Sport Ireland Bill 2014

I welcome the legislation. The objective of the Bill is to provide for the dissolution of the Irish Sports Council and the National Sports Campus Development Authority with their merger into the new Sport Ireland body. It designates Sport Ireland as the national anti-doping agency. The legislation allows for retaining the current master plan for the National Sports Campus. Those are laudable objectives.
The main principle of the new body is to be responsible for the development and co-ordination of sport in Ireland and the campus. It is also part of the rationalisation of bodies proposed by the Minister, Deputy Howlin, in the public reform plan 2011 with the objective of focusing on customer service, new ways of doing things and an emphasis on delivery. Those are laudable objectives. The objectives the Minister, Deputy Howlin, set there are very important and worthwhile and should be implemented. This is another example of that.

One of the main functions of Sport Ireland will be to encourage recreational sport, as well as competitive sport and getting sponsorship. Recreational sport is of enormous importance. An emphasis on participation is very important in the fight against obesity. It is self-evident how it impacts in that regard. It is very important to develop a range of activities to which many people can relate and involve themselves in, including cycling. I am very happy that in my county since the Government came into office, we have provided many cycle lanes in our towns and hinterland. Walking trails are important and my county council is doing considerable work in that regard. Mass participation in walking is important. All of these activities are important for health and for self-confidence in our young people and their capacity to avoid substance abuse etc.

I pay particular tribute to the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, who has been extraordinarily effective and dynamic in his Ministry. In the context of the times in which he has functioned, he has been particularly effective. The actual value of the sports capital grants is inestimable. We have had two rounds of them under the stewardship of the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, and we are heading into another one, we hope. They have done an enormous job. In partnership with the Minister of State and through assisting clubs with applications and empowering clubs in so far as I and my office could, I am delighted to say a large number of clubs from a diverse range of sports, backgrounds and activities, from urban, rural and different socioeconomic areas etc. in my constituency have benefitted greatly from sports capital grants. I salute the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, for that.

Far better than any platitudinous remarks about sports or grand speeches is to provide people with the wherewithal. We are now building the facilities and providing floodlighting for use in the winters, Tartan tracks and other infrastructure to allow for mass participation in sport. I am very proud to see this activity, which of course is labour intensive in many instances and creating jobs, but very importantly allows for mass participation in sport. It is an enormous achievement and one of which the Minister of State and the rest of the Government can be immensely proud. I am certainly proud to have been a facilitator and to some degree an organiser of a number of those. It is extremely important work.
We are all acutely aware of the cost of the health service in contemporary times – it is a perennial debate and does not merit repetition here. When we think of the cost of the health service, sport as an antidote or an alternative to health breakdown and difficulty is a very cheap option. It is not used enough. It is a very good way to keep people physically and mentally well, particularly our young people. Parents, educators and people who have experience of youth work will say that young people who enjoy and are involved in sport at some level – it does not need to be a high competitive level – do not become victims of substance abuse. Invariably they live complete lives and critically have a good self-image.
For young people it is how they perceive themselves and the degree of inner confidence they have that are important and will allow them to make the correct choices in life. Sport is key to giving young people that kind of inner confidence and the disciplines that go with training and participation in sport, the team effect etc. Even for those who are less athletic the participation and camaraderie that goes with it are important. There is wisdom among many sporting organisations in this respect.

A mass-participation activity in the sporting sphere that many people enjoy is swimming. I am delighted that through the good offices of the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, we have been able to support many swimming pools in my constituency, including those in Cavan town and Bailieboro. It is an important mass activity.

As well as developing recreational sport – the main issue is participation – I urge the new council to focus on participation in a range of activities. I encourage the Minister of State to include a sufficiently wide range of activities, whether it is walking, swimming or cycling, so that there is something for everyone.

I note that in some ways, cycling has become the new golf and has developed significantly. While that sort of activity is important, we must also develop our competitive sport, which also is important. One must salute the work of the GAA and other sporting bodies in this area. Social historians will never record properly the good done by the voluntary personnel in the GAA throughout the country on Saturday mornings, Sundays and week nights as they do their training and the pitch preparation, sometimes in dreary and dark conditions. These people are real patriots. However, there also is a need to develop and support competitive sport and in this respect, it has been a wonderful achievement – this again is a credit to the Government, the Minister of State and the collective effort – that key matches in the latter stages of the Euro 2020 competition will be played here. This is a huge achievement for the country as it is highly prestigious and will be massively significant in terms of tourism product and the county’s profile, as well as in the encouragement of participation in sport.

The new body will have responsibility for doping and its supervision. It is critical that doping be eliminated and for a set of structures and checks to be in place that prevent even its contemplation. It is so important from every perspective, including the country’s image, as well as for sport and all things, that doping should be controlled, that there should be disqualification and discipline and that a transparent process should be in place. This is implicit in and central to the legislation and will be implemented. As times, thankfully, are improving, one of the new body’s important roles will be to develop the national sports campus. It is a huge campus with enormous potential on which 500 acres are available and I look forward to its development, which will be an important step.

Before I conclude, I will make reference to coaching, which is part of the new body’s brief. As a primary teacher by background and as someone who represents a community and observes what goes on around me, coaching in schools has had an enormous impact. I refer to the trained qualified coaches, in respect of whom there of course must be a standardisation, that is, the proper good-quality coaches who have been vetted in every way for child protection and so on and who have been going into schools. I urge the Minister of State to develop coaching and make sure it becomes a mass activity everywhere and it is extremely important to support such activity. This legislation is good and brings together much extremely good work. It ties it together, puts it under one roof and rationalises it. In summation, I salute what the Minister of State has achieved thus far and I commend its continuation. If this could be done to the extent it was during recessionary times, much more can be done now that we are emerging from recession. The objective is that each person in the country, irrespective of age, social background, educational level or health profile, has some level of participation in something that can be described as sport or recreational sport on a weekly basis. This must be the objective and the aim and I commend that to the Minister of State as an objective above all others.

Senator Joe O'Reilly representing Cavan & Monaghan 2010. | An ExSite website