Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 30 Mar 2010

Vol. 201 No. 13

Sports Capital Programme.

This Adjournment Matter relates to the important area of sport and, in particular, the need to reopen the sports capital programme. In the Sunday Independent last weekend Alan Ruddock stated|: “Whatever the demands in tourism and culture, sport is crying out for direction and policy.” The lack of a sports capital programme in 2009 and to date in 2010 has affected many sports and local community groups and organisations. I am heavily involved with my local club — Bishopstown GAA Club — and other community organisations. I understand, therefore, the importance of sport and community groups to the development of sustainable communities. In that context, the lack of funding and the abolition or suspension of the sports capital programme is having a profound impact.

Let us consider the work done in rural and urban areas, particularly the constituency of Cork South Central in which I live and work, as a result of funding provided under the sports capital programme which makes a difference to clubs and communities across the country. As a result of the RAPID programme, the public realm has been enhanced and the facilities of sports organisations have been improved, which is of benefit to communities. The activities that occur in community halls have been developed and enhanced as a result of improvements made to such halls.

Everyone welcomed the creation of the national lottery in 1986. Everyone also welcomed the establishment of the sports capital programme by Donal Creed who served as Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science in one of the Governments headed by Dr. Garrett FitzGerald. The programme which has proved extremely beneficial was never meant to cease operating. However, it has been discontinued by the Government, of which the Minister of State's party is part. As a result, the development of sports grounds and community facilities has ceased or been suspended. To put it bluntly, the Government which comprises Fianna Fáil and the Green Party is penalising voluntary sports and community groups which rely on the funding provided under the sports capital programme.

If the new Minister, Deputy Hanafin, and the Government are to be taken seriously, they must place sport and the provision of sports facilities at the top of the political agenda. Will the Minister of State outline what happens to the money people spend on tickets for the national lottery draws held on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays? Will she also indicate to where the money spent on national lottery scratch cards goes? Will she further state where the money allocated to the sports capital programme has gone? This matter has never been addressed.

In 2006 the Irish Sports Council published a report entitled, Ballpark Figures, which states: "At present, sport punches below its weight as a policy issue". In conjunction with several colleagues, I took part in the television programme "Operation Transformation" in an attempt to raise awareness of issues such as obesity and well-being and show that a small change in lifestyle could make a major difference. Such changes in lifestyle can be achieved by everyone. A change in eating habits is only one part of the programme espoused on "Operation Transformation". Taking part in sports and engaging in physical activity are also paramount, particularly as they create a new awareness of the benefits of participation.

The provision of funding for sports clubs could help to move Ireland forward in alleviating problems relating to obesity and social disadvantage. It could also be of assistance in creating sustainable communities. Sport is an integral part of such communities. If young people are encouraged to become involved in sport from an early age, it improves their health and welfare and has other knock-on effects.

The decision to eliminate, freeze or suspend the sports capital programme is wrong. The money allocated could act as a stimulus for the construction industry and assist in building communities and providing employment opportunities. In the reply to a parliamentary question he tabled on 23 March Deputy Creed was informed that no decision had been made on the programme for this year and that €48 million had been provided in the Department's Vote in the 2010 Estimates to cover payments previously awarded to be made from the C1 subhead, out of which grants were paid for the provision of sports and recreational facilities. Therefore, funding is available. In such circumstances, I ask the new Minister to reopen the programme and allow sports clubs and community groups to get back to providing services. Yesterday I attended a meeting at Ballyphehane GAA Club in Cork, at which the RAPID programme co-ordinator stated money had not been allocated. In such circumstances, I must ask whether we really are serious about encouraging participation in sport and tackling social disadvantage.

I hope sports organisations and community groups will not be punished further by the Government. This Administration has already assisted in eroding rural communities and placed sport on the back burner. The former Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Mr. Martin Cullen, indicated with much fanfare — the Minister of State will be aware of this because she was present at the meeting of the Joint Committee on Arts, Sport and Tourism at which it was said — that the programme was under review. On how many more occasions are Ministers going to state matters are under review? The Government is great at carrying out reviews and issuing reports. However, it does not take action.

The national lottery was created to assist in the provision of funding for sport and other activities. To where does the money collected by the national lottery go? What happens to the money people spend each week on lottery tickets and scratch cards?

That is a fair point.

Either we are serious about sport or we are not. Either we are serious about the creation and development of sustainable communities and the participation of people therein or we are not. Why is it not possible to allocate the surplus funding provided for the Exchequer by the national lottery in 2009 to the sports capital programme? There are sports clubs which are actively involved in fund-raising and bringing forward development plans. Bishopstown GAA Club held an extraordinary general meeting at which we were forced to try to rezone land in order that we might, in the absence of the sports capital programme, obtain funding. The Government stating it will collect money but not then disburse it is the wrong message to give to young people and sports clubs. However, today in the other House the Minister for Finance announced the provision of billions for a flawed Anglo Irish Bank. Friends of Fianna Fáil are bailed out while ordinary men and women in sports clubs and community groups cannot get a few bob from the Government. It is extraordinary and ironic that the friends of the Government can get billions, while sports clubs receive nothing. I look forward to the Minister of State's reply.

I will take this Adjournment matter on behalf of the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy Hanafin, and I thank Senator Buttimer for raising this important issue. Given the benefits associated with sporting activities, the Government regards expenditure on sport as important for the social and economic development of the country. These benefits arise in a wide range of areas including health and well-being, social and cultural development, education, personal development, tourism and the economy. It can play a valuable role in tackling social exclusion and this is particularly true for young people.

It is heartening to see today's media coverage of a special Eurobarometer survey indicating that Irish people now rank among the EU's keenest participants in sport. We are also among the most dedicated to volunteering to support sporting activities. The sports capital programme, which is part funded from the proceeds of the national lottery, is the primary means of granting Government support for the provision of sports facilities at national, regional and local level.

Under the sports capital programme, the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism provides funding to voluntary, sporting and community organisations for the provision of sports and recreational facilities. More than 7,400 projects have now benefited from sports capital funding since 1998, bringing the total allocations in that time to more than €730 million. The programme has, in the past ten years, transformed the sporting landscape of Ireland with improvements in the quality and quantity of sporting facilities in virtually every village, town and city. The facilities funded range from the smallest clubs to national centres of sporting excellence.

The aims and objectives of the programme are to foster an integrated and planned approach to the development of sports and physical recreation facilities throughout the country; to assist voluntary and community organisations to develop high quality, safe, well-designed, accessible and sustainable facilities in appropriate locations to help maximise participation in sport and physical recreation; to prioritise the needs of disadvantaged areas in the provision of sports facilities; and to encourage the multi-purpose use of local, regional and national sports facilities by clubs, community organisations and national sporting governing bodies.

The programme has supported the provision or improvement of landmark national and regional stadia such as Thomond Park, home to twice European rugby champions, Munster, and Semple Stadium, the home of hurling for many. Such facilities provide a platform for our most talented athletes to perform, which in turn inspires new generations of young people to aspire to match the sporting prowess of their heroes. They are also an important support to our tourism industry as they draw visitors from Britain, Europe and further afield, who come to Ireland to follow their teams in action.

Senators will be aware of the many benefits that derive from the programme in their localities. They have no doubt witnessed the value of the programme in assisting local clubs in meeting the sporting needs of their areas. In recent years, the programme has targeted clubs in areas of social disadvantage. By doing this, the Government is supporting the provision of facilities where there may be little prospect of such facilities being provided by the communities acting alone. These facilities provide an opportunity for participation in sport which leads to healthier lifestyles and a reduced likelihood of younger people drifting into anti-social behaviour.

It is a common misconception that the programme has been discontinued. While a new round of awards has not been approved this year, due to financial constraints, none the less the programme is in fact very active with more than 1,550 payments made last year with a total value of more than €58.7 million. This year it is again business as usual for clubs and sports bodies allocated grants in previous rounds of the programme with €48 million provided in the Estimates to cover the payment of previously allocated grants. No decision has yet been made about the timing of further rounds of the programme, which would be dependent in any event on the availability of resources.

Senators will also be aware that an audit of existing sports facilities is under way. The results of this audit will also inform our future decisions on sports capital grants.

I hate to take issue with the Minister of State in her first full week in the post, and I appreciate the matter is not the responsibility of her Department, but her final two paragraphs are completely contradictory and at variance with one another. It is not business as usual and there is no sports capital programme for 2009 or 2010. The Minister of State stated that new rounds have not been approved but that it is business as usual. The money announced today was allocated prior to 2009. My question was, and still is, when the money will be sanctioned in the sports capital programme. When will we have a review of the audit that is being conducted in perpetuity? Where has the money from the national lottery gone? The Minister, Deputy Brian Lenihan——

This is important.

I do not have a provision for questions.

I appreciate that and I crave the Leas-Chathaoirleach's indulgence for one minute because this is very important. At the next election, the Minister of State and her colleagues will announce sports capital programmes and throw money at people like they did in the past. A total of €275 million was transferred to the Exchequer from the surplus of the national lottery. Where did that money go?

I must ask the Senator to conclude.

Are we expected to believe this rubbish from Government all the time? The Minister of State is a community person and people in sports and community clubs cannot keep going. What we have been given here this evening is rubbish.

Does the Minister of State wish to respond?

I totally reject that allegation.

It is rubbish. It is absolute rubbish.

Will Senator Buttimer listen carefully——

Senator Buttimer, please. You have made your case.

——to what I have to say? This year, it will again be business as usual.

It is not business as usual — the thing has stopped.

I want to give you my reply.

Senator Buttimer, this is not allowed at all.

Allocated grants from previous rounds of the programme of €48 million were provided and Senator Buttimer is very well aware, as a very active member of the Joint Committee on Arts, Sport, Tourism, Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, that an audit is being conducted on existing sports facilities. The results of that audit are imminent and after they are received funds will be disbursed.

We have had no sports capital programme and the Government is peddling lies.