"That Seanad Éireann:
- the immense contribution sport makes to Ireland and to the health and well-being of our citizens;
- the many proud sporting moments our Irish men and women have given us over many decades;
- the considerable success which both our Special Olympic and Paralympic athletes have enjoyed in recent years with their remarkable achievements at home and on the international stage;
- the affinity Irish people have for sport and the role it plays in bringing communities together, fostering friendships and keeping people fit and healthy;
- the important role the Government has played over the years in funding sports at every level through direct funding through agencies such as the Irish Sports Council and various sports capital grant schemes;
- that for those with disabilities there are increased barriers to accessing sport; and
- the increased cost in ensuring sporting venues and facilities are accessible and the difficulty in accessing specialised equipment can create additional challenges;
- the Government has doubled its investment in sport - from the current annual figure of €111 million to €220 million – as part of the new National Sports Policy 2018-2027;
- under the National Sports Policy the introduction of a national network of sports inclusion disability officers in all 26 local sport partnerships will be explored;
- the upcoming creation of a new large scale sports infrastructure fund and the plans to ensure the Sports Capital Programme becomes an annual fund; and
- there is an estimated €1.5 billion cost to our annual health budget due to physical inactivity;
calls on the Government to:
- encourage main stream sporting organisations to be more inclusive of people with various disabilities in their clubs and activities;
- ensure that funding to the national governing bodies of sporting organisations is subject to verifiable targets of inclusion of people with disabilities;
- ensure that future use of the sports capital grants or other similar funds does not only benefit one club or sport but has a more integrated sport focus which takes into account the wider needs of the community with a particular emphasis on disability;
- ensure that State-run leisure centres and sports facilities are fully accessible and their staff have all received disability inclusion training;
- ensure that schools have ease of access to specialised equipment to enable students with disabilities to participate alongside their classmates; and
- to increase efforts to address inequalities in sports participation, particularly at a local level and amongst adolescents with disabilities."
I thank the Fine Gael Senators for facilitating this extremely timely Private Members' motion. It is timely in the sense that Ireland has ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, and work in that context is ongoing. It is important, therefore, to debate this motion. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Brendan Griffin, to the House. The Minister of State is from Kerry which is at the heart of sport in Ireland. On taking over the sport portfolio a year and a half ago, the Minister of State hit the ground running and he is playing a great game. There have been many significant developments in sport and I pay tribute to the Minister of State in that regard, knowing how passionate he is about sport and fitness. He is passionate about what is good for Ireland.
Ireland is a nation which adores sports of all kinds. We have seen how Irish people have reacted when our athletes do well internationally. We have seen how the GAA season, of which my colleague, Senator O'Mahony, is extremely aware, involves huge passion, enthusiasm, belief and determination on the part of volunteers and amateur players as well as their families, coaches and supporters. This year saw perhaps the most successful hurling championship ever. Over eight weekends, my wife and I attended eight different GAA championship matches involving Clare; five hurling and three football. There is a significant degree of participation in sport in Ireland. I refer again to the GAA whose Cúl camps were attended by a huge number of children over the summer. They play hurling and football and become active, which is very heartening.
Sport has the potential to grow even more in Ireland. We have seen the success of our hockey team, the O'Donovan brothers and others in what are not necessarily mainstream sports. That brings me to the question of equality of access, opportunity and participation. Unfortunately, sport lacks absolute equality of participation for people with disabilities. Over the years, especially during the past ten or 15 years, we have witnessed the phenomenal success of the Special Olympics. None of us will forget the scenes in Croke Park when the Special Olympics came to Ireland. It meant a great deal to many people who watched Nelson Mandela being walked to the stage by Bono. Our ability to host those games proved that Ireland had reached a certain point in an international context. A great deal of passion was channelled and we saw how strongly people felt and the connections they made. In recent years, we have also had enormous success for our paralympic athletes such as Jason Smyth and others who have represented our country with pride and distinction. They have done the State enormous service and acted as incredible role models.
Whereas they are the elite, tonight's motion is for the ordinary kids who are not elite athletes and who do not fall into the category of the Special Olympics. They are people like me who have a physical disability as a result of which they will have found themselves excluded from sport over the years. I remember as a young fellow in County Clare attending an integrated school. Football was particularly big in that area and the schools promoted it. Teams were picked during PE periods and I would inevitably be picked last. Obviously, one does not put someone on a team who cannot necessarily see the ball. What captain is going to do that? In essence, sport was not really something for many who were not elite athletes or who did not have high fitness levels, albeit there were always exceptions. Recently, however, there have been moves to include people with disabilities in sport. There are organisations like the CARA Centre in Tralee, on the board of which I sit, which promote inclusion and work hard to ensure people working in leisure centres or who are involved in clubs have the training to be inclusive of people with disabilities in sport. We have seen in recent times how the sports capital grant scheme has discriminated as best it can in favour of facilities which make a genuine effort to become accessible. Significant sums of money have been provided through the grant scheme and we have seen a lot of premises make their facilities accessible in recent years. It is not just a question of physical accessibility, albeit that is critical, but also of ensuring that staff are comfortable in engaging and assisting people with various disabilities.
I would like to see a situation arise in which the national governing bodies of the various sports live up to their equality responsibilities and ensure that their sports are accessible to people with different disabilities. We have seen power wheelchair soccer, wheelchair basketball and other developments in the right direction. The FAI, in particular, is making genuine efforts to ensure that soccer is accessible to people with disabilities. The GAA has a bit to do in this area although it has recently appointed an integration officer at Croke Park who is working very hard to make Gaelic games accessible to people with disabilities, particularly at club level.
I look forward to seeing developments in that area in the future.
The Government is committed to equality for people with disabilities in a whole range of areas but it is easy to overlook sport. I know that would not be done intentionally. The Government wants to see everybody in Ireland being healthy, not only able-bodied people but people with disabilities. What I am trying to achieve by tabling this motion is the introduction of verifiable targets for national governing bodies that get State funding and support, as they should, by which people with disabilities would be seen to be involved and included and they would be able to articulate and share these targets. If the State is funding national governing bodies, there must be a buy-back to support what is only right, namely, proper access and equality.
Similarly, I want it to be mandatory for leisure centres to provide disability inclusive training. There should be a charter of some form or other to which people would not only sign up but also embrace and engage and become ambassadors and champions for equality of access, participation and opportunity. Most leisure centres in the public sector are supported by the State, whether through local authorities, sports capital grants or swimming pool grants. It is not too much to expect to see incremental steps being taken in the right direction to create equality and a mandatory requirement that all staff have basic disability inclusion training.
I commend the work done by the CARA centre in Tralee in promoting disability inclusion training and in getting young people involved in sport. I referred to those involved in the organisation whom the Minister of State knows well because the centres is in his constituency. I believe some of them are in the Gallery. I attended one of the camp abilities weeks that are held in Killarney and Tralee every Easter. Visually impaired people participate and try out all sorts of different sports. This type of activity was not available 20 years ago. The Department for Transport, Tourism and Sport can become a partner in promoting and supporting initiatives such as this. I pay tribute to Vision Sports Ireland and the various other disability sport organisations that are trying to promote equality, access and participation.
I would like this motion to be viewed as positive. It sees the glass as being half full and notes that we have a lot done but there is a whole pile more to be done. I hope we will have a country in which every young person will want to be involved in sport, young people will not be afraid of being involved in sport because they happen to have a disability and those who have a disability will be out and about and active on an equal level with their peers and where they will feel included and not excluded. I want to see an Ireland where sport is available to everybody, irrespective of ability or disability, and where everybody has an opportunity to have a fulfilled and active sporting life, in as far as his or her ability allows it. That is the type of Ireland that will reap rewards in many other ways, particularly in dealing with levels of obesity and fitness, which are a major challenge for many people, including many people with disabilities.
I look forward to hearing what other Members have to say. This is the first time, certainly in my seven years in Seanad Éireann, that a motion on disability in sport has been tabled during Private Members' time. It will be interesting to hear the various contributions from colleagues across the floor.