I thank the Senator for raising this matter on the Adjournment. I apologise for the fact that the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar, unfortunately cannot attend the House this evening to reply to the Senator. I know of her interest in this issue because we have spoken about it in the past. I will ensure that her comments are brought to the attention of the Minister.
The Irish Sports Council, which is funded by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, is statutorily responsible for the development of high performance sport in Ireland. Since its establishment in 1999, more than €421 million has been provided for the council towards initiating, developing and enhancing a wide range of programmes aimed at raising standards in Irish sport and also towards increasing participation at all levels.
The existing high performance system has developed following a series of independent reviews commissioned by the Irish Sports Council following the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2000, 2004 and 2008. Since 2004, the council has invested significantly in high performance sport through the international carding scheme and the high performance plans of 18 focus sports, which have the potential to deliver at the highest levels of international competition. This includes not only focusing and investing in the current generation of world class athletes, but also developing junior talent through a structured competition pathway from schools through to world level.
The Irish Institute of Sport was established following the Athens review which was carried out after the 2004 games. The establishment of an institute of sport was also one of the key recommendations of the joint committee's report. The institute, which operates at the national sports campus at Abbotstown, plays a key role in the Irish high performance system through the co-ordination and delivery of technical services.
In February this year, the Irish Sports Council announced that €7.8 million would be invested in high performance sports in 2011. The council has made a decision to maintain funding at the 2010 levels as the coming year is the vital preparation and qualification one for the games in London 2012. Almost €6 million is being provided for the national governing bodies of the 18 focus sports for their high performance plans. In addition, 115 athletes and two teams will receive over €1.95 million under the carding scheme this year.
The high performance plans are funded on an annual basis and continue to be developed in a detailed way with the focus sports. As the performance planning process will take a longer term focus, each governing body is required to consider a whole-sport approach to planning. While there is a need to support the London Olympic cycle, the Irish Sports Council will continue on its path of long-term programme delivery, thus ensuring maximum return from the opportunities provided by the London games in 2012, but also looking forward to the games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. The aim is to provide a legacy in high performance sport.
In 2009, a new high performance committee — chaired by the former world champion runner, Eamonn Coghlan — was established to oversee the investment of the Irish Sports Council in elite sport. The committee includes representatives from all major sports agencies, including the Olympic Council of Ireland. This is one of the clearest public demonstrations of the operational co-operation between all relevant agencies in Irish sport.
One of the central elements of the high performance system for the London 2012 games is an operational plan with the Olympic council. In addition, funding to the Olympic Council of Ireland and Paralympics Ireland ensures that Irish teams have the best possible support.
The high performance support system, both financial and otherwise, for our elite athletes is reflected in Irish athletes' success at international level in recent years. In 2010, Ireland won 31 medals at international championship level across the various disciplines supported by the Irish Sport Council. This is compared to ten medals won at international level in 2006. Sport is not just about high performance and the Government is committed to promoting greater participation in sport at all levels.
The Irish Sport Council provides funding and other resources for the national governing bodies of sport and local sports partnerships with a specific emphasis on increasing levels of participation in sport and physical activity. The joint committee's 2005 report also highlighted the potential benefits to Ireland arising from the geographical proximity of the London 2012 games. A high level co-ordinating group, chaired by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, is identifying opportunities across the sports, tourism and cultural sectors, from the London games. The group comprises representatives from the Irish Sport Council, the Olympic Council of Ireland and many other organisations.
The group's discussions will take into account the current economic situation and the findings of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games task force report, which was published in 2009. The report made a number of recommendations arising from an audit carried out of high quality sports facilities in Ireland and the findings of a report by Indecon International Economic Consultants on the economic evaluation of the benefit to the island of Ireland of the London games. The Indecon report concluded that the largest potential benefits of the London 2012 Olympic Games were on the business side and Enterprise Ireland is actively pursuing opportunities for Irish business.
The decision of both the American Olympic synchronized swimming squad and the Great Britain Paralympic swimming squad to choose the National Aquatic Centre at Abbotstown as a pre-London 2012 games training base is a reflection of the calibre of the facility. It was also announced earlier that the Hungarian and UK water polo teams will play and train in the National Aquatic Centre in June. A number of other sports facilities such as University College Dublin and the University of Limerick are also directly promoting their own facilities to try to attract international teams and athletes. In addition, the Department has produced a CD which contains the details of a number of Irish elite sports facilities which are suitable as pre-London games training camps. This CD has been circulated widely.
The potential to attract international teams and athletes to train in Ireland in the lead up to the London games is just one of the issues that the co-ordinating group is examining. The Indecon report considered that the second largest potential benefits from the London games lay on the tourism side and the tourism agencies, in conjunction with the London 2012 games co-ordinating group, are exploring a range of possible initiatives to maximise this potential. The Arts Council and Culture Ireland are also developing proposals for a cultural programme, which would include participation in the four-year Cultural Olympiad.
The high level co-ordinating group will meet on an ongoing basis to maximise opportunities and this will influence the benefits to Ireland. I have outlined to the House the improved high performance sport structures that have been developed since the publication of the Oireachtas joint committee's 2005 report. I am confident that Ireland can continue to deliver finalists and medal winners at European, world, Olympic and Paralympic level. As we approach the London 2012 games, the Irish Sport Council is committed to ensuring the best supports are available for our elite athletes from the junior ranks to world class level. Efforts are also under way to capture the economic benefits from the London games.
I thank the Senator for the opportunity to highlight the progress made since the joint committee published its report in 2005.