be regarded as commercial as long as revenue exceeded expenditure? Perhaps a definition of “commercial” should be inserted, otherwise it is up to the campus authority to decide what is meant by it. I hope the Minister might clarify that.

The private sector has never been excluded from the Abbotstown development and it will not be under the legislation. It was agreed that it might be possible for a commercially minded organisation to go on site and, for example, make an offer that would be sufficiently attractive to construct an indoor arena. That may happen but I do not know because it is impossible to say. However, the possibility of transferring a site for a certain consideration to a commercial organisation is not excluded under the legislation and that would not be desirable. It is my preference that the authority should own and run the facility but I am not excluding the possibility of the private sector coming in. If that happens, it will be done in the judgment of the authority, having due regard to all the commercial factors and the need to develop the campus sensibly. However, what I envisage by "commercial" in this context is a commercial outlet that would be complementary to the campus and that is why I instanced a hotel.

The Minister did not answer my question about what "commercial" means, which is a pity. For example, the Railway Procurement Agency claimed the Luas made a profit last year. While its revenue exceeded its expenditure, the agency did not include the €700 million capital cost of the infrastructure. As I try to educate young engineers, that is not a profit.

I am a little concerned about section 7(2)(d), which states “make arrangements with any person, on such terms and conditions as it considers appropriate, for the provision to it by that person of financial assistance (whether by 30 way of the provision of funds or the undertaking of works) for the development...”. What does that mean? Will the Minister explain the necessity for this provision?

An individual or individuals may wish to make a donation to construct a facility on site. For example, Mr. McManus decided to contribute £50 million to the construction of a national stadium but that fell through when the stadium did not proceed at Abbotstown. Other generous, public spirited people may wish to make a contribution and, in those circumstances, it makes perfect sense for the authority to make an arrangement with them for financial assistance for the development or provision of facilities or services or both on the campus and, in certain circumstances, the use by them of those facilities and services. In other words, while the authority has the responsibility of developing the campus, I am not seeking to inhibit it from entering into arrangements that might be beneficial to the campus. I am trying to ensure the authority has as much latitude as possible to construct the campus and ancillary buildings that might be required for the overall benefit of the campus.

Section 7(7) states, "The Minister may approve, with such modifications (if any) as he or she considers appropriate, a plan submitted to him or her by the Authority...". Does the Bill make provision to prevent the Minister modifying the plans in a way that might affect their viability by increasing the authority's expenditure while reducing its revenue? If the Minister is seeking the power to amend the authority's plans, he or she should take responsibility for the additional costs he or she imposes. The Minister cannot issue an edict to the authority to do something, which increases its expenditure by 50%, without taking responsibility for the increase. If the Minister wishes to make amendments, he or she should be responsible for the costs that result.

The Minister is responsible for the costs. The Government has agreed to provide €119 million in the Estimates over the next four or five years. That will be contained in the capital envelope of my Department following negotiations with the Minister for Finance, who has been very helpful and forthcoming in the construction of the first phase of the campus. There is no power for the Minister to make amendments to plans provided by the authority but it is only right that he or she should approve its plans when, ultimately, he or she is accountable to the Houses of the Oireachtas for the funding concerned. When the funding comes from the public purse, it makes perfect sense for the Minister to have a role in the approval of the plans because they must be drafted within budget. They cannot exceed the budget because the Minister might not have obtained the necessary funding from the Minister for Finance in his or her capital envelope to enable plans that run are over budget to be put in place.

We are at cross purposes. If significant public funds are due to be expended, nobody will dispute the Minster should have the final say but the issue is modification of the plans. Has provision been made to prevent a Minister modifying plans under section 7(3), 7(4) and 7(5) in a way that could increase the expenditure of the authority and reduce its revenue? I have no problems with the Minister approving the authority's plans because he or she is the principal funder but I have a problem with the authority drafting a plan based on its estimate of its income and expenditure and the Minister modifying it so that it affects the income or expenditure in a negative fashion.

I want to know why there is not an amendment to the effect that if the Minister makes modifications which increase the cost to the authority, the Minister must then fund them. It is a standard complaint on the part of many public bodies that they get increasing amounts of work from Ministers without matching funds. Every local authority in the country will scream blue murder about the degree to which its remit, but not its budget, has been extended.

There is no provision in the legislation to allow the Minister to make additional funding available to provide for modifications which he or she might make because there is no provision in the legislation which would allow the Minister to make such modifications.

In that case, what does section 7(7) mean?

It means that the Minister approves the plans which are submitted under sections 7(3),7(4) or 7(5). Section 7(4) specifically provides that while the authority can amend the plan, if it does so, the plan must be resubmitted to the Minister for approval.

I have one further question. While I am not trying to be awkward, to a considerable extent this constitutes the nub of the Bill. I am surprised there is no definition of the term "campus" anywhere and one could end up with all sorts of complications in this regard. Section 7(9) defines "sports campus" as a campus of facilities for sporting activities. Although the fact that I had time to consult a dictionary it is probably a sad reflection on my life, I did so. The dictionary definition of "campus" is the grounds of a school, college, university or hospital.

I can imagine the befuddlement of their lordships and ladyships in the courts if this legislation ever comes before them and if they will be obliged to work out what the term "campus" means and what the Oireachtas meant by it. It would have been quite simple to include a definition of the term "campus" which essentially constituted a description of the activities under discussion here. It is a pity there is no such definition. Alternatively, I may have missed it.

There is no definition of a sports campus in the legislation. I am sure that a thesaurus or the Oxford dictionary will provide ample examples. If that fails, I presume there must be much legal authority available to precisely define what constitutes a sports campus.

Question put and agreed to.
Section 8 agreed to.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 9, lines 16 to 19, to delete subsection (3) and substitute the following new subsection:

"(3) Of the members of the Council, no fewer than 6 of their number shall be men and no fewer than 6 of their number shall be women.".

Fine Gael believes there should be gender balance on the council and that no fewer than six of its members shall be men and no fewer than six shall be women. As this is a new board, Fine Gael feels that balance would be required in this respect. I hope the Minister will take this on board.

Section 9(3) provides that the Minister shall, in so far as is practicable and having regard to the relevant experience of the persons concerned, ensure an equitable balance between men and women in the composition of the authority. I have reflected on the issues raised by Senator Feighan and while I agree with the thrust of his proposal, I will not accept his amendment.

However, I am extremely keen to include a greater number of women on State boards. I recognise there are a number of very successful women in the field of sport, business and finance, who could bring a wealth of experience to the operation of a national sports campus development authority. I fully intend to avail of the knowledge and capacity that such people could bring to the board or authority. At present, as the Senator is aware, it is Government policy that membership of State boards should have a target of 40% female participation. It is my intention to meet that target because I recognise the impact gender balance can bring to the operation of boards.

However, I must note that sometimes difficulties have been encountered even in meeting the present target. The present wording of section 9(3) refers to "an equitable balance". This is a phrasing which permits what the Senator sought and more, while simultaneously leaving some flexibility to allow for a practical solution and to avoid binding a Minister who may find that he or she is without a sufficient pool of suitable candidates of either gender. The alternative proposed by this amendment is overly prescriptive.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question proposed: "That section 9 stand part of the Bill."

I have a couple of questions in respect of section 9 regarding some points which confused me. Perhaps I am easily confused. Section 9(10) uses the phrase "a person shall be disqualified for holding and shall cease to hold office". I appreciate the sensitivity of the draftspeople in recent years because at one time this clause would have included bankrupts, criminals and Members of the Oireachtas as the three excluded categories. At least membership of the Oireachtas is dealt with separately. I must admit to taking offence when it was included in the same section. Obviously, someone has responded to my sensitivities and has decided to put it in a separate section to avoid the implication that these were three different categories of the same kind of sinner.

However, section 9(10) does not make it clear as to whether a member of the authority will be disqualified if he or she is adjudged bankrupt or to meet any of the other specified conditions, or whether someone who has been so adjudged can never be a member of the authority. There are different categories of people in this regard. I am unsure whether anyone who is convicted of an indictable offence in respect of a company should ever be allowed to be a member of a body which deals with public money. On the other hand, if people have the misfortune to be obliged to make an arrangement with creditors in business at some stage in their lives, this should not exclude them forever from participation in such boards.

Ireland claims to be a country in which risk-taking meets with approval and sometimes business ventures go wrong and decent honest people must make arrangements with their creditors. It ought not to be something which remains on their record forever. Hence, can the Minister clarify whether the specified conditions are simply disqualifications for people once they have been appointed, or do they apply to anyone who has ever suffered any of these various embarrassments?

Unfortunately, it applies if a person has ever suffered any of these embarrassments, to use Senator Ryan's phrase. Incidentally, these are standard provisions which are included in a considerable number of Acts of the Oireachtas and beyond. The situation is as outlined by the Senator.

Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 10 stand part of the Bill."

Section 10(1) states, "the Authority shall hold such and so many meetings as may be necessary for the performance of its functions". Although I read through section 10, I did not find any minimum number of meetings. I may have missed it, as I do not claim to be the world's greatest authority on these matters. It seems strange that the board would not be obliged to have some meetings. I understand that in company law, there must be some requirement to the effect that boards of directors must meet for a minimum number of times per year. However, I do not retain the entirety of Irish company law in my head.

Is there a reason for this absence, or is it an omission? If it is the latter, will the Minister consider an amendment on Report Stage? I suggest that three of four meetings annually would be a reasonable minimum. However, the idea that the board would only be obliged to meet once a year or once every few years appears strange.

I am afraid that I must rely on the good sense of the chairperson and members of the authority to run the authority. If the members and board of the authority do not run the authority in a business-like, sufficient and efficient manner, it would clearly be open to the Minister of the day to move in and resolve the problem. I do not envisage a situation whereby people would be appointed as chairperson and members of the authority and would then decide not to have any meetings. It is best to leave such matters open to the board members and to the chairperson in particular.

I disagree with the Minister and Members should set some minimum standard in this respect. Four times a year would constitute a reasonable minimum figure. Aside from this Bill, I must engage in further research in this regard. I find this to be an invitation to a domineering chief executive to minimise the role of the board, especially if the chief executive and chairman came to a convenient arrangement. While I do not imply improper behaviour, it would be very convenient for a domineering chief executive to minimise the number of meetings and consequently the input of the board.

Moreover, there is nothing that a member of the board can do about this. I can see no provision to allow members of the board to call a meeting against the wishes of the chairman. There is no provision for them to hold a minimum number of meetings. I do not raise these points to be awkward, but as constructive suggestions in respect of how such agencies should perform their business, according to minimum standards of what I regard as good corporate governance.

There is a statutory imperative contained in section 10(1) which categorically states the authority shall hold such and so many meetings as may be necessary for the performance of its functions. Should it fail to do so it will be in breach of its statutory duty and all of the consequences which follow would come into play.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 11 and 12 agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 13 stand part of the Bill."

I compliment the Minister. I may have missed this before but section 13(7) is the first time I have come across the provision that a chief executive shall not take up particular types of employment for 12 months after ceasing to be chief executive. It is a welcome development although I would prefer 24 months. People in such bodies or Government advisers should not be able to move seamlessly from one position to another, where they can use information, however carefully or properly they do so. While I compliment the Minister, I ask that he be more demanding in the future.

Question put and agreed to.
Section 14 agreed to.

We will now discuss amendment No. 2a to section 15.

On a point of clarification, while the briefing from the Seanad Office states amendment No. 2a is to section 15, is it to section 15 or section 18?

I apologise.

Question proposed: "That section 15 stand part of the Bill."

I, like everyone else, am aware of the perpetual talk about the alleged pensions time bomb that is ahead of our children if not ourselves. I am not sure life expectancy will stretch that far. This Bill does not seem to provide for any equivalence to public service pensions. The scheme will be approved by the Ministers for Arts, Sport and Tourism and Finance. It could be a defined payment scheme and need not necessarily be a defined benefit scheme. It could have far more onerous conditions than currently exist for public servants or people in other State bodies. Will the Minister elaborate on this matter? I have seen it in other recent Bills. I am unhappy we might be at the thin end of a wedge to reduce the pension schemes available in quasi-State bodies with a view to moving on to the public sector generally.

The scheme to which the Senator refers will be devised in due course. Section 15 deals with the superannuation of the staff of the authority and the powers of the authority in that regard. Incidentally, it is standard practice for an agency of this type to prepare and operate superannuation schemes in respect of its staff. It occurs in the Irish Sports Council Act 1999, where specific provision is made and it has worked quite well. I am sure the same will occur here.

Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 16 stand part of the Bill."

Section 16 deals with the disclosure of interests, which is becoming standardised. It never used to be included in Bills such as this. I do not have major objections to it, except for section 16(3), which states:

A person shall not be regarded as having a beneficial interest in, or material to, any matter by reason only that he or she or any company or other body or person mentioned in subsection (2) has an interest which is so remote or insignificant that it cannot reasonably be regarded as likely to influence a person in considering or discussing, or in voting on, any question in respect of the matter or in performing any function in relation to the matter.

I would prefer an objective test to the quasi-subjective judgment of the authority. I know this is not easy, and I do not have a problem with the concept. However, it is the type of ambiguity which leaves open the real possibility of considerable conflict if somebody has to make a judgment on whether an interest was minor or major.

When the Minister was in the House yesterday, I stated I would not mention greyhounds and I will not mention them today either. However, suggestions were made that conflicts of interest arose in that controversy. The person about whom it was suggested was quite dismissive. He believed the interest was remote or insignificant. Many other people would not agree with him. I only use it as an example. If an objective test were not to be included, at least the judgment should be made by somebody outside the loop of the authority.

Section 16(1) sets out the situation regarding disclosure. It provides that the disclosure requirements cover members of the authority or a committee, staff members, directors or staff of a subsidiary, consultants and advisers. It also specifically provides that where such a person has a monetary or other beneficial interest in the matter under consideration by the authority, it must be disclosed and the interest holder must not be involved in dealing with the matter by influencing in the decision or partaking in a discussion at a meeting.

As far as I am concerned, this is a standard provision which, for example, applies to local authority members at local authority meetings, meetings of its sub-committees or constituent bodies. In the same way, it applies at Cabinet. We must be reasonable and decide whether a matter is, in the eyes of a reasonable person, so remote as not to affect the issue involved. It is not really possible to set in stone an objective benchmark against which one can measure whether a matter is so remote as to affect one's judgment or interest.

Nobody is arguing with the basic thrust of this section. However, it seems it would be a lot easier if the judgment were made by an individual such as the Ombudsman, secretary to the Government or another person or body who would be in a position to make an objective judgment. Under section 16(6) the Minister can deal severely with somebody where he comes to the conclusion that he or she contravened these sections on disclosure. A person could have legitimately concluded that under section 16(3) there was no reason to do anything about it and the Minister could come to a different conclusion under section 16(6) and deal severely with a person who made a mistake.

It would be more useful to have an objective independent way of making a judgment on this. We will have a situation whereby various State agencies have different interpretations of this and contradictory positions. I offer this helpfully for future consideration. I will not make a major fuss about it. However, I believe it is ambiguous.

What is the significance of section 16(8)? I do not carry the Companies Act in my head. I gather the non-application of section 194 of that Act must have significance.

We must agree to disagree on who judges whether a matter is remote.

It would not be the first time.

I have a clear view on this. The test of reasonableness is successfully applied in tort and other areas of civil law all the time by judges. The test of reasonableness is even applied in the criminal law where a person must be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. If it can be used as a determinant in murder cases, I feel sure it can be used as a determinant or benchmark when dealing with the question of whether an individual was obliged to disclose a certain fact or issue.

Section 194 of the Companies Act deals with the duty of a director to disclose his interest in contracts, transactions or arrangements in the company in which he is involved. This Bill provides for disclosure in respect of the director of a subsidiary and therefore the application of section 194 is not required. Thus, the same disclosure regime applies to a member of the authority or a committee, a member of staff of the authority or a subsidiary or a consultant or adviser engaged by the authority.

Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 17 stand part of the Bill."

That the authority should define what is confidential is a bad idea. I have said this about every Bill I have dealt with in this House. We ought to have an objective test of what is confidential because different bodies come to different conclusions. Coillte, for instance, which is a publicly owned organisation, keeps insisting that it is not and is therefore not bound by the obligations of transparency by which public bodies are bound. It claims to be a private organisation, which it manifestly is not. Its interpretation of its own confidentiality is different from that of other agencies which believe they are bound by the reasonable rules of disclosure.

On the issue of disclosure, I have long held the view that we ought to have some objective test so matters that are not covered by the Freedom of Information Act should, by definition, be regarded as confidential. Instead, we have circumstances in which anything the authority says is confidential is confidential. This is a bit like the circumstances in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Section 17 deals with restrictions on the unauthorised disclosure of confidential information and provisions on the disclosure of information in respect of bodies such as this authority. Section 23 brings the authority under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act. It would be quite unusual and inappropriate for me to introduce a confessor for the authority.

I did not believe the Minister would.

Question put and agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 2a, 2b and 2c are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 2a:

In page 16, subsection (1)(d), line 17, to delete “elected or co-opted as a member of a local authority,”.

Over the years, certainly under the dual mandate, it was felt that if people were worthy enough to be elected to a local authority or city council, they should be able to act as members of boards. Amendment No. 2b seeks to delete “or a member of a local authority” in lines 33 and 34, and amendment No. 2c seeks to delete paragraph (c) in lines 44 and 45.

We must strike a balance. There seems to be much more emphasis than there was heretofore on excluding members of local authorities from committees or boards such as those under discussion. I would not call this politically correct. They often have a very deep knowledge of how the system works and possess common sense. Not everybody would be acceptable on a board. Most people on the boards in question will be interested in sport and will be from a business background, but not too many people, other than those with a local authority background, will have a deep knowledge of how the system works. I was on a many boards and in a chamber of commerce before I became involved in politics but discovered that being a member of a local authority gave me the desired vision and knowledge. The deletions I propose should be made.

I spoke at length on Second Stage on the subject covered by the three amendments. Local authority members should not be excluded from the boards. It seems the Parliamentary Counsel has included their exclusion as a matter of course. On two occasions, a Minister has agreed with what we said on this matter on this side of the House. One Minister decided local authority members should be included and, in the other case, a Minister of State said he would sleep on the matter for the night. However, he obviously slept on it the wrong way because he disagreed. It is one-all at this stage and we are in extra time. We are depending on the Minister to accept these amendments

Local authority members may have a vast pool of knowledge in the areas in question and they should certainly not be excluded from membership of the authority. The ball is in the Minister's court and we hope he will accept the amendments.

There are clearly good reasons to require Members of the Oireachtas or the European Parliament not to be members of the authority given that it is ultimately accountable to the Minister and the Oireachtas. However, there is no such relationship of accountability between the authority and local authorities and therefore the logic does not apply. There is no logic to excluding local authority members other than that somebody in the Office of the Chief Parliamentary Counsel has got it into his or her head that the exclusion ought to be extended to them. That is the first reason I support Senator Feighan's amendment.

The second reason concerns special policy committees, which now have significant influence on local authority policy-making. A member of a special policy committee who is not a local authority member could end up a member of the authority while the people who stick their necks out at elections and are elected to a local authority, as opposed to being appointed to special policy committee by some voluntary organisation, could not. This is not fair. It puts another obstacle in the way of people who get elected.

I have great regard for anybody who gets elected in a competitive election. Campaigning is never a pleasant task, be it for a local election in which one requires 100 votes, a presidential election in which one might require 500,000 or a European Parliament election, in which one might need 80,000. I was in the latter category but got 20,000. Those who contest elections do not deserve always to be denigrated by the Parliamentary Counsel.

I support the amendments. Senator Cummins stated some Ministers agree to such amendments and others do not. Perhaps the present Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, will choose to agree. The Dáil will be in session for another week and it would not take long to sort out the Bill in that House.

There is no intention to denigrate the role of any person in public life. The proposed amendments would have the effect of removing the intended prohibition on members of local authorities, as individuals, becoming members of the boards of the authority. It has been argued that there is no express legal impediment to the appointment of members of local authorities but, in this instance, there are good reasons their exclusion should apply.

I understand Senators' concerns that members of local authorities should be allowed sit on boards. Excluding local authority members from acting in or being members of those boards is becoming an established provision of late and is being included in legislation establishing other State agencies. There are several examples of that — the Residential Tenancies Act 2004, the Health Act 2004, the Personal Injuries Assessment Board Act 2003, the Taxi Regulation Act 2003 — but I accept that in itself is not an argument for saying local authority members should not sit on the board of the authority. Everybody would agree, however, that public agencies which are established to carry out specific functions must be seen to be in a position to act independently of Government, both local and central, where that applies.

The responsibility of the National Sports Campus Development Authority relates to capital development and its function is one that will impinge on areas that are the responsibility of certain local authorities. For example, the planning authority of Fingal County Council would be directly involved in the development process. In the circumstances, it would not be appropriate that either Members of the Oireachtas or local authority members would sit on the board. We are in an era of transparency and accountability like never before and it is important that the board of the authority be seen to be independent and not perceived as representing any interest group. Indeed, a steering group has been set up at Abbotstown in regard to further developments there. The steering group is engaging largely with the residents and the local authority. In those circumstances, people will understand why I am not anxious to have local authority members included in the board of the authority.

During the course of the debate, Senators questioned whether the debarring from State boards of Members of the Oireachtas and European Parliament and members of local authorities is a reflection of a lack of trust in such people. I repeat that nothing could be further from the truth. My own opinion is that local authority representatives are a fine body of men and women gifted with a great deal of knowledge and expertise who work hard in the public interest for little or no financial reward. I accept that.

I emphasise that the matter at issue here is not one of trust but the avoidance of any conflict of interest or any appearance of board members being selected in the spirit of any kind of political favour. From time to time all members of boards will have difficult decisions to take. It is desirable that such decision making arises from the best interests of the State body involved and that the board members are not conflicted by the need to serve any political interest, irrespective of that interest.

For all the reasons I have outlined I do not in this instance believe it would be good practice to appoint members of local authorities to the authority. It might be best if the Sports Campus Development Authority were removed from the political sphere in so far as that is possible. I have been Minister for sport for four years and one thing I have learned well is that sport and politics do not mix.

If, to use the Minister's example, a member of Fingal County Council had a conflict of interest, he or she could be excused from any voting by the board. I am sure the chairperson would ensure the criteria was in place to allow that. I ask the Minister to look at this amendment with a view to including local authority members on the board. This is a serious issue. The Sports Campus Development Authority would benefit from the influence of local authority members and would not result in the doomsday scenario the Minister outlined.

I am intrigued that members of local authorities are being excluded because they might have a conflict of interest but business people could be on the authority who could end up, perfectly legitimately, doing business with the authority and who would have to declare their interest and remove themselves from the decision making process. The Minister appears to be saying that is okay because that is the way the world works but if local authority people were in that position they could not be trusted. Effectively, that is what the Minister is saying. Somebody who owned land the authority intended to compulsorily acquire could be a member of the authority. I am not suggesting it would be deliberate but people who owned land the local authority intended to acquire, either compulsorily or by commercial purchase, could be members of the authority. They would have to declare their interest and withdraw, which is fair enough, but apparently a local authority member cannot be trusted to do that in the rare event of a planning application. If the Minister is concerned about Fingal he should refer to members of Fingal County Council in the Bill if that is the issue.

The issue is that somebody somewhere, in the wonderful way in which legislation evolves, has now developed a standard section and it is included in all legislation unless somebody stands up and creates a row early on, and then it is left out. By and large, it goes into every item of legislation and it is not fair or right. It is totally different to exclude what are by and large full-time, professional politicians from the Dáil, Seanad and European Parliament but it is wrong to exclude members of, say, Athy Town Council, my home town. To suggest that somebody who attends a meeting of Athy Town Council once a month for two hours, does some local work around the place and who gets 120 votes in a local election is by virtue of that fact excluded from membership of a body such as this authority is entirely disproportionate and is using the classic sledge-hammer to crack a nut.

There is a rational argument for Oireachtas Members and Members of the European Parliament to be excluded. This is no more than a reflex response somewhere in the drafting process which has stretched this out to include members of local authorities. The Minister could have specified Dublin City Council or the local authorities in the area but it is wrong to suggest that the members of Athy Town Council, elected by 120 votes once every five years, have some potential level of conflict of interest as might be the case with a prominent business person. I have no problems about people of business acumen being on this authority. This is a reflex response which has become part of standard legislation. In his previous incarnation, this Minister was the sort of person who would have done something about that.

Unfortunately, we are at an impasse because of the fact that this is an immense capital project which will stretch far beyond the four to five years phase 1 will take to complete. The Government has committed €119 million to phase 1 but I envisage subsequent Governments, irrespective of their political make-up, to continue the construction of a campus at Abbotstown until such a time as we have a world-class network of facilities. In other words, I liken this to a necklace where the first few pearls are being put in. I anticipate that the complete necklace will take several years and that future Governments will complete the necklace. The result will be a sports campus which will be the equivalent of anything to be seen in the world. Ireland will be in a proud position as a result which will allow it host the most elaborate and the biggest international sporting events. That is what I see in terms of the vision for Abbotstown.

Throughout the process there will be engagement with local authorities because they are central to the planning process. That is what we are involved with here. I could not possibly make a provision to exclude certain local authorities. The reality is that I do not know what population configurations will look like in the future, what shape demographics will take or what decisions will be made by future Governments as regards the boundaries of any local authority. I cannot make my mind up on those questions because I do not have the necessary information and neither has anybody else.

In the circumstances I believe people will understand why local authority members are being excluded. We are talking about a statutory authority where there is potential conflict of interest ab initio. I just cannot differentiate in the manner that Senator Ryan has suggested. Again, this is a major capital project to which local authorities are central. In other words, a central role exists because of the crucial decisions they make.

Members of local authorities increasingly deal with ever-growing budgets. They seem to be capable and the Government and everyone else is aware of the multi-million euro development plans they deal with, between waste management plans etc. If the public accepts that elected local authority members are capable of taking control and dealing efficiently with a multi-million euro industry, they are capable of sitting on this board and making the right decisions.

Since I entered politics, I have never seen any conflict of interest on any side of the political divide. This debate is about the right of public representatives to be on this board. We are falling for the public and indeed media perceptions sometimes aired that no politician is capable of doing the right job and cannot be trusted. Any time I have sat on VECs, etc., I was very proud of all my colleagues regardless of their political affiliations, because they always made the right decisions. The only time, however, I felt that a decision of the wrong nature was made was when there were people within the system with their own ideology and political favouritism.

We are losing sight of who is elected. People elect politicians and local authority members to make the right decisions. One now sees people in unelected positions taking the serious decisions in health boards and on public bodies right across the country. They are accountable to nobody. At least politicians are accountable to their peers and to the electorate. I am pressing this amendment.

I am at a loss. I know this Minister a long time and he is one of the more agreeable members of the Government. We have snarled at each other on occasions, but he is still one of the more agreeable ones. I am astonished that he says there is no way of drafting this. He could, for instance, put into this section, "entitled under the standing orders of the local authority from which the Authority would seek planning permission" and exclude those members if he wants to. I am not sure where the Office of the Chief Parliamentary Counsel is or whether it exists. It reminds me of Harry Potter sometimes. I think one has to get on platform 9b to find it. However, I gather it exists and somebody there picked the moment when local authority members were getting a rough time at tribunals and decided this was the time to stick in this provision. I do not accept it, but there is some argument as regards Fingal or whatever county council.. To suggest, however, that a member of Athy Town Council — I happen to know that town fairly well — who is otherwise qualified, competent and perhaps potentially very good, should be excluded is entirely disproportionate. To suggest that somebody the Minister appoints to this authority and wants to do some work in the local area either as an independent or as a member of a political party should automatically disqualify himself or herself from membership of an authority like this or any equivalent body, is disproportionate also. I believe this was sprung on the Minister, it is late in the year and should not be pursued any further.

There is a good deal of repetition, so we shall deal with the amendment.

I accept that.

Question put: "That the words proposed to be deleted stand."
The Committee divided: Tá, 29; Níl, 15.

  • Brady, Cyprian.
  • Brennan, Michael.
  • Cox, Margaret.
  • Daly, Brendan.
  • Dardis, John.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Feeney, Geraldine.
  • Fitzgerald, Liam.
  • Glynn, Camillus.
  • Hanafin, John.
  • Hayes, Maurice.
  • Kenneally, Brendan.
  • Kett, Tony.
  • Kitt, Michael P.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • Lydon, Donal J.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Morrissey, Tom.
  • Moylan, Pat.
  • O’Brien, Francis.
  • O’Rourke, Mary.
  • Ormonde, Ann.
  • Phelan, Kieran.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Scanlon, Eamon.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • Walsh, Kate.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.


  • Bannon, James.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Browne, Fergal.
  • Burke, Ulick.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Finucane, Michael.
  • Hayes, Brian.
  • Henry, Mary.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • Phelan, John.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Terry, Sheila.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Dardis and Moylan; Níl, Senators Cummins and Feighan.
Quesion declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.
Amendments Nos. 2b and 2c not moved.
Question proposed: "That section 18 stand part of the Bill."

In section 18, I accept the Minister's explanation why he felt it necessary to exclude members of local authorities from membership of this authority. It might be important to have local authority members on bodies such as this because there would be a link between what the authority is doing in the locality and what the local authority is doing. In Ennis, the local authority has been involved in the provision of sports facilities with State funding. It would be in the best interests of such authorities to have a democratic input from an elected representative on such an authority. For those two reasons it would be important that careful consideration be given to excluding members of local authorities who would have the benefit of being democratically elected to local authorities and bring a democratic view to an authority, which it might not have otherwise.

Under another section of the Bill, the chief executive can be called before Oireachtas committees. While Members of the Oireachtas can make their input here on Oireachtas committees, members of local authorities cannot do so. While I accept what the Minister has said in this case, in future we should consider that it might be desirable to have a link between a local authority member and this authority or to have a democratic input into such meetings.

I also accept the Minister's view on this authority. However, in future he should consider local authority members who have considerable experience at various levels in communities. It is important not to exclude them from such boards. They are democratically elected and are entitled to be considered for many such boards.

While I admit I did not hear what the Minister said, I have a strong objection in principle to the inclusion of this provision. We have voiced this concern on a number of recent Bills. Unfortunately we have not yet determined the issue. As Senators Daly and Kieran Phelan have said, people involved in local or national politics have often excelled in other fields, such as business, sport, etc. Many of them would bring the acumen to such a board——

I point out that we are only dealing with the National Sports Campus Development Authority Bill and not with other legislation. A decision has been made on the amendments proposed. We are not dealing with future or past legislation.

We will be saying for all future legislation——

Several Ministers could be involved.

I accept that.

We are dealing with one Bill.

We hope to deal with it on that basis. Some Ministers have agreed to the removal of that section from other Bills. I do not know whether this section is inserted at the behest of civil servants or at the behest of Ministers. Many Ministers have come through the local government system and have made a valuable contribution——

The Senator is still talking generally. We are dealing with the National Sports Campus Development Authority Bill.

That is what I am talking about.

Amendments in this regard have already been dealt with.

I am following a line taken by the two previous Senators.

I know. That is not the point.

I am not varying from what they said and am supporting their positions. You accepted that they were in order. I do not believe anything I am saying is at variance with anything they said.

While the point is not different to what was said previously, I still point out that what was said previously and what the Senator is saying is not relevant to the Bill before the House.

We are talking about the National Sports Campus Development Authority Bill and for all other authorities as well there should not be a blanket provision. There is ministerial discretion as to who is appointed to any board. There is no attempt to interfere with that prerogative of the Minister. However, there should not be an exclusion. There is no exclusion, for example, for county managers or senior civil servants, who may be taken away to carry out duties such as this, often neglecting responsibilities they have at local level. This exclusion should not be in the Bill. I feel very strongly about the matter——

I know the Senator feels very strongly.

—— as do many others on this side of the House.

A decision has been made on the matter.

I do not want to be repetitive on this issue, which I raised yesterday on Second Stage. Like other Senators I feel the provision is unfair, particularly on local authority members. I do not believe Oireachtas Members or Members of the European Parliament should have an entitlement or an expectation to be on boards or authorities. As the Minister outlined yesterday, it is recognised that there is a conflict of interest, particularly when the annual report is laid before the Houses and is addressed at committees. Local authority members——

We appear to be going back to Second Stage.

I certainly would not want to do that. I want to recognise the Minister's desire on this matter. I had the opportunity to speak to him outside the House on the matter and I recognise the difficulties in trying to bring the Bill back through the Dáil. If this legislation needs to be amended at any stage in the future for any other reason, consideration should be given to amending this section to allow local authority members be considered for appointment to the board.

I add my voice to the concerns expressed by other speakers. I accept and recognise the Minister's point of view on the matter. Like Senator Dooley, I ask that at a later stage we might reconsider the section. While I accept the Bill will be passed, we may get another chance to remove such a provision from all legislation. The wording is standard in all legislation going through the House. The Minister's colleagues in other Departments have heard the same objections on other Bills. It is the same old mantra. However, it is about accountability. The section deprives local authority members——


I am not going back to Second Stage.

—— we have discussed the matter for an hour and it has been dealt with. The Senator is out of order and I am wrong in allowing the matter to be discussed.

As we have asked other Ministers I ask the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, to take on board what we have said and mention it at Cabinet to try to have the provision omitted from future legislation.

Question put and agreed to.
Section 19 agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 20 stand part of the Bill."

I again register my disagreement with section 20(5) which stipulates that when appearing before the Committee of Public Accounts, the chief executive "shall not question or express an opinion on the merits of any policy of the Government or a Minister of the Government or on the merits of the objectives of such a policy". This is another of those standard clauses that is inserted in all Bills. It represents the most extraordinarily defensive position. The Minister spoke eloquently earlier about the need for an authority with a board that was immune from political pressure. He wanted people of talent and ability, presumably including the chief executive.

When appearing before the Committee of Public Accounts the chief executive may be asked why the authority spent money on X rather than on Y. The reason may be that the Minister used powers available to him or her to tell the authority to do so. However, the chief executive cannot tell the committee that. If he or she does so, he or she cannot say why or whether he or she agreed with the decision. If the Government makes the authority spend money in one direction rather that in another and the chief executive is asked whether he or she approved of the expenditure, he or she is bound by law to silence. He or she may not express an opinion on the merits of any policy of the Government or a Minister of the Government or on the merits of the objectives of such a policy.

What in God's name are we doing? We are hamstringing the chief executive. We all know that Departments are not particularly fond of the Committee of Public Accounts. It is a very effective committee and by tradition or law it is chaired by an Opposition Deputy. It is a committee with considerable powers and is constitutionally based. We are effectively trying to stymie the effectiveness of the Committee of Public Accounts. It is of no concern to the Seanad as Senators are not members of the committee for obvious constitutional reasons.

The subsection is unnecessary. The CEOs of most State bodies are fairly diplomatic and do not need an injunction of this intensity to make them chose their words with care. I understand why Fianna Fáil backbenchers are disaffected, given that they must express their views on section 18 in the Seanad rather than at a parliamentary party meeting.

It is not the function of civil servants to argue the merits of any given Government policy. That has never been the case in the history of the State. It should be remembered that the chief executive in this instance is a public servant and has the role of implementing rather than creating or inspiring Government policy. It would be entirely inappropriate for a chief executive as envisaged here to go before an Oireachtas committee to declaim on Government policy because, if that was to happen, he or she would become a political football whose opinions on the Government would be quoted here, there and everywhere. If we pursued the line proposed by Senator Ryan, we would demean our public servants.

The chief executive and the chairman of Dublin Airport Authority have made it clear that they disagree with the Government's policy of making Cork and Shannon Airports free of debt. If they came before an Oireachtas committee, they would be precluded from expressing their dissent, yet they can outline their opinions in a press conference with RTE. Given the Minister's understanding of the need for precise language, it is extraordinary that he juxtaposed civil and public servants. These are not civil servants because if they were, a special clause on superannuation would not be needed in the Bill. They are public servants who are supposed to run a commercial operation, subject to generous public funding. It is nonsense to suggest that the sky will fall in if they express their opinion.

The chief executive of Aer Lingus demanded the privatisation of the company long before the Government got around to making a decision on the issue. He made his opinion known to Oireachtas committees. We will not silence the CEOs of bodies such as this but they will not be allowed to air their views before the Committee of Public Accounts. That is ironic because a CEO is not prohibited from expressing an opinion on the merits of Government policy before another Oireachtas committee.

Until the Government began to fall apart about six months ago, I expected logic from it. A prohibition on dealings with the Committee of Public Accounts without similar prohibitions in respect of other Oireachtas committees suggests a lack of thought. Clauses such as this are stuck into Bills because somebody thinks it a good idea to do so. I have no more to say except that I suspect the Minister would agree it is rubbish.

I continue to consider it inappropriate for a chief executive of a State company or authority to express an opinion or criticism of Government policy before the Houses of the Oireachtas. There is no question but that the CEO would thereby become a political football to the detriment of the authority or company concerned.

Question put and agreed to.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 18, subsection (1), line 9, to delete "general administration of the".

Section 21 states, "The Chief Executive shall, at the request in writing of an Oireachtas Committee, attend before it to give account for the general administration of the Authority as may be required by the Committee". The phrase "general administration" is meaningless and I propose that it be deleted. The phrase may be intended to preclude detailed analysis of the kind demanded by the Department of Finance. Unless the Minister can convince me otherwise, I consider my amendment to be reasonable.

The amendment would have the effect of making the chief executive of the authority answerable to Oireachtas committees on matters pertaining to the authority rather than the more limited definition in the section as it currently stands. Section 13(3) sets out the chief executive's responsibilities as carrying out, managing and controlling generally the administration and business of the authority and performing such functions as may be determined by the authority. It is not proposed to accept this amendment because to do so would put the chief executive in the unacceptable position of having to account to an Oireachtas committee for matters which are outside his or her area of responsibility and might create the risk of the chief executive being drawn into expressing an opinion on Government or ministerial policy on the authority before a committee. That would not be appropriate or desirable for the reasons I outlined earlier.

On the wider remit of the objectives and operation of the authority, the board of the authority is responsible to the Minister and, furthermore, the Minister is responsible to the Houses of the Oireachtas and may appear before the relevant committees to give an account of matters pertaining to the authority.

Now I know I am right. Presumably the term "general administration" refers the running of a body. The Minister is not fond of definitions but "administration" has many meanings, including management, organisation, staffing and planning. I see no reason to withdraw the amendment.

Question, "That the words proposed to be deleted stand", put and declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 4:

In page 18, between lines 10 and 11, to insert the following new subsection:

"(2) The Authority shall be accountable to the Oireachtas and shall subscribe to a code of practice to be agreed with the Minister, which shall include provision that the Authority shall give a substantive reply within 7 days to any written question submitted by a member of the Houses of the Oireachtas.".

The idea that the authority has a commitment to respond quickly to questions from Members of the Oireachtas had, according to Deputy Wall, been agreed to in principle. The process and procedures had not been clearly agreed. This arises from the frustration Members have with the HSE and its inability to deal with queries in a timescale that may make a difference to people's lives. A question that would take three days to be answered when submitted as a parliamentary question takes three months when submitted to the HSE. My party colleague raised this matter with the Minister and this amendment represents our attempt to rectify the situation in legislation. I look forward to the Minister's reply and his proposal to ensure queries from Members are dealt with in an efficient fashion. Seven days is more than twice the amount of time it took the allegedly inefficient Civil Service — which is in fact extremely efficient — to reply to a written question tabled in the Dáil.

I am sympathetic to the thrust of this amendment because, in the interests of democracy, we have an interest in ensuring availability of information to Members of the Oireachtas. I expect the new authority to reply quickly, effectively and efficiently. The requirement that the authority produce a substantive answer to any written question submitted by Members of the Oireachtas within seven days would pose an administrative burden on a very small administration. The best way to deal with this issue is through the customer charter of the authority rather than specifying such matters in legislation. This is an organisational matter and I recommend to the authority that it includes in its customer charter a commitment to respond to all requests for information in the speediest manner possible and not later than 15 working days, providing the information requested is available to the authority within the time specified.

I would not be satisfied if authorities under my aegis would not reply to all communications speedily. I would take it up with agencies concerned if this happened. If this body procrastinates in dealing with requests for information the matter will be dealt with in future legislation. I cannot accept the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question proposed: "That section 21 stand part of the Bill."

Can the Minister indicate why the chief executive would not be in a position to question or express an opinion on the merits of any policy of the Government if he or she was called before an Oireachtas committee? He or she is forbidden to do so in appearing before the Committee of Public Accounts. What is it in section 21 that means he or she is not free to state whatever he wishes?

The chief executive officer is an instrument of Government policy and, as such, is neither the source of it nor the inspiration for it. It would be inappropriate for such an instrument of Government policy to criticise it. The individual concerned would be entering the political arena. Many members of Dáil committees are capable of questioning and offering political opinions. That is their democratic right. However, it is not the function of a public servant to comment on policy.

I know this is the Minister's view. Why does section 21 not contain a clause equivalent to section 20(5)?

It is quite straightforward. In this case the chief executive is giving an account of the general administration of the authority, which does not impinge on the policy decisions.

Although I do not wish to delay the House unnecessarily, let us suppose that the first issue that arises is the length of time it takes to reply to queries from Members of the Oireachtas. The chief executive may reply that funding is not sufficient, a clear criticism of Government policy. The Minister believes the chief executive should not do that. Section 21 does not contain a clause equivalent to section 20(5), confirming my view that paragraphs of legislation are transferred from one Bill to another. Very little thought is put into this transposition. The chief executive can make statements before any Oireachtas committee that he or she cannot make before the Committee of Public Accounts. Under the legislation the chief executive is free under law, if not in policy, to express opinions before other Oireachtas committees that he or she is forbidden from doing before the Committee of Public Accounts.

I cannot conceive of a situation whereby a chief executive officer, in giving an account of the administration of the authority, would impinge on policy.

This could occur when he or she appears before the Committee of Public Accounts to address accounting issues. The chief executive officer is forbidden from addressing public policy when dealing with the Committee of Public Accounts, which is exclusively concerned with proper expenditure and value for money. He or she can speak on general administration to any other committee with no prohibition.

This section refers specifically to general administration, as stated in section 21(1).

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 22 and 23 agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 24 stand part of the Bill."

If the Government gives direction to the authority, will it be made public? Can the Government give private direction to the authority, unknown to the rest of us?

In this day and age, with all matters subject to the Freedom of Information Act, I cannot conceive of that happening.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 25 to 28, inclusive, agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 29 stand part of the Bill."

This section intrigues me. I believe it was copied from another Bill. The section reads:

The Authority or a subsidiary may borrow money (including money in a currency other than the currency of the State) for the purpose of performing any of the functions of the Authority, but shall not do so without the approval of the Minister given with the consent of the Minister for Finance.

We are part of the largest economic bloc in the world. A vast amount of money is available to borrow in the currency of the State, the euro. There is no currency risk. Why would such an authority take currency risks? It was different when the punt was the currency and borrowing could be restricted.

We know Senator Ryan does not like America but some dollars might be nice.

Borrowing dollars last year would have been a daft arrangement because two years ago the dollar was worth €1.20. It is now worth €0.80. This body would have lost a third of the value of its borrowing in euro within two years.

I believe this section was taken from an old Bill that predates the euro and it has got through because nobody noticed. The idea of an Irish public authority borrowing outside the euro area does not make a scrap of commercial, economic or organisational sense. It would be an entirely daft risk to take. What would it borrow, Ethiopian birr? There are really only three currencies in the world now — dollars, euro and yen. Is it going to borrow dollars when the dollar is probably close to the bottom of a cycle and may shoot up in value? Will it borrow yen or euro? That little subsection should be removed.

That little subsection allows for fluctuations in the money markets.

As it is 9 p.m., in accordance with the order of the House I must now put the following question: "That section 29 and each of the sections undisposed of and Schedules 1 and 2 are agreed to; that the Title is agreed to; that the Bill is reported to the House without amendment and that Fourth Stage is hereby completed."

Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

I thank the Minister for his unlimited patience and sense of humour, which I value. The Long Title of the Bill contains the Irish language version of the name of the authority. Last week another Minister told us that the advice from the Parliamentary Counsel was that this is unnecessary. I wish the Government would make up its mind on the issue.

I also thank the Minister for his patience and understanding. I wish the development authority well. I will not dwell on the matter but a precedent has probably been set with regard to local authority members. I hope this will be examined more carefully and dealt with sooner rather than later.

I thank the Minister for the efficient way he brought the Bill through the House. I also thank his officials for their help. I wish the new authority well.

Níl aon dabht ach go bhfuil an Seanadóir Ó Riain agus mé féin an-bhródúil, ós rud é go mbeidh stádas oifigiúil ag ár dteanga san Eoraip. Yesterday, the Government looked forward to the fact that Ireland and Éire would be synonymous in defining this country.

It got very local here this morning. We were back to Dingle again.

I appreciate the fact that Senator Ryan has recognised that the Irish language is used as the first language in this legislation.

I just wish the Government would make up its mind about it.

This was not a contentious Bill and I appreciate the general support that has been given to it. I thank Members of the House for their comments and contributions over the past two days. Although the amendments discussed this evening have not been accepted, I have listened to the points that were raised and I mean to take the Senators' proposals into account even if they are not underpinned by legislation, which I do not believe is desirable in this case.

I wish to take this opportunity to comment on the position and participation of women in sport and sports related activities. The Government recognises that the present level of participation in sport by women is less than what it might be. However, I recognise that the most effective way to persuade more women and girls to become involved in sport, and to stay involved, is by encouragement. I have already referred to the special funding of €2.25 million that has been provided to the Irish Sports Council specifically to support programmes aimed at increasing women's participation in sport.

Two weeks ago, an amount of €250,000 was made available to the FAI by the Irish Sports Council from the special fund to assist with that association's development plan with a view to ensuring that there would be increased female participation in soccer. A national co-ordinator has been appointed and a number of development officers will be recruited to concentrate on women's soccer. There will be more female coaches, emerging talent will be nurtured and a national league will be introduced. This is the type of action that is required. We will have to focus on the types of sport women already participate in and enjoy, and provide the means of encouraging greater participation. A number of other organisations have also sought funding towards new programmes aimed at increasing participation and allocations will shortly be made in response to these requests.

In terms of the Bill before us, I will direct the Irish Sports Council to have regard to the use of the Abbotstown facilities as part of its remit to improve women's participation levels in sport. I would expect that the national sports campus development authority will set out in its statement of strategy its approach to the various groups it will be attempting to attract.

It is my intention to ensure that the board of the new authority is composed of an equitable balance of both men and women. Of course, the first concern will be to ensure that the membership of the board has capacity, relevant experience and knowledge. I am aware that a considerable number of women have distinguished themselves and would bring a very meaningful expertise to the operation of the authority. Regrettably, Senator White will not be one of them because of the provision we discussed earlier. I fully intend to tap this source of expertise but I am wary of setting in stone this commitment to a 50:50 balance because it might lead to an unnecessary limitation when selecting talented women and men to guide the development of the national sports campus.

Similarly, I have not accepted the proposed amendment lifting the prohibition on members of local authorities from becoming members of the authority. I have given my reason in detail and it is not necessary to repeat it. In conclusion, I thank everyone involved for their assistance in the process of drafting, preparing and processing this Bill. I thank Senators for their co-operation and I am pleased that this legislation will be passed. I now look forward to the new authority delivering a state-of-the-art campus of sports facilities over the coming years at Abbotstown.

I thank the Cathaoirleach and the staff of the Seanad. In thanking all Members of the Seanad, I particularly thank the spokespersons on all sides of the House. Listening to Senator Ryan over the last few days made me nostalgic for the days when I was Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, but only nostalgic.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to sit again?

At 10.30 a.m. tomorrow.