Inclusion in Sport: Motion

I move:

"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;

notes that:

- 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.

I formally second the motion. I thank the Minister of State for attending. I will add briefly to Senator Conway's comments. I am delighted to ask for unanimous support for this motion calling on the Government to implement policies that give access to participation in sport for everyone, regardless of age, size, ability or disability. I note action 12 in the recently published sports policy outlines that in addressing the disability gradients in participation, sports inclusion disability officers will be introduced to the local sports partnerships around the country. I very much support that measure.

While progress has been made in recent years, there is still a way to go. It would be appropriate at this time, with Ireland having signed up to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, to take measures to speed up access for all with respect to leisure and sports facilities around the country. I note that Senators Dolan and Boyhan have tabled an amendment which I very much welcome and support.

Sport plays a major role in the lives of many people, including people with disabilities. It can be the vehicle that helps integrate people with disabilities into society. I checked the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, figures which show that 22% of people with a disability are members of a sports club, whereas the corresponding figure among the total population is 34%. There is still a way to go in that regard. The ESRI also found that 23.6% of the population with a disability play sports at least once a week compared with 43% of the total population. More progress is needed.

Sportsmen and sportswomen with physical, sensory and learning disabilities have done Ireland proud at home and abroad for many years, particularly in recent years. Many of them hold European and world records from Paralympic Games and Special Olympics. Their dedication and training, in many respects, is equal to or higher than that of elite athletes because they have to overcome more obstacles. Their achievements are probably even more noteworthy but they do not always get due recognition for their achievements in the media or in grant allocations. That needs to change.

Senator Conway mentioned access for people with disabilities who have a strong interest in following sports as spectators. While major improvements have been made in stadiums in recent times, people with disabilities who want to watch and participate in sports need to have better access to prime viewing areas, rather than perhaps corner areas of stadiums.

I have been lucky in my lifetime to have been involved in working with elite athletes. I know how success and dedication in that area can change lives. As a teacher, I have also trained people with perhaps low academic achievement or capabilities who got their self-confidence from their achievements in sport. That can also be achieved with people with disabilities. We want to push forward with a sense of inclusion. In that regard, we should be pushing an open door and in many respects we are.

It is most appropriate at this time that progress would be made in this area. We could adopt a similar approach to this issue as we did to other policies where, for example, we had action plans for jobs and certain other areas. It was great that Ireland signed the United Nations charter but we need to move on now, rather than allowing a lull. The motion, which concerns equality in sport and access to sport, comes at an ideal time. I urge Members to give unanimous support to it.

My colleagues and I in Fianna Fáil are happy to support the motion. All people, regardless of gender, race or ability should have the opportunity to enjoy quality participation in physical activity in sport because it is good for us, in particular our health. Participation in physical activity boosts feelings of physical, psychological and social competence. It is hugely enjoyable and can increase a person's resistance to stress. Exercise and other physical activities produce endorphins, which are chemicals in the brain that act as a natural painkiller and also improve the ability to sleep, which in turn reduces stress. The repercussions of stress, such as elevated cortisol levels and inflammation, can wear us out from a cellular level up to our major biological system. Through exercise and sport people can learn values and habits such as participation, reliability, competitiveness, fair play and sportsmanship.

Sport plays a key role in facilitating social participation, friendship and inclusion. I am proud that Carlow has some fantastic sporting organisations that encourage inclusion and participation, including the very active local sports partnership, the Institute of Technology Carlow, primary and secondary schools, the swimming pool, sports clubs, fitness groups, yoga houses and organisations and special facilities such as the Holy Angels centre and the Delta Centre. I am sure the Minister of State is very much aware of these centres, which play a significant role in the lives of children in Carlow. We are so proud of that.

The positive impacts of physical activity on persons with learning, physical and sensory disability have been demonstrated. We had major success recently in the Special Olympics and we will send athletes to the 2019 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Abu Dhabi in March. Those games will be the world's largest humanitarian and sporting event of 2019 and will see 7,000 athletes compete in 24 sports. Many of those athletes will be Irish and I wish them well, especially those from County Carlow.

We will celebrate our local Special Olympics groups with a reception on 8 October because they deserve it and we want to applaud them. It is great that we in Carlow appreciate the work of those involved in the Special Olympics. We will have a big night out for them and I am proud to be involved in organising it. I am also proud to be here tonight to support this motion.

Like all athletes, from tiny tots to veteran competitors, each one should be applauded for his or her success and each opportunity made available. Research has shown that wheelchair users who engage in physical activity have a lower rate of absence from work and fewer hospital admissions than their inactive colleagues. Wheelchair athletes have fewer pressure sores and kidney complications than sedentary wheelchair users. Exercising in an upright position reduces calcium loss after a spinal cord injury and exercise that improves muscle strength brings confidence in negotiating steps and other barriers. It has been demonstrated that both motor skills and the speed at which manual work is performed improved in people with intellectual impairment who exercise more. It is all about being inclusive and the importance of everybody having equal access to exercise.

The positive effects of physical activity on persons with learning, physical and sensory disability include improvements in general health, physical fitness, bone metabolism and exercise function and dependence. There is also increased mobility and a reduction in chronic disease and secondary complications. Physical activity also has a mitigating effect on challenging behaviour among adults. Individuals with disabilities are significantly less likely to participate in sport and exercise than those without disabilities, yet people with disabilities have similar motivations to those without disabilities for taking part in sport and physical activity. The main motivations among both groups are improving health, fitness, spending time with friends and family and controlling weight. That point comes from a Irish Sports Monitor, ISM, study from 2013, of which I know the Minister of State is aware.

Sport Ireland has committed to adopting an inclusive approach across the entire organisation and in its interaction with organisations and individuals to actively promote such an approach throughout the sport and physical activity sector. I welcome that approach because it involves all of us working together to make sure we can all take part if we choose. That is what it is all about, namely, all of us taking part.

An important commitment is to ensure that all sports facilities directly managed or State funded are fully accessible in terms of physical and programme access and to fully engage with the disability sector in developing policies and programmes. As previous speakers said, it is all about working together and ensuring access for all, including those who use a wheelchair or have a disability. We must all work together through the various Departments. I know that will be part of the Minister of State's programme.

It is important that we encourage and promote the participation to the fullest extent possible of persons with disabilities in mainstream sporting activities at all levels, ensuring that people with disabilities have an opportunity to organise, develop and participate. That is a major concern for me. Access is so important for people with disabilities. We must be inclusive and ensure that a disability is not an obstacle to accessing sporting, recreation or tourism venues and that children with disabilities have equal access to play and recreation as other children. It is important to ensure recreation and sporting activities are inclusive.

I am honoured to speak to today's motion and to support it. Disabled children and adults play a major part in communities and give us such love. From dealing with children and adults in my constituency, I am aware of how much they give to the community and their families. I am delighted this important issue was raised today. We in Fianna Fáil will give the motion our full support. I commend all those involved.

I too welcome the Minister of State. Having participated in a sporting activity a couple of days ago for Thursday's national fitness day, I can attest that he can still demonstrate sporting prowess. He never lost it. That is typical of most Kerry people. Unfortunately, they lost an under-21 championship to Kildare this year but we will not go any further than that.

Ten seconds was all it took.

It is not too often that Kildare wins an all-Ireland championship. The last time we were in an all-Ireland final my ministerial colleague made sure the attempt was derailed very quickly.

A couple of key points in the motion struck me. Participation is one important point. While I welcome the focus on disability, the motion also covers other sectors that should be participating in sport as much as possible. I refer to people in various socio-economic groups that find it difficult to access sport, and also women and girls. In fairness to the Government, it has made significant progress in this area.

Swimming is one of the most accessible sports for people with disabilities. We should encourage more swimming but we need more swimming pools. I accept a new local authority swimming pool programme was announced a year and a half ago but, unfortunately, only two applicants were successful. Each constituency should have a swimming pool that is accessible to people across all socio-economic groups and those with disabilities because it is an easy way for people with special needs to participate in sport.

I was very lucky in 2003 when the equestrian events of the Special Olympics World Games were held in my village of Kill. It was a tremendous occasion for the entire community and people got involved in assisting the event. Sadly, under a planning application before Kildare County Council, it is proposed to demolish the facility in question. I will oppose that given the significant State investment in it. The facility should be available to all people with disabilities.

The special connection between animals and people with disabilities is well recognised and should be encouraged wherever possible.

I have spoken before about ladies sport and I know that many clubs and sporting organisations are putting particular emphasis on getting ladies involved. I watched a series of county finals in Kildare last weekend and the level of participation by ladies was tremendous. It was marvellous to see so many participating and so many watching too. It is important that we do as much as we can to encourage women and ladies to get involved in sport. I know this debate is on people with disabilities and we must celebrate all their achievements. I have seen people with disabilities playing in so-called normal games of rugby and soccer. One of the best sportsmen I ever saw was a young man who played rugby with UCC last season. He had only one finger and a thumb on his right hand but it was unbelievable what he could do on the pitch. It is a minor disability but he actually participated in the game. It was tremendous to see that and to see the welcome he was given on the field.

I am very supportive of the motion. While much has been done already, we need to do more. When I was in Naas last week I saw one of the new outdoor gyms. There is a walk all the way around a lake in Naas and at several points along the way there is a piece of gym equipment. That makes it accessible to people who cannot afford to pay high gym fees. It is very simple really. I took a photograph of an 80 year old doing one of the exercises. We must not forget that sport is for all and not just for those elite athletes who give us plenty of pleasure. Sport is for people with disabilities, those from difficult socio-economic backgrounds, ladies and girls and those of a certain age. I very much welcome this debate and am delighted that the Minister of State has brought forward a new sports policy. I know that he is getting cross-party support for it because it makes absolute sense from the perspective of both mental and physical health for everyone to participate in sport.

We all know that sport is hugely beneficial to communities across this State. Sinn Féin recognises the importance of sport in our society. Our country has a strong tradition of sporting excellence in Gaelic games, provincial and international rugby, athletics, boxing and, hopefully, soccer. Sport benefits our mental and physical health and inspires confidence in our young people. It also supports community and inclusion by bringing all of us together at enjoyable and sometimes competitive events. I wish to take a moment now to commend the local authorities throughout the country and disability groups who came together today for the Make Way campaign, highlighting obstacles that block people's way, impede access and create dangerous hazards.

The sports capital programme has long been a lifeline for clubs and groups to improve sports amenities. In 2018, the largest number of clubs on record applied for funding. The sports capital grant was not available in 2017 and the programme had been run on an ad hoc basis for several years prior to that. The allocation of this year's funding laid bare the true extent of the Government's two-tier approach to service provision. Private schools and clubs in wealthy areas were given substantial allocations while many clubs and schools in disadvantaged areas lost out. This rightly caused a furore at the time. Private schools and private clubs that charge large annual fees were given substantial sums - in some cases, up to €150,000 - while smaller clubs with no facilities were given tiny sums which would only cover the cost of a lawnmower to mow the grass on a rented pitch.

Sinn Féin has proposed a suite of changes to the sports capital programme. We would ensure that additional funding is provided for the grant programme and that such funding is ring-fenced for disadvantaged areas. We also propose that additional weighting is given to disadvantaged groups in the application process. Further to this, we propose the closure of the sports capital programme to private schools and clubs that charge large membership fees. We would encourage such entities to re-invest their profits in their own amenities. The scheme is clearly unequal because the more one has, the more one gets. This is widening the gap in terms of facilities and reducing opportunities for the majority of young people. In my own area in Dublin 8 I carried out a simple audit over the summer months on how people with disabilities access leisure spaces. I spoke to three people in wheelchairs of various ages who could not access leisure facilities because of the so-called kissing gates in their local park. They wanted to join in a game of handball but they could not access the space. We need a nationwide audit of how people with disabilities access sports spaces. There is not one full pitch between the canals in Dublin 8 even though the area is home to more than 55,000 people. People are playing camogie and other games on small, rented pitches. The Dublin south central area also has an above average percentage of people with disabilities.

To return to the sports capital programme, the application process is arduous. Private schools and clubs are better equipped to submit successful applications than smaller disadvantaged clubs. I have assisted several small clubs with their applications. The process can be overwhelming and off-putting to communities struggling to do their best to provide for our youth. The Government's strategy refers to a review of the application process and I hope that happens soon.

This motion calls for equality in participation and is admirable. It emphasises the need to ensure that people with disabilities have greater access to sporting facilities. There are serious concerns about the lack of detail in the national sports policy. There are no specifics in terms of planning or funding, which is a cause for concern. The Government pledges to "look at" the possibility of appointing sports inclusion disability officers but I wonder what that actually means. Sinn Féin supports any measures that will improve services and facilities for disabled people and ensure increased access. This is happening in the context of health, transport and work. After too many years of delay, the Government finally ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities this year. However, it did not ratify the optional protocol to that convention, leaving the entire thing fairly toothless.

The sports strategy refers to the role of sport in inclusion. We need a clear plan for disability in sports but this is not a feature of the sports strategy. The plan also mentions weighting in terms of establishing social and other needs. If this is done in the same manner as the sports capital programme, it will be pointless because it is clearly not working. The plan also speaks of "looking at" and "encouraging" which are further examples of weak language. The plan is not substantial or robust enough. We need a focus on disability and social exclusion, with specific funding identified to pursue goals and deliver change.

The Government's plan aims to target funding specifically to sports in which Ireland has medal chances. While I understand that, it means that many other sports will lose funding. We need to think about our priorities. Are we in the business of buying medals? I know that other countries are doing that but would it not be better to focus on health and inclusion? It is all about the journey and not just about the goal of gold.

There is a small section in the strategy on all-Ireland sports but there is no tangible plan or commitment. It makes sense to pursue this matter on a 32 county basis, given the size of our country.

We need commitments in that regard.

We will be supporting this motion and supporting Senator Dolan's amendment. I commend Senator Conway for his efforts in terms of the growing awareness among society that people with disabilities face barriers on a daily basis.

I move amendment No. 1:

To insert the following after the seventh paragraph under “recognises:”

“- that Ireland ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD), earlier this year;

- that this motion responds to Article 30 – Participation in cultural life, recreation, leisure and sport - of the UN CRPD, specifically in relation to enabling persons with disabilities to participate on an equal basis with others in recreational, leisure and sporting activities and calls on States Parties to take appropriate measures;”

I second the amendment.

I welcome the Minister of State. My amendment, in effect, puts the belt and braces on the statements made by Senators Conway and O'Mahony when they connected the intent of the motion to Article 30 of the UN convention. It puts it on a stronger basis, so I hope that is enough said about that.

In terms of the context of this motion, we have just ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It also comes a couple of weeks before the budget. I will not labour that point.

Issues of access have been well articulated by Members in respect of sports facilities, participation in sport and so on. I have to say, however, in the spirit of the UN convention, that access also involves being able to get to the place. It is public transport, equipment, mobility and income. It is the issues that Senator Lawlor and other Members mentioned in respect of people from different socio-economic backgrounds, and disabled people are among those who have the least income.

I want to talk about the politics of sport. What have Jack Lynch, Jimmy Deenihan and Dick Spring got in common, apart from the fact that they were Members of these Houses? They were sportsmen. No one should tell me that having a sporting background is not advantageous in politics. I do not say that in a sneaky way but participating in sport, or being involved in cultural activities, can be advantageous. I am making the connection between being active in sport and being able to be part of the civil and public life of a country.

I travel a good deal across Europe in particular and I am convinced that the GAA was one of the most critical factors in ensuring we got our Independence. It was not just about sport, and the objective of the GAA refers to the national identity. It brought with it esprit de corps, fitness, a sense of working for others and a sense of oneself. That is what is needed for people with disabilities. It is vitally important.

In eastern Europe, particularly the post Soviet bloc countries, they could not organise a game of cards. They have a horrendous background in terms of the authoritarian regimes they had but they have no sense of being able to organise events locally in parishes and communities. That is what organisations like the GAA and Conradh na Gaeilge did. Disabled people being involved in sport is also part of what that provides.

In the 1940s and 1950s, Sir Ludwig Guttman, a German born neurologist who managed to get out of Germany at the start of the war, worked in spinal injuries hospitals in the United Kingdom, including Stoke Mandeville Hospital and others which dealt with a huge number of young soldiers' spinal injuries. He revolutionised the rehabilitation of those young men by dragging them out of their beds and getting them into sport. He set up the Stoke Mandeville Games, and they became international games. They mutated into the first Paralympic Games in 1960. "Paralympics" means parallel Olympics. There would be a parallel Olympics with the 1960 Olympic Games, and Rome was the city.

Ireland sent a team to those first games in Rome in 1960. I will mention one member of that team who is still with us, thank God, Oliver Murphy, from Drogheda; he will be known to some Members. He is well into his 80s now. The members of that team got to the games through the support of what was then the Rehabilitation Institute. These were edgy young men and women who wanted to drive, get married, have jobs and participate. They came back from those games in the summer of 1960. In November of that year, 13 of them set up the Irish Wheelchair Association in the pillar room in the Rotunda Hospital. That came out of their sporting experience, getting the edge and that extra "oomph". They had the confidence to set up their own organisation. The Irish Wheelchair Association has a proud history in terms of sport in Ireland.

I should mention my former colleague, the late Martin Naughton. The second anniversary of his death will be in two weeks' time. When he was a young lad he was in the hospital in Baldoyle which had a swimming pool. Martin never got into water. He always managed to get other people into deep water but he never got into it himself. He trained their swimming teams, and he trained some of the young people for the Montreal games in 1976. He was a Spiddal man and very proud of the fact that he never got wet himself yet he trained the swimming teams. We only have to look at where he went after that, and how formative it was for him and for others. There is an important political aspect to sport.

Deputy Lawlor mentioned women. From memory I believe the first two gold medals we brought back from the games in Rome in 1960 were won by a woman, Joan Horan, one for swimming and one for archery.

A number of speakers mentioned Sports Ireland. Senator O'Mahony has looked at the statistics and 27% of adults with disabilities participate in sports compared with 49% of the rest of the population. I refer to motivation, the importance of fitness and spending time with family and friends. Individuals with a disability are significantly more likely to be sedentary and less likely to be highly active than people without a disability, so sport is very important.

Deaf Sports Ireland, Vision Sports Ireland, the Irish Wheelchair Association, Special Olympics Ireland, Paralympics Ireland, Cara, Football for All, archery clubs, Riding for the Disabled, Para Equestrian Ireland, Judo Assist, Cerebral Palsy Sport Ireland and the transplant games all play a huge part also.

I mention the recent appointment of Padraic Moran to the board of Sport Ireland by the Minister, Deputy Ross. Mr. Moran is a paralympian and former world champion in the sport of boccia.

This motion is about sport. It is about political public participation and also what will happen in other areas of public services. I commend Senator Conway and his colleagues for tabling this very positive motion.

Like other speakers I want to welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Griffin, to the House. I, too, strongly support the motion, which calls for greater involvement of people with disabilities in sport. I compliment and thank my colleagues, Senator Martin Conway and Senator John O'Mahony, for bringing forward the motion.

We all know the benefits of being involved in sport and engaging in exercise in terms of promoting good physical and mental health and well-being for everybody, the community and the wider society.

As previous speakers indicated, sport is very much part of the fabric which knits together communities. All of us see this in action within our communities. Some of the greatest days for us, as a country, have revolved around our greatest sporting achievements, both on the national and the international stage. It is, therefore, essential that we allow all of our people to be involved in sport, be that from a participant or a spectator point of view.

The successes of Irish teams at both the Special Olympics and Paralympics show clearly that disability need not be a barrier to achieving sporting success. It is important that we properly and fully acknowledge the successes of the Irish Paralympics team, who have achieved incredible success in bringing home nine medals from the world games, which undoubtedly bodes very well for Tokyo 2020. I know too that our Special Olympics team is putting in an incredible amount of work in advance of the 2019 games in Abu Dhabi. I have met many of our local athletes and participants in the Special Olympics team in my own area, who are such fantastic ambassadors for the county and for our country. We had a wonderful evening at the Roscommon races recently which really celebrated their successes. Everybody is so proud of their achievements, as they are themselves. As an occupational therapist, I have worked extensively with people with disabilities. I am very much aware of the positive impact being involved in sport can have on an individual.

I hope the Minister will take the motion on board. Many speakers referred to Sport Ireland and the comprehensive policy regarding the participation of people with disabilities in sport. We know that the policy should be used as a framework in terms of increasing participation. I note one recent positive development in the context of increasing participation. Councillor Vicki Casserly was involved with the FAI and South Dublin County Council in providing Ireland's first frame football pitch, which is ensuring that people with disabilities can become involved in football. It is a great initiative. I saw images of the opening and it was wonderful to see people involved in sport and to see the smiles on the faces. While sport is sometimes about winning, much of the time it is about taking part and about participation. It was wonderful to see those initiatives being successful and being supported, and we need to see a lot more of that. It is good we are having this debate and, hopefully, we can move towards ensuring we have greater participation for all.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit agus cuirim fáilte roimh an reachtaíocht seo. I welcome the Minister of State to discuss this worthwhile motion and I congratulate Senator Conway and his colleagues on putting it forward. I take the opportunity to acknowledge the work of Senator Dolan in this area on an ongoing basis. As Senator Hopkins mentioned, local authorities throughout the country are doing their bit in the context of creating awareness of the physical barriers that might be in place for those with disabilities of whatever kind.

Everyone will agree that every euro we spend on sport is money well spent. The return we get from this as a society is immeasurable, particularly the physical benefits of exercise and participation in sport at any level. One thing that is noticeable as one drives along the roads of our country is the increased participation in sport by all. One only has to look to see people out walking and jogging, and to see there is increased awareness of physical exercise in whatever guise, which is to be welcomed.

It is important that there are no barriers to prevent people with disabilities participating in sport. We have a great love affair with sport. It is the one diversion we have that allows us to escape the nine-to-five grind of Monday to Friday or, in some cases, Monday to Sunday. The key is to ensure no barriers are put in place for those who want to participate, and I have no doubt the Minister of State will not be found wanting in that regard.

When we talk about barriers, I will digress and refer to my county of Monaghan. The Minister of State will be aware there has been a major landslide in the southern part of the county, where the Magheracloone GAA club pitch is basically split in two. The community centre attached to that facility is also in serious trouble, not to mention that some people have had to vacate their family homes. I have no doubt that the GAA club will be coming knocking on the Minister of State's door to seek assistance, and I am confident he will greet those involved with open arms. The club has a serious problem in the context of funding. I would welcome the Minister of State's comments in that regard.

I am delighted to support the motion. As I said, every euro we spend on sport across the board is a euro well spent and we get a return for it in multiple ways. Again, I compliment the proposer and commend him for putting forward the motion.

I welcome the Minister of State and thank him for coming to the House. I commend Senator Conway on putting forward the motion and on the import of what he is trying to achieve.

It is fair to say that all of us who are involved in sport recognise its universal importance. I come to the motion as somebody who is immersed in sport. One of my earliest memories of disability in sport is from 1979, when my father was involved with Special Olympics Munster, as Senator Dolan will know. I was in the University of Limerick, or Thomond College as it was then, and watched the participation of people with disabilities in sports. I saw the joy and the commendable bravery in participating - in some cases, it took a gargantuan effort. What it brought home was the importance of empowerment. In this case, sport empowered people with disabilities. Senator Hopkins made reference to Councillor Vicki Casserly and the work she is doing and has done regarding Team James. The participation of those with disabilities in sports is a living example of what we should all try to do.

Equally, there is the important role of sports partnership and the education and training boards, ETBs, in encouraging sport and putting in place platforms in tandem with the overarching policy of Sport Ireland. We need to continually update and be vigilant in respect of that policy in order to ensure that targets are achieved. To be fair to the Minister of State and his predecessors, that is being done via the funding model they put in place. Obviously, we can always ensure that more money is allocated and that funding is put in place so facilities are enhanced. I sometimes listen to comments which suggest that the Government is putting no money into sport and that local authorities are not funding sport. However, the motion notes the Government has doubled its investment in sport to €220 million.

While that is important and without meaning to patronise, it is people like Senator Martin Conway who, through a life of advocacy, show the importance of what the motion is about. In my city of Cork there is the Rebel Wheelers club which, through its various sporting activities, allows greater participation and people's abilities, rather than their disabilities, to shine through. Article 30 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities calls on us to increase and enhance participation in sport. All of this is about empowerment and policy, with financial resources, to give people the ability to take part, which is important.

We, rightly, applaud high profile events and the sports people who participate in them, be they the Special Olympics or the Paralympics, but there is more to it than just that. For example, there is Jamie Wall from Cork, a young man who was at the height of his hurling career and is now in a wheelchair training a Fitzgibbon Cup-winning team in Limerick. There are the Olympians whom we see on television. There is also the young boy or girl in a wheelchair or the older athlete participating in a marathon who sets off before the rest of the field. To me, funding for sport is critical, but what is more important is our ability to improve the lives of people with disabilities through removing the barriers and obstacles to which Senator John Dolan referred.

I read an interesting article in The Irish Times during the summer holidays. I cannot remember the writer's name, but she wrote about going to matches. Her friends had applied for tickets to attend championship matches. I believe she was from County Clare, although I might be mistaken, but the article resonated with me because she wrote about being separated from her friends at sports events or someone having to attend with her. She wrote about her siblings having to sit with her at concerts.

I attended the Liam Miller tribute game yesterday at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. I commend all involved and pay particular tribute to the Minister for his manoeuvrings and leadership. I also pay tribute to Mr. Michael O'Flynn. While in the stand yesterday, I was struck by the number of people in wheelchairs who had been separated. The same happens in other sports stadia. When facilities are being developed in the future, perhaps the disabled section - maybe should there not be one at all - might be located in the middle of the stand.

Is Páirc Uí Chaoimh not being redeveloped?

It is done. The Government intervened and allocated €30 million for one of the best stadia in the country.

The Leader to continue, without interruption, please.

I will digress for one second. Yesterday was an extraordinary day in Cork, not because a game of soccer was played in Páirc Uí Chaoimh but because sport united the country, a city and the people.

That takes some doing.

They were united.

But not all 32 counties.

Sport brought people le chéile. Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin are moving le chéile.

No. I thought the Leader was-----

I am devastated.

It brought people together.

Will the Senator, please, not interrupt the Leader, as he is about to conclude his contribution.


I am very upset.

We rightly celebrate the successes of our Special Olympians and Paralympians, but we must also provide for the young boy or girl and school student with a disability who wants to participate. We must always promote the high profile events and have a strong policy of inclusion, but if we are to address inequality in sport, we must consider having a longer conversation on inclusion and removing barriers. It is not just about participating but also attending.

I commend Senator Martin Conway for tabling the motion and thank the Minister of State for attending. This has been a worthwhile debate.

Before I call Senator Maria Byrne, I welcome to the Visitors Gallery two students of English from Taiwan, Christy and Kerri, who are accompanied by Deputy Margaret Murphy O'Mahony from the Lower House. I hope they will have an enjoyable stay in Ireland.

I welcome the Minister of State and thank him for giving of his time. I commend Senator Martin Conway for drafting the motion.

Sport plays a major role in everyone's life. Whether we are on or off the field, a supporter or a volunteer, participation in sport is good for our physical health and mental well-being.

Much has been said. I have volunteered for a number of years with the Special Olympics organisation. There is satisfaction in seeing Special Olympians participating. It is more about participating than winning medals, but it is a great thrill that they receive their medals and ribbons on the day. I would like to see greater support provided. They play with their own clubs or regions or whatever the case may be, but I would like to see greater emphasis being placed on and more money being diverted towards helping Special Olympians to participate. The same applies to Paralympians who have had great successes on and off the field. The satisfaction their families gain from their participation in sport is another factor.

Studies have shown that people who participate in sport or physical activity live longer. In my area of Mungret, County Limerick, we installed a disabilities playground. It caters for children with and without physical disabilities. They can use the same swings and slides. Often, the machines are built in such a way that two or three can be on the same swing or slide at the same time. It is fantastic, but there are not enough such playgrounds throughout the country. There is one in Thurles. Local authorities should be encouraged to build disability-friendly playgrounds, as it is important that people be encouraged to become involved in sport and other physical activities.

Recently, VHI started to organise park runs for people with and without physical disabilities, which are fantastic. Last week more than 250 children aged between four and 14 years participated in a park run organised at Shelbourne Park. Their families ran alongside them. It was not competitive, as encouraging the children and their families to participate is what it was all about. There are park runs all over the country. Three are organised in Limerick at the University of Limerick, Mungret Park and Shelbourne Park. The runs organised at the University of Limerick and Mungret Park are for those in older age categories.

There is a competitive element in that a person receives his or her time for running the course. The organisers time a person from the time that he or she starts to the time that he or she completes. We would like to see more of this being spread around the country and more encouragement in terms of participation.

Many speakers referred to the local authorities. Certainly, the work the sports partnerships have been doing with people who have disabilities, with younger people and with older people is wonderful. They run so many classes. They go out of their way to accommodate people and to encourage them to get involved. Overall, I commend the Minister of State's Department because the sports capital grants have gone a huge way towards helping clubs to expand their services. I would like to see them continuing. I know the Minister of State has announced another lot that will be coming up soon. Perhaps we should have a special category for groups for people with disabilities. It would be great if such groups could have their own application process.

That is a good idea.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCathaoirleach Gníomhach. I am delighted to be here. I thank all of the Senators who have contributed. I particularly acknowledge the submission of this motion by Senator Conway. He has been a great champion for disability issues and sporting issues. This motion combines both areas and I commend the Senator on raising it.

I am firmly of the view that everyone, no matter their background or circumstances, should have the opportunity to participate in sport and physical activity at a level of their choosing. There are many benefits to be gained from participating in sport and physical activity and these benefits apply equally to everyone. I can inform the House that this Government is working to increase the levels of participation in sport by people with disabilities and to address the barriers that prevent or discourage people from participating in sport. The year 2018 has been excellent for Irish sport so far and I am delighted to acknowledge the wonderful successes by many of our very talented disabled sportsmen and women. Most recently, we have seen excellent, inspirational performances in the World Para Swimming European Championships held at the National Aquatic Centre, with the gold medal won by Ellen Keane being a particular highlight. The opening ceremony and the beginning of events in August was a great day on which to be there. It was a great occasion not just for para swimming but for the country in general. The World Para Athletics European Championships also produced fine performances including six gold medals from Jason Smyth, Greta Streimikyte, Orla Barry, Noelle Lenihan and Niamh McCarthy. So far this year 24 medals - 15 gold, four silver and five bronze - have been won across the para sports of cycling, swimming, athletics, and table tennis. This is a wonderful achievement and bodes well for the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo, to which Senator Hopkins referred.

Senators will be aware that the new national sports policy for the period up to 2027 was published in July. The policy contains 57 actions and is backed up with an envisaged doubling of annual State investment in sport to €220 million in 2027. The Government recognises the scale of the challenge we face in achieving a more physically active population and we are committed to increasing our financial investment to achieve our shared ambition. I am very determined to try to make that start as soon as possible. I want to get started on that in the current budgetary discussions. The policy specifically acknowledges that the benefits of active participation in sport are not enjoyed equally by all sectors in our society. Participation levels in sport are significantly smaller among lower socio-economic groups, people with a disability, older people and, to a lesser extent, women. Compared with the overall participation level of 43% for all adults, research shows that the participation level for those with any disability is 23.6%. It is accepted that addressing these gradients has to be central to the achievement of the overall target of the new policy, which is to increase participation from 43% to 50% by 2027. There are no simple answers. The reasons for non-participation vary within and between groups and can change over the life course. There is a need to better understand why individuals who believe in the benefits of sport and exercise feel unable to participate. Behavioural science might help us understand what lies at the heart of these decisions not to participate. For people with disabilities we know that access issues not just around equipment or physical infrastructure but also around softer issues such as attitudes and skill sets of individuals providing services or delivering programmes are often cited as reasons for non-participation. Senator Dolan also referred to the issue of access and transport, which is another issue. That is certainly a factor.

The National Sports Policy 2018-2027 contains four specific actions aimed at addressing the disability participation gradients. Under action 9 we will redouble efforts to address inequalities in sports participation as part of the local sports plan development process. Resources will be directed to promote the broadest possible participation, ensuring accessibility and quality experiences for all groups. Funding will be prioritised on programmes which focus on those groups with lower levels of participation, especially those in lower socio-economic groups, persons with a disability and older people. Under action 10, in prioritising initiatives and programmes to engage groups with lower participation levels, we will use behavioural insights and other research to better understand issues around non-participation.

Under action 11, dormant account funding, which is specifically aimed at people with disabilities, will be used in the roll-out of initiatives such as the community sports hubs on a nationwide basis. Under action 12, we intend to address the disability gradients in participation through the introduction of a national network of sports inclusion disability officers aligned to the local sports partnerships network. These sports inclusion disability officers would be expected to work closely with relevant national governing bodies of sport, the disability sector, leisure centre providers, the CARA Centre and other stakeholders in providing opportunities for people with disabilities to take part in sport.. I am delighted that the CARA Centre is represented in the Gallery today by Ms Niamh Daffy and Mr. Pat Flanagan. I compliment them on the great work they do through the CARA Centre and I welcome them to the House. I look forward to working closely with them further in future. The Minister, Deputy Ross, and I highlighted this important action at the launch of the new national sports policy in July.

I agree that it is important that we set ambitious goals and targets around the inclusion of people with disabilities. As outlined in the national sports policy, we will shortly be establishing a sports leadership group to agree an action plan and to prioritise the actions to be taken to give effect to the policy. The setting of goals for the inclusion of people with disabilities in sport will become a priority for the sports leadership group, and I expect that we will see ambitious targets set in this regard. I assure Members that the disability sector will be strongly represented on that body.

As the statutory body for the development of sport, Sport Ireland, the Government's sports agency, works closely with the national governing bodies and other sporting organisations. In 2017, Sport Ireland provided more than €3.5 million to these bodies and organisations specifically to provide and promote opportunities for people with disabilities to take part in sport and physical activity. A similar amount is being allocated again in 2018. As well as Paralympics Ireland and Special Olympics, Sport Ireland recognises and funds a number of disability specific bodies, including Irish Wheelchair Association Sport, Deaf Sports Ireland and Vision Sports Ireland. In addition, Sport Ireland supports national and international disability focused events. Events supported this year include the World Para Swimming European Championships at the National Aquatic Centre, the Special Olympics Ireland Games, the International Wheelchair and Amputee Sport Youth World Games, the Blind Tennis World Championships and the Watersports Inclusion Games.

I acknowledge Senator Byrne's volunteerism and contribution to the Special Olympics. She was telling me what a great weekend she had at the games recently. I commend her on her great commitment to those games. I was also in the House before discussing with her the boom in the swimming pool in the University of Limerick. I know that is an issue on which she has worked hard.

Sport Ireland also funds and partners local sports partnerships, primarily through the work of the sports inclusion disability programme. This programme offers opportunities for people to get involved in sport and physical activity in their local area. At present, funding is provided for 19 social inclusion disability officers in 21 local authority areas. As I mentioned, we intend to introduce a dedicated programme for disability sport through the deployment of a sport inclusion disability officer in all 26 local sports partnerships countrywide. I know that is something in which Senator O'Mahony is very interested. I am very keen to make further progress on that. Senator Lawlor referred to the last time his county was in the All-Ireland final. I congratulate him on the 20th anniversary of its famous win. It was just a few days ago. I am sure Senator O'Mahony remembers 1998.

It did not last 20 years.

It was not long going.

In recent years, dormant accounts funding has been instrumental in the provision of increased sports participation opportunities for those with a disability. Looking to the future, there will be a continued emphasis on dormant accounts funded programmes, including in particular the roll-out of initiatives such as the community sports hubs on a nationwide basis. Last year, Sport Ireland published its new policy on participation in sport by people with disabilities. It provides a clear policy context for the promotion of sport for people with disabilities and a basis for an enhanced and more concerted approach by Sport Ireland and the organisations it works with. Following publication of the policy, Sport Ireland has begun to capture data on the level of participation by people with disabilities across various sports. This data collection was introduced as a new element in the 2018 funding application process. This data will be valuable in determining the levels of participation in various sports and in developing policies in that regard. Sport Ireland will continue to work closely with national governing bodies of sport, local sports partnerships, CARA and Paralympics Ireland to ensure that there are opportunities for all to participate in sport.

With regard to capital funding for sports and community facilities, the sports capital programme as operated by my Department provides funding to voluntary sporting and community organisations for the provision of sports and recreational facilities. More than 11,500 projects have benefitted from sports capital funding since 1998, bringing the total allocations in that time to close to €1 billion. The programme has 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. Grants are available to sports clubs, voluntary and community groups, national governing bodies of sport and local authorities. Schools may also apply provided they do so jointly with a sports club or organisation.

Under the most recent round of the sports capital programme, a record 2,320 applications were submitted and €62 million was allocated to 1,837 individual projects. For the first time ever, every valid local application received a grant offer. The overall funding available was distributed by county, on a per capita basis, and more than 50 different sports benefitted from funding. As many Senators will be aware, a new round of the programme opened for applications on 7 September and closes at 5 p.m. on 19 October. There is €40 million available and I urge Senators to make people of the programme.

I must address some of the points Senator Devine made regarding the sports capital programme. I strongly disagree with the sentiments expressed. If anything, the sports capital programme, as administered in 2017, was the fairest in the 20 years since the programme's inception. As I mentioned, every valid application received funding. The funding allocated to applicants was directly proportionate to the points they scored in an independent scoring system and the amount they sought. If an organisation complained that it got a lawnmower, the likelihood is that it only applied for a lawnmower. We did not provide grants of €150,000 to organisations that only asked for a lawnmower. They could have asked for more. This was the first time every valid applicant received a proportion of what was sought based on the points the application scored. If we did it any differently, there would be complaints about that also. The programme was implemented in the fairest way possible.

Senator Devine spoke about private clubs and schools.

I spoke about private clubs and schools with hefty membership fees.

The programme stipulates that if a private school is applying for a sports capital allocation, the facility in question must made available to the wider community. There is a wider benefit from having it made available to people other than those attending the private school. The facility may well be in a private school located in an area where there is socio-economic deprivation. It will be available to the wider community for a minimum number of hours per week. That requirement is tied in by law and it can be very positive for the wider community.

We have made significant efforts in recent years to streamline the process. In the 2017 programme, for example, the rate of invalidation declined to approximately 20% from 48% in 2012 and more than 30% in the 2014 and 2015 programmes. We have made the process much simpler.

In addition, for the first time ever, we had an appeals process in respect of the 2017 programme. I have also ensured that groups which submitted invalid applications in 2017 will have a chance to resubmit applications under the 2018 programme without having to go through the whole process again. They need only submit documentation that will validate their application. This is a progressive measure which will be fair to the applicants concerned. We also have introduced for 2018 a new provision under which applicants who submit applications with a minor fault, which until now would have resulted in immediate invalidation, will be given a second chance to rectify their submission. That is a very positive change.

Senators will be aware from dealing with the sports capital programme that one of the biggest gripes we hear from people is that applications are sometimes invalidated for minor infractions of the rules. I was keen to address that issue. The new approach I have provided for will be very important in the 2018 programme as it will give many applicants a chance to have their application assessed purely on it merits.

We already weight applications more favourably based on the socio-economic background of the applicant. This is done based on the Pobal deprivation index, which includes a number of socio-economic factors. This is very important as it is based on the location of the applicant and socio-economic grounds. The level of own-funding required is also on a sliding scale. This means an organisation in a very disadvantaged area will be required to have a much lower amount of own-funding to score maximum points in the category than for an organisation in an area that is not disadvantaged. Some 50% of all successful allocations in the 2017 programme went to disadvantaged areas. It is often forgotten and overlooked that the sports capital programme is highly progressive and brings opportunities to areas that would not have opportunities to develop sporting facilities.

In addition to the sports capital programme, the Department operates the local authority swimming pool programme, to which Senator Lawlor referred. Under this scheme, grant aid to a maximum of €3.8 million is provided towards the capital cost of new swimming pools or the refurbishment of existing pools. To date, 51 pools have been completed under the programme, with four projects remaining. All of these projects are required to comply with the statutory requirements for disabled access.

While Project Ireland 2040 commits to further rounds of the sports capital programme in the years ahead, I was delighted that it also commits to establishing a new large-scale sport infrastructure fund for larger projects where the proposed Government contribution exceeds the amount available under the sports capital programme. The new fund is designed to provide a more structured approach for such funding, and €100 million is being provided. An announcement in respect of when applications can be submitted will be made shortly. While the full terms and conditions of the new scheme are being finalised, the scheme will prioritise the needs of disadvantaged areas and groups, including people with disabilities. In response to Senator Buttimer's proposal, we will examine whether we can include, as part of the criteria for the large-scale scheme, his suggestion that, rather than having segregated areas, space should be made available for people with disabilities in mainstream areas of sports facilities. This is a good proposal and any architect or designer could implement such a system. We will examine the matter.

I am joined here by Mr. Peter Hogan from the Department who has done a great amount of work on the sports policy. I commend him and his colleagues on the work they did.

I acknowledge the importance of maximising accessibility to sports facilities. The overall policy aim is that facilities, especially those which have been developed using public funds, are fully accessible and available to the broadest range of users. The manner in which this aim can be achieved is subject to continuous review. Collaborative approaches between local authorities, national governing bodies of sport, local sports partnerships and others will be facilitated and encouraged to promote greater use of facilities for schools, the unemployed, older adults, people with disabilities and other relevant target groups.

The new sports policy also emphasises that swimming has particular appeal for individuals with a long-term illness or disability who are otherwise more likely not to take part in any sport or physical activity. It is, therefore, important that there is satisfactory access to hoists and accessible changing and showering facilities. In developing an action plan to implement the new sports policy, consideration will be given as to how best to ensure this access. As regards the provision of disability inclusion training, action No. 28 of the new national sports policy commits to the introduction of an annual volunteer training budget, to be jointly administered by the national governing bodies and the local sports partnerships, to ensure that volunteer training can occur across sports.

This training will focus on issues such as child welfare, disability awareness, first aid, sports administration and governance and fundraising. The national governing bodies, NGBs, and local sports partnerships, LSPs, will be expected to work closely with clubs and Sport Ireland coaching in planning and delivering this training.

Disability inclusion training is provided to all staff and trainers involved in the various facilities at the National Sports Campus. The National Sports Campus runs inclusive summer camps every year and disability inclusion training is provided, particularly in advance of these camps in conjunction with Cara. In addition, the facilities at the National Sports Campus, including the National Aquatic Centre, are fully accessible, as evidenced by the National Aquatic Centre very successfully hosting the World Para Swimming European Championships this summer, catering for hundreds of para-swimmers.

The provision of facilities in schools, including sports-related ones, is a matter for my colleague, the Minister for Education and Skills. However, the objective of a non-discriminatory approach in the provision of sports participation opportunities for those with and without a disability, whether in a school setting or otherwise, is entirely legitimate and the rectification of any deficiencies or shortcomings will be pursued.

On the preparation of a national sports facilities audit by mid-2020, which will provide a comprehensive and up-to-date database of sports facilities, it is envisaged that the audit will include publicly-accessible facilities at schools and other educational facilities. Such audits will guide decisions regarding the sport capital projects to be prioritised for public funding.

Senator Gallagher referred to what occurred in Monaghan on Monday. I was in contact with the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Humphreys, about the matter on the day in question. I saw it on the news and was shocked by it. We have made the details of the relevant person in the sports capital unit available as someone to liaise with. We will investigate if or how we could assist there. We need to establish the full facts first, whether there may be insurance cover or other assistance is available. We are open to liaising and seeing how we can help with the situation. As a club man myself, for that to happen to one's dressing rooms and pitches is a really terrible thing for the club. My heart goes out to them because many volunteers have worked hard for a long time to build up a fine facility and it is a terrible pity that it happened. Hopefully, there will be a happy ending to the story but we need to establish the full facts and assess how serious is the situation. I hope I have addressed all of the issues raised by the Senators.

Senator Buttimer has left the Chamber but yesterday was indeed a fantastic day for sport in Ireland and for Cork. It was brilliant to see a football team in red winning a match in Páirc Uí Chaoimh. That is a typical comment from a Kerryman. Unfortunately, Senator Buttimer is not here to defend the honour of Cork so I will not go any further with that.

I assure the House that the Minister, Deputy Ross, and I are fully committed to addressing inequalities in sports participation, particularly at a local level. These are challenges that need to be addressed but I believe that we are making good progress. The actions that are planned under the national sports policy will go a long way towards improving the situation and ensuring that opportunities exist for everyone who wants to participate in sport.

I thank the Senators for this motion. I particularly thank Senator Conway for bringing it forward. My door is always open to work with Senators on the development of sports in general and for people with disabilities.

I thank the Minister of State. As always, he is very welcome to the Seanad.

In the context of housekeeping, I am very happy to agree to accept, on behalf of the Government, the amendments proposed by Senator Dolan. In fairness to Senator Dolan, he looks at a motion and tries to identify a way of improving it. Amendments from Senator Dolan are unusual in the sense that they are positive amendments whereas most amendments that happen in this House are usually negative. In that regard, it is always a pleasure to accept amendments from Senator Dolan, which are always aimed at enhancing motions.

The debate has been extremely useful. We have all learned something from it and it is great to get different perspectives from different Senators, different parties and different parts of the country, to hear what is happening at local level to ensure equality of access and participation. There are many stories all over the country of groups that are doing what we are striving to achieve here. They do it daily by ensuring that facilities and participation in various games are available to people with disabilities. Senator Dolan was right that getting to facilities is as important as participating in them.

The Minister of State made clear commitments that participation, access to participation, equality of opportunity, inclusion training and awareness training for people working in sports facilities will now be a priority. Much good work has been done, particularly by the Minister of State's officials and by elements in Sport Ireland, which I acknowledge. That work has laid the foundation. We have a motion from Seanad Éireann tonight in respect of which Members are in unanimous agreement. It will place access to sport for people with disabilities firmly on the political agenda. It is not a political football but it is absolutely a political issue because politics drives change in this country. Politics makes things happen for people. Politics changes society, reflects society and implements the changes that are needed to make society better. This is a political issue. It has now received the unanimous endorsement of Seanad Éireann, which is fantastic from the Minister of State's perspective because, as he heads into the final elements of budget negotiations, he has our motion as part of his armoury and weaponry in negotiating with the officials from the Departments of Public Expenditure and Reform and Finance, and the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, and others. We are doing our bit to assist the Minister of State because there are many competing interests in our slowly developing economy. I am of the view that, as we move forward and resources become available, one could not spend taxpayers' money in a better way than on sport for all.

The motion tonight recognises what has been achieved through sport in this country. As was said by others earlier, the GAA has proven what can be achieved through sport. I believe there will be equality and the feeling of equality in the hearts of people with various disabilities, from very threatening and difficult disabilities to small disabilities that happen to make people uncomfortable. Being able to participate in and play sports with one's peers in an equal way will empower people and give them confidence. It will give people with disabilities the belief that they can follow their dreams in the academic world, the world of work, of employment, and of politics, praise the lord. If a person succeeds in sport, it will equip him or her to succeed in many other areas of life. In addition, it is the right thing to do because everyone deserves an opportunity to be healthy, fit, eat well, be active, and to participate.

Ireland is a society which has evolved and developed as a community. We know our neighbours in this country, by and large. We know our parish and our clubs. That is what knits us together and makes us unique and different. The only element in sport that is left to achieve is equality of access and participation, and the whole issue of inclusion of people with disabilities. Going forward from tonight, we have started a new chapter of the political discussion of these issues. I look forward, in a number of years, to coming back to these Houses when we have achieved a huge amount and will be a beacon of hope and light to many other countries and groups.

I thank all the Senators who contributed to this debate and I thank the Minister for his time and, more importantly, his commitment to this issue.

Amendment agreed to.
Motion, as amended, agreed to.

When is it proposed to sit again?

Ar 10.30 maidin amárach.

The Seanad adjourned at 6.41 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 27 September 2018.