Sport Ireland Bill 2014

PaulConnaughton-2-150x150

Dáil Éireann 24 September 2014

Thank you for the opportunity to speak on this Bill.

Leaner government and a common sense approach to the nation’s housekeeping is what this Government is about and the Sports Ireland Bill 2014 is another example of the practical steps that are being taken on a daily and weekly basis to simplify and slim down the number and nature of government agencies.

This Bill provides for the dissolution of the Irish Sports Council and the National Sports Campus Development Authority and the merging of their functions into a single entity, Sport Ireland. Earlier today we had further evidence of the common sense approach being taken to sports and sporting facilities with news that sports facilities are to be exempt from commercial rates, which will come as a very significant boost to sports clubs all across the country. I know that many sports clubs will welcome the extra money that will be retained in their coffers and it will be put to good use in enhancing the availability of sports across the country.

The health-giving properties of sport for the mind and body are well known and in an era when child and adult obesity is an ever-increasing problem, it makes sense to channel further investment into sports facilities at community level. Combating obesity through sport and making sport more attractive and accessible to all is one element of our national approach to sport.

However, there is a darker side to sport in some cases, and this Bill designates Sports Ireland as the anti-doping organisation for the state.

It is almost three years ago since the Public Service Reform Plan was announced and it had at its heart a plan to reduce the cost of government and seek better value for money, while all the time placing customer service at the core of each service. That plan set out 48 rationalisation measures involving 30 actions and 100 agencies and today’s Bill emerged out of that rationalisation drive.

The past three years have also seen very significant developments at the National Sports Campus at Abbotstown. Three years ago proposals were submitted for the development of a new national indoor athletics track, a national indoor sports centre and gymnastics training centre. In 2012 ownership of the lands at Abbotstown was transferred from the Minister for Agriculture to the National Sports Campus Development Authority.

Last year saw the Irish Sports Council and 20 other national governing bodies move to Abbotstown and we also saw the opening of the National Pentathlon Centre, the National Horse Sport Arena and the National Diving Training Centre and Minister Noonan announced €13 million for the new National Indoor Training Arena. Earlier this year all-weather multipurpose synthetic pitches for Gaelic games, soccer and rugby opened. I’m sure you will agree that all of this represents significant action by this Government and a significant commitment to the development of sport in Ireland and is most encouraging for our international athletes, too many of whom in the past had to train in sub-standard facilities.

I would issue one word of caution in relation to the development of this world-class campus and that relates to cherishing all our athletes and potential athletes equally. The new sports campus adjoins the M50, which will make it accessible for many people, but we must look at the effects of such centralised facilities and the impact on athletes whose homes are over 100 miles from these facilities. Have they an equal opportunity of accessing these facilities or are there supports or measures that can be put in place to make these facilities more accessible? Pardon the pun, but is the playing field equal for all competitors? I recognise that centralised facilities must be convenient for as many people as possible and cannot be located in remote areas, but I am sure that there are measures that can be put in place to reduce the expense and inconvenience for people whose homes are a long distance from the new campus.

I believe that this Bill and the practical approach that underpins it, will pay dividends for Irish sport, but I want to see the benefit of that spread among athletes from all corners of Ireland.