Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Joint Committee on Media, Tourism, Arts, Culture, Sport and the Gaeltacht díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 18 Nov 2020

Key Priorities for Sport Ireland and Impact of Covid-19 on Sports Sector: Sport Ireland

All members have the speaking slot rota. Deputy Brendan Griffin will be first, followed by Deputy Imelda Munster, Senator Malcolm Byrne and Senator Annie Hoey. We will then move down the list. Deputy Chris Andrews need not worry. He has been included as speaker number 11. Does he have the rota with the list of speakers?

Yes, I have it here. Does the committee have to conclude by 4 p.m.?


Deputy Griffin is getting five minutes.

Deputy Mattie McGrath is very welcome. I am glad he could join us as I know he was busy in the convention centre this morning.

I request that members sit only in the permitted seats and in front of available microphones to ensure they are heard. This is important as not doing so can cause serious problems for broadcasting, editorial and sound staff. I remind members to please maintain social distance at all times during and following the meeting. Members are requested to use wipes and hand sanitisers provided to clean the seats and desks to supplement the regular sanitisation that is ongoing between meetings. I remind members that the committee must vacate the room as quickly as possible at 4 o’clock as there may be meetings afterwards. If members wish to speak to our guests, they can do so outside in the lobby.

I welcome the representatives from Sport Ireland and thank them for their attendance today. I acknowledge this has been an exceptionally difficult year for sporting organisations and that Sport Ireland has been to the forefront in addressing this crisis and the challenges facing governing bodies and many individual clubs. The supports put in place are considerable. A €85 million funding package was announced earlier this month for the Irish sports sector. It contains many positive elements, including funding for governing bodies and clubs to address Covid-related losses, additional funding for the GAA, and dedicated funding for disability and other adult sports. All of this is welcome and timely in the context of the losses experienced during Covid-19. However, we are entering into an important phase which requires careful consideration.

I am delighted to welcome our guests, Mr. Kieran Mulvey, chairman of the board of Sport Ireland, along with his colleague, chief executive of Sport Ireland, Mr. John Treacy. The format of the meeting is that I will invite the witnesses to make opening statements, which have been provided and circulated to members. This will be followed by questions from members of the committee. As the witnesses are probably aware, the committee will publish the opening statements on the Oireachtas website following the meeting. Mr. Mulvey will begin on the topic of his key priorities in his role as chairman of the board of Sport Ireland, followed by Mr. Treacy who will address matters relating to Covid-19 and the impact on the sector.

I remind members of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against any person outside the Houses, or an official, by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. I would like the witnesses to note that they are protected by absolute privilege in respect of the presentation they make in the committee. This means they have an absolute defence against any defamation action for anything they might say at the meeting. However, they are expected not to abuse this privilege and it is my duty as Chairman to ensure this privilege is not abused. Therefore, if witnesses' statements are potentially defamatory in relation to identifying a person or entity, they will be directed to discontinue their remarks. It is imperative that witnesses comply with such direction.

With the formalities over, I call on Mr. Mulvey to make his presentation to the committee. This will be followed by Mr. Treacy's presentation.

Mr. Kieran Mulvey

I thank the Chairperson and members of the committee for the invitation. Mr. Treacy and I will outline the current state of play in regard to Sport Ireland and our plans over the next two years. I will deal with issues relating to my priorities and some of the key issues which have been identified over the past number of years. Mr. Treacy will deal with the issues regarding funding and Covid-19 and the measures Sport Ireland has taken.

Sport Ireland was established on 1 October 2015 under the Sport Ireland Act 2015 bringing together the Irish Sports Council, the National Sports Campus Development Authority, the Irish Institute of Sport, and Coaching Ireland, which is based in Limerick, into a new streamlined body to drive the future of Irish sport. During the past five years, there have been a number of significant developments for Sport Ireland, particularly around the development of the campus, and funding of sport within Ireland. I outlined them in the statement I have given to the committee and given the short space of time, I do not intend to go through them in detail.

The national Sport Ireland Campus, based in Abbotsown, is one of the hidden gems of sport in Ireland. It has brought together high-level performance facilities for our national sporting bodies and for our national and international athletes. This week alone, the Irish international soccer and rugby teams are training on new pitches provided by Sport Ireland and in indoor facilities.

These have been magnificent developments funded by the Government in phase 1 and phase 2 of the National Sports Campus. We have added to that an international hockey pitch to Tokyo standards in recognition of the success of our men and women's international hockey teams. We also have new equestrian facilities on the sports campus, which, again, is reflective of the fact that for the first time we have three equestrian teams qualified for the Tokyo Olympics, if they occur next summer. In addition, the GAA has built additional facilities, including pitches, on the campus. Cricket Ireland has new training facilities there as well. The Institute of Sport and the National Aquatic Centre have offices there and negotiations are ongoing with other sporting bodies to bring their national offices onto the campus. I will elaborate on that point later.

It is an exciting time for NGBs in terms of the physical capacity that is being provided apart from the sports capital programme throughout the country. The former Minister of State, Deputy Griffin, will be familiar with the sports capital programme and the provision of facilities. We are also upgrading our coaching capacity in Ireland, with many of our coaches now being recognised nationally and internationally, and around the recruitment of high-performance directors for the individual NGBs in which we assist.

In 2019, Irish high-performance athletes won 80 medals on the international stage in a variety of competitions. We have 52 athletes qualified for the Tokyo Olympics, plus five in reserve. With luck this year, and with further international competition opening up next year and, hopefully, the vaccines announced will be a major player in this regard, we could have up to 90 accredited athletes for the Tokyo Olympics, which is one of the highest ever number for Ireland in terms of international competition and the Olympic Games. A similar picture is developing but with less success on the Paralympic side because of the change and the nature of the arrangements for Paralympic Games.

I am pleased that the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Martin, has appointed me for a further two-year term to continue the work of Sport Ireland in the context of the development of our facilities on the campus and in the funding of sports. As we know, sport is crucial and central to the social, cultural and community life of Ireland. Like all facets of society, sport in Ireland has been significantly impacted by the onset of Covid-19 and the resulting restrictions. Live televised coverage of our international and national games is a boom to us at the moment in that we are still going through the Gaelic games senior hurling and senior football cycle. Our soccer team is still playing at international level and will play tonight. Our rugby team is continuing its international programme, with a game on Saturday. This is important. We are continuing our anti-doping programme under the terms of the Act. We have an honourable record in this regard and already 850 tests have been completed this year despite the restrictions that have been on us.

The Government has responded very generously to our representations on behalf of the sporting community in regard to the significant emergency that occurred in funding in 2020 and the fact that our national governing bodies, including our major national field sports, were suffering considerable haemorrhage of income arising from the non-attendance and non-performance of events. Other organisations were losing membership fees due to the non-availability of facilities, particularly organisations such as Basketball Ireland and Swim Ireland. Mr. Treacy will address these matters in detail later. It is important to acknowledge what the Government and the Oireachtas have done by voting and agreeing these measures. It has significantly allowed us to maintain all our national governing bodies and to avoid them running into major deficit in regard to their activities. It has given them security and they have welcomed that funding, which was announced recently and we are currently distributing to them. We have received very positive feedback on that. The Government and the Oireachtas have continued that funding in terms of the budget increase of almost 50% for sport in 2021, a significant proportion of which we will be holding for contingency in regard to issues that will develop in respect of Covid as we go into next year. This funding has given stability to the sector and allayed the concerns of sporting organisations. It has enabled them to retain their head office staff and to maintain the organisation of the sport so that when the restrictions are lifted, they will be ready on a quick return to sport, which we are working on with all the NGBs and the line Department. We are continuing our work with our Olympians, Paralympians, special Olympians and the Olympics. We have a service level partnership agreement with the Olympics in terms of the Olympic events and in the case of Special Olympics. We have continued to fund our accredited athletes into next year. We have a further €2.9 million devoted to expenditure for them and this has given them a source of comfort in terms of their performance and continuing their preparations for the Olympics to allow them to compete in further international competitions next year. We have ring-fenced a further €4 million for the Olympics to meet any contingencies arising from the rearrangement of accommodation programmes, travel, etc. In that sense, much forward planning is happening to ensure that the return to sport in terms of playing and representation will come as no surprise and we will be prepared.

Strong governance across the sector is an important issue. I am giving priority to this in light of events. We have put in place new protocols, new requirements for funding and new efforts to be made in terms of implementing new governance standards with all of the bodies that are funded by us and new terms and conditions for approval by the board of Sport Ireland for funding arrangements. We are also following the governance code for community, voluntary and charitable organisations as a governance code for sport. From 2021, it will become a condition of funding that all funding bodies must have adopted the governance code for sport, or, if there is a difficulty, to explain those difficulties in order to reach compliance.

On 26 November, we will hold a major conference via technology, which will be attended by more than 280 participants who are chairpersons, members of boards and chief executives of our national governing bodies. This will be co-partnered by the Institute of Public Administration, IPA, and the chief executive of the UK Sport organisation will speak and inform us about arrangements in the United Kingdom. I will be giving particular attention to the issue of governance and conformity to the code of governance that has been agreed and circulated to all funding bodies.

Participation in sport is an important criteria. It is one of the specific measures under the Sport Ireland Act. Over the course of the next two years, Sport Ireland will put particular emphasis on participation in sport at local, national and international level. Sport Ireland is a beneficiary of the Dormant Accounts Fund. We will be putting in place further opportunities, particularly around hard to reach groups, the disabilities sector and those who do not have a great tradition of participation in sport. We have been very successful through the local sports partnerships in funding these initiatives. The funding provided to us under the Dormant Accounts Fund has been utilised effectively by us through the local sports partnerships in conjunction with disability groups and national governing bodies. We are getting a very solid return in terms of the investment in that programme by way of greater participation of these groups in organised sport. We have been allocated a further €10 million in Dormant Accounts Funding for 2021 for this endeavour and sporting activity. We will be funding these arrangements again in 2021. This gives us great security around the programmes we have agreed and the staff we would have been funding in terms of these arrangements with national governing bodies.

The other area which is of vital importance is women in sport and the increase in participation of women in sport at all levels, both in terms of active participation and in governance.

Last year, we appointed our first women in sport officer, Nora Stapleton, who, with her team, is working very successfully through the women in sport committee with NGBs and making an impact in this area. We also recognise that there are significant inroads to be made in this area and are providing a blueprint for future work on this. We are working on major continuity with regard to the women in sport programme. The Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media has emphasised to me that she wants significant progress in this area and will be joining us to talk to the committee later this month regarding what she sees as developing the national sports policy in this area. It is not just about participation, where there is a significant fall-off in women in sport aged 16 and over. It is also about ensuring that at all levels, our NGBs, schools and universities take particular note in this area and work in partnership with them.

Since 2005, €22 million has been provided to Sport Ireland and NGBs for the women in sport programme and we hope to increase this exponentially over the next number of years and also through the local sports partnerships-specific programmes. The aim of the programme is to have equal participation between males and females in sport. The gender gradient in sports participation has closed from 15.7% to 3.4% since 2007 according to our most recent monitor in 2019. We will follow it up with this year's return later this year. That is in its final stage of preparation.

Interestingly enough, the coverage of women in sport has only increased by 1.1% in our national media in the past five years. The media need to cover the greater participation of women in sport and their successes at all levels, local and national. It is not just a question for us. It is also a question for the national media, some of which are better than others. Across the board, in the past four to five years, there has only been a 1.1% increase in coverage in our national media so work needs to be done with it. However, I must compliment the recent efforts by RTÉ to cover Gaelic women's sports - camogie and Gaelic football - and the national sports awards run by The Irish Times every year recognising the achievements of women in sport. There are particular areas but we need more media coverage of women in sport and more media reporting of their successes. The board accepted at our meeting yesterday that we will give more attention to women in sport and to narrowing the gap where we can and where we can assist. At board level, we recently conducted a survey on the representation of women. The Minister has told me that she would like to see, as would we, greater participation of women at board level in sports. We will aim to achieve at least 30% and, hopefully, 40% or 50% over the next number of years. This is an uphill journey in respect of governing bodies and the participation of women in sport and at administrative level and the management of the game at national level in the respective sports.

We have been very successful internationally in respect of the high-performance strategy for Irish sport. The important issue is bringing stability and avoiding risk in this area over the next two to three years. Our national high-performance sport strategy for the next 12 years will be published shortly. This will bring us over the Tokyo cycle and into the Paris and Los Angeles cycles of the Olympic Games over the next number of years so it is important to plan for that. We fund 117 international athletes and four teams at international level. That will be an important element of our work, laying the groundwork on top of what we have achieved. This means building the facilities as well as funding these elite athletes to allow them to continue their involvement in sport and ensuring that in doing so, they do not lose out educationally or in terms of employment. We have various programmes to assist them in this regard. We hope to have a successful Olympic Games in Tokyo and have a wide range of participation in a multiplicity of sports. It will not be dominated, as it was in the past, by boxing or other sports. We have a high range of international medalling and qualification in these areas. As I said, our three international equestrian teams are accredited so we are looking forward to that if it goes ahead. Preparation for Paris 2024 is proceeding but is now in a truncated period of three years. We have started the initial programme. We look forward to publishing the high-level strategy for high-performance sport 2021 to 2032 as soon as the Ministers are available.

The Sport Ireland campus in Abbotstown, north Dublin, is an incredible resource for us and a key priority. We are preparing the new master plan, which is almost at final draft stage. We hope to complete that at the board meeting in December. We will then be in a position to come to Government with our proposals relating to the development of the national sports campus and future arrangements. We are working very closely with Fingal County Council, which is our local authority. It is very supportive of and committed to what we are trying to achieve there. It will provide a blueprint and master plan for the campus and the facilities we intend to develop on the campus over the next ten to 15 years. The important element of this is to bring more NGBs on to the campus and, hopefully, build a hotel on it that will also be an athlete hotel as part of a public-private partnership arrangement, which the previous Minister allowed me to proceed with. This latter development will allow us to attract international competition to the campus and create a village-type atmosphere.

We are already planning for the development of a new velodrome centre, which will also incorporate the national badminton centre. This is the next major building project we are discussing with government and initial funding has been given to us to do that. We hope to have the postponed European cross-country championship on the course on the campus in 2021. They are exciting prospects. We still have Abbotstown House, which is the old landlord house in the Hamilton estate of Abbotstown. That is maintained on a care and maintenance basis by us but we hope we can revisit that in the near future. Hopefully, we will be able to restore it and allow it to be used for national and international events. My own preference - this will take time to develop - is to create a museum of sport in Abbotstown House. Sport Ireland's headquarters moved to the campus from Blanchardstown in 2018. We have settled into the converted courtyard - the old stables in Abbotstown House. That is working very well so we are leading by example in that regard.

They are a number of priorities. Obviously, there are other day-to-day operations developed by Mr. Treacy and his team in Sport Ireland. New issues come up at the board's regular monthly meeting with which the board must deal. We had a four-hour meeting over Zoom about expenditure under Covid, previous expenditure, the budget for 2021, the new high-performance strategy that we must finalise and other reports we receive. A significant amount of work is happening under the ambit of Sport Ireland in a multiplicity of areas with a multiplicity of governing bodies and local sports partnerships. Irish sport is in a good place in terms of the funding arrangements that have been made. They have been very resilient during the Covid period.

Hopefully, with our return to sport protocols, which we will have developed, we hope we will have vibrant sporting activity during 2021 - the vaccine is crucial in this regard - and the other issues regarding Tokyo will be resolved. The footfall on campus was 1.7 million people last year. This has fallen substantially by 63% due to the Covid restrictions so we hope to increase that footfall in the coming years.

I thank Mr. Mulvey. I do not wish to be rude but opening statements normally take about ten minutes to give the members an opportunity to ask questions. I ask Mr. Treacy to keep his opening statement extremely brief and related to the impact of Covid-19, which is the theme for today. If he does not have enough time to finish it I am sure it will be covered with the members anyway. He might take three to four minutes and we will then move on to the members.

Mr. John Treacy

When restrictions were put in place in March, Sport Ireland acted quickly to make sure the case for sport was included in the Government roadmap, which was critically important; creating an environment where the athletes could return to training as quickly as possible; presenting a very strong case to Government in terms of funding; and looking at how sport could support the Government, the Department of Health and society in general in terms of battling the pandemic. We were ably assisted by the then Minister of State, Deputy Griffin, at the time in terms of all these initiatives. An expert group was established by the Department and that was the mechanism whereby protocols developed by the national governing bodies, NGBs, could be approved. That is chaired by the Department officials and it is doing very well and has proven to be very beneficial. We instigated and increased our year in terms of the international carding scheme. We extended it for a year into 2021, which is something the then Minister of State, Deputy Griffin, was keen we would do. That was done very quickly to ease the minds of the athletes.

The big piece for us was getting the athletes back into training in the centres as quickly as possible. That happened in June and it released a great valve in terms of the athletes getting back into training, which was critically important.

The institute has continued to deliver services to our athletes. We are conducting many Covid-19 tests for the athletes as they go to international competition.

There is much activity around the lockdown in terms of physical activity. We ran numerous campaigns. In terms of social media, we got the governing bodies to put pieces online. Sport Ireland and the local sports partnerships, LSPs, were very active in that regard. We ran a plethora of programmes around physical activity and the research that came back during the pandemic showed that the numbers increased. Walking was up to 83% and the participation numbers got up as far as 50% so the impact in terms of social media was very important. The LSPs and the NGBs worked hard with us to ensure those programmes were successful. They were basically programmes to encourage people to exercise at home during the lockdown and they were provided with a good deal of advice. That was very well received.

We ran Covid awareness courses. More than 185,000 people touched on that. We had compliance officers training for the governing bodies and the clubs so we reached down to the clubs in terms of all that training.

This month we are doing a piece, Your Personal Best Month, which is aimed at men over the age of 45 to encourage them to get out and keep active, with no more excuses. That is the kind of message we want to filter into that age group. Also, for the next three months we will be working with the Government and Healthy Ireland on the Keep Well campaign.

It is important that we stress to members that yesterday we launched a campaign on our website on all the different programmes that are available. We strongly advocate that people would look at it to see what they can do. We run a community walking initiative, which will be centred around the sports and involving local authorities. With Get Ireland Walking we developed a walking app where people can register and slot in a time for walking in these various facilities and monitor that.

The local sports partnerships will roll out initiatives for people with a disability. We will also link in closely with "Operation Transformation" over the next number of months. We will operate a programme called FitLine, which is geared at older people who might not have access to social media. We will make sure there is a telephone line through which they will be able to get advice and guidance on what to do from home. People can talk them through it so that they can exercise.

The big piece around this is to try to encourage people to be active during the lockdown, which is critically important. We all know how important physical activity is for mental well-being and always-----

I thank Mr. Treacy but I have to stop him at that point. He will have to blame his colleague because I am running out of time. I did not think we would have the clock on but so be it. I thank both gentlemen for their presentations. They have been most informative and I am sure they have raised many questions for our members. I will begin with Deputy Griffin. Members have five minutes for questions and answers or statements, whatever way they want to use them.

Mr. Treacy is well used to being against the clock over the years so I am sure this experience is no different. I welcome both witnesses and I thank them for taking the time to come before the committee to discuss the work they do, which is critically important to many people across the country. I am here as a member of the committee. Previously, I have been here as chairman of the committee and also as a Minister of State. Joni Mitchell had a song, "Both Sides Now" but I have seen this from three sides at this stage. For the record, I want to say that working so closely with Mr. Treacy when I was in the Department gave me a great insight into the amount of work he does and the importance of it. It has to be stated here just how important his work has been, specifically during the Covid-19 period. That is not often acknowledged. Like every public agency Sport Ireland will have its critics and people who will take pot-shots at it but I want to thank everyone on the Sport Ireland team for their massive response to Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic in March, which continues.

Mr. Treacy touched on some of the issues. From very early on we convened a body comprising the main stakeholders in sport. That was the genesis, ultimately, for the funding that came on board during the summer, the allocation of which was announced recently. Sport Ireland's input into that process was invaluable. Also, the return to sport protocols involved an enormous body of work which was carried out in a relatively short period of time under difficult circumstances, with most of it being done remotely. It facilitated the return of sport in this country including the safe and early return of high performance sport, which people forget about. That was critically important, especially when we see that some of our athletes performed very well internationally during the summer, for example, in cycling. The work of Sport Ireland was crucial to that.

The messaging over the past eight months has been very important. Sport Ireland's use of its platform to have a positive impact on the mental health as well as the physical health of the nation cannot be overstated. In some ways it is a victim of its own success in that participation levels spiked during the first lockdown and into the early summer. As a result of that, the programme for Government now has a very difficult target to reach over the coming years but I have no doubt that it is well up for the challenge.

I have a few brief questions the first of which is on the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. How has Covid-19 affected preparations for the Games. I know it is the same for every country worldwide but are there any additional challenges on that front? Also, how will it have affected the cycle in respect of the Paris Olympic Games? My understanding is that they will go ahead as scheduled in 2024, so Sport Ireland has only a three year window. What impact will that have on European and world competition?

On the European Cross Country Championships, we were looking forward to have those in a few weeks time. The witnesses might give detail on how certain the plans are for those championships, which will be a major event for the sports campus and is very important.

With regard to the unprecedented package of supports that have been announced and allocated, that is done based on an anticipation that we will get out of the Covid pandemic during 2021. The great news today is Pfizer saying its vaccine has 95% efficacy. Its competitors announced a few days ago that their vaccines had 94.5% efficacy. Last week, the efficacy of Pfizer's vaccine was at 90% so competition is very healthy among pharmaceutical companies as well as sport. Is Sport Ireland working off a deadline when normality will return?

Does Sport Ireland have a date where it feels sport will be in a normal place? Is it working from such a timeline?

On the national sports policy, it is great that we are in a positive trajectory towards meeting our funding targets by 2027. The policy contains many other targets apart from funding, but without the funding it would not be possible to achieve any of the other targets. We have had nine months of Covid and can anticipate some more months. How much of an impact do the witnesses feel that will have on the overall targets in the sports policy? Will parts of the policy require review as this continues? Are there elements which are now obsolete? It was prepared at a totally different time and in a different world and things have changed. Does the plan now warrant revision?

The Deputy has taken the full five minutes so I must ask the witnesses to be really brief and concise in their answers, please.

Mr. Kieran Mulvey

We are on target in regard to Tokyo. We are working very closely with the Olympic Federation of Ireland and the Paralympics. We have our plans and are looking at contingency. We are just waiting for announcements from the IOC. Next year, particularly in the first six months, there will be a big emphasis on all the international competitions that were put off this year. We will need those for some of our athletes to qualify. There might be a rush but the vaccine will help if all the predictions prove to be the case. We will be giving priority in our campus in the Institute of Sport to ensure that all our international accredited athletes will get the vaccine as a priority for their travel abroad. The new truncated period between the games in Tokyo and Paris will be only three years. There will be a lot of emphasis and pressure on that.

We have had very little drop out from our international accredited athletes. They are all still raring to go. It has been an interruption but they have continued and we have given the exemption to allow them to train in our facilities at elite level.

Mr. John Treacy

Athletes are very resilient. If plans are put off, they readjust those plans. They are also very good planners. That is what training is all about - planning properly. They dusted themselves down, started training and have a year to go now. The hard part is the lack of competitions leading into these games and qualification. The first half of the year will be vitally important because competition gets one ready for the next competition, which is the Olympic Games.

On the European Cross Country Championships, I was on a phone call with Athletics Ireland and the European Federation. We pitched for it in 2021. It was supposed to go to Italy in 2021 but now we have it then and Italy has it in 2022.

Policy is hugely important. We have developed a participation plan which links in with policy priorities and we are waiting for those to be published by the Department. We are ready to go with its implementation. The policy is an excellent document. There is €5.8 million in funding for the latter half of this year for some NGBs which might not have applied for funding in an earlier time because the big impact of financial costs were not with the governing bodies of sport. Now, when membership dues are due, in December or January, is when it will really come into effect. We have some money left aside for that purpose, so that the NGBs can get back into action as quickly as possible. We hope that by spring or summer the athletes will be in full flow and sport will hopefully be back to normal, all going well.

Are Mr. Treacy's functions and remit under Sport Ireland similar to those of the Irish Sports Council, other than the addition of bringing in the National Sports Campus Development Authority under his remit or charge? Are they essentially the same, that is to drive and develop the future of Irish sport?

Mr. John Treacy

My job has changed very dramatically.

Will Mr. Treacy give me a good example of where the change under his function has happened?

Mr. John Treacy

It is mainly around the campus, in development of facilities. We were trying to get everything on the same standard in governance.

Overall the remit would be similar in that the function is to drive and develop the future of Irish sport.

Mr. John Treacy

But the campus is an important part of that because we are trying to position it so that it is an international campus.

I understand that; it was in Mr. Treacy's statement. Overall his remit is the same, namely to drive and develop the future of Irish sport. Mr. Mulvey referred to strong governance, so that is also Mr. Treacy's remit.

Mr. John Treacy


Mr. Treacy was first appointed CEO of the Irish Sports Council in 1999 and he held that position for 16 years. Then he was appointed CEO of Sport Ireland for an interim period of 12 months. That brought him up to 17. Then he signed another four year contract with Sport Ireland that brought him up to September of this year. His term was to expire in September but that has been extended for at least another year which would bring his term as CEO overall to 22 years. Is that correct?

Mr. John Treacy

Yes, well there were two different organisations.

Yes, but his remit is the same. We have just established that. Was Mr. Treacy's appointment as CEO in 2016 an open process? Was there an open competition?

Mr. John Treacy

I was appointed by the board.

So it was not an open competition. It is a "Yes" or "No" question.

Mr. John Treacy

No, it was not.

For the further extension in September, was a business case submitted to the Department?

Mr. John Treacy

Yes, there was.

Was Mr. Treacy interviewed?

Mr. John Treacy

The situation was with regard to my-----

No, sorry, it is a simple question. In relation to the extension of a further year from September, was Mr. Treacy interviewed?

Mr. John Treacy

We were involved in a pandemic. We needed to keep the stability-----

No, sorry, I am looking for a direct "Yes" or "No" answer.

Mr. John Treacy


So Mr. Treacy did not do an interview. The reason given by the Minister for the extension of Mr. Treacy's term as CEO and that of Mr. Mulvey as chair was the pandemic and other factors, so that it did not go to an open process, but it did not go to an open process in 2016 either. The pandemic is not a reason because it was not following best practice. It had not done it in 2016. Is that correct?

Mr. John Treacy

My contract was extended for a year and then the board renewed it for a further period.

Yes, but there was no interview.

Mr. John Treacy

No, there was not.

There was no open process, and Mr. Treacy has been sitting there for 22 years. That appears to be a breach of guidelines of the Sport Ireland Act and the appointment of State boards. What is the salary for the CEO of Sport Ireland?

Mr. John Treacy

It is Assistant Secretary level.

Mr. John Treacy


It is €160,000. No right person would be in a hurry to leave a position of CEO at that sort of salary.

Sorry, Chair-----

That is an observation.

We are here to talk about Covid. This is taking this committee to a completely ridiculous level. I am sorry, but we are all trying to be constructive here.

I am entitled to have my time extended.

We will stop the clock. I ask-----

This is supposed to be about Covid.

I ask everybody to refer to the theme of the meeting which is Covid impact related.

I have referred to Covid and the extension of the terms.

With respect, it is deviating to roles and responsibilities.

This is all on the public record, as is the Deputy's salary.

For the benefit of other members, we have been here before with Sport Ireland. As an elected member of this committee, I can ask whatever questions I deem fit and are in the public interest. If a member of the government party wishes to block that good luck to him, because he will not block me.

I am just making a point about the time we have left.

I wish to inform all committee members that all questions referred to our witnesses are to be on the impact of Covid-19 and the impact Sport Ireland is making on it. I will allow Deputy Munster to continue-----

In fairness, Deputy Munster is asking very tough questions but she should give the two witnesses an opportunity to answer them. I do not think a "Yes" or "No" answer is the proper way to do it.

That is for me to decide. If Deputy Fitzpatrick wants to give all his time, that is for him. This is absolutely ridiculous.

With respect, I am doing my best to give everybody fair play and everybody will get their questions.

They have answered the questions.

All of us as members realise we have five minutes to use, whether to make a complete statement for those five minutes or to ask questions. I also contest that the witnesses should be given ample opportunity to respond to the questions being asked. In the ten seconds remaining to Deputy Munster-----

Sorry, I have more than ten seconds. I was at three minutes and 22 seconds when I was interrupted.

I did ask the clerk to the committee to stop the clock to give the Deputy-----

It was not stopped initially.

We will add on another ten seconds but I know in all conscience I have given the Deputy the same-----

Sorry, the clock was stopped at three minutes and 22 seconds.

I will give the Deputy the same time as everybody else.

That will give me more than a minute and a half left.

One minute, and I encourage the Deputy to give the witnesses ample time to respond to her specific questions.

I did, and they have done.

The Deputy has another question.

A lot of the questions were "Yes" or "No" answers-----

-----and that is what we got.

I will allow the Deputy to proceed with a final minute.

A minute and a half.

In the opening statement, reference was made to Sport Ireland's remit being "strong governance". That is the phrase Mr. Mulvey used. We can understand how people would see the irony in this, given that Mr. Treacy has been in position for 22 years and Mr. Mulvey for 12 years, in breach, it appears, of Government guidelines on State bodies. In particular, with regard to the absolute fiasco and scandal that went on in the FAI and that came to the fore in the past 12 months, Sport Ireland was the overseer. How could anyone expect to have confidence in Sport Ireland? The two witnesses are not in any rush to give up their positions on the board, which are well-paid. They were in charge of oversight at the time of the scandal in the FAI, and it was not them who brought it to the fore but investigative journalism. Considering the salaries and their length of time on the board, how can they genuinely expect any member of the public to have confidence? Personally, having dealt with them on the committee, I will say on public record that I have no confidence in what they referred to as strong governance because they do not have a record of practising strong governance, standing over strong governance or adhering to it for that matter, particularly with regard to the FAI.

We will give the witnesses an opportunity, even though the time has run out, to respond to the questions from Deputy Munster.

Mr. John Treacy

Sport Ireland places a strong emphasis on corporate governance of sporting organisations. We have a number of programmes that we run with the IPA and we continue to develop the sports code for governing bodies of sport. We hope to have compliance with everybody by the end of next year. We place a large emphasis on this. We do not have oversight. The Deputy referred to the FAI. We did not have oversight as during the period of time, we were not auditing the FAI's overall finances because we were only giving the association a small bit of money at the time. It was only when the FAI agreed to let us audit that the KOSI auditors went in. That is the background.

The record speaks differently but anyway.

Mr. John Treacy

The bottom line is we continue to work with the governing bodies sector-----

Sorry, my question in particular was how can Sport Ireland expect people to have confidence-----

I have given the Deputy a load of time and she has gone well over the time-----

-----in the term "strong governance" when it does not have a record to back it up?

-----so I thank her for her questions and I thank the witnesses. I will now move on to Senator Malcolm Byrne.

I thank Mr. Mulvey and Mr. Treacy for coming before the committee and for their presentation. I have a follow-up question on where there is a requirement on all NGBs and LSPs to adopt codes of governance. Sport Ireland is working with them. Have all of the NGBs and LSPs adopted codes of governance? Are there any about which the witnesses have specific concerns?

Mr. John Treacy

They are all on a journey and it is for the end of next year. Some are making very good progress. Some are already across the line. Perhaps 20 or 30 of them are across the line so they are making very good progress. We are optimistic they will all get across the line for 2021. If they are not across the line they have to have a good explanation as to why not.

Are there none about which Sport Ireland has concern at present?

Mr. John Treacy

Not particularly any concerns about any particular body at this point in time.

The Summer Olympics have been mentioned and I want to turn to Beijing 2022. The witnesses will be aware that there are concerns about the deteriorating human rights situation. How do they feel we should respond?

Mr. John Treacy

What we do in sport is try to leave the politics out of it. Every sportsperson takes that approach and we take the same approach. If there are human rights issues, it is a matter for the Government and it will make those decisions. Sport needs to get on with it as best we can. We were in Beijing in 2008 as the Senator knows. Sometimes sporting organisations have games that would not be my pick but we go to them.

I will now focus on Covid, which is the primary purpose of the meeting. I welcome the fact the European cross-country championships will happen here. There has been a focus on the support for elite athletes but one of the challenges for emerging athletes is the lack of competition. There have not been any athletics events. Part of the challenge will be how we get sport back on its feet. Deputy Griffin spoke about the significant investment and this has been acknowledged. We are looking at ways to support the NGBs through this. It is also about getting sport back in communities on the ground and the role sporting organisations will play. How do the witnesses envisage this will best happen?

Mr. John Treacy

Fortunately with the money given by government, the organisations have not dismantled any operation. They are still up and running. They availed of the wage subsidy scheme also, which was a godsend for many of the sporting organisations and they were able to keep people employed, which was critical. When the green light is given, I have no doubt they will be off and running. Many of the competitions are not being held at present but governing bodies are doing things online and having virtual cycles and runs. They are being creative in terms of what they are doing. We need to thank the GAA, FAI and IRFU for taking high risks in trying to put on events during this lockdown period. They have kept us all occupied during these months and they are to be commended for it. It is hard at present. Every sporting organisation and every athlete is biting at the bit to get back into competition.

Certainly the Dublin virtual marathon this year had more entrants and competitors than ever before.

Mr. John Treacy

It did.

Tied into this is the Government strategy on increased participation and tackling obesity. The number of additional people out walking and running has been mentioned and it is very important that we build on this and that we are able to develop and grow it.

I welcome that Mr. Treacy spoke about a programme of activity aimed at men over the age of 45. Perhaps it might also be a programme aimed at these Houses. It could have a specific focus. I make the serious point that there is probably a case for those of us who are in public life, where the hours are difficult and it is difficult to access sport, and it may be something that Sport Ireland may decide to target at elected representatives.

Mr. John Treacy

People can lead by example and there is no better example than the leaders of our Government and Parliament. It would be a great way to advertise it to their local communities.

We look forward to the creative ideas that Mr. Treacy will come up with for the Parliament.

The Leinster House sports day.

I thank Mr. Mulvey and Mr. Treacy. What was said about FitLine was very interesting. I will reach out to some people in my community and talk to them about this brilliant initiative. I have five questions so I will bounce them quickly.

Does Sport Ireland have any comment on the benefits of TV sport on the mental health of the nation during the pandemic? I refer to the benefits outweighing the dangers that exist when sportspeople and their backroom teams meet up and train. For many, it would seem that there is a benefit but I wonder if Sport Ireland is carrying out any research on the matter or if the witnesses have any comments to make.

Does Sport Ireland support the need for a light-up campaign in sports facilities in rural areas such as for GAA, soccer and rugby to enable activity within the 5 km boundary? Should financial support be provided to clubs for such an initiative? A lot of people have taken up walking in recent months and there are concerns about people keeping that up in the dark evenings. I would welcome a comment in that regard.

We welcome the recent funding for local sports partnerships, LSPs, that was so badly needed for many sports clubs. Unfortunately, many clubs missed out on this round of funding for a variety of reasons. Does Sport Ireland and the Government plan to provide further funding for clubs, some of which are in trouble financially? It is crucial to keep clubs going at this time.

There is an increase in the number of people working from home. Are there any concerns in that regard? My party proposed a right-to-switch-off Bill to enable people to separate work life and home life. Are the witnesses worried about how the constant calls from employers might affect downtime and people's interaction with sports? Has Sport Ireland considered how we might encourage the increased number of people working from home to take on further sports and activities? How do we entice people to get out and about in the absence of work-based sports?

Do the witnesses have any comments on how the lockdown is affecting elite athletes? There was a brief comment on it. Has their funding been affected in any way and are they still able to train and work with their coaches in level 5?

Mr. Kieran Mulvey

I am conscious of the reprimand you gave me earlier, Chairman. We support any initiative that will bring people out under the umbrella of any engagement in sport within the NPHET and Government guidelines. The light-up campaign is one of those. We believe the sports facilities, within the normal security arrangements, would allow for people to utilise them for socially-distanced walking.

During the period of austerity, there was an extraordinary increase in the number of people walking and cycling. We noticed that again now everywhere cycle tracks have been built. Further funding is also required for walking tracks.

Wearing my other hat, in terms of employment law and employment relations, remote working will totally change our whole approach to working and utilising the commute time that used to exist previously constructively. We are beginning to see that already with families that are cycling and walking. There has been a remarkable increase in sea swimming recently. In a sense, we are beginning to utilise our natural assets. It will be important to put more money into facilities for these pursuits.

To some degree, TV sport has given some relief to people's well-being, home life and activity. That is important because sport is so central. Perhaps Mr. Treacy wishes to add something.

Mr. John Treacy

Part of the Keep Well campaign will be about lighting up and working with sporting organisations. That will be a big part of the walking campaign. Funding will be set aside to help the LSPs get off the ground with local clubs as well. That will be done.

Our message on people working from home is for them to make an appointment with themselves to get out for half an hour if they can at lunchtime if it will be dark when they are finished work. That is a really important point. We have a lot of programmes online that they can avail of.

Clubs did avail of the Government funding scheme. The full allocation was made to clubs around the country. The LSPs rolled out €2 million to smaller local clubs around the country as well. That was very well received. Many of the small community clubs would have benefited as well, which would not perhaps be attached to a national governing body. They got support.

In terms of the benefits of watching sport on television during the winter months, it is good for our well-being, but we must make sure we balance it with physical activity as well. That is really important.

Deputy Peter Fitzpatrick

I welcome Mr. Mulvey and Mr. Treacy. I am one of the lucky ones in that I have seen the campus at Abbotstown. It is absolutely fantastic. The main point is that it is for all sports, as has been said, from equestrian to camogie. It is great.

The most important word when it comes to sport is participation. That means everyone can get involved, not just the elite. The year 2020 has been a very frustrating one for everybody so far. Let us call a spade a spade. Sport is playing a big part in helping people combat the situation.

Reference was made to the GAA, soccer and rugby and all the other sports. They put a fantastic effort into trying to help people. All sports lost sponsorship, income from gate receipts and broadcasting. Things are very tough. In fairness, Sport Ireland played a big part in November with the announcement of the €85 million in Covid-19 funding. I liked the fact that the funding was distributed to everybody at national, international and local level. That was very good. The allocations were distributed through the national governing bodies and the local sports partnerships.

Today, I want to speak about the grassroots. We can all see the US Masters golf tournament and the rugby on TV but an unbelievable amount of work is done locally. Today's discussion is about the impact of Covid-19 on sport. I know the work put in by local sporting organisations in communities in Gaelic games, rugby and soccer. Everybody put their shoulders to the wheel. People in communities helped those who needed to go to hospital or to the chemist's shop for medication. The problem in recent months is that the small clubs in local communities are bleeding heavily. They have nothing coming in. Previously, they had draws or a pub in the local clubhouse but now they have nothing. The money from Sport Ireland is being distributed but a lot of the small clubs are getting nothing. Many clubs have good administrators. They are very good at putting in applications and getting funding. Mr. Treacy is a sportsperson. He was a household name. I get phone calls from clubs on a daily basis pleading with me for help with level 5 restrictions and everything else. It is very hard on clubs. Are the grassroots clubs getting the money they deserve? I ask both Mr. Mulvey and Mr. Treacy to respond. I am looking for value for money today.

Mr. John Treacy

On the Covid payment, the LSPs ran a programme which covered any pandemic costs that they incurred. The maximum grant was approximately €1,500. The NGBs ran programmes as well for clubs at local level, so they were able to avail of those schemes. The funding was hugely appreciated by the clubs. We have set €5.8 million aside if there are other requirements from clubs in the coming months. That funding is available.

The volunteers at local level are the catalysts for sport in the country. Much of the resources are online in terms of supporting them through the pandemic. It was hugely important that the Government decided that children could continue to train through level 5. I advise small local clubs to make contact with the local sports partnership in their county.

It will give them as much help as it possibly can.

Mr. Kieran Mulvey

To answer the Deputy's question, we also indicated to the national governing bodies when they applied for Covid funding that this was also to recognise not only at national level but at club level the pressures they were under. We have a resilience fund which we still have to distribute. As we would say, for ad misericordiam cases that come in, we will have a ready ear for those. That is before the end of 2020. There is an opportunity to look at any particular cases the national governing bodies may bring to us or they can go through their local sports partnerships. We had a tremendous presentation yesterday from Deputy MacSharry's territory, from the Sligo Sports Partnership, and heard of the work they were doing for the money in terms of maintaining activity during the Covid period. Apart from our initial allocation, we are keeping back money next year to meet, in quarters 1 and 2, any contingency requirements we may need from any governing body or their clubs for contingency and emergency funding. We have enough resources to meet this. The Government has given us enough resources to meet it. It is about ensuring funding gets to where it is needed most.

I am looking forward to Ireland doing very well in Olympic Games. I have asked Mr. Treacy for years why swimmers from New Zealand and Australia did much better than ours. We have big expectations. I would like to see a few medals being brought back. I wish the Irish team the best going forward. We are a sporting nation and we love people representing the country. There is enough knocking of sport. Sport Ireland is doing a fantastic job. I wish all involved the best going forward. I would like our team to bring back a few medals from Tokyo next year.

I thank the members for their questions. I will move on to Deputy Cannon. He is replacing Senator Carrigy who cannot be with us today.

I want to say heartful thanks to the witnesses and Sport Ireland for assisting so many sporting organisations both at national level and at local level in shepherding sporting participation through the pandemic on an ongoing basis. They succeeded in creating confidence and a framework within which sporting participation continues to happen in a very safe manner. That work has trickled all the way down to local clubs, be it the GAA, soccer or rugby. Sport Ireland's guidelines and guidance has been crucial in supporting sporting organisation to navigate what has been an unprecedented challenge for all of us.

Also, heartful thanks to Sport Ireland for its work in encouraging increased participation by women in sport. It is something I have been researching a little lately. The figures are very encouraging in terms of what has been achieved in the past two decades or so. They have far exceeded the participation rates I expected to see when I initially got into that research. As the witnesses pointed out, the gap is closing all the time. I thank them for the work they are doing. There is great appetite among all sporting organisations, both national governing bodies and at local level, to assist Sport Ireland and work with it in a spirit of partnership to increase it further and perhaps to the point where, hopefully, women’s participation in sport will overtake that of men.

Mr. Mulvey outlined there have been many challenges arising from Covid-19 but there have also been many positive aspects arising from the challenges which have been primarily beneficial for people and families in particular. I am fortunate to live close to a forest trail developed by Coillte in conjunction with our local community. It was literally overrun with people in the first phases of the lockdown on those lovely long summer evenings. We saw families for the first time ever coming and exercising together. That is something we need to encourage for the future. Sport Ireland's work in the Keep Well campaign will aid and abet that and hopefully result in even greater levels of participation.

I want to make one comment about a sport I love, that of cycling. Mr. Mulvey mentioned the significant increased participation in cycling. We saw data from one of our national banks two days ago showing that the spend on bikes and cycling equipment has gone through the roof in recent months. The European Cycling Federation has stated that the levels of participation in cycling, both leisure cycling and competitive cycling, have increased exponentially during the past 12 months or so.

Where are we at with the development of the new velodrome in Abbottstown? I know it is as much an issue for Government as it is for Sport Ireland. We are fortunate to have some extraordinary athletes. I think of Lydia Gurley, Lydia Boylan, Mark Downey, Felix English and many other young track cyclists developing now. When they reach a certain level of competency and expertise and begin to win internationally they are shipped off to Majorca. That is the only option they have. If someone who excels in swimming was told that once they reach a certain level we cannot accommodate them anymore here and that they would have to leave the island and go elsewhere to reach the pinnacle of their talent, their judgment would be questioned. It is as much an issue for Government as it is for Sport Ireland but I would love to get an update on that project. If we had an indoor velodrome in Ireland we could bring over some of the best coaching expertise in the world, who happen to be Irish but now base themselves abroad. I was in New Zealand a number of months ago and met two Irish coaches who are renowned in the field of cycling coaching but they have to base themselves in New Zealand because we simply do not have the facilities here. We could create a wonderful eco-system of coaches and cyclists centred around a new velodrome that would see us having international success like countries such as New Zealand and Britain. Where are we at with that project and how can we assist Sport Ireland in bringing that to finality?

Mr. Kieran Mulvey

On the velodrome, I have good news for the Deputy. It is the priority building for us having completed phase two of the indoor arena and the hockey pitch facilities. We have already engaged and have had presentations on this from an international team of architects, based in the UK who came through the procurement system and have built velodromes in other parts of Europe. We have already had board engagement on a presentation on that. We have indicated to the Department what we are doing here. We have got initial funding to carry out the scoping works that are necessary. We have identified the site on the campus and have done the necessary scoping. We have informed Fingal County Council about what our requirements would be with this and it is facilitating us with that. It would incorporate a badminton centre in the centre of the building and also exhibition and spectator space. We are recognising the achievement of our cyclists and the growth of the game. That is the next big project and we expect, hopefully, at some stage during this year, to convince the powers that be in government to give us the necessary capital expenditure to achieve this. We have managed our buildings very well and, thankfully, largely within budget. We have a good track record there. We are in negotiations with Cycling Ireland on bringing its national governing body building onto our campus as well. We are converting a facility there to assist them on that and that is at a very advanced stage.

Mr. John Treacy

I firmly believe if we had a velodrome on the campus we would be producing Olympic medals without a shadow of a doubt. Our plans are advanced and hopefully it will be the next development that will occur.

On women in sport, we will be pushing to increase the number of women participating in sport. The number is narrowing all the time but a big factor is losing women's participation when they reach the age of 15 or 16. It is the same throughout every country and we then try to get them back participating. As people get older, more women than men participate in sport. That is why we encourage men over the age of 45 to participate. We would like to see there being no gender gap.

Apologies for missing the majority of the meeting. I am due to be in the Chamber and I have to return shortly so I will ask one question. I have read the opening statements and I thank the witnesses for their presence here. On that issue of the participation of women in sport, we had Mary O'Connor from the Federation of Irish Sport before the committee last month. She touched on that point during the meeting and during my chat to her after it. A school from my home town in Navan, the Mercy convent carried out a piece of work at BT Young Scientist exhibition in January and Professor Niall Moyna from DCU carried out the analysis of that.

It took the underage female local rugby club in Navan to look at pressures such as body shaming and social influencers. The peer pressure happening to young girls participating in sport is quite destructive. The research in question is a huge body of work. If we are serious about retaining young girls and women in sport, it must be tackled. I am glad the school in question took up the mantle and delved into it.

It was stated the club resilience fund in scheme 3 was not paid out yet. How much will that be?

Mr. John Treacy

There is €15 million in that scheme.

I note Mr. Treacy said that Sport Ireland will not fund clubs, affiliates, provinces or branches directly but that it will be accessed through the programmes established by each of the national governing bodies. Has Sport Ireland reviewed with the governing bodies the questionnaires that will go out to their clubs?

Mr. John Treacy

We gave guidelines to sport governing bodies as to how the club resilience fund would be paid. Each governing body in terms of their applications got their allocation. We asked that they set up a sub-committee to assess the applications before they would go to the board for approval. There is a mechanism in place. We asked for the chief executive to give a letter of reassurance that the money was spent for the purposes for which it was given. These would be the two pieces around it. We wanted to make sure there was no conflict of interest in the decisions.

These are the guidelines we gave to the national governing bodies regarding club schemes.

I agree with Deputy Fitzpatrick in that the pillar sports will survive. Obviously, in this period, they have taken a hit. That is what was behind the Minister of State, Deputy Jack Chambers, addressing this under scheme 3.

In County Meath in the FAI's district league, a significant part of its revenue is based on pitch rentals which the fund does not cover. This involves a large amount of money, nearly a six-figure sum. That is the kind of gap that could put it out of business. Has Sport Ireland liaised with the FAI to ensure the breakdown of funding request it is issuing to its clubs actually covers this kind of loss of income? There is no point in the Minister establishing a scheme if it will not cover the losses of the clubs it is meant to support.

Mr. John Treacy

Guidelines were given to the clubs if they lost membership, income, sponsorship or event income. Those were the main points being covered. Bar bills and things like that were not. Sports-related costs were covered. The FAI got €2 million for its clubs. It has indicated it will probably request more.

Will Mr. Treacy clarify that for me with a follow-up note? Sligo Rovers has an AstroTurf pitch next door to its main pitch for pitch rentals. Is that included under event losses?

Mr. John Treacy

Yes, that is covered under events losses.

I welcome our guests. I thank them both for their professionalism and dedication to Irish sport, as well as meeting the objective set by the Government to increase participation rates and the distribution of Covid stability funding to our main sporting bodies.

The return to sport expert group is chaired by the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media. Sport Ireland has representatives on it, along with the different sporting sectors. It is crucially important when we exit level 5 restrictions that mechanisms are in place to ensure people can go back to competitive sport, be it schoolboy soccer, underage GAA and rugby. Ensuring there is consistency around competitive sport at underage level is important. We need an action plan to ensure that it is well communicated after Christmas and into the new year.

Is the national sports campus available to all sporting bodies, be it soccer, rugby or GAA, from all different parts of the country?

Mr. John Treacy

The expert group is chaired by the Department which has done an excellent job. Each sport developed protocols for the return to sport for the different phases laid down by the Government. All these have been approved by the Department which has done an excellent job around all of this. Those protocols are being followed closely by these sporting organisations which is to be applauded. It has worked well.

One of the decisions we made early when the lockdown came was that we would keep the national sports campus open for the community of Blanchardstown. We found we have hundreds of people walking around the place during the week and at weekends. There are campus facilities available for elite sportspeople but also for recreational people as well. Everyone is welcome to participate, to run around the cross-country course or walk around the campus. We have weights machines around the place to allow people to do some strength and conditioning exercises. It is a public parkway and people are welcome there. The idea is also that we would stage events on the campus as it develops. I would encourage anyone in Dublin to visit the campus because they would be blown away by it.

Mr. Kieran Mulvey

The campus is available through a central booking system with the national governing bodies. They have specific facilities there such as the GAA, the IRFU and the FAI. County teams have availed of its facilities, such as outdoor and indoor pitches, to train. Perhaps the Mayo team will take up the option soon.

The institute of sport facilities are also there for strength and conditioning. The aquatic centre is available for swimming and exercise. Up to recently, there was a good take-up. We want the facilities to be used properly. They are used under the control of the governing bodies and our facilities management. We have had a high take-up from county teams, as well as UK Premier League teams which have used them. The indoor facility has full-length GAA and FAI pitches. The rugby indoor facility has a three-quarter length pitch with the normal facilities which would go with it such as hot baths, showers, strength and conditioning.

We want as many people to utilise it. It is a revenue income for us. It is also a way of showing what we have there. It was built by the taxpayer for the people and organised team events. Schools regularly use some of the facilities through the year. There is a full length Croke Park pitch which might be useful.

I have actually had the pleasure of playing Meath there in a challenge match a few years back. It is a tremendous facility. The older I was getting, the bigger the pitch felt. I was glad we only played there the once.

I thank Mr. Mulvey and Mr. Treacy for presenting to the committee.

Picking up on Deputy Dillon's comments regarding returning to play, in level 5 there was not a major issue in respect of sports and playing protocols because no one was allowed to play. That was quite frustrating for groups and clubs. In level 3, however, I remember there was a great deal of unhappiness. I refer to inconsistencies and the rationale for restrictions not being explained to people and clubs. I do not think the communication was great. Competitive tennis, for example, was not allowed, but the same people could play recreational tennis. Basketball players could not throw a basketball to each other, but GAA players, whether footballers, hurlers or camogie players, could pass a ball to each other. There were, therefore, many inconsistencies in that regard.

In Ringsend, for example, St. Patrick's CYFC, is a club that has men and women playing. Some of the dual GAA and soccer players, in particular the women, could not play soccer on Saturday but they could play GAA on a Sunday for Clanna Gael Fontenoy. That was great and it was good for them, but there was that inconsistency and it needs to be addressed. Mention was also made that there were representatives from GAA and soccer on the return to sport expert group. In order to inform that expert group a bit more, will Sport Ireland support and acknowledge the benefits and insights to be derived from having two other sports, perhaps non-contact sports, one indoor and one outdoor, represented on that body to help inform the decisions that will be made and then to communicate them better to a wider group of sporting participants?

Mr. John Treacy

I think GAA clubs were problematic in respect of celebrations and that was a particular issue. Looking at the levels, the Government clearly wants people to stay at home in level 5. As the restrictions are lifted, the Government will then want people to participate in sport, but not in competitions. Things tend to be a bit more competitive in competitions than in sport which is for recreation only. As the levels of restrictions are unlocked, competition will then be allowed again. On passing balls, those involved in outdoor sports certainly have a much better chance of getting an opportunity to participate. Indoor sport is going to be particularly problematic until we get down to the other levels because being indoors is problematic in respect of Covid-19.

Will Sport Ireland support the addition of extra members to the return to sport expert group?

Mr. John Treacy

That is a matter for the Minister. The Minister has heard that and will be doing something along those lines, I think. The Department is also supportive.

I thank Mr Treacy. Mr. Mulvey mentioned the importance of corporate governance. We have all been very much aware of that, particularly in recent years. Having watched the RTÉ documentary on the finances of the FAI and the subsequent fallout, will Mr. Mulvey give a brief analysis of what measures have been put in place? Mr. Mulvey mentioned at the start that new governance measures had been put in place. Is there a corporate governance director or an individual who deals with corporate governance, for example?

Mr. Kieran Mulvey

In light of the situation with the FAI, we have obviously revised our review and got greater latitude in respect of bringing forward stricter corporate governance arrangements. That is not just for the FAI but for all governing bodies under the code of practice, as I indicated earlier regarding charitable organisations. This is a national challenge and not just one for the sport sector or individual sports. We have, however, increased audit capacity within Sport Ireland, as well as our governance. I mentioned earlier that we are providing seminars in respect of the code. There has been a big take-up, with 280 people having locked-in for the conference on 26 November. That will be done. In the context of the FAI, we have a triple-lock system over that organisation's funding now through joint oversight of the implementation of the report on the reforms. I refer to financial oversight.

I apologise for interrupting, I am conscious of time.

Mr. Kieran Mulvey

Not at all, that is fine.

Does Sport Ireland have a governance director who deals with issues on a day-to-day basis in respect of other sporting organisations?

Mr. John Treacy

We do, yes. We have that in place now and we have a dedicated person who works with the governing bodies to provide assistance to them.

Does that person have experience in corporate governance? I refer to a past track record in corporate governance.

Mr. John Treacy

We have people within the oversight-----

I refer to that particular individual.

Mr. John Treacy

Yes, that individual has experience in corporate governance.

Briefly, we are talking about the Tokyo Olympics, but I would like to turn to the Winter Olympics in Beijing in 2022. What sort of funding goes to the athletes involved in those games in the context of the overall funding? We have 90 athletes going to the Tokyo Olympics. Qualification for Beijing is not yet complete, but I know about five to ten athletes are going. Is the funding provided to athletes going to the Winter Olympics proportional?

Mr. John Treacy

It is limited, mainly because of where those athletes are ranked on the world stage. If there is a world ranking, they are funded accordingly. We have a budget which we set aside for winter sports.

How much is that, just out of interest?

Mr. John Treacy

I will have to come back to the Deputy with the exact answer, but off the top of my head it is perhaps €20,000 or €30,000.

That is all the funding for Irish Olympians who will be competing in 20 or 30 elements of the Winter Olympics.

Mr. John Treacy

That funding enables those athletes to go to competition.

It is not great.

Mr. John Treacy

No, it is not. What we must do in respect of high-performance, however, is to pick the sports which can deliver medals for us. That is a critical aspect. In respect of winter sports, if an athlete emerges, he or she will be supported. The world rankings, however, are the critical issue. We will and do work with the Olympic Federation of Ireland, OFI, to ensure winter sports are supported, but because the funding is limited it is geared towards the athletes most likely to make Olympic finals.

I ask that this be the Deputy's final question.

Has Sport Ireland adopted the community and voluntary, CVC, governance code? I meant to bring that up in my last question.

Mr. John Treacy

We have taken over that code.

Has Sport Ireland adopted that code?

Mr. John Treacy

Yes, we have.

Mr. Kieran Mulvey

We are, of course, also bound by the code of governance for State bodies and commercial State bodies.

I thank the witnesses.

I welcome the witnesses. I am a substitute for Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan. To make it crystal clear, because I am going to follow a similar line to Deputy Munster, my questions are not personal. There is, however, a constitutional responsibility in respect of governance and appropriate governance. On the reappointment of the chairman, first of all, did Mr. Mulvey seek the reappointment?

Mr. Kieran Mulvey

I did not seek reappointment. I indicated to the Minister that I did not wish to serve for a further five-year term, which was a provision under the statute. I did indicate to the Minister that, in the light of the circumstances, I was prepared to serve for another two-year period, if the Minister so deemed and it was appropriate.

That is fine. I appreciate that. Did Mr. Treacy seek an extension?

Mr. John Treacy

I said to the board and to Mr. Mulvey that I would be happy to stay for another year, if it was required. There was obviously an issue in respect of the pandemic and we were allocating €85 million in funding. We needed a bit of continuity, therefore, and that was part of the business case. The Olympic Games are next year and the European cross-country championships are also on the campus next year. Those aspects were of critical importance and I wanted to see those events out. It was my intention to leave at the end of this year and I would love to have been leaving this year but circumstances changed.

At what point did Mr. Treacy decide that he would stay for a year or that he would seek to stay for a year?

Mr. John Treacy

When the pandemic struck, we took on a huge role in getting people to participate.

Mr. John Treacy

I needed to ensure that we kept that continuity and kept the team together in that context and the board agreed. The Ministers obviously did as well.

Is it safe to say that at no time did Sport Ireland prepare the process for the recruitment of a replacement?

Mr. John Treacy

That is for Mr. Mulvey.

Mr. Kieran Mulvey

No, not in the context of what was happening at the time. As committee members know, a change of Government was going on and negotiations were ongoing. I did not specifically have a Minister to liaise with, but on the appointment of the Minister at the earliest opportunity I brought this to her attention. Subsequently, I brought it to the attention of the Minister of State, Deputy Jack Chambers, in direct meetings with him.

There would have been no meetings with the previous Ministers. Is that right?

Mr. Kieran Mulvey

There had been an indication to the Department as far back as February that vacancies on the board were arising, including my chairmanship of Sport Ireland. That would have been done in February and there would have been reminders around that in May.

There were no preparations to begin the advertising campaign.

Mr. Kieran Mulvey

There was none, in that context.

The guidelines do not state Sport Ireland has to go to the Minister on that. The guidelines are simply the guidelines.

Mr. Kieran Mulvey

I operate under the terms of the Sport Ireland Act, in particular the provision for the board of Sport Ireland to appoint the chief executive with the agreement of the Minister. I asked as soon as I got an indication from the Minister that I was continuing as chairperson. I set up a sub-committee of the board to look at what was required for a future chief executive and the process we should go through in that appointment.

That would be new ground because it was never a process before. Is that not correct?

Mr. Kieran Mulvey

Yes. We will be guided-----

That is correct. Mr. Treacy came in from Cospoir so there was never an interview for the position. Is that not correct?

Mr. John Treacy

No, I was never part of Cospoir.

I am quoting from the media from 11 July 1996.

Mr. John Treacy

The body was called the Irish Sports Council then.

Cospoir ceased to exist around then. The then Minister of State, Mr. Bernard Allen, announced it.

Mr. John Treacy

Yes, it was around that time the Irish Sports Council launched. We worked with the Department until we were set up as a statutory body in 1999.

Mr. Treacy was chief executive. There was no interview process or anything around that.

Mr. John Treacy

No, I was appointed by the Minister at the time.

Then we had the appointment, alluded to earlier on, in September 2015. The then Minister, Deputy Ring, told the Seanad that Mr. Treacy would be appointed on an interim basis for a year and then there would be an advertising campaign. However, that never occurred. Is that not correct?

Mr. John Treacy

That did not occur, but I believe-----

That is the answer. Time is short.

Mr. Treacy is obviously aware of the guidelines. I have them before me. They refer to a maximum of eight years and two terms. Does Mr. Treacy appreciate that in the context of the two positions of the witnesses, for whatever reason, those guidelines have not applied?

Mr. Kieran Mulvey

I think Deputy MacSharry is misinterpreting the guidelines. I was appointed chairman of Sport Ireland with the approval of the Oireachtas, the committee and the Government in 2015 under the Sport Ireland Act. It was a new corporate body. Under that Act, I serve for five years. It is at the discretion of the Minister that board members, including myself, may be reappointed for a further five years but with a full limit. New guidelines were brought in recently stating that there should be a term limit of eight years. My reappointment is within those term limits.

Does it not also say that should be retrospective?

Mr. Kieran Mulvey

No, it refers to accumulative service. If my two years are added to five years, that comes to seven years. That is below the eight years, according to my mathematics anyway.

It did not apply to John Maughan or Caroline Murphy.

Mr. Kieran Mulvey

No, because both had served two five-year terms of the board and they were asked - the Minister did not reappoint them.

Did Mr. Mulvey approach the Minister to ask to keep on those people?

Mr. Kieran Mulvey

I approached the Minister and informed the Minister what the situation was, as I had the parties. It was for them to decide.

Mr. Mulvey says there were two different-----

Thank you, Deputy.

I will look for a second lot before 4 p.m. if that is okay. Is it not the case that the pension scheme is the same?

Mr. Kieran Mulvey

I can answer that. Mr. Treacy has been reappointed-----

I did not ask Mr. Mulvey, in fairness.

Mr. Kieran Mulvey

In fairness, I am the chairman and I am responsible under the same guidelines for the corporate governance of the body.

The Accounting Officer is not-----

Mr. Kieran Mulvey

I am the chairman. Mr. Treacy is appointed by the board with the approval of the Minister. Mr. Treacy's appointment is on the exact same terms as his previous appointment. There has been no change.

The clock starts. Covid-19 meant the witnesses had to stay on, yet in the middle of the pandemic the Secretary General of the Department of Health was able to move. In fact, the Secretary General of the Department responsible for sport was able to move. The clock does not start again for them on their seven-year contracts.

Mr. Kieran Mulvey

It does not start for Mr. Treacy either.

Why is it different for Sport Ireland?

Mr. Kieran Mulvey

He is under a contract of indefinite duration under the law.

He can stay forever.

Mr. Kieran Mulvey


It is a job for life.

Mr. Kieran Mulvey

No, it is not. It is under the normal guidelines. Public servants are appointed on specific time limits. Mr. Treacy is not a Secretary General.

I will not hold up the meeting. If I could get five minutes afterwards, I would appreciate it.

Mr. Kieran Mulvey

His grade is assistant secretary.

Deputy Griffin wants to ask a question on behalf of Senator Kyne. I will allow it on this occasion because it will be short.

Yes, there is a vote in the Chamber. That is why Senator Kyne has had to leave. I will try to relay his question as best I can. The question relates to super league basketball. Obviously, it is an elite indoor sport. I understand it was due to restart in October. Some of the clubs have some American players who have come over here to play. There is obviously a cost associated with that. Senator Kyne's question relates to the plan. When is the earliest we can have certainty for the clubs on return to play or what the future situation will be?

I am conscious of the complexities relating to protocols for any sport, but especially indoor sport. Can the Sport Ireland representatives give us as much detail as possible in respect of what is happening on that front? All of us are keen to see sport returning. The Sport Ireland representatives touched on this earlier. We are aware of the fact that some of the clubs and some sports were hit early in the year, taking the hit financially. Some did not really suffer earlier in the year but now their activities are being displaced in the latter half of the year. That is a challenge for them. Can the Sport Ireland representatives touch on that? I wish to get in one of my questions, if I may. Anyway, those were the circumstances for the question. A vote was called in the Chamber and the Senator was unable to ask the question himself.

Mr. John Treacy

I will answer that. When will indoor sports resume? I do not know. That is the answer. They will resume when it is safe to do so. We will obviously follow Government guidelines, as all sporting organisations do. That was one of the conditions of the funding given out.

When will the restrictions be lifted? Clearly, for indoor sports we are looking at the majority of restrictions being lifted so people can play indoor sports together. That is a long way away, as I see it now. It will be a long road, unfortunately. That is the answer. Outdoor sports are obviously safer. That is why we are looking at outdoor sports. I do not believe we will be seeing indoor sports any time soon, until we have a vaccine at least and obviously people have to be able to resume indoor sports safety. That is really of paramount importance in all of this. When people go back into sport, they need to be able to do it safely. That is the bottom line.

Mr. Kieran Mulvey

I will add one point. We have given Basketball Ireland, if I recall correctly, between €1.3 million and €1.5 million as a special Covid-19 payment. This will assist with the issue raised by Deputy Griffin. We have maintained the funding for Basketball Ireland into 2021.

I wish to reassure all sporting organisations that we made our budget decisions yesterday at the board. They will be getting 75% of their grant in January. That will be a big support to them. They will be able to plan for whatever they need to do. We will retain 25% until later in the year before paying out, but they will get that money as well.

Mr. John Treacy

I would appeal to people who are members of Basketball Ireland or members of clubs of Basketball Ireland. It is a time for everyone to step up and support local clubs by renewing membership. Sport will resume. We need to ensure we keep the infrastructure of sport in place and we need to keep the clubs going. There is a part to play for members. They can contribute to the clubs to ensure they are maintained and so that we can keep the infrastructure in place. When it resumes, it will resume like that. That is what we really want. We want it to resume as quickly as possible.

I am satisfied on the question from Senator Kyne.

The other question I wanted to ask relates specifically to sports partnerships.

We have not talked much about local sports partnerships, LSPs, but, obviously, they have been greatly impacted by Covid. Will our guests give us an account of what the impact has been? The work of the partnerships focuses on people who are under-represented in sport and who are trying to get involved in sport and physical activity. One concern I have is that those efforts could be set back. What has been the impact on them and how should we address that into the future?

Mr. John Treacy

The core funding of LSPs has been maintained and that is the funding we give them. It is approximately €6 million, although we will increase the budget for next year, as well as some of the programmes. Over the lockdown period, the LSPs have proven how much real value they provide to local communities and hubs. They are there to answer the phone and to help them through issues. The other aspect is that they have reached out to hard-to-reach groups to try to keep them involved in sport, and older people in particular.

As Mr. Mulvey noted, there was a presentation from our Sligo sports partnership at our board meeting yesterday. It was very elaborate in terms of all the different groups being reached. They have all done extensive work and it would be probably no harm for the committee at some point to hear at first hand about the work they are doing. I think they would like to outline that because their work is invaluable. I am sure all members, at local level, have seen what they do but it is important to state they have really tried to reach hard-to-reach groups. They also reach out to people with disabilities. All the LSPs in the country have disability officers who knock on people's doors and get them out and participating, and it is really important that that happens. It is about ensuring that no one is excluded from sport and that everyone is included.

I might ask a few questions, although they will be observations more than questions. I refer to an issue that has not been discussed. Representatives from Swim Ireland have appeared before the committee. As our guests will be aware, swimming pools throughout the country have, no different from any other sporting facility, experienced severe impacts. Most of them have been closed for months. My local swimming pool was built as a community venture. It was not built by the local authority or any sporting organisation but community people on the ground felt the need for a local swimming pool and built it. It has been closed since the beginning of the pandemic and I am sure there are many like it throughout the country. I would like to hear our guests' views on that and where Sport Ireland sees opportunities in that regard. Swim Ireland recently sought applications for funding. Swimming taps into all demographics within a community and it is so important to find ways for pools to reopen and keep open their doors sustainably.

LSPs, along with local authorities, are doing invaluable work to get people who might not ordinarily do sport involved in sporting activities, with initiatives such as Couch to 5K. Events are happening throughout the country, in rural communities as much as urban communities. The LSPs have some magic ingredient for getting people involved who might not ordinarily get involved, and have been crucial in keeping people of all ages outside, active and engaged in their communities, particularly in rural areas.

The witnesses spoke a little about women's participation in sport. Recently, the Nancy Murray Cup for camogie was held, which Cavan won, I have to point out. Social media campaigns such as See It to Believe It are very useful. Mr. Mulvey noted that after the age of 16, there is a drop-off among women in sport. Leanne Kiernan, of course, is a shining light as a role model for young women because of where she has taken her sporting career. That is an area we all could do with working on and promoting.

I would like to hear their observations on the issues I raised.

Mr. Kieran Mulvey

Swim Ireland is a successful NGB and is located on our campus, so we have constant access to it. Under the first scheme for LSPs, we funded 1,600 clubs and, subsequently, under the NGB, there have been another 1,500. It depends where the allocation came in, but those that may not have applied in the first round will certainly apply in the potential second round, and we will meet that. We will not repeat the process but review new applicants.

Deputies Dillon, Fitzpatrick and others referred to consistency, and it is a big problem. There needs to be consistency but the problems for indoor and outdoor sports are different. As the committee will be aware, there are particular problems with gyms that have swimming activities. My local gym is closed and we would all like to get back to that kind of activity.

The issue relating to women in sport sounds easy but it is difficult. We hope that national trailblazers in women's sport will become champions of sport and encourage women to take up sports. It is still a problematic area. There are a number of reasons that women often drop out of sport at the age of 16. One relates to a problem that sometimes arises in respect of team sport, namely, preparation for the leaving certificate, or whatever examinations, even though that applies to boys as well. Another reason is the movement into individual sports, and there are some great personal achievements. We are putting a great deal of hope and trust in the success of women's Gaelic football, which was the fastest growing sport a year ago, and that is true also in the case of camogie. If a rugby sevens team is developing, that brings its own appeal, as does the women's international hockey team. It is about creating champions of sport. Obviously, the success of Katie Taylor and others such as Kellie Harrington in boxing has helped. The same applies to athletics, where Catherina McKiernan was successful over the years.

As was mentioned earlier, it is about putting the current women in sport programme on the pedestal it needs to be on. It needs to be upgraded. The appointment of Nora Stapleton as manager of the programme will be a great success. We have great advocates on the board, such as Lynne Cantwell and Olive Loughnane, who are champions in their own right. The problem, sometimes, can relate to the fact that all-girls schools promote their sports, whether basketball, hockey, camogie, Gaelic football or rugby, but that may not happen in a mixed school environment, whether in community schools or comprehensive schools, where different arrangements are in place. Perhaps in the latter case, more emphasis is put on boys' sports and championships than on female participation in competitive sports.

Multiple factors are involved. We have compiled a number of papers on this and will certainly forward them to the committee for distribution. We are making a big push in respect of participation and putting the emphasis on NGBs to apply for women in sport programmes under their own funding. Over the past decade, we have set aside approximately €22 million, which will definitely increase incrementally and has to because it is part not just of my priorities but also of those of the board and the executive. On a multiplicity of fronts, it is about trying to promote the various aspects of the issue but also getting into the universities and schools, and telling them, at that level apart from the national governing bodies, that there is a physical education necessity to this. Of course, we will recall the difficulty over the years of battling to get physical education teachers into schools and getting the Department to fund them at a particular quota.

Mr. John Treacy

It is worth adding that a swimming pool fund, given by the Government and amounting to €2.5 million, is being co-ordinated by Active Ireland.

There is a fund for local swimming pools and applications are due in shortly, which is a welcome relief.

Is there a quick turnaround? We know the dire straits swimming pools are in currently.

Mr. John Treacy

Yes, there will be a quick turnaround. It is being done by Active Ireland with set criteria. That will be done sometime in December. The Chair is right in saying there are huge costs involved when one is carrying a swimming pool. We see it in the Sport Ireland Campus in terms of the 50 m pool. It is very expensive heating a 50 m pool for elite swimmers while having no recreational swimmers coming in. There are real costs and real needs at local level in terms of some of these indoor facilities.

When there is a return to level 3, some swimming clubs will be allowed to have kids swim in any area of the pool and yet lessons will not be allowed. Is that something that could be addressed so that there could be more usage of swimming pools? My understanding is that individual training is not allowed.

Mr. John Treacy

It is individual training only. Small pods are sometimes allowed.

Yet, a swimming pool can open and let 50 people swim in any direction they want. There is an inconsistency there and maybe that is something swimming pools could look at.

On that note, I will conclude the meeting as we have reached our time limit. It would be remiss of me not to mention that Cavan is in the Ulster final this weekend. I would like members to join me in wishing them the very best of luck.

Before we adjourn, I wish to remind members and witnesses to vacate the room immediately. If members wish to chat to witnesses, they can do so outside. The meeting is adjourned until 1 p.m. on Wednesday, 25 November 2020 for a private session on Teams. I remind members to tune into that session. Our public meeting will be at 2 p.m. in committee room 3, when Irish dancers and representatives from the Arts Council will provide statements. We look forward to speaking to them.

I thank today's witnesses, the committee secretariat and those who helped in the background. The meeting was run very smoothly.

The joint committee adjourned at 4.02 p.m. until 1 p.m. on Wednesday, 25 November 2020.