Rugby World Cup 2023 Bill 2017: Second Stage

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

This Bill is an enabling Bill to allow the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to support the bid and the hosting of the Rugby World Cup in 2023.

The Rugby World Cup is one of the largest global sporting events after the Olympic Games and the FIFA World Cup. It is held every four years, with the next tournament to be played in Japan in 2019. It has grown substantially since its inauguration in 1987, and is expected to continue to grow in the future. The hosting of a Rugby World Cup by Ireland has the potential to be very beneficial to this country, for visitor numbers, sporting and international profile and for communities across the island. A successful bid for the Rugby World Cup would have the dual advantage of promoting sport and tourism. There would be very considerable tourism potential as it would take place during Ireland's shoulder season for overseas tourism, between mid-September and late October. It is estimated that the tournament would draw approximately 450,000 visitors who would spend approximately €760 million. Based on Fáilte Ireland estimates, this would provide a return to the Exchequer of €138 million.

There would be many other benefits to the country, not least the profile received through television coverage of the tournament across the world and the exposure that the country would get through the thousands of visiting media. This event has the potential to involve thousands of volunteers, building volunteering capacity for future events. A parallel programme of festivals and cultural events would make the most of the opportunity to extend visits and enhance the image of Ireland. There would also be extensive business networking and other business opportunities.

The tournament would be a great platform for the promotion of sport and physical activity, vital to the physical and mental health of the nation. There is also a fantastic opportunity to reach out to Ireland's diaspora. Given the global reach of this tournament, we are confident Ireland would see tangible support for a staging of the tournament by way of many of the diaspora travelling to Ireland for the tournament.

Of its nature, a successful joint tournament would depend on mutual co-operation between North and South as we co-operate to deliver this major project between now and 2023. Hosting the Rugby World Cup in 2023 has the potential to send a powerful message of co-operation across the island to a global audience. In addition, hosting a Rugby World Cup on the island of Ireland would provide a great cultural experience for communities all over Ireland with the opportunity to host teams from places as diverse as Tonga, Georgia, Japan, New Zealand and Argentina.

I regret that this legislation is coming to the Oireachtas so late. At an earlier stage of planning for Rugby World Cup 2023, the preliminary legal advice was that legislation was not likely to be required in respect of the State's contribution to a new company that might be established in relation to hosting Rugby World Cup 2023. However, after further examination, the Office of the Attorney General advised in early May that express statutory authority through the passing of primary legislation is necessary for a Minister to provide capital support to a tournament company and to provide the necessary guarantees and underwrites to Rugby World Cup Limited. This is based on the judgment of the Office of the Attorney General that there is no specific statutory power for the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to expend money or give guarantees directly on a unique major sporting event such as the Rugby World Cup 2023. Therefore, for the avoidance of doubt, the advice is that express statutory authority is required. This statutory authority must be in place before the Minister signs the guarantees. This means the Bill has to become law before 31 July.

Based on this advice, the Bill before the House was drafted. The purpose of the Bill is to enable the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to provide the guarantees and undertakings as part of the bid and, if the bid is successful, enable the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to support the staging of the tournament. I will now outline the provisions of the Bill.

Section 1 defines the terms used in the Bill. If the bid is successful, a tournament company must be formed with the Irish Government, the Northern Ireland Executive and the IRFU as shareholders and section 2 empowers the Minister to play a full part as a shareholder in that company. An agreement on a comprehensive governance structure for the envisaged company that would protect the State's interests is currently being finalised between all three parties.

As part of the bid, the Government would provide an underwrite for the tournament budget and the provision to enable the Minister to give this underwrite is set out in section 3. The underwrite is to give Rugby World Cup Limited the assurance that the tournament would still proceed even if ticket revenues were not sufficient. As with all previous Rugby World Cups, the hosting of the tournament would be funded by ticket revenue. It is planned that the tournament company would source the cashflow requirements in those years prior to receipt of ticket income from commercial loans. In the event that unexpected cashflow needs arise, section 3 enables the Minister to advance funding, including loans, to a tournament company. A number of rights held by Rugby World Cup Limited, such as selected sponsorship categories, hospitality and licensing, are on offer for potential hosts to bid. This matter is still under negotiation and Rugby World Cup Limited may decide not to sell any of these rights. The provisions in sections 3 and 4 grant the Minister all potential options to support any purchase of these rights and to structure that purchase in such a way that would be of best advantage to the State and the tournament.

Section 5 enables the Minister to pay the tournament fee for the territory of the island of Ireland to be the host territory for Rugby World Cup 2023. The bid proposes that, after receipt of the projected surplus from the operation of the tournament company, the Government will pay the tournament fee directly to Rugby World Cup Limited. As with the tournament underwrite, this support would be shared with Northern Ireland along an agreed ratio. These provisions in sections 2 to 5, inclusive, would be exercised with the consent of the Ministers for Public Expenditure and Reform and Finance.

A number of other assurances are sought from Government by Rugby World Cup Limited that the broader environment will be suitable to stage the tournament. These include protection for their trademarks and intellectual property and the support of An Garda Síochána in the provision of a secure environment to host the tournament. Section 6 empowers the Minister to provide such undertakings on foot of a decision of Government. In response to amendments proposed by members of the Dáil relating to oversight and scrutiny, and in addition to the usual oversight and scrutiny by Houses of the Oireachtas, an amendment was made to the Bill to address this matter.

Section 7 provides that the Minister will, during each period of six months until the conclusion of the tournament, report on preparation for and the staging of the tournament to the relevant joint committee. Sections 8 and 9 cover expenditure under the bill and the commencement provisions. As the Members of this House know, we are in an international bidding competition with France and South Africa. All bids submitted are confidential, including the budgets proposed. Since we are in this position, I am not in a position to share every detail of the bid with the House. However, in relation to provisions contained within the Bill before this House, I want to outline the key asks of Government. The first is the payment of the tournament fee, which is £120 million, 5% on award and the remainder after the tournament. This would be shared with Northern Ireland and the total cost would be net of receipt of the projected surplus from the tournament company. The governments of the bidding countries have been asked to underwrite the proposed tournament budget. This underwrite would only be called on if the ticket revenue did not cover the tournament costs and then only for that element not covered by the ticket revenue. The entire cost would only be become liable if the tournament went ahead with zero revenue. The current projection is that the tournament will make a substantial surplus. The exact budget figure Ireland has submitted is commercially sensitive, but I can tell the House that Rugby World Cup Limited has provided bidders with an indicative budget of £200 million and the Irish bid is in the region of that figure. This budget includes the cost of operating the tournament and stadium upgrades. The Government's proposed underwrite would also be supported by Northern Ireland and is capped at the level of the bid budget. The House may also be interested to know that cancellation insurance is also taken out by the tournament company.

The operation of the tournament, including the projected investment in stadiums, would be funded by ticket revenue. This would start to come on stream in 2022 and in the years preceding the tournament company would be funded by commercial loan. In the event that there are cashflow challenges that cannot be met from this arrangement, then the Minister could loan funds to the company. As I said, this is for cashflow purposes and does not change the financial outcome of the company. These funds would be repaid to Government.

Rugby World Cup Limited, like all international sporting bodies, also needs to know that the wider environment, such as infrastructure, legal context and security provision will be sufficient to host the tournament on the island of Ireland. Accordingly, it has sought undertakings from the Governments that the island has the necessary requirements in place.

Separately, Rugby World Cup Limited has made a number of tournament commercial rights on offer to bidders which are travel and hospitality, licensing and selected sponsorship categories. Broadcasting rights are not on offer. It is open to the bidders to submit a bid to acquire the rights that they believe would provide the best return. A bidding process is currently taking place and Ireland may acquire some of these rights. This Bill allows the Minister to support a bid for these rights and, if a bid is successful, provides a range of options for ownership of these rights to get the best return.

I very much welcome the interest of Members and I have no desire to withhold details of the bid, but I trust the House will understand the constraints of the bidding process. Obviously, if one is involved in a bidding situation, one would not reveal one’s top bid to anybody any more than one would at a house auction. Information such as the bid budget, the proposed investment in stadiums or training bases or the bid for commercial rights would of significant value to our competitors. In that light, I would rather err on the side of caution and not risk putting our bid at a potential competitive disadvantage.

It is important that Senators know that the Government is confident of the case for supporting the bid because we have been examining the feasibility for hosting the tournament, including likely costs and benefits, for more than four years. The initial feasibility study was carried out by Deloitte in 2013 and was examined by Departments and agencies, North and South. A cross-Border working group spent six months in 2014 considering that study and the experience of recent world cups in France and New Zealand, identifying additional costs and risks, and conducting sensitivity analyses. That report produced a revised, more conservative and prudent estimate of the impact of hosting but taking all factors into account, it found it would still be a positive experience for the island. Following consideration of that report, the Government decided to support the bid in December 2014.

An oversight board, chaired by former Tánaiste Dick Spring, with key sporting and business figures as well as Government representatives was set up in 2015 to guide the compilation of the bid. This was supported by interdepartmental groups in both jurisdictions, chaired respectively by the head of the Northern Ireland civil service and the Secretary General of the Department of the Taoiseach. My Department led the co-ordination of the public sector input and managed relations with the IRFU and the Department of the Economy in Northern Ireland. Following work by the IRFU, external expertise and Departments and agencies, the Government again reviewed the project and approved the submission of the applicant phase bid in August 2016. All figures had been re-examined and updated, including a re-assessment of stadia investment requirements, and also took into account the evaluation of the impact of the Rugby World Cup in England in 2015. Since November of last year, the candidate phase bid has been put together. The formal bid to host the Rugby World Cup was submitted on 1 June 2017. The candidate file ran to approximately 1,000 pages setting out responses on a range of topics including finance and governance, transport, match venues, security, ticketing strategy, accommodation provision, and intellectual property rights protection.

In response to the templates issued by Rugby World Cup Limited, RWCL, on 7 April, the bid also contained draft guarantees and undertakings outlining the support of governments to stage the tournament in 2023; for the payment of the tournament fee; the underwrite of the tournament budget; and the provision of public sector supports for the staging of the tournament. The State, with the support of NewERA, is discussing these drafts with RWCL and final versions are due to be agreed and signed by 31 July. The candidate phase was intensive and again all aspects of the bid were re-examined and the financial model updated. These figures were submitted to and considered by Government in May and they approved the bid. It is because the bid has been examined now for this extended period, involving internal and external expertise, taking into account the impact of Rugby World Cups in other countries, and has been considered by Government on three separate occasions that I am confident of the case for hosting.

Hosting the Rugby World Cup in 2023 would be a unique opportunity for Ireland. It would be of great benefit to the country from sporting, economic, cultural and profile perspectives and the Bill enables the Government to fully support it. Working closely with our colleagues in the Northern Ireland Executive, the Government has been examining the case for hosting for more than four years, and we are confident of the case for hosting and of the strength of the bid. I commend this Bill to all sides of the House.

Fianna Fáil is 100% behind Ireland's bid for the Rugby World Cup in 2023 and we will support all Stages of the Bill, despite the less than satisfactory manner in which it has been presented to us, particularly the lateness of it and the rushed nature of its passage. As the Minister said, we are at the third stage of the process, which requires a number of Government guarantees and underwrites. It includes paying an advance on the tournament fee and providing an underwrite for the tournament budget as well as making provision for certain supports from the public service. All that is reasonable. However, on 4 May, the Attorney General advised the Minister that primary legislation would be required. Why did that information come to light so late in the day? Why was the earlier legal opinion deemed to be incorrect subsequently? What level of examination went into the initial legal opinion? Did the Minister at that stage say to himself, "I should consult the Attorney General on this"? Was the Attorney General consulted on this in the first instance as well as latterly? People are asking these important questions.

The Minister will accept that rushed legislation where all Stages of a Bill are taken on one evening following hard on a similar exercise in the Dáil last Thursday is not the way to do business. It is not good practice. The deadline is 31 July but today is only 11 July. I am only in the Oireachtas one third as long as the Minister but I have not witnessed any legislation rushed like this since the nights of the banking crisis.

A dedicated tournament committee is to be set up and, along with others, I am greatly mollified by the fact that the Minister has the good fortune to have people such as Dick Spring on board from the beginning. He is former colleague and, indeed, adversary of mine in Kerry and he is a good, sound, solid performer when it comes to matters such as this. I hope the membership of the tournament committee will be of that calibre to ensure the success of the bid. I agree with the Minister that it would be important for the economy to secure the tournament. It would also be good for the game of rugby, sport in general, and the image of the country. There will be significant investments in pitches and the general infrastructure of the sport. According to his figures, it is estimated that there would be 450,000 visitors during the tournament with a spend of €760 million, of which €138 million would return to the Exchequer. This is positive, particularly in the shoulder season for tourism, as he said.

I particularly welcome the fact that we are working with the Northern Ireland Executive on this matter. There are many ways in which we have failed to engage properly and constructively, not through our own fault but because of the political circumstances that obtained in the North. It has proven difficult to achieve the co-operation we see on the rugby field, for instance. When 15 men tog out, they tog out in the green and they work together. It is great that there will be co-operation between the Minister's Department and its equivalent in the North on the funding of the bid and working it through. That is a hidden bonus in the process.

I accept there has to be a great deal of confidentiality in the bidding process. We are up against big players and we have to play our cards close to our chest. However, it is up to the Minister to keep a close eye on this. Nothing is certain in life and anytime a guarantee or underwrite is given, as the Minister will be aware given his experience of the banking sector, there is always an element of danger. As he said, insurance is built in, which is a relief. The greatest source of income will the ticket revenue. I am not the only one who shudders when I hear about ticket sales in international sport. There is a great deal going on at the moment which is sub judice since the Rio Olympic Games. We do not want a repeat of that in this tournament and it will be up to the Minister to keep a close eye on the ball. There is an old saying that the cobbler should stick to his last. The Minister has a wide, eclectic range of interests from the Judiciary to his other hobby horses but if keeps a close eye on the tickets and the money for the RWC, it will all work out in the end.

I thank Senator Ned O'Sullivan both for his contribution and for his brevity. Our next speaker is Senator Boyhan and he also has eight minutes.

This is an amazing story, a good news story and a positive story. Sport is a great unifier. It brings people together, as do the arts, as does culture, as do a whole range of things. This is particularly important for the island of Ireland. It will bring opportunities and unite people. This is very positive and will bring huge economic benefits. I thank the Minister for his comprehensive account of what has been proposed. It makes absolute sense to me that there are confidential aspects to this, of course, and I appreciate and respect that. The Minister has very clearly laid out his stall and I am particularly happy with it.

I note the Minister's comment that he would, as a result of discussions in the Dáil, bring some kind of six-monthly reviews or briefings to the relevant Oireachtas committee. I point out to him, however, that it is also very important that the Members of both Houses be kept informed about the various stages of progress in how this project is being rolled out. It is important that he bring people with him on this and I have no doubt but that he will. I ask him to come back to this House, as well as to the Dáil and the joint committee. One can never say a good thing too often and it is important that people on all sides of both Houses are kept informed on progress.

I will conclude by wishing the Minister well and thanking him for his comprehensive report to us today.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate and to support the Bill. It will ensure that Ireland's bid for the 2023 World Cup has every chance of success. There has been some suggestion in recent days that this has been rushed and is exposing the State to enormous costs and risks. I do not subscribe to that. The Bill ensures that everything is above board and transparent and that is very important. If we were to flip the coin here and have a situation where the Government or the Minister were not supporting the Irish bid, we would be pleading with him to do so. It is important that it be supported.

This bid has been thoroughly worked through in the last four years, initially by the previous two Ministers for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Donohue and the current Taoiseach. Every Rugby World Cup since its inception in the late 1980s has been profitable and there is no reason why 2023 will be any different. I am glad to have been given information by the Minister about the tournament fee. I had thought that we would have to pay that fee as soon as we won the bid, as we hopefully will, but I now learn that it is in fact after the tournament. Based on the experience of other World Cups the financial exposure will be limited.

The Minister referred to the whole concept of this bid as a co-operation between the Administrations in the North and the South and between the IRFU and the GAA. Having been very much involved in the GAA all my life, I know that the organisation took a very big decision in the early 2000s when it looked like the refurbishment of the Landsdowne Road stadium was going to force the Irish rugby team to play its home internationals abroad. The then President of the GAA, our colleague Mr. Seán Kelly MEP, was instrumental in taking the decision to co-operate. The unique co-operation everywhere on the island will hopefully be reflected in this House and in the passing of this legislation. This bid will give the country a profile that no amount of money could buy. I remember that 20 or 30 years ago there was suggestion that Ireland bid for the Olympics-----

That was Gay Mitchell.

It was laughed out of town at the time. Here, however, we have a realistic opportunity to showcase this country. As the Minister stated, a successful bid will bring financial benefits. Quite apart from the sporting aspect, the fact that the tournament is to be held in late September and October will extend the tourist season. The projections have been thoroughly explored and it is important that this positive message be put out.

We cannot pass up on this opportunity. Everything will have to be carefully looked at thoroughly, which is exactly what the Minister is doing with this Bill. I will fully support it.

Go raibh maith agat, a Leas-Chathaoirligh, agus gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire as ucht bheith linn chun an díospóireacht a phlé inniu. I am torn over this Bill on a number of fronts. The first thing that struck me is that my old primary school headmaster, Diarmuid Ó Tuama, would be horrified to hear me coming in here to say nice things about rugby. I will overcome that fear and carry on regardless.

This is a very welcome bid and while I, like others here, have concerns about the process, I think that the bid is very worthwhile for all of the reasons outlined and more. I am familiar with some of the initial preparatory work from my time on Belfast City Council. At the time we assisted colleagues in the civil service and in the Northern Ireland Executive in looking at the bid and at the existing facilities in Ravenhill and Casement Park, the development of which is now sadly in limbo. This bid adds impetus to the call for Casement Park to be redeveloped, both for the benefit of the GAA fraternity and for sport more generally.

As I mentioned, however, I share my colleagues' concerns. I believe that we will put together a significant, worthwhile and achievable bid that will reap benefits. I am concerned, however, at the manner in which this has been rushed through. The Minister will have heard such concerns in the other House and he will hear them today. As I sat listening I could not help but wonder why, if we can push through legislation like this involving such a significant financial commitment, can we not push something through for the housing or hospital trolley crises? We have to be able to take this very legitimate criticism.

When it comes down to it, however, we can progress to a positive outcome because sport is, if the House will pardon the pun, a great game-changer. This will benefit our economy, our offering on the international stage and our local hospitality and tourism sector. What is most important, however, is that it has to benefit our local communities and sporting clubs, be they rugby or otherwise. Colleagues has touched on the nature of the all-Ireland bid. My colleague, Deputy McDonald, often refers to me as Sinn Féin's all-Ireland body so I am delighted by this aspect to the bid. We are better and stronger when we are united and we can achieve more. That is manifested brilliantly on the rugby pitch at an international level.

As the Minister outlined, section 7 deals provides for committee oversight of the bid. This is welcome and will add very significantly to the nature of the legislation as it progresses. I commend my party colleague, Deputy Munster, for securing that commitment from the Minister. It is a key component that will give rightful democratic oversight to the Oireachtas. Ultimately, while we have our own concerns, we all need to put on the green jersey, just as we often hear in this Chamber. Given the financial commitment at stake here, however, it is only right and proper that there is this democratic oversight and that Members have the ability to engage with the Minister as we move forward.

Guím gach rath ar an Bhille agus ar an reachtaíocht. Guím gach rath ar an chomórtas agus ar an iarratas faoi choinne an Chorn Domhanda Rugbaí. I wish those involved with the bid every success. I look forward to sitting in a redeveloped Casement Park, watching a match, having, let me say, paid for tickets in the first instance. I daresay my old school master might even come with me.

It is great to see the Minister back in the House. I am an absolute lover of all sport and this is a huge economic and social opportunity for the State, but it is also a huge opportunity to engage in role modelling. When our great heroes go out on the pitch - it is always a great time and very emotive - younger children aspire. That is why it is wonderful we have an opportunity to bring an event like this to the country. There is an opportunity, but there is also a cost. I have concerns about the underwriting of the spend which will have to be set aside to enable the event to happen, particularly given the other crises on the agenda, about which my colleague, Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile, just spoke, be it homelessness or the issue in Waterford owing to the lack of cardiac care services. Money is diverted away from other areas.

I am concerned about the speed at which the Bill is going through. It would have been nice to have had more time and if the Minister had had a chance to make a significant risk assessment in order that points could have been outlined not only for us in the Seanad and the Dáil but also for members of the public and taxpayers.

I have a question about tickets. How would be we ensure it would be an event for all of the people of Ireland? How would we ensure there would be affordability for those who would like to go and that they would not have to scramble in a mad rush, at the end of which only those who could afford to pay would be able to seek tickets? I ask Minister to consider this question.

An event such as this would be a massive showcase for the country. It would be brilliant for tourists and bring them to the country. There is also all of the excitement that goes with such events. How would we ensure the public would be able to watch games at home, including those with a disability who would not be able to get to the event or those who simply would not want to burn more fossil fuel in their cars to attend events? How would we ensure they could sit in the comfort of their own home with their friends in their communities and enjoy the great spectacle it would be? As I said, I am a lover of sport and this is a great opportunity for Ireland. I have asked a few questions which I would like the Minister to answer.

I remember the day well - it was a Wednesday in October 1991 - when my late father brought me to my first ever Ireland match. It was against Japan in the quarter-final of the 1991 World Cup. While I am delighted to say it was the first Ireland match I attended, it definitely was not my first rugby match. I think I was a week old and in a buggy when I was brought to my first rugby match. It was a fantastic experience and copperfastened the love affair I have had since with the game, a love I inherited from both of my late parents. This is a fantastic opportunity for the country, economically and socially. It is also a fantastic opportunity to advertise and showcase the very best Ireland, North and South, has to offer.

One phrase that has been used in the past week to ten days by a number of Members in this and the other House and commentators in the national media is "I support this bid but..." At the end of the day, what we are going through this evening is a clarifying process. Legal advice changes from time to time, but, ultimately, nothing has changed since 2013 when the exploration of the bid was first launched by the now Taoiseach, as my colleague, Senator John O'Mahony, said. The costs involved are huge, but they represent an economic investment that would see a massive return and more and more young boys and girls playing rugby and other sports. The legislation is being brought forward belatedly because it has to be. I argue that it is a box ticking exercise and very simple. I commend the Minister and the Government for taking the sure approach to ensure everything will be in order to underwrite the cost of hosting the tournament.

People have used this issue to nitpick for various reasons and as an excuse to pick apart wider social concerns. They are welcome to do this, but while speaking about the price and allocation of tickets and free-to-air events may be relevant, at this very late stage it has to be remembered that it undermines the authority of the IRFU. It is not the Government but the IRFU that is involved in the bid process. Therefore, we must be very aware that everything we say in this and the other Chamber, on Twitter or in the broadcast media is part of the wider competitive debate.

One of the strongest points is that the IRFU has full political backing, North and South, for this endeavour. We must ensure that in this House we continue this political backing. The South African Rugby Union does not have full political backing. We saw how the Commonwealth Games in Durban fell apart because of the lack of political backing. We are up against the French and the South Africans who have previously staged the Rugby World Cup which were magnificent occasions. We absolutely need to put our best foot forward. We do not need glib statements such as that we all need to put on the green jersey. We need to take the issue very seriously. If the bid fails, those who have raised reckless and misplaced concerns - I am sure a few more will be raised in the Chamber - must also state they will take responsibility in 2023 when a young Irish boy or girl will not get the chance to watch Rugby World Cup matches in Limerick, Belfast, Derry or Dublin because they are being held in Cape Town, Paris or Toulouse. They will have played their part in jeopardising and undermining the bid. It is not simply a case that if we do not host the event in 2023, somehow we will automatically host it in 2027. As part of the competitive process, we know that the Argentinians, Italians, Americans and Canadians are lining up to bid again. This is absolutely our opportunity and I urge everyone in the House and wider afield to choose their comments carefully, carry out their research and ensure they do not rehash arguments made or discussions held many times in the past four years through the Minister and his predecessors in office.

I commend the Bill to the House. I appeal to all those present to give it full and swift backing. Let us come together, put in a bid to host the event in 2023 and win. Let us follow up the great success that will be achieved in Dublin and Belfast in August in the staging of the Women's Rugby World Cup by hosting what is absolutely the best and highest sporting occasion the country can ever aspire to host.

I am delighted to say the Labour Party will, of course, support the Bill, but it would be a derogation of duty if we in this House did not at least make some comment on the rushed nature of the Bill. I take exception to any accusation that we are being reckless in asking questions about the lateness of the Bill. Having said that, I was interested in the comments made by the previous speaker on the first rugby match he had attended.

The first Ireland match.

They reminded me of the first international game I attended as a ten year old in 1987 with my father who never thought he would set foot in Lansdowne Road, which was interesting. It was a soccer game between Ireland and Brazil and the person who scored the winning goal was somebody who had once been expelled from the school in which my father had taught for choosing soccer over Gaelic games. That is the Ireland in which I grew up. I grew up in an environment which was quite hostile to rugby which it did not trust or like.

However, as one grows up and gets older and as one's mind opens up, one begins to share experiences with other people. At this stage, I think rugby is incredibly important to this country as a game. It is incredibly emotional for Irish people to see a team of 15 men or women from every part of this Ireland, from different religious and socioeconomic backgrounds, standing shoulder to shoulder under one banner and representing one jersey. This summer we will have a rugby world cup in Ireland. We are hosting the Women's Rugby World Cup and we can be proud of that. Many comments have been made here about the economic cost or the economic benefits. That is in important debate to have, but when I think of my ten year old self in Landsdowne Road that day, the impact that game had on me was monumental. Going back to the statistics of the game in Landsdowne Road in 1987, it seems there was only about 12,000 people there. I can only imagine the impact which the Rugby World Cup will have on ten year old girls and boys if we are successful in this bid.

Sport is a wonderful thing. It is often viewed as a luxury or as not being as important as other social infrastructure or policy decisions which we have to make in this country. When I taught in an area of acute disadvantage, however, the best days we had were the days on which the children were literally on a level playing field with other, perhaps more advantaged, children. On those days we touched heaven and I could look the children in the eye and tell them that they were as good as anybody else. I could tell them that they could achieve as much as anybody else and could train, work and practise as hard as anybody else. There were no excuses as to why they could not be the best they could possibly be. I taught in a particularly disadvantaged part of the world. Sport did that.

Sport often brings people in from the margins - people who would never be seen in the mainstream media - to represent their country, often a country that has let them down. Members of the Traveller community have proudly walked out in front of an Olympic team carrying the Irish flag. Members of the unionist and loyalist communities in Belfast have represented the tricolour at the Olympic Games. Members of disadvantaged, alienated and immigrant communities across the world have represented the green. They are often derided for their English accents, even though they come from Irish communities abroad.

The power of sport can be overwhelming. It can be so uplifting and inspirational. I agree with what Senator Grace O'Sullivan said. Free-to-air broadcasting was mentioned in respect of the ability of young people, and the entire country, to connect with this event. I was horrified that the Waterford-Kilkenny game on Saturday night was only available to people who had a Sky subscription. I know we have to be careful about what we say and I know we will be accused of being reckless, but we need to adopt a mindset that this event must be something which the whole country can enjoy and will not be something which people will need a Sky subscription to watch in their living room. We all remember the wonderful family occasions of the 1990 World Cup, the 1994 World Cup and even last summer, when people connected with their families on an emotional basis in a way in which they probably never connect outside of weddings and so on. There is a feeling of connecting to a common identity when cheering on a sports team one feels strongly about.

Let us give sport the status it deserves. It is spine-tingling. It puts the hairs on the back of one's neck on end. It is something which is enshrined in our identity and which is a fantastic leveller. As I have said, people who wear the green are often people who have been let down by society but who still give everything in their sweat and their energy to represent our country. We will have a fantastic spectacle this summer with the Women's Rugby World Cup. I pray that we will have this spectacle in 2023 with the Rugby World Cup, but let us make sure that it will be accessible to all.

Senator Ó Ríordáin has used five and a half minutes so Senator Humphreys has two and a half.

Right across the House, we are all united in supporting the bid for the 2023 Rugby World Cup but I know that if the Minister was on the floor of this House he would raise certain questions, as he always did in the Dáil and in the Seanad. I do not know whether Senator Richmond meant what he said in respect of his remarks about people showing disloyalty or undermining the bid-----

I did not say disloyalty.

-----for the Rugby World Cup. It is not about disloyalty or undermining the bid. We have a democratic responsibility to ask these questions. I have no doubt that the Minister, Deputy Ross, would be asking similar questions to those I asked were he on this side. In respect of Senator O'Mahony's comments, yes, in the past all Rugby World Cups have made profits and have not become a weight on the Exchequer. I accept that, but the same thing was said in respect of banks and bailouts when we were talking about pulling on the green jersey and voting the right way to make sure no banks ever collapsed. We learned hard lessons from that. I have a deep mistrust of many of these financial experts who give the Government advice. They have been proven wrong on many occasions before. I was going to read a selection of quotes from the Minister in respect of some of these companies.

We have to be careful about underwriting tournaments when we do not know how much we are underwriting. We must have guarantees about access to tickets. We have to understand what is meant by selected sponsorship. Above all else, this is a fantastic opportunity to showcase this island in its entirety with the possibility of 450,000 tourists coming to see the matches, but we have to do our best to ensure that it is a good experience and that these tourists will not be ripped off and travel home with a sour taste in their mouths regarding visiting Ireland.

This is rushed legislation. We need to have a far longer and more serious debate to make sure that, if we are successful in our bid as I truly hope we will be, the 450,000 who will come here have a good experience and will not be ripped off. We must have some assurance that people will be able to see these games in their own homes.

I too welcome the Minister to the House, to which he is no stranger. He was a Member here for many years. I have no doubt that most Members in this House and in the Lower House support this international bid. I need not reiterate that this is a huge opportunity but I believe it is important to do so. It could place the island of Ireland, North and South, in the international shop window and display all that is good about Irish culture, Irish sport and, most importantly, Irish people.

I cannot boast the same rugby heritage as my colleague, Senator Richmond, however I do share his passion for sport. My background is that I am a lifelong player, member and, currently, an administrator in the Gaelic Athletic Association. I am particularly delighted that my association has thrown its full support behind this bid. I heard the concerns of Senator Ó Ríordáin outlining the generation in which we grew up. I even remember talking about the ban, under which great GAA players were unfortunately banned from playing if they were found to be playing soccer or rugby. That is in the past. Irish society and sport have matured in a very positive way. Nowadays we see that GAA supporters are the best supporters of rugby and soccer. Irish supporters are famous the world over for supporting their sports icons. That will continue and will contribute to this particular bid in a very positive way.

I acknowledge that this legislation is a necessity. It is required to underwrite the commitments and the guarantees which are necessary to successfully host an international competition such as the Rugby World Cup 2023. We have already seen how our Irish representatives represent us. We have seen the Irish and British Lions and the way they exemplified commitment and passion in taking on the rugby world champions, New Zealand, last weekend. The composition of the Irish rugby team brings us back to our political heritage and roots. I spoke about the ban and political division was spoken about. It gives me great pride to be able to go and support an Irish rugby team which represents the 32 counties of Ireland regardless of the players' diverse backgrounds and religions. That is the benefit of sport and people have alluded to that. I do not want to have a negative tone but it is concerning when one hears some politicians, who are supposed to be representative, speaking in a negative way about rugby.

Sometimes they refer to those who support rugby as west Brits. I am a nationalist and a republican. I give 100% support to this bid and the Irish rugby team. The IRFU, the Government and the FAI, with the associations in the North of Ireland, are to be commended for the manner in which they have come together to try to make the bid successful.

In the time remaining to me I want to speak briefly about the benefits to the regional economy such a bid could produce. I come from the south east and know that a number of stadia in various regions, North and South, are listed in the application. It is important that appropriate infrastructure be in place. I again commend the FAI, the GAA and the IRFU for the massive investment they have made in playing facilities for the grassroots and also in stadiums which could host huge international competitions. With a mind to the regions and the transport, tourism and sport aspects, the tourism infrastructure is in place; the transport infrastructure is in place and could be developed further and the sports infrastructure is in place. I, therefore, offer my full support to the bid and wish the Government and the various bodies supporting it all the best. The likes of Dick Spring, Hugo MacNeill, Brian O'Driscoll and so many others who are supporting the bid behind the scenes, both in the North and the South, deserve our support. They definitely have mine.

I welcome the Minister and thank him for coming forward with this proposal which I fully support. Having attended rugby matches in Ireland, elsewhere in Europe and worldwide for the last 40 years, this is a very positive move for Ireland. France and South Africa are its main competitors in seeking to host the Rugby World Cup in 2023. Having attended the Rugby World Cup tournaments in France and South Africa - in 1995 - I can say they were fantastic experiences. If we were to be successful in making the bid, it would be hugely important and very positive for Ireland. We are forgetting about the Irish diaspora of 70 million, some of whom who would be attracted to the tournament. It is not only about the people who would travel back to Ireland to attend matches, it is also about those who would watch the broadcasts worldwide. Ireland would recognition recognition for what we had to offer in tourism. People are forgetting about this aspect. Therefore, I can understand why the Minister has come looking for approval to underwrite the bid. All of the procedures will be put in place if the bid is successful. Ireland has a very good chance because of what the country has to offer.

I pay tribute to the people involved, not only those on the committee under the stewardship of Dick Spring. I have met Hugo MacNeill and heard his views on the bid. I also pay tribute to those involved in the IRFU and the different people in the background who have gone about their business quietly in speaking to those who will vote and decide where the event is to be held. There would be benefits for the tourism sector and local tourism interests, be they hostelries, hotels, pubs or restaurants. The knock-on effects would come from people visiting the different stadiums, North and South, which is very important.

Rugby is one game that has united all four provinces of Ireland for many years. Reference was made to people who had been banned. The late Paddy Reid who was a neighbour of mine and played for Ireland and the Lions was actually banned from playing rugby union because he had played rugby league. These things happened and it took a long time for him to be brought back. We do not want to go back to those days. It is very important, therefore, that we all work together in a positive manner. When we attend any European Cup or World Cup match, people always know about the Irish whose reputation certainly goes before them. They are looked at in a very positive manner. It would also be very positive for the young people who will come behind us to see, if Ireland was to be successful in its bid, their clubs being used in hosting teams for training. There would be many positive effects for the whole island. I wish the Minister and the rest of the team the very best and I am confident that Ireland will be successful in its bid to host the Rugby World Cup in 2023.

I thank Senators for their contributions, especially the positive ones which were in marked contrast to some of those made in the other House. That does not mean that I do not recognise the need for the scrutiny referred to by Senator Kevin Humphreys and others in the back row. Such scrutiny is very important. When one sees a figure such as €300 million plus, it is important that it be scrutinised. If the result of the legislation being late is that it is rushed which causes it to be scrutinised in the Houses and at joint committee, that is fine by me. It is very good.

Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile referred to the fact that his colleague, Deputy Imelda Munster, had brought forward an amendment to the effect that I should be accountable every six or eight months for what had happened. I responded to it by introducing an amendment that had been drafted slightly differently. I acknowledged the fact that we should explain that we had nothing to hide, except from our competitors. We are actually very proud of what we are doing in that respect. We want people to see that Ireland would not really be on the line for the figures being bandied about of €300 million plus. The numbers are fairly large and sound larger than they are. The fact is that there would only be financial exposure to a figure of €300 million plus - there is a guaranteed €120 million tournament fee - if no tickets were to be sold. That is the reality. The likelihood is that we would have a really successful tournament and that is what we would be hoping for. If history was to repeat itself and we were to have a successful tournament like the tournament held in the United Kingdom, Ireland would make a profit. World Rugby has asked for a guarantee which would be capped. It would not be unlimited. I will not tell the Senators the figure at which it has been capped, as they do not want to know-----

We do want to know.

The Senator does want to know, but he is not going to find out. However, it would be capped at a reasonable figure. It has been capped in order simply that the bid will meet the requirements of those who are actually offering and selling the event to us. It is a competitive bid, which is why we are not going to tell Senators what the guarantee would be capped at. It has been capped at a reasonable level to keep us in the contest. That is what it is about.

I will address the first issue as to why we were rushed. We are not really rushing. The legislation is going through quickly, as Senators have rightly pointed out. As I said in my opening contribution, this process has been ongoing since 2013. We had people with expertise from around the world, including in Deloitte, involved before we took the decision to proceed. We looked at what had happened in Britain to see if we could do it and the experts came to that conclusion. The decision was then referred to a working group with representatives from the North and the South. It looked at the proposal in great detail and stated, "Yes, we can do this." It went before the Cabinet several times. I have answered questions many times in this House, the Dáil and at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport. There is no doubt that the proposal has been subject to enormous independent scrutiny, but that does not mean that Senators should not ask questions about what is happening and the final figures. Their questions are very welcome.

I will leave out the positive stuff because there is no point in going over it. The question has been asked regularly, "Is this going to be shared?" It came from Senator Ned O'Sullivan and others. They want to know it the event would be shared, open to everybody or just an elite group of people? That is not the intention.

The free-to-air issue is slightly complicated. It is probably one to which Senators would not like the answer. The rights are owned by World Rugby, but all of Ireland's games would be broadcast free-to-air, which would be absolutely guaranteed.

We can assure the Senator of that. The others will not be free. However, serious efforts will be made to keep ticket prices at reasonable levels. There is a market for tickets and we want as many people as possible to get there, the market to be satisfied and the demand to be there but there will be tickets starting from approximately €20. There will also be fan zones to accommodate people. It has mass appeal. This is a united Ireland game. As the Senator said, it is a fantastic way of uniting everybody. I appeal to all Members to support it. I welcome the questions of Senators and I hope I can answer them. They have all been answered in so far as I currently can. I will return to the House. I am quite happy, as Senator Boyhan said, to come to the House as often as Senators would like, as I do regularly, to answer questions on this issue because I think it is right to do so and Members are asking questions for the right reasons. There has not been any political point scoring in the House today. All Members want this to work. I thank them for their contributions.

Question put and agreed to.