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Swimming Pools

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 22 June 2021

Tuesday, 22 June 2021

Questions (58)

Duncan Smith

Question:

58. Deputy Duncan Smith asked the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media her views on the provision of indoor public swimming pools and public swimming pools in appropriate outdoor settings; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33220/21]

View answer

Oral answers (8 contributions) (Question to Tourism)

I thank the Acting Chairman for his indulgence in respect of the order of the questions and apologise to the Minister of State and my fellow Deputies for being late.

What is the Minister of State's view on the provision of indoor swimming pools and public swimming pools in appropriate outdoor settings? The proliferation and explosion in respect of people's interest in swimming and of their desire to swim, both indoors and outdoors, has been one of the positives of the pandemic, if we can say such a thing. What is the Minister of State's strategy to ensure the activity will be well resourced in the years ahead?

The Department provides capital support for the construction of swimming pools. In this regard, the local authority swimming pool programme provides grant aid towards the capital costs of new swimming pools or the refurbishment of existing pools. To date, 52 pools have been completed and three swimming pool projects, in Lucan, Buncrana and Edenderry, remain in the programme. The Lucan pool is under construction and is expected to be completed later this year, while both the Buncrana and Edenderry projects are at contract documents stage.

Exchequer support for any new swimming pool projects is now provided under the large scale sport infrastructure fund, LSSIF, which was launched in 2018 to provide Exchequer support for larger sports facilities including both indoor and outdoor swimming pools, with at least €100 million made available over the period to 2027. Fifteen applications were received for swimming pool projects, all of which were for indoor facilities. Provisional grants for eight swimming pools under the LSSIF were awarded in January 2020 and these projects are at various stages of a due diligence process. While it is not proposed to open the LSSIF to new applications at present, the Department is undertaking a review of the LSSIF programme, which is expected to be completed in the coming months. This review will consider progress on all existing grants and whether any additional grants should be awarded, while the timing of any new call for proposals will also be considered. Any new allocations or a new call for proposals will be dependent on receiving additional funding under the current review of the national development plan.

As for future swimming pools, the National Sports Policy 2018-2027, launched on 25 July 2018, commits to the development of a national swimming strategy. This will involve close collaboration with relevant Departments, local authorities, sporting bodies and other stakeholders. As part of this, there will be a review of swimming pool provision to identify where gaps exist and how they can be met. Moreover, a sports action plan, covering the period to the end of 2023, is nearing completion and will be published soon. It is envisaged that the development of a national swimming strategy will be significantly progressed as a priority in the early stages of that action plan.

Furthermore, I recently met representatives of Swim Ireland to discuss a proposal for a pilot programme using mobile or pop-up container pools to deliver swimming lessons on school grounds. These pools can be transported to a school setting and I understand a similar scheme is in operation in the UK.

I will conclude my prepared contribution in my follow-up response.

I was encouraged by the end of the Minister of State's response because we do need to identify gaps. He and I were both elected to an elected local authority in 2014, Fingal County Council, that has no public swimming pool in the area. It is quite incredible that a town the size of Swords or Balbriggan has no public swimming pool, whereas Finglas, when I was growing up, had one, and on the 17A bus route, there were three. It is really important that the Minister of State and the Department, through the review of the funding mechanism, become drivers of the provision of swimming pools. We cannot leave it to local authorities to drive it; it must come from the Minister of State and the Government.

There has been a significant increase in outdoor swimming, not just in the summer months but throughout the year. Wonderful places such as the Captains and the Springers in Skerries and High Rock in Portmarnock have been used for years as swimming spots but there is no provision of facilities such as a place to get changed, somewhere to secure car keys or anything like that. I refer not to wholesale infrastructure but to some supports for amenities, which would be welcome.

To conclude my opening response to the question, Swim Ireland plans to purchase one such pool to allow swimming lessons to be taught onsite at schools, with an overall aim of providing children with the opportunity to gain life-saving swimming skills, particularly in areas not well served by swimming pool access. If successful, the scheme could be extended by the provision of additional container pools, something on which we will engage further with Swim Ireland.

As I said, we have identified a national swimming strategy as a key priority in the national sports policy and the sports action plan we published this summer. As part of that, we want to underpin the people who will deliver these programmes while addressing the deficits in certain parts of the country in regard to capital infrastructure and swimming pools, which the Deputy highlighted. Ongoing capital schemes are open to clubs and organisations.

I know the Deputy lives in Fingal along the sea. There is great interest in sea swimming. Particularly during Covid, there was a significant increase in sea swimming while the use of pools was restricted. It is open to any club to apply under the sports capital programme for equipment, and funding schemes are available through local authorities.

Swimming is a public amenity, a public good and a skill everybody needs, and the State has a role in providing that. Swimming pools have too often been viewed through a for-profit lens. We do not look at libraries, green spaces for field sports, playgrounds or any other public amenities like that, and rightly so, but when it comes to the provision of a local authority pool, the question is whether it will make a profit. We need to move on from that. The question should be whether it will be able to serve the community that needs it. Only 25% of our pools, 100 of approximately 400, are in public ownership and many of them are blocked up by private groups. That is understandable, but this is something we need to move on. We need a wholesale change in how we approach swimming.

It is great to see so much engagement and participation in outdoor swimming, but water quality is the key. In Balbriggan, for example, the EPA reported poor water quality and it has thrown into doubt the entire season despite excellent water quality results. That too is something that needs to be examined by relevant Departments.

I thank the Minister of State for a very encouraging response.

As the Deputy said, water safety is an absolute priority. The national sports policy identifies swimming as one of three sports that have great potential for generating higher levels of active participation over the course of one's life, along with cycling and running. That is why it has been given priority status and is receiving additional funding under the Dormant Accounts Fund to promote greater participation under the Get Swimming campaign.

From my engagement with Swim Ireland in the context of treating swimming as a public good, I am aware it is examining excellent initiatives from the UK that will help broaden the reach of swimming into more communities where there are infrastructural deficits. It is also carrying out an ongoing survey of every piece of sports infrastructure in the country and tagging them in order that the geographical and community deficits can be accounted for.

It could be areas of disadvantage or regional places which do not have the adequate sports infrastructure. This will allow us to respond appropriately and will give us a national picture of where there is a deficit. On the issue of-----

On that issue, I agree and I acknowledge there are challenges in Fingal with pollution in our seas. There has been a big increase in funding to Irish Water to try to address some of the issues there.

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