Other Questions. - Special Olympics World Games.

Jan O'Sullivan

Ceist:

17 Ms O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation the actions, if any, he has taken since the visit of the Special Olympics bid site selection team to ensure Ireland secures this important and prestigious event; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15036/98]

As the Deputy is aware, I have facilitated the bid by Special Olympics Ireland to host the Special Olympics World Games in 2003 by securing Government approval for grant assistance up to a maximum £5 million towards the cost of implementing the bid should it be successful. During the recent visit of the bid site selection team I hosted two important functions which gave the team an opportunity to assess the enthusiasm of the business community for the games and to be assured of the Government's support for the bid. The decision on the awarding of the games rests entirely with the board of Special Olympics International.

I commend Special Olympics Ireland, especially given the success of last weekend's functions which highlighted the true meaning of sport. Did the bid site selection team request further information and, if so, has it been supplied? What efforts has the Minister made to secure additional private funding for this prestigious event which I hope we will be successful in attracting to Ireland in 2003?

The Special Olympics Games will be the largest sporting event in the world in 2003 and would be the biggest international sporting event ever to be held in this country. Over 160 countries will participate in 19 sports involving 7,000 athletes and coaches who will be accompanied by 28,000 family members and friends and assisted by 30,000 volunteers. We cannot give any commitments, however, until the bid has been successful. I express my sincere thanks to Telecom Éireann, Guardian PMPA and Toyota Ireland which have pledged their support. The committee, which I have met on a number of occasions, including yesterday, has expressed concern about traffic problems, accommodation, access to swimming pool facilities and funding. I was able to reassure it that we would be able to overcome the traffic congestion problem with the help of the Garda Síochána and that progress has been made in recent months on a number of swimming pool projects. If the bid is successful, we will do everything possible to raise the necessary funding to hold this special event. Our wonderful country has acquired a reputation throughout Europe for its people and landscape. I would also like us to be ahead of the field when it comes to being disability friendly.

May I take it that the national coaching and training centre and the top class swimming pool facilities throughout the country would be used to spread the benefits to the regions? We will do everything we can to assist the Minister in attracting this prestigious event to Ireland.

I support the Minister in his efforts to attract this event to Ireland and pay tribute to Deputy Spring who, when Minister for Foreign Affairs in the previous Administration, established the working group which has brought us to the stage where we are a leading contender along with Argentina. Is it the case that the bid site selection team highlighted two major issues, the transportation of athletes and officials and the availability of a 50-metre pool? Is the Minister satisfied that we will be able to overcome these problems and will be successful in attracting this event to Ireland? I had the privilege to attend the event when it was held in Connecticut. It was a memorable occasion. When will a decision be made on a 50-metre pool?

The main events, with perhaps the exception of swimming, would be held in and around Dublin. Athletes prefer to be based in one location. Belfast was mentioned but this would entail a journey of 45 minutes. This would create difficulties. Some 160 towns and villages would, however, be given an opportunity to play host to the athletes of a particular country in the week preceding the games. In this way the benefits would be spread throughout the country. As Deputy Allen said, Ireland and Argentina are the two countries vying for the games.

The bid site selection team highlighted the transportation issue. In response I indicated the exceptionally successful measures which we have taken. For the games all that would be required is an eight lane, 25-metre pool. The Government is committed to providing a 50-metre pool in respect of which nine proposals are being considered and contact documents issued. I hope to have some news before the end of the year.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.