Priority Questions. - Child Abuse in Swimming.

Michael Ferris


9 Mr. Ferris asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation if he has received a response from the Irish Amateur Swimming Association arising from the report from the Murphy inquiry into child abuse in swimming; the discussions, if any, he has had with the association regarding the contents of the report and the future funding of that organisation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15470/98]

Bernard Allen


10 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation the specific proposals, if any, his Department has to deal with the recommendations contained in report of the inquiry into alleged sex abuse in swimming that are relevant to his Department. [15451/98]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 9 and 10 together.

The Minister will have four minutes for each initial reply and there will be eight minutes for Deputies Allen and Ferris to ask supplementary questions.

The Irish Amateur Swimming Association (IASA) was given a copy of the report of the Murphy inquiry on 17 June 1998 and was requested to give it urgent and immediate consideration. I have had no discussions since with the association which provided me with its executive council's initial response on Monday, 22 June. This response includes the executive council's proposed strategy for implementation of the report's recommendations. I have indicated in my subsequent reply to the association that I shall consider the issue of funding as soon as it has completed its proposed consultations with its wider membership who must be satisfied as to the adequacy of procedures and arrangements in place in their organisation to secure a safe environment for their younger members.

The vast bulk of the recommendations in the report relate to the Irish Amateur Swimming Association. The only recommendation of specific relevance to my Department concerns the issue of public funding. The inquiry report recommends that increased public funding be allocated through the Sports Council to the association for necessary reorganisation and training. In any future consideration of funding, I shall be taking on board Dr. Murphy's recommendation and seeking reprioritisation by the association of its expenditure in favour of reorganisation and training as proposed in the inquiry's report.

Although the report makes no specific reference to the Code of Ethics and Good Practice for Children's Sport in Ireland, I have written to Dr. Breda McLeavey, Chairperson of the expert committee which drew up the code, and asked her to reconvene the committee to review its contents in the light of the report.

Finally, the Sports Council, in conjunction with the National Coaching and Training Centre, has begun planning a seminar for later this year for the national governing bodies of sport. The purpose is to ensure the widest dissemination among sports organisations of the inquiry's recommendations; the outcome of the review of the code of ethics; the findings of the Oireachtas Joint Committee and, most of all, to once again underline the importance of ensuring the protection of their younger members.

I welcome the Minister's reaffirmation of this point which is in line with what was discussed at the committee. I am sure the Minister is aware the Irish Amateur Swimming Association has stated publicly it intends to implement all the recommendations of the report. I am disappointed that because of its current structure it will be some time before it can give a response that will satisfy the Minister or the public. In the interim, will the Minister consider setting up contingency plans to fund élite swimmers about whom we are all concerned? Does he consider the Sports Council is the appropriate vehicle through which to fund those swimmers, pending a proper response from the IASA?

I am also disturbed that while the Minister is waiting for proposals from the Irish Amateur Swimming Association our prominent athletes are suffering because of a lack of funding to prepare for international events. Will he explain why, in a year when there is such controversy about the IASA, he decided to bring the Irish Schools Swimming Association under the umbrella of the IASA and thereby deprive it of funding. The Irish Schools Swimming Association has a separate structure and officers and up to now was funded separately. The Minister has lumped it in with the IASA at a time when there is a major question mark over that body. Will he immediately reverse that silly decision and grant funding to the Irish Schools Swimming Association which had no hand, act or part in the current tragic controversy?

Funding will not be provided for any swimming association until there has been a root and branch change within the organisation. It is not enough for an executive council of the IASA to tick off the recommendations in the Murphy Report one by one and think the job is done. There is a tremendous future for swimming. The Government has given a commitment to provide a 50 metre pool and more money is available for swimming. As I stated previously, organisations are made up of individual members. There is no point in the IASA telling me one group is thinking of setting up with another organisation, that another group is already in place and making recommendations to me and that others have left the association. I want a single body dealing with the sport of swimming.

The Minister does not know the facts. The Irish Schools Swimming Association is a separate body and he has forced it under the umbrella of the IASA.

The Government and the Department will fund only one credible organisation that will administer the sport and be answerable to FIFA.

In the past most funding was spent on élite athletes competing in international competitions and that is where most of the abuse took place. The Deputy said that young athletes are suffering. I recently heard a recording on an answering machine in the IASA which stated that it was not able to man the telephone because the Minister would not give it funding.

The Minister is mixing up the organisations.

Of course I care about young people involved in swimming, but the money previously given to the organisation was misused and I will not reconsider funding until confidence has been restored in the association.

The public is also of that frame of mind, but I asked the Minister to consider putting in place a structure pending the tidying up of the association. There are decent people in the IASA, including the director of swimming who has outlined to me the structure he hopes to put in place. Will the Minister use his ingenuity and set up contingency plans to assist those whom he believes should be assisted? These people are currently cut off because the IASA was the only body through which funding from the Minister's Department could be channelled to swimmers. Members of the public want swimming assisted, but they also want to ensure the safety of children who get involved in the sport.

Does the Minister agree the Irish Schools Swimming Association is separate from the Irish Amateur Swimming Association? Does he agree it has a separate constitution and officers and that it organises swimming at primary and secondary school level. How could he logically lump the two organisations together when there is a question mark over the IASA? Will he reconsider that shortsighted and foolish decision and restore funding to the Irish Schools Swimming Association so it can organise its programmes for next September? Why did the Minister force those organisations together in a year of controversy over the IASA?

In reply to Deputy Ferris, I am anxious to bring together those involved, but this has been blown out of all proportion. I understand the IASA will contact its branch members in July and that we will probably have a degree of unanimity by September. However, when confidence has been restored in the association, I will not hesitate to provide funding retrospectively. The members who left for personal reasons, those who have been expelled and the honest decent members must come forward with their proposals so that we can restore confidence in the organisation. Until that happens, I will not be moved on this issue. The organisation must be all-inclusive. I do not want separate groups developing in the organisation. Separate groups will not be funded; the organisation must be united.

I have already answered Deputy Allen in regard to the Irish Schools Swimming Association. It was decided that it would be better for swimming in schools if that organisation were funded from within the swimming association. This is the way it will be done in the future. From my reading of the Murphy report the schools were getting very little funding.

The Minister's response is illogical. He has forced the Irish Schools Swimming Association under the umbrella of the Irish Amateur Swimming Association in a year of major controversy over that organisation. He has very poor judgment.