Dáil Éireann - Volume 663 - 15 October, 2008

Adjournment Debate. - Sports Funding.

  Deputy Brian Hayes: I thank the office of the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me and Deputy O’Connor to raise this very important matter. Not only does it affect the two sports halls in our constituency, namely those in Killinarden and Firhouse, but also the centres in Palmerstown and Collinstown.

The concept of dual sports halls first came into being when the Government made €34 million available for nine halls nationally. The halls were to be used in a dual capacity and were to be much more significant than the average PE hall. They are three times the size of the latter, they are equipped to a very high standard and, most important, they are accessible to the wider local population as well as the school population. The objective was that the four halls in question would be open 24 hours per day, seven days per week, such that the community would have use of them after school hours. The former Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Mary Hanafin, stated the project was to encourage positive links between the local community and schools and to open up the state of the art facilities to young people from disadvantaged communities. This holds true for Killinarden and Firhouse.

I understand from County Dublin Vocational Education Committee that 8,000 people use the halls constantly. Not only are they used by the local community schools, they are also used by the local national schools. This is an extraordinary asset to primary education. It is very important that we save the jobs in Firhouse and Killinarden in addition to the facilities. The funding provided under the dormant accounts fund or the Young People’s Facilities and Services Fund has now dried up. I am aware that a clear verbal commitment was made by the Department of Education and Science to County Dublin Vocational Education Committee that necessary replacement funding would be found once the initial phase of funding ended. It has now come to an end.

In a few months, the facilities in Firhouse and Killinarden, designed for multi-purpose use, including community use, twenty four hours per day, will no longer be available unless replacement funding is found to keep them open and to keep the capital investment, which has been so wisely used, to the forefront of our entire endeavour as a local community. We await what I hope will be the positive remarks of the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science. Otherwise, the facilities will be closed after 4 p.m. each day, which none of us can accept.

  Deputy Charlie O’Connor: I, too, thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to join Deputy Brian Hayes in raising this issue with the Minister of State, Deputy Haughey. The importance I ascribe to it can be gauged from the fact that I have rushed back from Croke Park where I was cheering on my Tallaght neighbours, Robbie Keane and Richard Dunne — I am not quite in their age group so I cannot call them colleagues. I was there for Robbie Keane’s goal but then returned to the House and missed him getting injured. The Minister of State knows I would not leave Croke Park if my being here to raise this issue tonight were not important.

My colleague, Deputy Brian Hayes, has emphasised we are referring to the County Dublin Vocational Education Committee facilities in Palmerstown, Collinstown, Firhouse and Killinarden. I will not talk too much about the former two because I have no plans for them in respect of the European elections but I will concentrate on Firhouse and Killinarden. I was at the official opening of the centre in Firhouse with the former Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Hanafin.

[861] We must impress upon the Minister of State the importance of this issue, regardless of his reply tonight. It is a question of sport. It is interesting that I referred to being in Croke Park and sports persons from Tallaght given that we are discussing two excellent facilities that are under threat. Not only do these facilities provide an excellent service to the primary schools and communities generally, they are used in the school completion programme. This is the case in respect of Killinarden community school, which is in a disadvantaged RAPID area.

It makes no sense to get into a bind over who should fund first-class State facilities. As a former member of County Dublin Vocational Education Committee and former member of South Dublin County Council, as was Deputy Brian Hayes, I campaigned for the PE halls in both Killinarden and Firhouse. The battles were well fought and the communities got right behind the campaigns. They now support the facilities in a very definite and positive way. I receive many calls on this issue from young people, employees whose jobs are in jeopardy and others who, for all sorts of reasons, want to use the facilities. I make a special appeal to the Minister of State to acknowledge this issue, which is so important to me and my community in Tallaght. We really hope he will help us.

9 o’clock

  Deputy Seán Haughey: I thank Deputies Brian Hayes and Charlie O’Connor for raising this matter, in particular Deputy O’Connor for his dedication and commitment to his constituents in returning to the House. I am grateful to the Deputies for giving me the opportunity to outline to the House the background to the provision of these facilities. To begin with, these halls were built as part of a programme to develop community sports halls in drugs task force areas in Dublin and Cork. The stated objective of the programme was that each hall would be dual use in nature in that they would be accessible to the wider community as well as to the local school population. The intention was that, apart from normal school usage, the facilities would be available as much as possible to the community and, in particular, to target groups such as youth at risk.

As a reflection of its commitment to the programme, my Department provided funding in excess of €34 million to cover in full the capital cost of constructing nine dual use halls with enhanced facilities attached to post-primary schools. Eight of these halls are located in Dublin, including the halls referred to by the Deputies, and one is in Cork. The full list of relevant schools is as follows: Firhouse Community College, Tallaght; Killinarden Community School, Tallaght; Collinstown Park Community College, Clondalkin; Scoil Phobail losolde, Palmerstown; Pearse College, Crumlin; College of Further Education, Inchicore; Senior College, Ballyfermot; St. Michael’s secondary school, Finglas; and St. Vincent’s Convent secondary school, Cork city. These halls are of a different order of magnitude to the standard school PE hall. They are over three times the size of a standard hall and include a large number of distinct spaces, including the main arena, a meeting room, a fitness studio and a multi-purpose area.

An application was made by my Department in 2006 for dormant accounts funding to enable community usage of the halls to commence. Government approval was received in 2007 for the drawdown of funding of approximately €2.1 million in respect of six of the halls, including those referred to by the Deputies. In regard to these six halls, management structures were put in place and community groups were given access. In Dublin county, County Dublin VEC has managed and operated the halls at the schools in Firhouse, Killinarden, Clondalkin and Palmerstown, while in Dublin city, Dublin City Council, on behalf of my Department and City of Dublin VEC, has managed and operated the halls at Inchicore and Crumlin.

The position is that the allocated dormant accounts funding will provide for the operation of these halls until the end of 2008. My Department does not normally fund community facili[862] ties but we are in contact with other Departments with responsibilities in this area and will be in contact with the relevant stakeholders.

I thank the Deputies once again for affording me the opportunity to outline to the House the current position on this matter.

  Deputy Brian Hayes: Will the Minister of State give way to a question?

  Deputy Seán Haughey: Yes.

  Acting Chairman: The Minister of State cannot take questions.

  Deputy Brian Hayes: This is a crucial issue which needs clarification. The Minister of State indicated he has been in contact with other Departments. Will he put on record what Departments were contacted?

  Acting Chairman: The Minister of State might be in a position to answer following the debate.

  Deputy Brian Hayes: There is latitude in this regard. It is a crucial issue. What Departments were involved?

  Deputy Seán Haughey: I am not in a position to give that information to the House tonight but I will undertake to obtain the information for the Deputies.

  Deputy Brian Hayes: I appreciate that.

  The Dáil adjourned at 9.05 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 16 October 2008.