Sport Ireland Bill 2014: Second Stage

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Michael Ring.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am pleased to introduce the Sports Ireland Bill 2014, the purpose of which is to establish Sports Ireland, a new body which will replace the Irish Sports Council and the National Sports Campus Development Authority. The merger of the council and the authority is one of the measures in the Government's programme for the rationalisation of State agencies. Sport Ireland will take on the functions of the council and the authority. It will continue the work being done by the council in promoting, developing and co-ordinating sport in Ireland and by the authority in developing the National Sports Campus at Abbotstown. Both organisations are delivering important outcomes for sport and I am confident that this will continue to be the position under the new structure.

As Minister of State with responsibility for sport, I am very aware of how important sport is in the lives of Irish people, both socially and from a health point of view. I strongly believe it has great potential to contribute to a much healthier society. We in government are fully aware that we must continue to promote sport and physical activity and support our sports organisations. We must also try to provide the best sports facilities we can, not just for our elite sportsmen and women but also for people of all ages and abilities. I am pleased to say we have been able to do a lot for sport in recent years. We have maintained Government funding for it as much as possible to ensure its continued development. The total amount available for spending this year is over €114 million. This is a very significant investment and a strong indication of our commitment to sport. A sum of €28.5 million is available for the sports capital programme and over €22 million for the development of a national indoor arena at the National Sports Campus in Abbotstown.

I am sure Senators will join me in acknowledging the value and role of the sports capital programme. Senators will have first-hand experience of how it has transformed the sporting landscape of Ireland, with improvements in the quality and quantity of facilities in virtually every village, town and city. The facilities range from the smallest clubs to national centres of sporting excellence. One of the key features of the programme is that it helps to take some of the pressure off sports organisations by providing much needed finance to assist in the completion of projects. We were delighted to make allocations of €31 million in the 2012 round of the programme, the first round of the programme since 2008. We were also delighted to be able to make changes to the programme in 2012 to make it accessible to more clubs and organisations than ever before. The record number of 2,170 applications in 2012 showed that that round of the programme was very much needed.

With such high demand, it was never going to be possible to fund all applications. I was very pleased, therefore, that we were able to press ahead with a new round of the sports capital programme in 2014. This was great news for sports clubs across the country and a total of €40.5 million was allocated under the programme. In total, 2,036 applications, the second highest number ever, were received, showing the continuing demand and need for investment in sports facilities. A total of 821 of the successful allocations were to local sports clubs and organisations, with the remaining 59 to regional or national projects. I was also pleased to be able to launch another round of the programme earlier this year, as further proof of the Government’s commitment to sport. The closing date for applications for the 2015 round is next Friday, 24 April. It can be expected that allocations will be announced later this year.

The Irish Sports Council is funded by my Department. This year we are allocating over €44 million to it. The focus of this funding is on increasing participation in sport and physical activity, one of the key objectives of my Department, as is supporting our elite athletes in what is a very important year in terms of preparations for the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. In this context, I acknowledge the huge efforts of the council, the local sports partnerships and the national governing bodies in encouraging greater participation in sport. This important work is delivering results. The Irish Sports Monitor report for 2013 showed that the level of adult participation in sport had increased from 45% in 2011 to 47% in 2013. This increase is very encouraging and we will continue to work to increase this figure further.

I was pleased to announce last week the Irish Sports Council’s youth field sport investment plans for 2015. Over €7.4 million is being invested in the FAI, the GAA and the IRFU to support participation programmes aimed at encouraging and creating more opportunities for young people to participate in field sports. This investment supports my Department’s and the Irish Sports Council’s strategic aim of increasing participation in sport throughout Ireland. It will also contribute significantly to communities and the health and well-being of the nation.

Since it was established in 1999, the Irish Sports Council has played a very important part in the development of Irish sport at all levels. We are lucky to have a host of very talented sportsmen and sportswomen in Ireland. The structures put in place during the years to support our elite athletes have helped them to reach the top level across a wide range of sports. Last year Irish athletes won 55 medals in international competitions at junior and elite level. This is a huge increase from the 16 medals won in 2008. This is a remarkable achievement in that period and shows the excellent work being done for high performance sport in Ireland.

Although it was established more recently, the National Sports Campus Development Authority has made a major contribution to Irish sport through the development of world-class training facilities at the National Sports Campus which has seen very significant progress in the past few years. We now have facilities in place where our elite athletes can prepare for international competitions. New facilities opened in the past couple of years include the world-class National Horse Sport Arena, the National Modern Pentathlon Centre, the National Diving Training Centre and a multi-sport synthetic pitch facility. On-site accommodation has also been developed to allow athletes to live and train on campus.

The Irish Institute of Sport is based on the campus at Abbotstown. Last year it provided over 22,000 hours of support services for sports bodies, coaches and athletes. Some 154 athletes in 20 sports attended clinics at the institute. Some of our finest athletes have benefited from the support and services provided by the institute. They include Fionnuala Britton, Annalise Murphy, the Irish high performance boxing squad, the Irish equestrian team, the Irish paralympic team and many other athletes. Athletes have access to the range of excellent campus facilities available. We now see Irish elite athletes who are happy to base themselves at home, as they are supported by a world-class and distinctly Irish system at the National Sports Campus. This is a major departure from the days when athletes chose to leave our shores if they felt they wanted to have a real chance of succeeding at the top level internationally. This year will see further significant developments at the campus. Work commenced in February on the development of a national indoor arena which is scheduled to be completed in November 2016. When completed, it will provide a world-class indoor training facility for a wide range of sports, including, badminton, volleyball, table tennis, basketball, fencing and other sports. It will be a great addition to our national sports facilities.

Work is also under way on a high performance training centre at the Institute of Sport. It will be ready later this year and assist athletes in their preparations for Rio 2016. The FAI and the GAA are also finalising the development of pitches for their sports at the campus. I am confident that more world-class facilities will be developed at the campus in the coming years.

It is important for me to express my thanks to the Irish Sports Council, the National Sports Campus Development Authority and the national governing bodies of sport for the efforts they are making every day for the good of Irish sport. I must also mention the volunteers who are a vital part of every club and sports organisation around the country and doing wonderful work for sport in their communities.

I turn to the main provisions of the Bill. It includes the standard provisions necessary to establish Sport Ireland and dissolve the council and the authority. It also combines the relevant provisions of the Irish Sports Council Act 1999 and the National Sports Campus Development Authority Act 2006. Part 1, covering sections 1 to 5, inclusive, includes standard provisions.

Part 2, covering sections 6 to 29, inclusive, provides for such matters as the establishment and functions of Sport Ireland. Its functions are set out in section 8 and broadly in line with those currently performed by the council and the authority. I will mention some of the main features.

Sport Ireland will have responsibility for developing strategies to increase participation in sport at national and local level. It will also have responsibility for supporting our elite athletes in achieving excellence in sport. This reflects the work of the Irish Institute of Sport. A new function is included in the section to reflect the role of Coaching Ireland in developing coaches and tutors at all levels of sport.

Sport Ireland will continue the development of the National Sports Campus. It will manage, operate and maintain the campus, with any other facility that may be approved by the Minister.

Overall responsibility for the research function which was the responsibility of the Irish Sports Council will revert to my Department. The programme for Government states policy making will revert to Departments, while agencies will be accountable for implementing policy. As research is a key tool in policy making, responsibility for the function is being brought back into my Department. While the Minister will set direction, Sport Ireland will conduct the research. I intend to introduce a process in which my Department and Sport Ireland will work together to set out plans for what research will be conducted each year. Sport Ireland will also have responsibility for anti-doping measures, an issue to which I will come back.

The provision of grants and other assistance for national governing bodies of sport and athletes will come within the remit of Sport Ireland. This will be similar to the role the Irish Sports Council has in allocating funding. Responsibility for the sports capital programme will remain with my Department.

Many of the other sections in this Part of the Bill contain standard provisions. They cover such matters as the preparation of a strategy statement, an annual report, accounts and a service agreement.

Sections 19 to 21, inclusive, relate to Sport Ireland’s responsibility for the development of the National Sports Campus. Section 20 allows it to establish subsidiaries and enter into joint ventures and partnerships. It also provides that the subsidiary company established by the authority to operate the National Aquatic Centre and other facilities will continue as a subsidiary of Sport Ireland.

Section 22 provides that the first chief executive will be appointed by the Minister. The board of Sport Ireland will appoint subsequent CEOs. The CEO will have responsibility for carrying on, managing and controlling the administration and business of Sport Ireland.

Section 23 provides that the CEO will be accountable to Oireachtas committees, including the Committee of Public Accounts. I intend to appoint the first CEO for an interim period of one year to facilitate the transition to the new organisation. After the one year transition period, the board of Sport Ireland will be responsible for appointing the next CEO.

Section 29 provides that Sport Ireland will continue the development of the National Sports Campus in accordance with the plan prepared by the authority.

Part 3, covering sections 30 to 39, inclusive, deals with the dissolution of the council and the authority. It contains standard provisions for dissolving the two bodies and such matters as transferring land, property, rights and liabilities of the council and the authority to Sport Ireland.

Section 38 provides that employees of the council and the authority will become employees of Sport Ireland on the day of its establishment. Section 39 provides that employees who were members of an existing superannuation scheme before the transfer will continue to be members of the scheme with the same terms and conditions.

Part 4, covering sections 40 to 45, inclusive, deals with anti-doping measures. There was a general provision in the Irish Sports Council Act 1999 but technology has since moved on and anti-doping measures worldwide are now much more sophisticated. I commend the council as its work in this area is regarded highly internationally. With the new anti-doping provisions in the Bill, I intend to give a stronger statutory basis to the work already being undertaken.

Section 41 designates Sport Ireland as the national anti-doping organisation for the State. Section 42 gives it responsibility for taking appropriate measures to deliver an effective response to doping in sport, including testing and education. It also gives it responsibility for making and amending the Irish anti-doping rules. However, as set out in section 45, the existing Irish anti-doping rules made by the Irish Sports Council will continue to operate. They will be deemed to be the rules made by Sport Ireland. The anti-doping rules include rules and arrangements for such matters as the testing of athletes, banned substances, sanctions and so on. Section 42 also provides for the sharing of information with the Health Products Regulatory Authority, An Garda Síochána, customs authorities and other anti-doping organisations for the purpose of combating doping. Section 43 provides that Sport Ireland will perform its functions in accordance with the Data Protection Acts. Section 44 means that a person who fails to comply with the rules will not be eligible for funding or to represent the State in sport.

These are important measures which will allow Sport Ireland to ensure fair play in sport. The anti-doping programme is critical to help to ensure Irish athletes can compete clean on the world stage.

Schedule 1 to the Bill deals with matters relating to the board. They include matters such as the appointment of board members, the establishment of committees and the procedure for meetings. It also addresses the disclosure of interests by members and the disclosure of confidential information. Paragraph 6 requires Sport Ireland to establish committees to advise on its functions relating to anti-doping, the National Sports Campus, coaching and high performance sport.

Schedule 2 lists the provisions that will apply in the event that there is a compulsory acquisition of land.

The Government has demonstrated its commitment to invest in sport and sports clubs.

This is an exciting time for Irish sport and I am hopeful Ireland will be hosting some significant events in the coming years. UEFA has already announced that Dublin will be a host city for the European football championships in 2020. I am also optimistic that the IRFU’s bid to host the women’s rugby world cup in 2017 and the men’s rugby world cup in 2023 will be successful. Major events like these are great for tje country and can encourage more young people to get involved in sport. They are also great for us from a tourism point of view.

The Irish Sports Council and the National Sports Campus Development Authority are doing great work in developing sport in Ireland. Under the Bill, the two bodies will merge and the baton will pass to Sport Ireland. I know that Sport Ireland will continue in the tradition of serving all our athletes and all citizens well.

I commend the Bill to the House.

I welcome the Minister of State and compliment him on his proactive approach to his portfolio. He seems to have done an exceptionally good job of work. The Bill which proposes to merge the Irish Sports Council and the National Sports Campus Development Authority seems like a good idea on the face of it and deserves our support. On an occasion such as this, we generally get an opportunity to do some reminiscing. In the area of sport we can all look back to the heady days of Ronnie Delany, Dr. Pat O'Callaghan and the golden era of Irish boxing. The manner in which Eamonn Coghlan carried the flag for Ireland made us all feel so proud to be Irish. Well done to Senator Eamonn Coghlan on the great work he did over the years. He is an exceptionally fine role model for young people in Ireland.

There is no doubt that one has to support this Bill, although some things need to be watched. We are not sure whether it will mean a saving but that will become evident as time passes. What is more important is that it will be effective. The Minister of State has been helpful in outlining the details of the sports capital programme. He is quite right to say it has transformed Irish sport, as we have all seen at community level when representations are made to us.

Local communities, including GAA, soccer and athletic clubs, have had to do so much of the work themselves to prove their bona fides. They were then assisted by the State and it was often that assistance which made possible the hundreds if not thousands of projects throughout the country. I expect there will be more good news and I am sure the Minister of State will avail of another opportunity to announce it in due course.

It is also good to hear about major projects because sport is multifaceted. On the one hand, we are talking about sport at community level, while, on the other, we are supporting elite sportsmen and women. There is a vast sporting landscape and the Minister of State has built a bridge between the community and national levels in this respect.

No one has to reiterate the importance of sport to people's health and mental well-being. We are all exceptionally well aware of this. That is one of the reasons 2.1 million people participate in sports each year. It is a huge number. Not only does it prevent anti-social behaviour, it is also an antidote to it. When young people are involved in sports, it makes a difference. Some 800,000 young people under the age of 18 years are involved in sports. While they are so engaged, they have an exceptionally good chance of avoiding some of the unfortunate pitfalls for today's youth.

There is also an economic side. In excess of 500,000 volunteers are involved in sport and a value of €350 million has been put on their work. While that is a huge figure, I would be more inclined to concentrate on the number of volunteers rather than the money itself. We should bear in mind that sport contributes in the region of €1.8 billion to GDP annually, which is a major sum.

We have heard so much about banks, the recession and shares that went wrong. It has been shown, however, that if the Government invests €100 in sport, it will get a return of €149. That is a pretty good investment at the best of times and it is an economic argument for supporting sport.

One can never underestimate the positive effect on tourism of Irish sportspeople who are internationally successful, including the Olympic boxer, Katie Taylor. To use a boxing term, as a small country we punch above our weight in every sense of the word when it comes to sport. It is part of the tenacious Irish character to accept a challenge. In addition, communities embrace sport and support it. As the Minister of State has shown today, the State is 100% behind this. That is why we enjoy success in sport, although Ireland is a small country which often does not have sports facilities on a par with America. Some of our athletes have had to go to America to avail of the fine polishing there.

We should not regard it as being over-ambitious that the more we provide these facilities ourselves, the better it will be for our athletes. We should not forget the major contribution of schools to sport. I am an ex-Christian Brothers boy who looks back fondly at what they did, particularly for athletics, hurling and football. They always had their own pitches, sports was built into the curriculum, and time was always found to pursue sporting activities. While I am only referring to one school, all the schools in this country have made a major contribution to sport.

We should also acknowledge the work of broadcasters. Over the years, RTE radio and television have made an important contribution to sport. Our successful sports men and women should continue to be used as role models. I always find the idea of drinks companies sponsoring sport to be a major contradiction. We cannot say alcohol helps the development of a sports environment in any way. That, however, debate is for another day. The most important thing is how we can create, enhance and sustain a partnership between the State, sports bodies and local communities. I wish the Minister of State well in his future work in that regard.

The Minister of State is welcome and I am honoured to support the Bill. I congratulate the Minister of State on the passion, commitment and energy he brings to sport in Ireland. My sentiments have also been echoed by many administrators I met over the years while on the board of the Irish Sports Council prior to my nomination to this House. My only fear is that if I were to get on the starting line with the Minister of State, his energy would let him run away with the race. Well done to him.

This Bill provides for the merger of the Irish Sports Council and the National Sports Campus Development Authority into a new body which will be stronger and provide better leadership and direction for sport in Ireland. The Bill also proposes enhanced provisions in respect of anti-doping in Irish sport and designates Sport Ireland as the national anti-doping organisation for the State.

A great many Bills have come before this House, some of which have given rise to heated argument on one side or the other. However, this Bill will receive cross-party support because everybody understands the value of sports to Ireland. Sport is like music, literature or the arts. It transcends society. Regardless of whether we are rich or poor, and whatever our colour, creed or political persuasion, sport defines us as a nation. It is part of our culture. Sport has a tendency to strike the nervous chord like no other pursuit. It tests our emotional well-being. We share the thrills of victory and endure the agonies of defeat, whether it involves Katie, Rory, Padraig, the Dubs, the Kingdom, Mayo or Keano. Success comes from our rugby players, soccer teams, the GAA or our athletes. Our latest sports star is Conor McGregor and we cannot forget our Paralympians, Jason Smith and Michael McKillop. We live through their lives and we are with them all the way as they pursue their careers.

Sport fills us with pride and joy. It boosts our morale and helps us to increase productivity. It unites us as a nation. I recall the moment in 1976 when I felt the agony of defeat after finishing fourth in the Olympic Games. A reporter from Sports Illustrated came to Ireland to write a tourism piece on Eamonn Coghlan's Ireland. The article included a centrefold picture of me running in the Dublin Mountains, with a caption stating that I may have lost a medal in the Olympics but for four minutes I united Ireland. That gave me great pride because Ireland was going through difficult times in the mid-1970s. We revere our sports stars because people understand their Herculean efforts and sacrifices and the discipline they endure to be the best they can. The island of Ireland has punched far above its weight in terms of sporting successes. People ask me how tiny Ireland with a population of 4.5 million managed to produce so many world class men and women. I tell them it is because we are tough and resilient, and we expect nothing but the best.

Sport has contributed to the economy not only by attracting domestic and overseas tourism but also as a cost-effective way of promoting tourism through our international stars when they compete or appear on televisions around the world to speak about Ireland. It also contributes to the health and well-being of the nation. The Minister of State, Deputy Michael Ring, has managed to maintain spending on sports but as our economy improves we should be spending more money on sport because it builds character, instills discipline and increases self-esteem. Irrespective of whether one is a jogger, a plodder or an elite athlete and hero to the nation, through participation in sport one achieves the same results. Sports bring the best from our communities through the contribution of volunteers, coaches, officials, parents and supporters. We cannot put a price on this but we appreciate and value the contributions of volunteers.

I commend the Minister of State for bringing the Bill before the House. When it is passed, it will create a statutory body with responsibility for the development, promotion and co-ordination of sport in Ireland, as well as the management, operation and maintenance of the National Sports Campus in Abbotstown. This is part of the Government's programme of rationalisation of State agencies and it is in line with Fine Gael's commitment to reduce the number of Government quangos.

Sport in Ireland has come a long way since the days of Ronnie Delany, Stephen Roche, Seán Kelly, the 1990 World Cup in Italy and the 1994 World Cup in the United States. I recall being in the Meadowlands in New Jersey 21 years ago, when Ray Houghton scored that wonderful goal. The Irish Sports Council was established in 1999 by the then Fine Gael-led Government. The motto of the Irish Sports Council is believe, perform and achieve. It has performed and achieved since it was established in 1999. Its first strategy report envisaged a new era for sport. From what we called the "shamateur" sporting organisations of the past, we now have a professionally led national governing body thanks to the leadership shown by the Irish Sports Council. The 20 national governing bodies operating under the council's umbrella are more effective in developing their sports and servicing the needs of their membership. They are developing world class strategies, administration and pathways through coaching, education, support for equipment, codes of ethics and anti-doping programmes.

The involvement of women in sport has grown exponentially throughout the years. I refer to the ladies in the rugby and the wonderful women in the GAA, as well our Katie, Sonia, Annalise Murphy, Derval and even Stephanie Roche. Coaching Ireland provides wonderful coaching education. The Institute of Sport under the leadership of Gary Keegan is setting the bar extremely high in the delivery of excellence in sports science, sports medicine, career performance, lifestyle, elite coaching and education programmes. It gives me pride and joy to drive past the National Sports Campus and see the monument that has been created to the people of Ireland through the medium of sport. With the various national governing bodies under the same roof, success will breed success. The governing bodies are sharing their knowledge and supporting each other.

This Bill is a win for Ireland and a win for sport. However, the Minister of State faces a difficult task in ending the duplication of administrative functions. We currently have two CEOs and two chairs of two boards. I ask him to outline the process he plans to follow in delivering this reform. Will there be an opportunity for interested outside parties to apply for any of the roles involved, whether on the board or as CEOs? How will the expertise of both the Sports Council and the National Sports Campus Development Authority be retained in the leadership of the new body?

I welcome the Bill and support its aims. I apologise for not being in the Chamber for the Minister of State's opening statement as I was attending another meeting. I do not know whether he addressed the costs of establishing the new body. If that information is not forthcoming today, it would be useful to get it at a later stage. I agree with the proposal to merge the existing authorities and to create Sport Ireland, but I would also like to know more about the costs involved. We are all acutely aware of the value of sports to Ireland not only in economic terms but also for health, community and cultural reasons. Minority sports are also valuable even if they do not enjoy the same prominence as Gaelic games or soccer. Thousands, if not millions, of people are involved in sporting activities every weekend, including the volunteers who do much of the work. The Minister of State has been forthright on the role played by volunteers in all sports organisations. It is not just a question of elite sports and, while we all love to see success on the international stage, every weekend people strive to be the best they can be through their participation in all sports.

That is where our focus should be, not just on the children who will be Olympic stars and world champions like Senator Eamonn Coghlan. That is fantastic, but it is important to focus on the other children who have different types of abilities.

My party, Fianna Fáil, supports the Bill. We oppose section 9, with which we will deal with on Committee Stage, but I am slightly puzzled about the reference in the section that Sport Ireland may appoint such consultants and advisers as it considers necessary for the performance of its functions. It is a new departure to mention specifically that a body can appoint consultants. Is that something Sport Ireland or the people the Minister of State envisages will be part of that are thinking of doing? It seems strange to mention it specifically in the Bill. The Minister of State might elaborate on that issue. We can deal with it on Committee Stage because I will be tabling an amendment to delete that section which I believe is not necessary.

Is it envisaged that there will be job losses? Has that matter been considered by the Department? If that is not the case, that is welcome, but it is an issue about which some concern has been raised.

Section 22 relates to the chief executive. Section 22(3) states: "The Minister may, before the establishment date, designate a person to be appointed the first chief executive of Sport Ireland for a term to be determined by the Minister". Section 22(4) states: "Where a competition to appoint a chief executive is held prior to the establishment day, the successful candidate may be appointed by the Minister as the chief executive officer designate". I am slightly puzzled about that because an article in The Irish Times of 29 August 2014 stated:

Ring added that the first chief executive of Sport Ireland will be appointed by him following an interview process. "The first chief executive will be appointed by me", said Ring. "I will set up a mechanism where there will be an interview process and [I will not mention any names] is free to make an application to that. But I will be appointing the first chief executive and that's a matter for [individuals] whether he [or she] makes an application for that job or not."

Are we moving away from an interview process? Section 22 says to me that the Minister will appoint the first chief executive and that what was stated in August 2014 is not correct. Has there been a change in direction? Has the Minister decided that he will make that appointment? If that is the case for the first chief executive, will that be for a designated term? If it is for a year, will interviews take place after that and how will that work? The Minister of State was very critical, rightly so, in his commentary when he was in opposition and I am sure he does not want to be in a position where he is appointing his own people and he has full control over whom he appoints to the boards over which he has control. I agreed with his comments in August 2014 that it would be a public interview process. I would like to hear his comments on that issue.

I will talk to the Senator later about it.

The Minister of State is welcome again to the House. I will be supporting the Bill, which is very simple. It is about the establishment of Sport Ireland and the dissolution of the Irish Sports Council and the National Sports Campus Development Authority, which is in line with Government policy to reduce the number of quangos.

The function of Sport Ireland is to develop strategies for increasing participation in sport. We all welcome this. In many sports clubs over the years we have seen children start playing football at the age of three or four years and we thought nothing would ever come of it. We would watch them on the field and say, "He will never make a footballer," but I compliment the parents who make their children get involved in sport because we now have young people whom we never thought any good would come of them and who are representing their county at senior and minor levels. I compliment the volunteers throughout the country, many of whom are in my own town, who are driving the success of clubs in every county. They deserve to be complimented.

Another function of Sport Ireland is supporting elite athletes in achieving excellence in sport, which is to be welcomed. As Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú said, as a small country, we are boxing well above our weight in that regard. I have often mentioned to the Minister of State an issue that is not within his remit but is one he might mention to some of his colleagues. There is not the same support for our world champion Irish dancers who do every bit as much as our sporting athletes. They represent their country on the world stage, but there is not enough recognition of them. It is an issue about which I will talk to the Minister of State again.

The final function of Sport Ireland is to facilitate good conduct, fair play and the elimination of doping in sport.

Since being elected to the Seanad I have to say the Minister of State is one of the best Ministers I have seen here and I believe he is doing a great job. One does not see it in Dublin, Cork, Galway and Limerick, but across rural Ireland it is all doom and gloom. We go on about growth in the economy but the people in rural Ireland do not see it. However, every so often when a sports capital grant is allocated to a club that seeks funding, it gives the entire area a huge lift. I thank the Minister of State for grants he has given to the Ballaghaderreen GAA club, the soccer club and the community park in Ballaghaderreen. He would not believe it, but by virtue of the investment he has made in those clubs, they are attracting an increasing number of members. They have greater success on the county stage and because of this, most of them do their own lottery and 50-50 draws and the amount of money they generate from those is amazing. That means that in most cases they may not seek money from the Minister of State's Department in the future, but if they do, I know he will oblige me.

When I played soccer as a young fellow there was an ESB pole on the 20 yard line of our first pitch. On our second pitch there was a drop of ten feet from one end to the other. By virtue of the investment by the Minister of State's Department through the sports capital grants, all these problems are virtually eliminated. That is to be welcomed.

I refer to the sports capital grants for community-run golf clubs. I do not play golf. I support certain golf clubs and sponsor events, etc., in them but there is no question that many of those clubs throughout the country are struggling. They cannot attract new members. Some of them are nine-hole golf courses and they must invest to attract more members. I hope that in the new round of grants the Minister of State will take some of these community-run golf clubs into consideration and that if they dot the i's and cross the t's, he will look after them. I compliment him again on the great work he is doing and has done to date.

Cuirim céad fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. Ba mhaith liom fáiltiú roimh an mBille seo, an Bille um Spórt Éireann 2014, agus le teacht le chéile an dá eagraíocht atá i gceist.

Sinn Féin broadly welcomes the Sport Ireland Bill 2014. The amalgamation of two or more organisations, as is the case in this Bill, presents the important challenge that jobs are not lost in the process. I am pleased that the Government has guaranteed in the Bill that no jobs are at risk.

Sinn Féin does not see any significant problem with the merger of the Irish Sports Council and the National Sports Campus Development Authority. This has been done in the case of other groups as we are currently dealing with the merger of the National Roads Authority and the Railway Procurement Agency and where a common interest and goal can be found, the combining of expertise and experience from both bodies can be positive. The problem often is that this is the result of a campaign for cost-saving measures. If that is the entire motivation, it can be problematic. In this case I do not see that being a problem. The functions currently fulfilled by both bodies will continue to be carried out efficiently and any overlap can be overcome.

Sport in Ireland is very important. It spans a number of issues. These include the maintenance and promotion of our heritage through Gaelic games and the development of community spirit, public health and national pride. Sport is also a field of business and the idea of sports tourism has become very popular. There are jobs in sports and investment also.

It is important that we do not commodify what is an important part of our social and community life but we cannot escape the wider commercialisation of sports or allow our sports people to suffer by rejecting that commercialism utterly.

An important role of the Minister of State is to promote sport for what it is, which is a natural part of human life which promotes health and socialisation. His role is also to ensure Irish sports people and teams can compete on the world stage with pride and the hope of victory; that sports fans can come to Ireland and see top class sports events in quality venues and that investment in local and national sporting endeavours are taken advantage of.

Sport is invaluable to society. It benefits our mental and physical health and plays a very important role in social inclusion and integration. The field of sport is one that is naturally blind to colour, religion or sexual orientation. Although the influence of outside prejudice can creep in, sports can play a vital role in challenging these prejudices, something which is increasingly important in a more diverse Ireland.

Participation in sports can make a profound difference in the lives of excluded populations, including indigenous people, members of minority ethno-cultural groups, asylum-seekers and refugees, girls and women, people with disabilities, homeless people and young school leavers who are unemployed. Everyone who lives in extreme poverty suffers from exclusion. Initiatives such as Sport Against Racism Ireland and the midnight leagues clearly demonstrate the positive impact of using sport to tackle discrimination and racism. I applaud the co-operative efforts of the Garda, local authorities and the FAI, in areas such as Ballymun and Ballyfermot. Sport must be a part of how we challenge social barriers and divides. Sport is also vital in healing the problems created in communities by austerity. It is not the solution, but through sport, communities can find a positive common cause. Women in sport are consistently under-appreciated, under-represented and under-rated in this State. This year's success of the Irish women's rugby and hockey teams is a testament to the skill and talent of our female players. However, their participation seems to be at the bottom of the priority list. Last year, match day expenses were cut for the women's international soccer team, yet retained for the men's team players. Katie Taylor is a fantastic role model for young women across this island yet the lack of media presence at her fights is noteworthy especially in comparison to male boxers. It is often the case that no television cameras and-or photographers are in sight when women are centre stage. That is a disgrace. A strategy is needed to tackle the under-funding and under-representation of women across many State bodies, from Sport Ireland to RTE, with a grassroots investment in female participation in sport. I wish to note that TG4 is an exception and I refer to the work around peile na mban which is exceptional and for which I applaud it.

Sport is empowering and it must be used as a tool to close the gender equality gap that exists in society. Sinn Féin believes that all government bodies, institutions and initiatives should operate on an all-Ireland basis. We would like to see Sport Ireland prioritise and firmly implement a cross-Border approach when it comes to sport on this island. In a nation that recently came out of conflict, sporting programmes can be used to help build and foster positive community relations and interactions. This must be practical and achievable.

I note the role played by Irish sport abroad and among the diaspora, in particular, the outstanding role of the GAA across the world. As Sinn Féin spokesperson on the diaspora I look forward to engaging with the GAA. No matter where abroad, one of the first ports of call is the local GAA club. Other sports people such as boxers, wrestlers and those in many other disciplines are excelling themselves. On behalf of Sinn Féin, I welcome this Bill. I hope the Minister and Sport Ireland will take on board our recommendations. Sílim gur rud dearfach é an Bille seo. Tá sé tábhachtach go gcuirfear é i bhfeidhm gan ciorruithe agus go mbeidh có-neartú ag tarlú idir na heagraíochtaí agus tacaíocht níos fearr á thabhairt do lucht spóirt mar thoradh ar sin.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit go dtí an Seanad tráthnóna inniu. Bíonn sé anseo go minic agus tá áthas orm é a fheiceáil anseo arís. The purpose of the Bill is to provide for the establishment of a new body, Sport Ireland, to replace the Irish Sports Council and the National Sports Campus Development Authority. The Bill gives effect to the Government decision to merge the Irish Sports Council and the National Sports Campus Development Authority. It was one of the measures included in the Government's programme for the rationalisation of State agencies.

The Bill provides for the dissolution of the council and the authority on the establishment of Sport Ireland. The establishment of Sport Ireland will result in a more streamlined organisation for the development of sport and the implementation of sports policy by bringing responsibility for sports matters together under one agency. Sport Ireland will take on the relevant functions currently performed by the council and the authority.

The Bill also combines and updates the main provisions of the Irish Sports Council Act 1999 and the National Sports Campus Development Authority Act 2006. It also takes account of the substantial developments in the area of doping in sport since the Irish Sports Council Act 1999 was enacted. The Bill includes provisions which ensure the statutory underpinning of the existing national anti-doping programme and the Irish anti-doping rules which underpin the programme. It also provides for information-sharing with certain bodies for the purpose of combatting doping in sport, which is to be commended.

I acknowledge the Minister of State's work in reintroducing the sports capital programme, for which I give him full credit. The programme was introduced by him after an absence of four years and it acknowledges his total commitment and enthusiasm, his passion and his enthusiasm for sport. Every time he speaks about sport and tourism, he speaks with great gusto and enthusiasm, which I welcome.

What moneys have been allocated to date? The Minister of State may not have the figures with him, but I ask him to provide the information later. I hope there will be a capital programme for the coming year and ask the Minister of State to confirm any increases contained in it. I acknowledge the number of communities and sports organisations throughout the country which have benefited, as has been mentioned by other colleagues. It has been a very successful programme with thousands of sports clubs and voluntary organisations benefiting. Many sporting men and women - too many to list individually - have reached their potential and are winning gold, silver and bronze in faraway places. They are great ambassadors for the country.

With regard to volunteers, I do not think we fully acknowledge the commitment given by them for 52 weeks of the year. Opportunities are there to hold major sports events in this country. I refer to the ladies world cup rugby to be held in 2017 and I hope our bid for the men's rugby world cup in 2023. We have the infrastructure such as hotels and pitches. The tourism sector is close to the Minister of State's heart and it would reap the benefits.

I take the opportunity to acknowledge the achievements of my colleague, Senator Eamonn Coghlan, on the athletic tracks of the world and on his Olympic achievements in Montreal in 1976, Moscow in 1980 and Seoul in 1988. I am sure there were not too many sports capital programmes in those days. It was a difficult time in this country when perhaps we were being advertised across the world for the wrong reasons. Thankfully, that has all finished. I acknowledge Senator Eamonn Coghlan's achievements and congratulate the Minister of State on his achievements to date. I welcome the Bill which I give my full support.

I congratulate the Minister of State on bringing forward this Bill which I welcome. I welcome the merger of two entities in so far as it allows for a single point of contact for those who want information and access to grant aid, etc. As a trade unionist, however, I am always concerned that there might be rationalisation associated with it, resulting in some job losses. I would like to see some detail in that regard and do not make that statement to undermine what the Minister of State is trying to do. I am just concerned about job retention.

I know of the Minister of State’s commitment to sport. I thank him for meeting at my request an organisation in a sport that is not a recognised, for taking time to bring its members to his office to explain to them how to register under the sports system. Not many people in the Minister of State’s position would take the time to do the same. That is probably what drives him in introducing the Bill.

The Minister of State will be delighted to know that I grew up as the son of a Mayo woman, listening to stories ringing in my ears about the endeavours of the great Paddy Mockler, until, of course, I witnessed the success of the greatest football team Ireland has ever seen, the Galway team which won three titles in row. In my youth all of the people involved were volunteers, people who were prepared to give of their time after work in the evening, teachers in particular. Without my colleagues in the teaching profession, particularly in primary and secondary schools, we would have no sport in the country. The work and effort they have put in has never been recognised, even in the cursed Croke Park agreement made during the economic emergency.

I acknowledge the great sportsmen and women to whom I listened when I was in short pants, including the great Christy O’Connor Snr. If I had thrown a stone, I would have broken a window in his house. He lived across from us in Salthill. I am sure Ronnie Delaney inspired people such as Sonia O’Sullivan and the great Eamonn Coghlan. Every time I meet the Senator I am in awe of his great feats on the track. I am proud to know him and have had the opportunity to meet him.

I thank the Senator.

Then there are Derval O’Rourke, Stephen Roche and Sean Kelly. How did this tiny country, with the resources we had put into sport, breed such fantastic sportspeople? The sportspeople of today have a lot going for them, but in the time of Senator Eamonn Coghlan, Ronnie Delaney or Christy O’Connor there was not much going for them. We have achieved a great deal as a country, of which we should be very proud.

Senator Eamonn Coghlan is dead right - sport brings a nation together; it brings counties and parishes together. I am unfortunate to be married to a Kilkenny woman and every September have to listen to what is said about the Kilkenny hurling team, about what it can and cannot do. Children are born there with a hurley. Somebody once asked a question about football in the county and is still trying to get an answer.

As this organisation develops, the emphasis will be on the youth. When I look at my rather rotund shape in the mirror in the morning, I think perhaps we should be thinking of senior citizens, too. I could do with some assistance to become involved in sport again. I have played golf on several occasions, but when I hit a golf ball, God only knows where it will go. In Japan and China elderly people are involved in sport and out early in the morning.

What expertise will members of the board be required to have? How will they apply? Will the process be open and transparent? I do not want to see a friend of the Minister being appointed chairman. I want the process to be open, in regard to which I think we can trust the Minister of State.

I agree with Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh on female sport. For two years as president of the Teachers Union of Ireland I attended both men's all-Ireland finals and then attended the ladies’ all-Ireland finals. It was really sad that Croke Park less than one quarter full for the ladies’ finals, whereas it had been packed for the men’s finals. A couple of weeks ago there were only a couple of thousand people present at the match played by our great female rugby players and their achievement was above and beyond everything else.

As our sportsmen and women excel, often in unknown sports, we become experts in these sports. Recently we were all experts in cricket. That is what sport does: it forces us to take time to learn what is going on, which is good.

I would like the Minister of State to acknowledge the volunteers, as I do, who give of their time. Without them there would be no sport. There are massive, sprawling, disadvantaged and marginalised estates and while voluntarism is one aspect, like the young man mentioned by the Minister of State in a disadvantaged area in north Dublin, I want to make sure the board will have at its core meeting the needs of the marginalised and the disadvantaged. Ireland probably has several more Eamonn Coghlans, although I doubt it, but they will never be found unless we find volunteers in these marginalised communities who will take on the task of coaching young men and women. I was in short pants when Senator Eamonn Coghlan was running, but somebody found him, nurtured him and brought him forward.

I can say that because I was. I hope no one is watching or he or she will take the Senator for real.

No, I was not really in short pants when Senator Eamonn Coghlan was running. I thank the Minister of State for introducing the Bill

I thank Senators for their contributions and support for the Bill. I have listened with interest to the input of Members on all sides. Merging the council and the authority in one new body is a positive move for the development of Irish sport. The council and the authority already work closely together and enjoy an excellent working relationship. We are bringing together the experience and expertise of the two bodies which have delivered a lot for sport in recent years. I am confident that the good work being done for Irish sport will continue into the future under the new Sport Ireland structure.

This is already promising to be another great year for Irish sport. There have been a number of great sporting achievements this year, including the great wins by the men’s and women’s rugby teams in the Six Nations championships; Mark English’s silver medal at the European indoor athletics championships; Eoghan Clifford’s gold medal at the world paracycling championship; Arthur Lanigan-O’Keeffe and Natalya Coyle’s silver medals at the modern pentathlon World Cup and, of course, the wonderful achievement of Bertram Allen in winning a bronze medal at the showjumping World Cup in Las Vegas last Sunday. Wins by Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlon in the world series of boxing at the weekend saw them book their places for the Olympics Games in Rio de Janeiro. These are just some of the highlights so far this year. There have been many excellent performances and successes across a wide range of sports. I congratulate all of our athletes and teams who have competed in international events so and done us proud. I am sure there will be many more exciting sporting moments for us to enjoy during the year.

We all recognise the need to increase the level of participation and get more young people involved in sport. I see events such as Euro 2020 as having the ability to do just this. It will be a great opportunity for young Irish people to see some of the best European football has to offer and I hope it will inspire them to become involved in the sport.

The Olympic and Paralympic Games will take place next year in Rio de Janeiro. This is a very important year for teams and athletes in achieving the qualification standards for the games. I am delighted that already we have athletes qualified in sailing, equestrian sport and boxing. I wish all of our athletes the best of luck in their preparations for Rio de Janeiro.

I will deal with some of the issues raised during the debate. There was a question asked about section 10, which deals with the appointment of consultants and advisers. I was asked if this was necessary to help Sport Ireland in performing its functions.

What we are really saying is, if it needs advice and specialists, we are giving it permission but it will have to do it through the Department. That is only right as the Department will set policy and if there is expertise required, we are not confined. The agency would come to us and we would agree to it.

The Senator raised the issue of jobs. There will be no job losses and any pension rights or agreements that people have with their Department will carry over to the new Sport Ireland. There will be major savings in that we will not be paying for two boards. We will have one board and one body to deal with sport.

People spoke about appointments to State boards. Under new arrangements, all appointees to vacancies on State boards must be advertised on the State boards website. Guidelines on appointments to State boards have been prepared by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform following consultations with the Public Appointments Service, other Departments and interested parties. My Department took part in that process. We are now confined to the new rules and regulations. People will have to apply online and the State boards appointments commission will look at them. Anybody can make an application and whatever names are put forward, the Minister of the day will then have to deal with this.

Another issue raised was transition in respect of the new CEO. I listened to the Senator's colleague in the Dáil and he was worried about transition as regards the new body. I have discussed this with the Minister, Deputy Paschal Donohoe and we agreed to appoint somebody for one year for a smooth transition. When the new board is up and running after one year, it will appoint the new CEO and that will be an open competition. I have taken the wishes of Fianna Fáil and of the Senator's party colleague into account and cannot do any more. Another question was asked about the sports capital programme. The first round was €31 million and the second round was €40 million. We have another €40 million for this.

I thank all the speakers for their kind comments. Senators mentioned volunteers and I have never made a speech since I became Minister of State with responsibility for sport without recognising the role of volunteers, no matter where I am or what function or event I am at. The Senators are quite correct that we would never have found a superstar like Senator Eamonn Coghlan if we were paying people to do it. Some person somewhere along the way saw his potential and developed, worked with and nurtured him and brought him along. By God, the Senator was a great ambassador for the country. It never went to his head, he certainly did us proud and I am honoured to have him as a Member of the Seanad. He was a member of the Sports Council and people like him know about high performance sport and the commitment to it.

I also want to make it clear, with no disrespect to the Senator, that it is not all about high performance or elite athletes. My job is to make sure people in disadvantaged areas, people with disabilities, women and everybody get an opportunity to participate in sport. I do not want money to be a barrier to this. I have said this to the CEOs and the national governing bodies. Taxpayers give substantial amounts of money to the national governing bodies for soccer, rugby, golf, athletics and every other sport.

As regards the sports capital programme, two things happen with it. First, for every euro we certainly get €2 in return and perhaps €3 in some cases. With the boxing, soccer, GAA and rugby, more money goes in when the club members buy in to ownership of the club itself, if it gets the grant. I mean no disrespect to Dublin in saying this, but that city is very lucky. Senator John Kelly and I have a problem in rural Ireland, where clubs and organisations have to go out and buy the land. Nine times out of ten in Dublin, the applications were being made through the local authorities and they have the land.

There was criticism for my own soccer club in Westport. My club had to raise €300,000 to provide sports facilities for young people in my town. The State gave it €400,000 and it is going to put another €700,000 or €800,000 into it, with lottery tickets, dances, church gate collections and everything else. If it was in Dublin, that €300,000 would not have to be found because land would be provided by Dublin City Council. I would like to see the local authorities supporting clubs all over the country. If they can do it in Dublin, why can Roscommon, Mayo or Sligo County Council not do it? They should be helping clubs and providing ground for them, provided the club plays its part.

This is a non-contentious Bill that will be good for sport. We will have one organisation to regulate sport. I thank all the Senators, the sports council, the campus and everybody involved in sport. We certainly have some great facilities such as Croke Park and the Aviva Stadium. I would like to see that spread to rural areas. When I came in as Minister of State I did not allow grant aid for car parks or stands. I want to see the basic facilities on the ground. I see stands all over this country and nobody in them. I see big stadiums being built by county boards and big soccer clubs and nobody in them. What I want to see is the facilities. I want to see the AstroTurf pitches where people can practise.

The Senator is right - we can be proud of Abbotstown; it is Irish and we have our own facility. Senator Eamonn Coghlan and people like him had to go abroad to get the training, but we now have the expertise here, although perhpas not for every sport. We have the facilities and are using them. We are developing the campus at a very slow pace. We are not doing it all together but bit by bit and it is falling into place. It might be nice if the Senators took a day out to view the facilities - they would be proud to see them.

If I have not answered any question, I hope to do so on Committee Stage. If amendments are being tabled, I ask the Senators to let my officials know. We will look at them; if we can accept them, we will and if we cannot, we will not. I do not want them to be disallowed because they were not tabled in time.

I commend the Bill to the House and thank the Senators for their interest. Sport in Ireland is as important as politics or anything else. People love their sport. I would not be a cricket man like the Senator-----

I did not mention it. I was letting the Minister of State away with it just for today.

When the Irish team was doing well, I was as interested as anyone else, although I did not know what "LBW" meant. The Senator is quite correct that we all want to support a good Irish team, to support our athletes and give them every chance. As Minister of State with responsibility for sport in difficult times, I was delighted I was able to hold the funding to the best of my ability. Now that the economy is beginning to lift we will get more money in. Sport is competing with education, health and agriculture. When I compare my budget with those of some of the other Departments I think it is wrong. We should be putting more money into the development of sport. A healthier society with healthier people who are participating in sport is better for the future. Sometimes we do not look ahead. I ask for the Senators' support to make sure that when the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform come here, they will tell them more money should be put into sport.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 28 April 2015.
Sitting suspended at 3.50 p.m. and resumed at 5 p.m.