Sports Capital Programme

Senator Buttimer is present and we will take his Adjournment matter first.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCathaoirleach as ucht cuidiú liom an rún seo a chur ós comhair an Tí agus cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit, Deputy Mary White. The motion before us is a simple and practical one regarding the sports capital programme. Rather than entering into a long speech, I will pose a simple question. Will there be a new sports capital programme and will it be inclusive of sports and the community and municipal swimming pool fund?

Sports capital funding has been a lifeline for clubs and local communities. Clubs are immersed in the community, as the Cathaoirleach knows well from his own background and the Minister of State, Deputy Mary White, will be aware from her involvement in sport.

Sports clubs and groups and community groups have benefited from the sports capital programme. It has also brought a new lease of life to communities, both urban and rural. The postponement of the funding of facilities in 2010 was understandable given the economic climate in which we are. The programme has been closed for almost two years, as it was closed in 2008. Times are different now in the building industry, as prices have become far more competitive and have reduced considerably. Many people in the construction industry would be very well-qualified to assist local clubs, no matter how small or big, with projects. I hope the Government will commit to embarking on a sports strategy programme through the provision of new facilities in a project of regeneration and renewal of community life in Ireland. We have enough depression, people being down and bad news. Today, we could have a good news story for sporting clubs and community groups if there was a commitment by the Government to recommence the sports capital funding programme.

In 2008, the then Minister from Waterford, Martin Cullen, stated it would be postponed. Has it been postponed for the duration of the Government, no matter how long it has left in power? Will it be reopened? Where does the money from the national lottery go at present? It was created by Donal Creed in 1985 to assist in the funding of sport development projects. Where does the money go? As the Fine Gael spokesperson on sport, Deputy John O'Mahony, stated in the Dáil, this would act as a stimulus for local communities and local businesses. It would be a great tonic for sporting and community groups. The stimulus approach is in operation in other jurisdictions and countries and we need to have it here. We need to have it in our sporting organisations. We have tremendous potential. The improvement of facilities has been put on hold or suspended because there is no funding. My club in Bishopstown had almost 700 people join the Cork county board draw last month; it was the only club in the country to increase its membership. There is goodwill towards sporting clubs and if they get seed capital from the Government they will embark upon a project and commit to it. My club is building a hurling alley and a fundraiser was held recently at which we raised thousands of euro. There is money in the account but we need matching funds from the Government to finish it.

I hope even though we are in an economically difficult time there will be a positive outcome to the recommencement of the sports grant. I hope the Minister of State will look at it from the point of view of creating employment, generating VAT and tax returns for the Government, and creating great goodwill and hope among people and uplifting them. I hope we will look at this provision of extra facilities for young people and those in communities as a means of regeneration. I look forward to the response.

I will take this debate on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport, Deputy Mary Hanafin. I thank the Senator for raising this issue; he knows how interested I am in sport. 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 wellbeing, social and cultural development, education, personal development, tourism and the economy. It can also play a valuable role in tackling social exclusion and this is particularly true for young people.

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. It would be no exaggeration to state the programme has been of benefit to communities the length and breadth of the country.

Under the sports capital programme, the Department of Tourism, Culture and Sport provides funding for voluntary, sports 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 €738 million. The programme has, in the past ten years, transformed the sporting landscape with improvements in the quality and quantity of sports facilities in every part of the country. 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 governing bodies of sport.

The programme has supported the provision or improvement of landmark national and regional stadia such as Thomond Park and Semple Stadium. 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 part of our tourism industry as they draw visitors domestically and from Britain, Europe and further afield, who come to follow their teams in action. For example, since it opened in November 2008, Thomond Park has welcomed more than 640,000 spectators through its doors to sports and non-sports events. The overall economic impact of events hosted at Thomond Park stadium in this period has been estimated to be approximately €131 million for Limerick city and region.

Senators will be aware of the many benefits that derive from the programme in their locality. They have no doubt witnessed the value of the programme in assisting local sports clubs in meeting the needs of their areas and in targeting 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. The programme is in fact very active with €48 million provided by the Department of Tourism, Culture and Sport in 2010 to cover the payment of grants. This funding will allow more than 1,000 payments to be made to sports clubs and community groups in every county.

Given the current budgetary situation and the high level of outstanding commitments it was considered prudent to pause prior to announcing the next round of the programme and accordingly no date has been set for the next round of the programme.

I thank the Minister of State for her reply and I thank the Cathaoirleach for allowing me to raise the matter. I appreciate that the Minister of State is not at the Department but given that she stated in her reply that it is a common misconception that the programme has been discontinued, where does the €48 million go and why have the clubs been told by the Department that no sports capital funding is available? How is it that Deputy Michael McGrath in a newsletter can state the sports capital programme grant is to be reopened when we have been told in the reply today that there are no plans to reopen it? How can we answer that? Who is telling the truth? Is it Deputy McGrath or the Minister of State?

I do not want to have anyone's newsletter displayed.

I know. I accept that. There is a direct quotation in the newsletter and the Minister of State has given a reply. Who do we believe? Is there a fund? Has it been reopened?

The Minister of State has replied.

I appreciate that.

However, we are being told one thing and then told something else here. Is a sports capital programme available?

The point is made.

Let us not tell people untruths. I am not stating the Minister of State is doing so but she has stated here——

The Minister of State can take the Senator's points back——

——that there is no sports capital programme and we are told in the newsletter that there is.

The Minister of State will take the Senator's points back to the relevant Minister.

I am happy to tell the Deputy——

I apologise. I am happy to tell the Senator that it is active, with the €48 million being disbursed. It is a pause prior to announcing, not a hiccup, the next round of funding. I will speak to the Minister on when the next round might come through.

Is it not the case that the €48 million is not given for sports capital funding?