I propose to take Questions Nos. 28, 29 and 33 together.
The Irish Sports Council (ISC), which is funded by my Department, is the statutory body responsible for encouraging the promotion, development and co-ordination of competitive sport and for increasing participation in recreational sport. The ISC's basic philosophy is, therefore, one of inclusion and its Statement of Strategy recognises the potential of sport to be a driver for social change dealing with issues such as exclusion and social inequality. All sports organisations funded by the ISC, including National Governing Bodies (NGBs) and Local Sports Partnerships (LSPs), are encouraged to target all sections of society in seeking to increase participation in sport.
I am aware that the ISC, under its research remit, is striving to develop a profound understanding of sport in Ireland that can inform policy and investment over the coming years. The ISC has commissioned the Economic and Social Research Institute to undertake studies on its behalf. The fourth report in the series — "Fair Play? Sport and Social Disadvantage in Ireland" — set out to examine the impact of social disadvantage on various forms of participation in sport. The report concludes that the large majority of people who play sport in Ireland and who enjoy the health benefits arising from this physical activity are from higher income and better-educated social groups.
The report makes a clear case in support of substantial public expenditure to increase participation in sport, given the proven benefits of physical activity. This justifies the significant Government investment in sport in recent years. This increased investment has supported the promotion and development of Irish sport and the provision of a modern sporting infrastructure, with high quality facilities catering for the participation, coaching, training and competition needs of all levels and types of sport. The level of funding available for spending on sport in 2008 is €336 million, which will serve to further enhance and develop the sports sector. Furthermore the National Development Plan 2007-2013 includes a commitment to provide €991 million for sport infrastructure during the period up to 2013.
The increased funding provided to the ISC from €13 million in 2000 to more than €57 million this year has enabled a number of significant interventions for the benefit of disadvantaged areas. Examples include the Local Sports Partnerships (LSP) network and the Buntús programme for primary schools in LSP areas (involving children in sport from a very young age). In addition, with the support and cooperation of my Department and Pobal, additional funding has been allocated to the ISC to support various grant schemes including the funding programme "Sports for Disadvantaged Youth". This programme, with funding amounting to almost €2 million, is administered by the ISC and delivered through the existing LSP structures and local authorities where an LSP is not in place. Its aim is to increase participation in sport among 12-19 year olds in disadvantaged areas. This age period, particularly the latter part from 16-19, is particularly important in terms of influencing trends towards long-term participation.
One of the stated objectives of the Sports Capital Programme, which is administered by my Department, is to prioritise the needs of disadvantaged areas in the provision of sports facilities. Projects identified as being located in areas designated as disadvantaged are targeted and prioritised in a number of ways during the assessment of applications. Indeed, under the 2008 Sports Capital Programme, I reduced the level of own funding required by applicants from RAPID and Local Drugs Task Force areas to 10% from 20%. This is in line with the commitment in the Programme for Government. Successful projects under the Sports Capital Programme in CLÁR and RAPID areas may also qualify to receive top-up funding, payable by the Department of Community Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. In the case of projects located in CLÁR areas, this top-up funding can be up to 20% of the sports capital grant amount; in the case of projects located in RAPID areas which are also endorsed by their local Area Implementation Team, the top-up funding can be up to 30%.
I welcomed and was very pleased to have been invited to launch " In the Frame or Out of the Picture?" a Statistical Analysis of Public Involvement in the Arts, on 25th February last. This study was undertaken by the Economic and Social Research Institute on behalf of the National Economic and Social Forum dealing with Public Involvement in the Arts. Government policy on the arts, as set out in the programme for Government and reflected in my recently published Arts and Culture Plan for 2008, is to promote and strengthen the arts in all its forms, increase access to and participation in the arts, and to make the arts an integral and valued part of our national life. The report cannot be treated in isolation. It has been informed primarily by, and adds to, two previous seminal reports in this area, completed in the past 18 months. The first of these reports was the nationwide survey of public attitudes to and behaviour in the arts carried out by the Arts Council in 2006 entitled "The Public and the Arts". The second report was the major research and analysis undertaken by the NSEF itself in its report "The Arts, Cultural Inclusion and Social Cohesion" published last year.
The recent report contains a great deal of information regarding reasons for and attitudes towards participation in the arts and the messages which are being given should not be commented on without serious consideration. Accordingly, I intend to ask the relevant agencies and institutions within the remit of my Department to study this report and to comment on its findings and to make recommendations to me on how they can respond to its findings.