Senator Power and Minister of State at the Department of Tourism, Transport and Sport Discuss Sutton Dinghy Club’s Application for a Sports Capital Grant

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Senator Averil Power: The Minister of State is very welcome. Sailing was one of the great success stories for Ireland in the London Olympic Games, with eight Irish competitors taking part.

Annalise Murphy, a 22-year-old student, put in the best performance of the lot. Indeed, she put in the best performance for an Irish sailor since the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games.

I raise this issue with the Minister to put the proposition to him that it would be great if the legacy of that success this summer was a Government commitment to help open up access to the sport of sailing more widely to ensure more men and women of all backgrounds can take part.

Sailing is a fantastic sport, and one of the few in which the breakdown between male and female competitors can be quite even. It is a sport in which people of all ages can take part. One can be just as successful participating in one’s 60s as one can at 16, and people of all ages can compete against each other.

Sutton Dinghy Club in my constituency of Dublin Bay north has submitted an application for this year’s sports capital grants. I take the opportunity to draw the Minister of State’s attention to the fact that the club has been working hard over a long time to open up access to the sport of sailing. It is a sport that I appreciate can often be seen as elitist or a difficult sport to break into if one does not have a high income. The cost of equipment in terms of having a boat is very high, and some clubs charge expensive joining fees and membership fees, which can be off-putting, but Sutton Dinghy Club has made a point of trying to keep access to the sport as affordable as possible. It does not charge an entry fee and it has made an effort to keep the annual membership fee as low as it can, particularly for children. It provides a wide range of courses for non-members, and last year more non-members than members – 1,200 people of all ages – took part in its training courses. Groups that have used the club include the local schools, the Ballymun Women’s Resource Centre, the Central Remedial Clinic, Pearse Street Night-time Tours drugs awareness group, and Youthreach programmes, to name just five. The Minister will be aware from that mix of groups that it caters for people who are trying to overcome drug problems, people with disabilities, and those who have dropped out of school. They are using the sport of sailing to give those people an opportunity to take part in a sport, exercise, and enjoy themselves, which they would not have done otherwise.

The success of the club’s training programmes, in terms of the number of non-members it can bring through, is largely based on the fact that over the years it has acquired sailing boats for the club. This ensures that boats are on-site to enable those who want to do training courses to complete the Irish Sailing Association level 1 and 2 courses without the need for any equipment of their own, and the course fees are quite low. Its problem, however, is that it does not have the boats it needs to enable people do courses of level 3 and above. Its application for the sports capital grant is to secure the funding it needs to buy boats to enable people to do such courses. If funding is granted it will be of benefit to the entire local community and to a wide range of socioeconomic groups in different clubs, as I have mentioned, as well as to men and women equally, which is something the Department has tried to incentivise in previous years through the women in sport initiative and through prioritising applications from clubs promoting equal access to sport for women.

I am glad to have the opportunity to draw the Minister’s attention to the club’s application. I am aware he has hundreds of them on his desk from people across the country. I appreciate that resources are limited but the club is seeking only €25,000 – a reasonable amount, but one that will make a difference in that it will open up access to a sport in which many people would not otherwise have an opportunity to partake. I hope the legacy of the success we had in sailing this year will inspire the Minister to take this opportunity to open up access to the sport to ensure more people can enjoy sailing and compete for us in the future.

 

Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Michael Ring): Before I give the Senator the official response I want to say that my heart is with her on this issue, and I will give her an example in that regard. I come from Mayo. There is a place called Bellacragher, which is a disadvantaged area, as the Cathaoirleach will confirm. It is an area that would not have the wealth of many other areas in the county or the country, yet a man has set up an organisation in Bellacragher which is involved in the activity about which the Senator spoke. He has second-hand boats, and great support from the National Sailing Federation, and he has given an opportunity to young people who would never otherwise have one, in terms of resources or money, to get involved in this activity.

The Senator referred to Annalise Murphy. We had a fabulous Olympic Games, and I want to compliment the participants in both the Olympics and the Paralympics who did the country proud. Ms Murphy, who was a great competitor, was very unlucky. I had the pleasure of meeting her in Farmleigh, and I met her mother also before the event. I take this opportunity to congratulate her.

We have an abundance of water in this country—–

Senator David Norris: Yes.

Deputy Michael Ring: —-and we should examine areas in which we can do better. We have the facilities. We are surrounded by water, and there is no reason we cannot have more success in these sports at international level. I have asked the Irish Sports Council to review the Olympics and the Paralympics to determine where we did well, where we could do better and where our strengths lie, particularly in the high-performance areas. We need to target those areas. People talk about how well we did in boxing. The reason we did well is that the Government put money into the high-performance areas. In all the other events, the Government has put money into high-performance areas and it has worked very well.

I will give the remainder of my reply and if the Senator has any questions following that I will try to answer them. I thank the Senator for raising this issue. Senators will be aware that the sports capital programme is the main channel of Government support for developing sports facilities and purchasing sports equipment for sports clubs and organisations across Ireland. This programme aims to foster an integrated and planned approach to developing sports and physical recreation facilities throughout the country. In particular, its objectives are to assist voluntary and community organisations, national governing bodies of sport, vocational education committees and local authorities in developing high-quality, safe, well-designed and sustainable facilities in appropriate locations and in providing appropriate equipment to help maximise participation in sport and physical recreation; to prioritise the needs of disadvantaged areas in the provision of sports facilities; and to encourage multi-purpose use of local, regional and national sports facilities by clubs, community organisations and national governing bodies of sport.

On 28 March this year I launched the first round of the sports capital programme for four years. The launch of the first round of the programme since 2008 demonstrates the Government’s commitment to encouraging more people to take part in sport. Every pitch drained, every sports hall refurbished and every piece of equipment purchased allows more people to participate in sport to their maximum potential.

The deadline for applications has passed, and my problem is that 2,350 applications have been received, seeking almost €230 million in funding. Only €30 million is available for allocations under this round of the programme. It is clear that the level of demand for grants far outstrips supply. This shows great enthusiasm for the sports capital programme, but it means we will be able to allocate only a fraction of the funding sought. It also means that the assessment process is particularly difficult and it will be much later in the year before we are in a position to announce the allocations being made under this round of the programme. It is beyond doubt that assessment of the applications is a very difficult task. That has always been the case, but this year it will be more difficult than ever. This is the first round of the sports capital programme since 2008, and clubs and community groups have been waiting for this moment with much anticipation.

In every parish in every county there are people giving their time and energy to sporting activities, and many of them are working very hard to provide or improve facilities that are fit for purpose and accessible. We would love to support every deserving project, but the harsh reality of life is that there are limits to what we can do. That is the reason expectations have to be realistic. The outcome of this process is that there is a huge demand for funding and while it is great to have secured funding of €30 million, when that funding is allocated there will be a large number of disappointed applicants. That is the problem with which we are faced.

Regarding the application referred to by the Senator, the position, as with all other applications, is that there is a process under way whereby the applications are being assessed by departmental officials against assessment criteria. The process aims to target the projects with the most merit while also achieving a geographical spread of funding, as well as a fair spread of funding across different sports. I want to ensure the funding goes across all sports. When the assessment process is completed later in the year, the assessments will be submitted for ministerial approval. That was also the process in previous years. In that context, it would be inappropriate to comment on the merits or otherwise of any one particular application.

Senator Averil Power: I thank the Minister of State for his reply and unscripted remarks. I pretty much expected to hear everything that is contained in his script, but I was not aware of his passion for sailing and his commitment to opening up the position on water sports. I was delighted by what he said in that regard. Would it be possible for him to give an indication of the timescale involved? I gather that a decision on the applications is imminent. I appreciate the fact that he is present to deal with this matter which relates to Sutton Dinghy Club and hope he will consider favourably the club’s application which meets all of the criteria relating to disadvantage and equal gender access to sport, etc. He referred to the need to spread resources around. In that context, I am sure he will have many applications from other sports but not that many from sailing. I was interested in his comments to the effect that he had received applications from 2,350 clubs seeking €230 million in funding. That is an average of €100,000 per club. In that context, the €25,000 being sought by Sutton Dinghy Club is a relatively small amount, but it would go a very long way.

Deputy Michael Ring: I know the Senator’s heart is in the right place. I cannot comment on the particular application to which she refers, but given that she asked an honest question, I will give her an honest answer. As we have received 2,350 applications, the assessment process is going to take somewhat longer to complete. A management board meeting is to take place tomorrow and I have already given the Senator information that I will be imparting to the management board when I meet its members. The position is that we are hoping to be ready to proceed by the middle of November. I want the allocations to be issued by the end of that month because this will give clubs an opportunity to begin planning for the works they wish to carry out in 2013. That is the up-to-date position. The decrease in staff numbers in my Department has also lengthened the applications assessment process. In addition, we were really taken aback by the number of applications received.

We want to be fair to everyone involved and ensure all applications meet the criteria. There is no doubt but that I will be approached with applications which do not meet them. The Senator has made a very important point to the effect that every sport, particularly those which are minority in nature, must be given some of the money that is to be allocated. The three main sports always seem to do better. That is natural enough because they have more organisations and clubs. However, we must also consider the position of minority sports. I will be examining all of the relevant information and working to ensure to the best of my ability that there will be a good geographical spread in the funding to be allocated.

I must be honest and highlight the fact that the previous Government allocated money every year. We only have €30 million available to us and, as a result, many applicants are going to be disappointed. Some of them are seeking massive amounts of money. In that context, we will be obliged to consider the position carefully and then decide how we intend to proceed with the allocations.

Senator Averil Power: I thank the Minister of State.

 

 

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