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Covid-19 Pandemic

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 22 June 2021

Tuesday, 22 June 2021

Ceisteanna (62)

Thomas Gould

Ceist:

62. Deputy Thomas Gould asked the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media if she plans to bring forward a fund to get young persons engaged in sports and the arts given the significant impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had on youth engagement. [33251/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (11 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Tourism)

What will the Minister do to bring forward a fund to get young people to engage in sport and the arts, given the significant impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had on youth engagement? Young people have really suffered as a result of the pandemic restrictions and need support now.

I fully recognise the importance of arts, culture, sport and physical activity for our society and well-being, as well as the need to ensure opportunities are in place to allow all members of society to participate in such activities, particularly young people, who may have become disengaged during the pandemic.

Sport Ireland is the statutory body responsible for the development of sport, including promotion of sports participation for all age groups, including young people. Increased funding has been provided to Sport Ireland this year to assist with its participation programmes. Sport Ireland plans to implement a return to sport campaign in 2021 which will target all demographics, including children. This highly visible campaign will encourage people to engage in sport and physical activity and clearly signpost how they can access opportunities to participate.

I am arranging for Sport Ireland to provide the Deputy with a comprehensive outline of its participation and promotion activities, including those for young people. A sport action plan to cover the next three years will be published shortly and will contain a number of important measures and initiatives to steer increased participation in sport over the coming years.

At my request, my Department recently organised two important consultation sessions in sport for young people. In March, I listened to boys from the FAI Fingal transition year programme and girls from the Galway Swimming Club and Shark Swimming Club, also from Galway. In April, with the great assistance of Foróige, I had a similar video consultation with young people from Blanchardstown Youth Service and Comhairle na nÓg from Cork, Meath, Tipperary and Waterford.

There were many insightful and considered views on the current situation, as well as suggestions on improvements. Areas such as access to facilities, transport issues, peer pressure, exam pressure and coaching standards were among the most prominent issues raised. Subject to public health guidance, I intend to hold an in-person event in respect of this topic later this year that I hope those involved in providing sport for young people can attend and listen to their needs with a view to improving the situation in the long term.

The sports capital and equipment programme, SCEP, supports the development of sports and physical recreation facilities and the purchase of non-personal sports equipment throughout the country. The programme has transformed the sporting landscape with improvements in the quality and quantity of sporting facilities in virtually every village, town and city, for people of all ages and from all walks of life.

I thank the Minister of State.

I have more to say but my time is up.

I acknowledge that there has been investment in capital expenditure and on equipment. That is to be welcomed. My question goes further than that because, unfortunately, young people are not returning to sport or to the arts. As a result of the lockdown restrictions, people were isolated at home and could not train. Some of them have not gone back. I recently spoke to a coach who is a GAA academy co-ordinator in Cork city who told me he believes that one in five children between the ages of 11 and 16 has not returned to training. This is quite a serious issue. What supports are we going to provide for GAA clubs, soccer clubs and arts organisations to reach out to children and young people because I do not believe anyone should be let fall through the cracks as a result of the Covid-19 restrictions and the lockdowns?

We must continually review the impact of the ongoing restrictions on sport and young people's participation in it. I held a sports management group meeting only yesterday with many of the governing bodies and organisations and that was a topic raised by some involved in the call. We will do everything we can to support the grassroots system and the sporting organisations so that we can enable young people to go back to sport.

From my engagement with many sporting clubs and organisations, I know that many young people were delighted to get back playing and participating in recent weeks. That has been extremely positive. Matches have taken place. Training is back and gyms have reopened. As Deputy Gould outlined, however, we must identify those who may not have returned and do everything we can for them. We are in discussions with the sports sector on a package for this year, which is about ensuring sporting organisations are kept afloat and can recover properly but also ensure that clubs at grassroots level are strong and sustainable post Covid. That means keeping young people participating and involved.

I thank the Minister of State.

We want to do everything we can to get as many young people as possible back playing sport. I share Deputy Gould's objective. I am of the same view about getting as many people back as possible.

I expect everyone in this Chamber would be of that opinion; we want to get as many people as possible involved again in sports and in the arts.

Yesterday, I was in Churchfield industrial estate visiting the Golden Gloves boxing and fitness club, a thriving young club for boys and girls of various ages. It was fabulous to see the return to sport and the energy and excitement up there. One of the problems for the club is that it does not own its own facility, it rents it. The other problem for the club is that it pays fixed costs for electricity, gas and water and it also has to pay other bills. For most of the past 15 months, the club has had no income. Other clubs right across the sporting spectrum have likewise been affected. I know some funds have been put in place to assist with rates and grants for opening up and installing sanitisers and other such measures to deal with the pandemic. I welcome all of that, but we must go a step further. Many clubs and organisations are now in real financial trouble as a result of the pandemic and I ask the Government to consider what we can do to support them.

I would like to get the maximum number of people on the pitch myself, so I ask Members to stick to the allotted times.

That is always important. I thank Deputy Gould. As I indicated previously, we are in ongoing engagement with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform on a package for sport this year. There was a very positive package last year of approximately €90 million, which included a club resilience fund. The fund was designed to support sporting organisations at grassroots level with some of their costs. We are engaging in discussions on a package for this year.

Whether it is a boxing club or other type of sports club, the sports capital and equipment programme is open to everyone to try to strengthen clubs. We had a record number of applications for funding this year. I am not sure whether the club to which Deputy Gould referred applied to that particular fund.

We are working with Sport Ireland to make sure we get as many people as possible back playing and participating in their clubs and being active now that sporting activity has reopened. I hope we will have pods of six involved in boxing from early July. Many indoor sports that have been restricted for such a long period will be able to reopen to a much greater extent, which will also improve participation. I thank Deputy Gould for tabling the question.

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