Dáil Éireann - Volume 497 - 26 November, 1998

Irish Sports Council Bill, 1998: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

Mr. S. Ryan: At the outset I welcome this Bill as a major contribution to the development of sport in Ireland. I hope the Minister will be open to suggestions and amendments which may be submitted on Committee and Report Stages. To date this has been a very inclusive process and I hope this will continue.

I compliment Deputy Allen, the previous Minister with responsibility for sport, for his initiative in setting up the strategy group under the chairmanship of John Treacy, a former world champion athlete, with the objective of producing a blueprint for the future of sport.

Next to the weather, people talk more about sport than any other topic. We discuss a forthcoming game and afterwards replay it, a disallowed goal, a try, a point and invariably the performance of the referee and players. We talk about it in the workplace the following morning or over a pint before going home after a match.

Sport, which is an integral part of Irish society, demands a combination of physical skill and strength, an alert mind, enthusiasm and teamwork. The body must be trained for these accomplishments, a person must work for them and become skilful. Accordingly the successful teams or sportspeople are highly regarded and admired as role models for young people. Over the years this country, with minimal facilities, has produced individual sportsmen and women and teams who have successfully competed with the best in the world. Ronnie Delaney, Eamonn Coughlan and the late Noel Carroll are among those who spring to mind. I wish to put on record the role Noel Carroll played in the life of Dublin and in sporting life generally in Ireland and throughout the world. Sonia O'Sullivan, Catherina McKiernan, John Treacy and Jack's soccer team are only some of the sports people who will [764] always be remembered, not only in Ireland but across the world.

Given the obvious potential which exists in every sports code, particularly for our young sportsmen and women, we must ask what could be achieved if we had proper facilities and a co-ordinated approach to sport, from the top down to the thousands of volunteers who give up their time and energy freely because of their love of sport. Let us hope this legislation, in conjunction with the new grant schemes for recreational and sports clubs, new facilities and training for our coaches and volunteers, will rejuvenate the community spirit for which our people are renowned.

I compliment the Minister on his commitment to the anti-doping programme he launched earlier this year. Participation in the programme by national governing bodies and individuals should have been compulsory rather than voluntary. The use of drugs to enhance performance in sports goes back thousands of years. From around 400 BC the role of sport in Greek society was as prominent as it is everywhere today. Victory in the ancient Olympic Games ensured high rewards in terms of money, food, housing, tax exemptions, etc. However, drugs were ultimately a major reason for the dissolution of the ancient Olympic Games.

The vast majority of people are firmly of the opinion that the injection of banned performance enhancing substances is nothing less than cheating. There is no room in Irish sport for cheats.

The Tour de France to Ireland — and the Minister rightly received a great deal of kudos for bringing the prestigious event to Ireland — outlined how deeply modern sport has been corrupted by these substances. As journalists Tim Blair and Rod Usher reported in Time magazine recently, “This year's world's leading bicycle race was revealed to be more of a Tour de Pharmacy than a competition which enabled the best cyclists win”. Festina, the top team in the competition, had its nine riders expelled. As the race progressed, it became more obvious than ever before that substance abuse is rampant in professional cycling. The same question must be posed in relation to other elite world sports involving massive money and sponsorship such as athletics, swimming, weightlifting and many others.

As a keen sportsman, I first became interested in the problem of drugs in sport when a cyclist for whom I had great regard died during a stage of the Tour de France. He was Tommy Simpson from England. Until it can be positively proved that professional cycling has cleaned up its act with regard to drug taking, I will object strenuously to the Tour de France ever coming to Ireland again. As a country and people who, by and large, believe that the deliberate taking of a banned performance enhancing substance is cheating we must call a halt, irrespective of how many shots of our beautiful countryside are scanned across the television screens of Europe and further afield. We must make a stand.

[765] The stories from the former East European countries, for example, indicate there was an organised drug programme in operation at national level from the early 1970s to the late 1980s. The real losers at the end of the day were the swimmers and athletes who went through the programme and whose lives were destroyed. Many of these athletes died and others have serious heart and liver complaints. The message should go out to our young sports people that, irrespective of the glory to be had on a particular day, their health will be affected.

The deterrent against drug taking in sport is not sufficient. It was an utter scandal that Ben Johnson, who was stripped of his gold medal in the Seoul Olympics following a positive drug test, was only given a two year suspension. Athletes found guilty of drug taking should be banned for life. The Olympic Council of Ireland should take this issue up with the IOC.

The recent revelations by a former Irish rugby player, Neil Francis, that Irish rugby players have been taking illegal performance enhancing substances is very disturbing. The further revelations that two or three positive tests on Irish rugby players are under investigation requires clarification and there must be transparency in the IRFU. Nothing less is acceptable. We cannot hide anything in relation to drugs — everything must be above board.

The sooner the Minister's programme is up and running the better. I appeal to all our national sports organisations to show their full commitment to fighting sport's most pressing problem. There is no place for cheats in Irish sport. If these organisations are not prepared to co-operate, there must be a real deterrent. I fully agree with the Minister that channelling grant aid from Government through the National Lottery must cease until there is full co-operation from these organisations in regard to dealing with drug abuse.

In urban areas, particularly the greater Dublin region, there is an ever increasing demand for playing pitches, whether for soccer, Gaelic or rugby football. In the past, the majority of football teams in Dublin had their own private pitches, either purchased or rented from a farmer. With the demand for housing land and prices reaching £70,000 per acre, it is no longer feasible, by and large, for new clubs to own their own pitches. Accordingly, there is an increasing onus on local authorities to provide pitches.

Various councils, particularly in the greater Dublin area, have been doing an excellent job to date, however their land banks have diminished. The net effect is that, with the wholesale rezoning that has taken place, sports fields and open spaces have not been provided in development plans to date. We now have a crisis as there is insufficient space available for the local population for active recreation.

I wish to bring to the Minister's attention a major problem I have come across in recent months. A very successful club in my constituency, [766] called River Valley Rangers Soccer Club, applied to Fingal County Council for consent to change the use of an existing hard surface tennis court, which has not been used for the past seven years, to an all-weather floodlit training area, not only for its own club members but also for use by a community living in more than 2,000 houses.

On the basis of legal opinion secured by the council it was deemed that as the area in question was designated public open space, they would not be allowed change the hard surface tennis court into an all weather training area. This seems ludicrous and scandalous and I ask the Minister to ensure his officials investigate the matter. Given the lack of land in the greater Dublin area we could be left with only designated open space as against open space which was utilised in the past. If this law exists and is applied there might be major problems in the future.

Arising from this situation and the lack of pitches for clubs in general, I am of the view that a new approach must be taken in the context of development plans. Developers and builders will have to accept that they have a social responsibility with regard to housing developments. Additional lands will have to be incorporated into every action plan to provide both active and passive recreational amenities in addition to the percentage which is available or should be designated as part of planning applications.

For some time I have been of the opinion that planning authorities should have the right under planning legislation to condition builders and developers to make a financial contribution as part of planning permission towards the cost of a community facility. This would be of huge benefit for new residential areas. As authorities do not have the right to make such a condition, will the Minister take up this proposal with his colleague, the Minister for the Environment and Local Government?

In case some of my political opponents endeavour to misrepresent this proposal, I wish to make it very clear that this is totally at variance with a ploy used by some developers and builders in their efforts to achieve rezonings.

For example, these people use the legitimate needs of sports clubs as a tool to secure rezonings. The way to provide pitches and funding for recreational facilities is through an amendment to planning legislation and not by means of a carrot of support for rezonings.

Forty years ago the majority of football teams changed under bushes or trees at the side of pitches. After a match many players found their clothes had been scattered by cattle or other animals — something which I and I am sure other Members experienced — and soaked by rain. I was shocked to hear that, apart from the activity of cattle, this was still the case today. The majority of new clubs cannot afford to provide their own dressing rooms and the various local authorities across the country do not have the finance to do so either. This is totally unacceptable, particularly when we are endeavouring to attract [767] young school boys and girls towards a healthier life style and away from other attractions competing for the hearts and minds of our young people, such as drugs and vandalism.

This brings me to the national lottery which commenced trading on 23 March 1987. Total profits up to 1995 came to more than £800 million. In the light of these profits it is very difficult to convince thousands of volunteers in various sports throughout the country that their endeavours are appreciated by Government. For example, the only grant available to the majority of clubs in my county last year was through the youth and sports grants scheme operated by the VEC. Each club received £87 which would not purchase a set of jerseys, or even pay to have them cleaned. It is imperative in the interest of sport that the original grant allocation of national lottery profits to sport, recreation and youth be restored. In 1988 the percentage allocation for these areas came to 50.9 per cent. In 1997 this had dropped to 33 per cent of total lottery funding.

Three weeks ago a fire destroyed the clubhouse of Fingalions GFC in Swords, one of the most progressive clubs in the country. The members of the club, which caters for more than 30 teams per week, were devastated at the loss of their facility. However, with the support of the community of Swords and politicians they intend building a new clubhouse from the ashes of the former building. The clubhouse was used as a community centre as it was the only such facility in Swords, a town with a population in excess of 25,000. It was used by all groups such as senior citizens, youths and many other organisations, including the local soccer clubs. Given its pivotal role in the community life of Swords I strongly recommend that in the new grant scheme which the Minister shortly intends advertising — perhaps this has already been done — special consideration be given to an application by this club by providing it with a major grant, something which would be very much appreciated.

To the best of my knowledge one of the requirements under the sports and community grant scheme is that projects should not proceed without grant approval from the Minister's Department. I strongly recommend that a more flexible approach be taken in this regard. For example, if a sports club draws up a viability plan, which in most cases envisages a loan from financial institutions, it should be allowed proceed and not be discriminated against when grants become available or are advertised. If clubs waited until they received grant approval from the Department before proceeding many would not have got off the ground. In this context a more flexible approach is necessary.

Before concluding I will record the achievements of the Community Games, an organisation which must be complimented. I hope in the context of trying to further develop it, making it even more successful and bringing a wider international dimension to it, which would include [768] Northern Ireland and England, that more facilities are provided for it. Perhaps the Minister will meet with the officers of the Community Games to see how they can be facilitated in this regard.

I welcome the Bill. It is a major step towards developing sport in Ireland and I look forward to making further contributions on subsequent Stages.

Minister of State at the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation (Mr. Flood): I wish to share time with Deputy Matt Brennan. I offer my sincere condolences to the family of the late Mr. Noel Carroll, especially his wife Deirdre and his children. I understand it may be possible for Deirdre and members of her family to spend some time with us this afternoon as we further discuss this Bill. My brief involves addressing issues concerning youth, particularly in encouraging them to adopt active recreational pursuits and to avoid falling into the trap of the misuse of drugs. Noel Carroll was an outstanding example of a person who made a fine contribution in his sporting and business careers in this regard, and in representing our capital city. I express my sincere condolences to Deirdre and to his family.

Deputy Ryan raised some interesting points, including the lack of playing pitch facilities in the greater Dublin area. This is a serious issue but the Deputy may be able to make progress on it himself as a member of a local authority. Local authorities should perhaps bring forward their own planning proposals for dealing with this issue. As a member of Dublin County Council we could perhaps learn more about the utilisation of public open space, particularly in the greater Dublin area. Our planners should look at how that space is provided because we may not have made the best use of our lands and there may be room for planners to designate public open spaces to service housing estates. Many estates have open spaces in the centre of the estate and this does not lend itself to the provision of playing pitches, particularly when some individuals may not support constant playing activity in the centre of a housing estate.

Deputy Ryan pointed out that considerable resources have been provided by the national lottery scheme, and it is for the reasons he mentioned that the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation intends bringing forward a new sports and recreational grant scheme. All the matters Deputy Ryan and other Members have raised will be considered. The Minister is concerned that the old scheme did not have a sunset clause, so that any offers of grants which had been made had a detrimental effect on the availability of funding if they were not drawn down within a reasonable period of time. The points made by Deputy Ryan and others will be taken into account by the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation.

I fully support this Bill, which is a major step in implementing the key policy objective of the Government in relation to sport and recreation. The Government has shown its full commitment [769] to sport by appointing the first full Minister for sport and by creating the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation, which brings together responsibilities relating to tourism, sport, recreation and local development. The programme for Government clearly recognised the important role sport and recreation had to play in fostering a sense of physical and mental well-being generally as well as its potential for contributing to an improved society. This Bill was specifically included in the programme, reflecting the Government's dynamic approach to the development and promotion of sport.

The Taoiseach made it clear when creating the Department that “sport has the same importance for national well-being as, for example, arts and culture.” As Minister of State with responsibility for local development and the Government's national drug strategy I am working to ensure that the energy of local communities is channelled effectively to meet their own needs. Focusing efforts on our most deprived communities is crucial to achieving the Government's primary goal of greater social inclusion, and sport is at the heart of this goal.

We are all aware of the strong growth in the economy in the 1990s. However, considerable caution is required in assessing the contribution of economic growth to eliminating poverty and inequality. Even in a time of exceptional national economic growth, with labour shortages in several areas, this growth does not automatically spill over to severely disadvantaged areas. The economic boom may have the adverse effect of widening the poverty gap due to the weak capacity of the unemployed, particularly the long-term unemployed, to meet the increasingly sophisticated demands of employment. Their continued exclusion from the labour force leads to the buildup of enclaves of social exclusion whose very culture creates barriers to individual employability and helps to perpetuate the cycle of deprivation.

The energies of these communities, if not positively harnessed, result in growth waves of crime, recourse to drugs and other social problems. The failure of such communities to realise their condition represents a significant burden and social cost to the Irish economy, and the problems of these areas demand a comprehensive policy response. Clearly, increased participation in sport and recreational activities, particularly by young people in these communities, is part of the Government's integrated approach.

I also have responsibility for co-ordinating the national drugs strategy. The House will be aware that local drugs task forces have been set up in 13 areas, 12 in Dublin and one in Cork. These have been identified as having the worst levels of drug abuse. These task forces comprise partnerships between the statutory, voluntary and community centres and were mandated to prepare profiles of the nature and extent of the drug problems in their areas and to develop action plans to provide a co-ordinated, integrated response to that problem. The Government allocated £10 [770] million to support the implementation of these plans, which included strategies on treatment, rehabilitation, education, prevention and supply.

While it is important to provide access to treatment and rehabilitation services for those already using drugs, it is equally important that, as a longer term solution, we put in place strategies to prevent people, particularly the young, from becoming involved with drugs in the first place. The cornerstone of the Government's strategy on the drug problem is that prevention is better than cure. In this regard we are acutely aware of the benefits of sport and recreation as a preventative strategy in our efforts to tackle drug misuse, particularly among young people. These young people have become the most vulnerable category in terms of the threat drugs pose to individual communities and to society in general.

Sport plays a key role in reaching out to children and young people who are isolated from their communities and alienated from the formal education system. Active involvement in sport has an important preventative role in relation to drug misuse as well as anti-social behaviour and crime. There is a great need to increase the level of participation in sport and recreation in the most deprived and disadvantaged areas. We all recognise that sport alone cannot solve the drugs and crime problem, but by providing motivation to young people in those areas it can help foster a sense of confidence and self-esteem which can only have a positive effect on their lives and communities.

The Government has committed £30 million over three years to the young people's facilities and services fund. The purpose of the fund is to develop youth facilities, including sport and recreational facilities as well as services in disadvantaged areas where a significant drug problem exists or has the potential to develop. The aim of the fund is to attract disadvantaged young people in these areas who are at risk of becoming involved with drugs into healthier and more productive pursuits, and £20 million of the fund is targeted at local drugs task force areas. In these areas, development groups consisting of representatives from the task force, the VEC and the local authority were asked to prepare action plans to develop local facilities and services for young people. These plans were recently submitted via the task force to an assessment committee chaired by the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation which will evaluate them and make recommendations to the chairman of the committee on social inclusion in relation to their funding. While I am conscious that the evaluation process is difficult, given the wide range of issues to be addressed I am hopeful that, learning from the experience of the task force, the action plans will be effective and that funding to implement them will therefore be approved quickly.

The Irish Sports Council Bill is just one of the significant developments in the area of sport since the Minister and I took office. The Department and the current Irish Sports Council, under its [771] excellent chairperson, Mr. John Treacy, have been working closely together. These developments include the rationalisation, simplification and redesign of the grants scheme for national bodies to help them plan the development and promotion of their respective sports more effectively. There is also the introduction of a new carding system for high performance athletes, which includes athletes with disabilities, to provide a range of supports designed to help the country's most talented sportspersons realise their full potential to perform successfully at the highest international level. A comprehensive review of the sports capital programme is now nearing completion which will allow a more focused programme to be in place next year. In addition, there is Ireland's first national sports anti-doping programme, which is targeted for nationwide application as soon as the new statutory council is up and running. This underlines the Minister's commitment to assist all those involved in sporting activity, whether that is at recreational, competitive or high performance level, to participate in a sporting environment free from drug taking.

A new independent sports council will constitute the linchpin of the Government's policy of securing a more focused, strategic approach to the development of sport in Ireland. This Bill will provide for a council with the ability to support and assist sport across the sporting spectrum from the high performance athlete to the ordinary person who wants to take part in sport for recreation and pleasure. The council's functions have been broadened beyond that of advising to encompass a number of functions currently carried out by the Department. I am glad that encouraging increased participation in recreational sport has been made one of the council's primary functions. This is to recognise its important role and ensures that recreational sport will not be neglected in favour of high performance sport. There is also clear recognition that encouraging participation in sport will require a partnership approach between the sports council and other bodies, such as national governing bodies of sport, and public authorities, such as vocational education committees, local authorities and health boards. The council will have the power to co-operate, advise and assist these bodies in encouraging increased participation. The Bill also requires that the council must have regard to Government policy in performing its functions and must comply with any general policy directive which the Minister may give it. This means the council must take on board the policy aims of the Government which are expressed in the mission and goals of the Department.

Social inclusion underlines the work of the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation. Reaching out to our most deprived communities is the reason underlying the link between sport, local development and the national drugs strategy. We all recognise the potential sport has to [772] offer in improving our society and are committed to ensuring that the State plays its part in capitalising on that potential.

Mr. M. Brennan: I welcome the Bill and thank the Minister, Deputy McDaid, for introducing it. It is a step in the right direction for sport. Everyone in Ireland loves sport and it is very much talked about. A total of 750 projects have been funded under the sports and recreation facilities programme. Those projects were funded by the Department or by national lottery funding and are of great benefit to small sports clubs around the country. I thank the Minister for allocating £30 million over the next three years to sport.

I congratulate one of Sligo's young sportspersons, Mark Scanlon, who won the under 18 world cycling championship. That win was a great credit to him and it was great for cycling, particularly cycling in County Sligo. I support the funding of sports facilities from the national lottery or the sports council. Many small Gaelic football clubs and soccer clubs find it difficult to raise the necessary funds to provide sporting facilities in their parishes. Any football club that submits an application for lottery funding for sports facilities should be funded.

I would also support the funding of small swimming pools in our smaller towns as they would be of great benefit to local communities. Ray MacSharry made more than £1 million available to provide a 25 metre swimming pool in Sligo town. It is of great benefit to the north west and people travel more than 30 miles a week to use it.

I was successful in securing £30,000 in national lottery funding for the provision of the nine hole golf course in Tubbercurry. There was criticism of the allocation of lottery funding for the provision of golf courses, but that small golf course was provided by workers participating in FÁS schemes. People gave of their time voluntarily and sold £100 tickets to raise funds for it. It was funded by local fundraising events and national lottery funding. I like to play the odd game of golf and it is great to have that facility nearby. I favour the provision of more small golf courses and the allocation of national lottery funding to such golf courses should not be criticised.

Many Members have played hurling or Gaelic football. I watched those games being played in different countries. As a young emigrant I played Gaelic football in London and Manchester. I travelled from London to Manchester and from London to Birmingham to play against different teams. I watched many Irish organisations and county associations play Gaelic football and hurling in New York. I also played Gaelic football in New York. Many people emigrated from Kilkenny, Clare and Donegal and I saw many young men from those counties play Gaelic football or hurling in New York. I was proud to see Irish emigrants play those games in Gaelic Park in New York. If additional money is available, it should be allocated to overseas clubs which promote Gaelic games. This year the London team [773] will play in the Connacht Championship and the New York team will play in the All Ireland series. I welcome that because Gaelic games are part of our national heritage and culture.

We must congratulate our great sportspeople, in particular Sínead Smith who won many gold medals. Ronnie Delaney and the late Noel Carroll were mentioned. Those wonderful sportsmen represented Ireland for many years. I hope to see the day when more sportspeople will represent our country. We were all proud of the Irish soccer team that did well in the European Championships and in the World Cup in Italy and America, and many people travelled to see them play there.

I congratulate the Minister on introducing this Bill. It is a step in the right direction. I particularly welcome the special grant to promote young athletes who have good potential.

Mr. Hogan: I wish to share my time with Deputy Browne (Carlow-Kilkenny).

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: That is agreed.

Mr. Hogan: I welcome the introduction of this legislation by the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation. It puts sport on a statutory footing for the first time. We have had various ad hoc committees down through the years such as Cóspoir. Those who were appointed to that body did a great job in advising the Minister of the day on sports activities and devising policy on the future direction of sport.

I also compliment the Minister's predecessor, Deputy Allen, for his initiative in ensuring a strategy for sport into the millennium was published during his term of office. He indicated strongly that one of the recommendations of that strategy should be to put sport on a statutory footing with an independent board and finance to ensure that such an independent board would pay more attention to the activities of all the sports bodies that have been developed over the years through direct financial assistance from the Department. Deputy Allen has been to the fore over the years in ensuring sport is at the top of the political agenda. The Government is heading in the same direction and there is consensus about the necessity for, and importance of, this legislation.

The voluntary commitment of many people in sports and recreational organisations is enormous. I am always in awe of the people who devote a considerable amount of their spare time to bringing children and young people to various sports events, particularly at weekends. I am a member of the GAA, as are many colleagues, and I am aware of the huge commitment of parents and teachers in places such as Kilkenny in ensuring that the quality of sporting activity at primary and second level is second to none. However, this voluntary effort is often taken for granted and it is time the criteria under which the national lottery was established are recognised and more of its resources are devoted to sport.

[774] It is unacceptable at a time when there is a budget surplus that we are unable to fund other activities without recourse to raiding the national lottery. It has become an easy touch for successive Governments to allocate money for health services and other purposes. Direct Exchequer support for those Departments is more appropriate and the national lottery should be allowed to play its full part in allocating resources exclusively to sport.

I appeal to the Government to make a clear policy statement in the run-up to the millennium, perhaps in the budget next week, so that more resources will be devoted exclusively to the development of sport. Sport is part of what we are. It raises morale, gives a lift to everybody and generates considerable participation among all age groups. Additional financial allocations from the national lottery should be harnessed towards sport. It is hugely expensive to run a club of any description. For example, a hurling club must replace broken hurleys, injured players must be looked after and various facilities are required for the players. As a result a huge amount of voluntary fund-raising is taking place.

National lottery grants and sports and recreational grants from the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation give modest assistance to the development of dressing rooms, playing pitches, etc. I have always supported these grants, but it is a small amount in the context of that which is required on an ongoing basis to support sports organisations. For example, a turnover of £10,000 per annum is considered the norm for a GAA club.

I admire sports people, particularly those who perform at national and international level. Emily Maher, aged 17, who is a recent 100 and 200 metre world champion, hails from my constituency. She has shown, through enormous dedication and commitment and the support she received from her coach and family, that supreme sacrifice and effort pays off for those who are cut out for the national and international arenas. I congratulate individuals, such as Emily Maher and Susan Smith, who have gone beyond the call of duty to put Ireland on the map in a positive light in terms of sport.

I wish to emphasise the importance of sports centres. A number of areas have been targeted for them as they have been the exception rather than the norm in various counties. I wish to see an expansion of such centres to all counties as part of the millennium project. There are regional centres, for example, in Waterford and it should not be beyond the bounds of possibility, with the resources available from the national lottery and the Exchequer to open such centres in other areas. Additional facilities should be provided to boost existing sport centres which are small in towns such as Kilkenny. The development carried out on Scanlon Park, Kilkenny, is a perfect example. I congratulate my colleague, Deputy Aylward, who was Minister with responsibility for sport at the time, for playing a leading role in [775] ensuring some money was provided at the right time for the development of that facility. More could be done to increase the number of facilities.

Kilkenny swimming pool has outlived its usefulness. Its age is a worry to the local authorities and greater co-operation between the Ministers for Tourism, Sport and Recreation and the Environment and Local Government could yield a better dividend for those involved in the coaching of swimming for the young people in Kilkenny. A new pool is urgently required to cater for the enormous demand the sport has garnered over recent years.

Sport makes a major contribution to the lives of young people and it also has a major impact on their psychological development as they go through the education system. It keeps them out of trouble in many areas. The Ministers for Tourism, Sport and Recreation and the Environment and Local Government could also work together to ensure, in the context of the development of urban areas, community and recreational resources are put first rather than the development of the housing or industrial infrastructure of the community. The cart has been put before the horse over the years in terms of the planning and development of urban areas. Community and recreational facilities should be provided by the State and local authorities as the norm and a greater contribution should be sought in the planning process from developers, who have done exceedingly well over recent years as a result of the Celtic tiger. Builders and developers have derived the greatest benefit from the growth in economic activity in Ireland and should make a bigger contribution to the development of community and recreational facilities prior to starting developments.

I welcome the Bill, particularly the section that deals with doping and drug testing. If we are serious about the development of our young people, a rigorous approach must be taken to stamp out any possibility of illegal activity and substance abuse in sport. Our young people must be protected in every way from the abuse of drugs. Headlines have been made recently which will allow us to ensure young people are not exposed to the wrong substances. This is in their short-term interest and in the long-term it will prevent potential damage to the sporting industry.

Mr. Browne (Carlow-Kilkenny): Cuirim fáilte roimh an Bille seo freisin mar tá sé fíor thábhachtach go mbeadh treoir cheart ag spórt de gach sórt in Éirinn. Tá gearán amháin agam. Sílim go mba chóir an focal “COSPÓIR” a choimead mar theideal ar an Chomhairle seo. Deireann sé anseo “An Bille um Comhairle Spóirt na hÉireann”. Ní dóigh liom go mbeidh éinne ag caint faoi Chomhairle Spóirt na hÉireann. Bhunaigh an chéad Aire Spóirt, an t-Uasal Jim Tunney, an focal simplí, oiriúnach “COSPÓIR” mar the deal ar an mbord. Tá an focal sin simplí agus tá gach [776] éinne in ann é a rá. fiú daoine nach bhfuil focal Gaeilge acu. Iarraim ar an Aire an focal “COSPÓIR” a thabhairt ar ais mar theideal ar an chomhairle nua seo. Fadó, bhí daoine in ann a rá “I wrote to COSPÓIR” nó “I got a grant from COSPÓIR” — the word came naturally to them. People will not say “I have applied to Comhairle Spóirt na hÉireann”. If we are serious about bilingualism or the restoration of the Irish language, the Minister should consider re-introducing the name “COSPÓIR” which the then Minister, Mr. Jim Tunney, so wisely gave to the former body.

The council will have nine members, a chairman and eight others. I have the utmost confidence that the Minister will pick the most talented people but it is important that he includes people with practical experience of sport, who have gone through hardship and training. This does not mean people who have never taken part in sport are unsuitable but I would hate to see the council have too many academics, by which I mean people who lecture on sport but have never gone through the hardship. The council should feature people who have shown, through their experience, that they know sport and understand the difficulties. If the council has experienced people, they will know what the needs are and what has to be done without waiting for someone to write to them. Our international athletes are prime examples. I compliment Mr. John Treacy on the work he did with the previous Minister. He is respected, as is Mr. Éamon Coghlan and as was the late Noel Carroll. Good examples of current athletes include Ms Catherina McKiernan and Ms Sonia O'Sullivan. Who would be better placed to give advice, or who could add more?

The council must have at least three women, which is a fair reflection of how women have contributed to sport, but perhaps the membership should be evenly split between men and women. Women have contributed enormously in athletics and even in Gaelic football — we saw the tremendous standard displayed in this year's women's All-Ireland Final. Women are becoming far more active in sport.

Deputy Hogan mentioned the role of volunteers, which I have often spoken about also. It must have been a record to have four representatives from Carlow-Kilkenny in the Chamber for this debate, until the Ceann Comhairle left. It shows how strong sport is in our constituency. Deputy Aylward is a former Minister responsible for sport.

We will never replace the voluntary work done by so many people over the years. The GAA is often criticised for getting money but it has provided a marvellous facility in every parish across the country. It kept people occupied and out of mischief — how many more people would be in jail if we had not had sporting activities down the years?

Teachers have done so much but were taken for granted for so long; we now see the difference when they are not as active in sport, and this will [777] have a big effect. At one stage teachers only had to teach the three Rs, which anyone with any talent could do. Now they have to teach art and PE also. I am glad I have left teaching because I could no longer teach PE. Perhaps this is outside the remit of the Bill, but it is time the Department of Education and Science or this Department considered appointing PE teachers for primary schools. It is unfair to ask middle aged and older teachers to teach PE — they can and do stand on the sideline but we have to take the subject seriously. It provided great opportunities for children, and the more choice they have, the better for them. They may not be hurlers, Gaelic footballers or soccer players but if they get an opportunity to take part in games they will develop their talent.

The practice of taking school children to swimming pools has increased greatly, and it is a marvellous advance that so many children learn to swim in primary school. When I heard Deputy Brennan say £1 million had been given for a pool in Sligo I could not resist smiling. A lot of money is going to pools along the coast. I do not begrudge them these pools, they may need them in winter, but it is unbelievable that inland counties like Carlow and Kilkenny should have so much difficulty getting money for a pool. Two priests in Graiguecullen built a pool at the fraction of the cost of the grant given for other pools. Father Fingleton now wants to extend the pool, because so many people want to use it that good swimmers cannot practise properly. That will cost £500,000 but grants of £1.5 million are given for pool renovations elsewhere, especially in coastal counties like Wexford, Sligo and Cork. Inland counties should get priority because they do not have the option of going to the sea, which is at least 50 miles away. People who do go to the sea are unable to swim there anyway because they are burnt like a rasher by the time they get there. I appeal for pools to be built in inland counties. Pools in County Carlow should be given every aid and I acknowledge the help given by the former Minister, Deputy Aylward, when the Graiguecullen pool was being built — he had to start at the wrong time, as it were.

International athletes should be financially rewarded. Some of them receive sponsorship but they represent Ireland and there is nothing better than seeing our runners represent us in the Olympics. Recently I was in Sydney and saw the excitement about holding the Olympics — they are selling badges, constructing buildings and digging up roads. The hold-ups in Dublin are nowhere near as bad as those in Sydney. We all want our athletes to be in Sydney and they should be given every possible help by making facilities available. It is also important to help those who have not made the grade. This is why the council should have experienced members, because they will know it is necessary to fund lesser-known people who would otherwise not have enough money to become international athletes and gain sponsorship. Young, talented people are emerging [778] across the country and we owe it to them to redirect the funds. It is not easy to divide the funding between all the national bodies — the Minister for Finance has £1 billion extra income and every organisation thinks it should receive money — but the Irish Sports Council should be able to deal with the matter. The volunteers are becoming scarcer because it is expensive and the scandals are putting people off, but help should be given to bodies at local level to ensure they can continue to operate.

Mr. Aylward: I wish my compliments to be conveyed to the Ceann Comhairle, a fellow Kilkenny man, on his performance here this morning in welcoming the British Prime Minister, Mr. Blair.

I welcome this Bill. It is one in which I am particularly interested and which I have advocated for some time. I am delighted it has finally been published and that we are debating it in the House. I welcomed the setting up of the new Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation. This is something very close to my heart as I had responsibility for sport when it was part of the Department of Education. The Department of Education and Science is a very large one with a huge budget of close to £3 billion, and the sport section within the Department had a budget of approximately £20 million. Although people in the Department had the best of intentions, sport did not get the attention it deserved. It is for that reason when I was charged with drawing up a policy document I suggested that a special department dealing with sport and recreation should be established. It was part of our programme for Government and it was done immediately on our return to office. I very much welcomed that and compliment the Minister and the Minister of State in that Department on the advances that have been made since the setting up of the Department.

I also congratulate Mr. John Treacy, the chief executive officer, on his efforts in the Department. He has done an excellent job and brings a breath of fresh air to that Department. He is a most competent person. There are few people in this country who know as much about sport or are as interested in the future of sport. I wish him well.

I agree with Deputy Browne's comments about COSPÓIR and dropping the title. I would also like to take the opportunity to say a particular word of thanks to the many volunteers who serve in COSPÓIR over 20 years. They are excellent, committed people, who did a tremendous job on a voluntary basis. COSPÓIR had lapsed when I went into the Department in 1992 and I was very pleased to reconstitute it. I have never had anything but the greatest help and co-operation from that body, and the very many people who served in it over the years should be acknowledged with a special word of thanks.

We could not manage without the governing bodies of sport which are made up mainly of volunteers, the people who bring young people to [779] and from games and practice every day of the week for no reward. It is their commitment and the interest they have in sport that leads them to do that. It is unfortunate that in the scandals in recent years a few people have damaged the reputations and good work of many. The vast majority of volunteers do tremendous work and are the lifeblood of sport. While we have such committed volunteers, sport is in safe hands. Unfortunately things are all the more difficult now because of past events.

The new Department has a new vision for sport in the future, particularly on the international market. I have always maintained that the more international events we can attract here the better because of the spin-offs that will result for our economy and the improved the image of our country as a whole. Events like the Tour de France earlier this year brought new spirit. The tour passed the area in Carlow-Kilkenny that I come from and the effect it had on small communities had to be seen to be believed. It brought communities together, working to present their area to the international viewing public, and it was tremendous to see. Events like the Ryder Cup, which we hope to see here in a few years time will do likewise. All these events do much for the image of Ireland abroad and for the tourism industry. That is where the areas of tourism, sport and recreation really blend together.

One small concern I have about the creation of a statutory body is that it might become too remote from volunteers and voluntary organisations like the national governing bodies of sport. That has happened in the case of another organisation that represents sport here which, even though it is based in Dublin is totally removed from the governing bodies. I hope that will not happen with this statutory body. There is a danger of it, and I warn against it. Whatever else, we should not forget the concept of sport for all. Sport is about fun, first and foremost. We then graduate to competitive sport and finally, if we are fortunate, to the elite sportsperson. There was reference to the success of a particular person in my county, my neighbour, Emily Maher. For years we have listened to advice that our elite sports people should travel abroad to avail of proper facilities and a higher level of competition. Here is a case in point where a person preferred to remain at home in her own country. Because the facilities had been provided in my native Kilkenny, she was able to stay at home in the security of her own family to train and perform at top class level. The same was true of Catherina McKiernan. It is a myth that top Irish athletes must travel abroad to compete at the top level. It is an area we should examine with a view to expanding existing facilities and developing them further in the interest of keeping as many athletes as possible at home. Not everybody likes to travel. Some people feel far more secure and perform much better if they can remain at home, and that should be considered.

[780] I turn now to funding for sport. This has always been a contentious issue. Sport does not get its fair share of funding in Ireland. Funding has increased, and I compliment the Minister for that. However, all current spending should come from the national Exchequer and lottery funding should be used for capital development. It is my objective to ensure that 40 per cent of the national lottery is automatically available for sport and recreational facilities and activities.

There was reference to the question of recognition of other activities and sports by the Department of Tourism, Recreation and Sport. Much has been said about the game of bridge. When I was in the Department I was anxious that that game should be recognised under the recreation side of the Department. I understand the Minister is favourably disposed to this. While there may be problems with the running of martial arts, they also have a place in Irish sport and I ask that that be considered and facilitated if possible.

My colleague, Deputy Mattie Brennan, spoke about golf. Golf should be included for grant-aid purposes. I am not talking about elitist golf clubs. Golf is one of the fastest growing sports. In many parishes small nine-hole golf courses are being developed by voluntary organisations, and they have no access to funding. I have discussed this with the Minister and he is favourably disposed. I ask that golf clubs, just like any other sporting organisation, should be entitled to apply for funding. The merits of each case can be considered but they should be included, particularly the smaller clubs.

Everybody is aware of the drug problem, particularly in urban areas. I put forward the proposal in the Fianna Fáil Party's policy document that sport and leisure officers should be appointed in each local authority area, with specific emphasis on urban areas. Full-time recreational officers should be appointed to try to steer young people away from involvement in drugs and towards sports and recreational activities. I am glad the Minister of State, Deputy Flood, now has a large budget to deal with the blackspots and I hope he will consider this proposal. No stone should be left unturned in dealing with the scourge of drugs in urban areas.

It is imperative that each local authority has a sports officer attached to its staff. Many areas have no facilities at all, but there is a duplication of facilities in others. I am aware of areas where schools have the most up to date facilities and the community also has facilities. The school's facilities close at 4 p.m. and the other centre opens at 6 p.m. This is a waste of funds in a country which is crying out for more facilities. If resources were pooled under the auspices of a local authority sport and leisure officer, it might emerge that the current deficit is not as large as we think. Better use could be made of existing facilities.

Another issue of concern to me is the lack of physical education in schools. At second level, there are 750 physical education teachers nationwide. [781] They are obliged to give 30 minutes to physical education instruction. At primary level, there are no physical education teachers. Sports days which are open to everybody are held once a year, but despite the best intentions, they do not work. This area needs to be considered and I hope the new body will deal with it as a matter of urgency. The facilities in schools must be considered in conjunction with the facilities in communities to ensure there is a proper network throughout the country.

I am delighted that tenders have been invited for the provision of a 50-metre pool. This matter has been ongoing for years. When I was appointed to the Department in 1992, it had been decided that the project would be discontinued. Fortunately, it was put back on the agenda. Numerous reports on the project have been prepared and I am glad that finally a pool will be provided. I look forward to the availability of a national 50 metre pool in 2000 and also to the provision of a proper national stadium.

I hope the new body will review the existing regional facilities. Some years ago it was decided that decent facilities should be provided in each region. The then Government made a large investment to provide facilities at regional level. Unfortunately, some areas were left out and this needs to be addressed. There should be proper regional facilities within 30 miles of every part of Ireland which represent the broad spectrum of sporting activity.

The best programme operated by the Department is the recreational facilities scheme. Unfortunately, in recent years the amount of money allocated to it has been totally inadequate. I urge a substantial increase in the figure. Apart from providing necessary infrastructure and facilities, the scheme recognises the role of volunteers who do so much for sport and recreational activities. The scheme should be a priority of the new body when it is established.

I am disappointed that greyhound and horse racing do not come under the aegis of the Department. They should be included and I hope that will happen eventually.

Other speakers mentioned, in relation to developments by local authorities, that no proper provision is made for recreation and sporting facilities or green areas. Regulations state that a green area must be provided for housing developments, but this has not been properly enforced. Planning authorities should be given special powers to insist when planning applications are made that provision must be made for such areas. Local authorities should specify, in consultation with the planning office, the types of facilities which would suit particular developments. Local authorities should be directed to do this.

There is great potential in the area of joint ventures where the private sector is interested in becoming involved in providing facilities. This should be encouraged. There is also potential in the area of tax breaks. If people are prepared to invest in the provision of sporting facilities, they [782] should be encouraged to do so through tax breaks. This would free up much money and ensure that the rate of development of sports facilities is much increased.

The role of volunteers has not been sufficiently recognised in recent years, even by sports governing bodies. I hope the new body will insist that the role of volunteers is put on a new plane. They have contributed hugely and done much for the sporting public. All credit is due to them.

Sport and leisure are important not only in terms of the enjoyment they bring to people of all ages, but also because of their beneficial impact on society. It should be fully appreciated that many of our most acute urban problems, such as drugs and crime, stem from a lack of self-esteem and confidence in young people and particularly a sense of purpose. An interest in sporting activities can provide the motivation to adolescents to avoid the scourge of drugs and crime. Sport and leisure by themselves will not solve the drugs and associated crime problems, but they can play a vital role in that battle.

While much attention has been given in recent times to the need for increased police power and more stringent investigations of the assets of drug pushers as a means of seeking to challenge the supply of drugs, the other side of the equation must not be ignored. We must ask why there is a demand for drugs and through sport and recreation we must try to devise policies to reduce this demand.

Debate adjourned.