I propose to take QuestionsNos. 122 and 126 together.
My Department's Statement of Strategy 2003-2005, which is available in the Oireachtas Library and on my Department's website, identifies specific strategies for the achievement of the Department's goals for the sport sector, specific outputs or objectives for the delivery of those strategies and specific performance indicators to measure the outputs. My Department's first annual report, which is expected to be published in April next, will detail progress during 2003 in regard to individual strategies and objectives and will record satisfactory progress towards the achievement of the goals set out in the statement of strategy.
The overall public policy objective for Irish sport is to promote and encourage a vibrant and active sports sector, especially in areas of disadvantage, with increased participation, good quality, sustainable facilities and opportunities for people to play an active role in sport. Within this policy context the talents, potential and needs of competitive and the elite are also cherished and supported in their pursuit of excellence and success in top sport. As the Deputies will appreciate, there is a high correlation between active involvement in sport and healthy lifestyle. My Department's role is to provide the overall policy framework and the necessary funding to assist in the provision of sports facilities and to enable its state agency, the Irish Sports Council, ISC, to carry out its various functions. The ISC's role is to promote and develop sport and to monitor the effective delivery of Government policy, adherence to Government financial requirements and standards of good governance by the ISC.
The departmental strategy for sport guides the actions of the ISC in its promotion and development of sport as outlined in the council's Statement of Strategy 2003-2005, Sport For Life. The ISC, in turn, publishes annual reports on its activities and has set out targets to be met by, for instance, national governing bodies of sport which, in order to attract additional challenge funding, must produce innovative strategic plans which will deliver clearly stated aims. Similarly, the carding scheme, under which special supports are provided to high performance competitors, is based on established performance standards and criteria. Annual targets are also set and met by the ISC in regard to the number of doping tests carried out under its national anti-doping programme.
My Department's sports capital programme has been enormously beneficial to clubs, sports organisations and voluntary and community groups in every village, parish and town throughout the country. Since 1998 on the sports capital side alone my Department has allocated almost €267 million to over 3,500 projects. In addition, it should be noted the annual budget for the scheme was fully drawn down in 2003 and that the indicators outlined for the processing of assessments and allocations for the programme are on schedule to be met for the 2004 programme. A review of the existing sports capital programme for the period 1999 to 2002, under the Department's expenditure review programme, is currently being finalised. Following this, it is my intention to establish an inter-agency steering group to commence work immediately on developing a long-term strategic plan for the provision of sports facilities. One of the first tasks of this group will be to oversee the commencement of the audit of sports facilities.
In the course of the expenditure review, an analysis of the allocation of grants was carried out along with a survey to a proportion of applicants during this period. While not yet finalised, the preliminary findings of this review show that the funding provided to over 2,000 voluntary clubs and organisations in the period 1999 to 2002 has helped to build a variety of facilities which have helped increase participation in sport. The survey conducted as part of the review revealed that 64% of respondents, including those in disadvantaged areas, stated that the actual numbers of people using the facility had increased since completion of their project supported under the sports capital programme. Furthermore, 93% of respondents across a wide range of sports stated that support under the sports capital programme had made a difference in helping participants to achieve a higher standard. The review is expected to make recommendations in a number of areas involving the future operation of the sports capital programme including the need for up-to-date information on sporting participation rates and the need to monitor funded projects to assess impact of funding in the areas of participation and improved performance.
The tax relief on donations to certain sports bodies scheme, established under section 847a of the Taxes Consolidation Act, came into effect on 1 May 2002. Since then 72 applications have been received by my Department from interested parties wishing to avail of the scheme. Of these, 64 have been given approved status with a total project cost of €56,810,595. Under the local authority swimming pool programme, my Department is committed to supporting 55 local authority swimming pool projects throughout the country. Delivery of this programme is well under way. My Department also funded the 50 metre swimming pool at the University of Limerick and the National Aquatic Centre at Abbotstown which recently hosted the very successful European short course swimming championships. These are key facilities in the context of our high performance strategy for elite competitors as well as for clubs, learners and fun swimmers.