Keynote address to the Federation of Irish Sport Annual Conference

18th May, 2015

Good afternoon everybody.


I am delighted to join you today for the third Federation of Irish Sport Annual Conference.  I have met many of you since my appointment last year and I hope to get the opportunity to talk to more of you today and over the coming months.


I am really enjoying this job, not least because of the infectious enthusiasm of you all here and also the infectious enthusiasm and energy of Minister of State Michael Ring, who I work alongside and who is passionate about sport, just as you are.


I am keenly aware of the important work being carried out by the sport sector which has hugely positive economic, social, cultural and health benefits both for individuals and broader society.


I want to take this opportunity to talk about developments in sport policy over the last year and also share with you my priorities for sport over the coming year.


I am glad to report that since taking on this role;


  • The Sport Ireland Act is now in place,
  • A new round of the Sports Capital Programme has been advertised,
  • Good progress can be reported at the National Sports Campus and
  • The National Physical Activity Plan will be published shortly.


I will address these issues in more detail as I proceed.


As Minister for Sport I am very aware of the importance of sport in the lives of Irish people, both socially and from a health perspective. I strongly believe that sport has great potential to contribute to a much better society overall.


The Government is fully aware that we must continue to promote and invest in sport and physical activity. It is important that we support our sporting organisations. We must also provide the best sporting facilities we can, not just for our elite sportsmen and women but for people of all ages and all abilities.




I hardly need to tell you about the difficulties the public finances experienced and continue to experience. That said, I am pleased to say that we have maintained Government funding as much as possible and tried to minimise the impact of cuts to ensure the continued development of sport.


The total amount available for spending on sport this year is over €114 million. This is a very significant investment in Irish sport and is a clear indication of our commitment to the sector.  


Take for example, the Sports Capital Programme.  It is vital for sporting organisations to be able to provide modern fit-for-purpose facilities to encourage and support participation across a range of different sports, and in various locations throughout the country, and the SCP helps make that happen.


One of the key features of the Programme is that it helps to take some of the pressure off sporting organisations by providing much needed finance to assist in the completion of projects.


I was delighted, together with my colleague Minister Michael Ring, to make allocations of €40.5 million under the 2014 round of the Programme.   We were also delighted to be able to make changes in 2014 and 2015 to make it more accessible to clubs and organisations than ever before, particularly to those that do not have their own clubhouse or land.


Minister Ring announced the latest round of the Sports Capital Programme earlier this year, with €40m available for allocations.  It is now a fully on-line process and the deadline for applications this year was 24th April 2015.


The 2015 round of the Programme has had almost 1600 applications – a clear sign of the continuing high need and demand for sports capital funding.




I want to spend a little time now, if I may, talking a little about my priorities for sport, namely;


–          Increasing participation in sport,

–          The development of the National Sports Campus,

–          Ensuring the success of the new Sport Ireland body,

–          The new National Physical Activity Plan and

–          The development of a national sports policy and sports tourism




Funding from my Department to the Irish Sports Council for this year is €42.5 million.  The focus of this investment is to facilitate increasing participation in sport and physical activity, which is one of my key objectives.


I have two young children myself and like all parents I spend my weekends ferrying them to various sporting activities. But I do this willingly as I appreciate the value of participation. I was unable to participate myself as a youngster because of asthma so I am even more anxious that my own children participate.


In this context, I would like to acknowledge the continuing efforts of the Irish Sports Council, the National Governing Bodies, the Local Sports Partnerships and the volunteers at community and grassroots level for your work in encouraging greater participation in sport and for your role in contributing to healthier communities throughout Ireland.


This important work is paying off, as can be seen in the most recent figures from the Irish Sports Monitor.  These show that participation in sport has risen from 44.8% in 2011 to 47.2% in 2013.


This is equivalent to almost 1.7 million Irish adults participating in sport regularly.  These are very encouraging figures and we need to continue to work to increase these levels further.


I am also delighted to see the gender gap in sport is continuing to close, as the Irish Sports Council’s Women in Sport Programme celebrates its 10th anniversary. The Programme continues to have a positive impact in terms of growing sports and encouraging as many women as possible to experience the benefits of participation.


I have been receiving a lot of feedback on the importance of Women in Sport in my day-to-day contact with people and I would like to see this Programme continue into the future.


And on the subject of getting people involved in sport, I was delighted to recently attend the 10th anniversary of Ireland’s only gay soccer club, the Dublin Devils. Sport can play a key role in tackling homophobia in our society. We all too have a role in ensuring that there is no place for homophobia on the sports field.




The Irish Sports Council has played a very important part in the development of sport at all levels.  We are very lucky in Ireland to have a host of very talented and highly skilled sportsmen and women who are reaching the top levels across a wide range of sports.


The structures put in place over the years to support our elite athletes have helped them to reach the top levels nationally and internationally.


Last year was another outstanding year for Irish high performance sport with 55 medals achieved at World and European events.  We have already witnessed some great sporting events and achievements this year at home and abroad in many sports from canoeing to rugby, cricket to show jumping, athletics to paracycling to mention just a few.


It is a wonderful sign of the considerable level of achievement attained by our elite sports men and women across a wide spectrum of international and domestic sports that we would not have the time to individually mention every success to date this year.


I look forward to many more successes in the second half of this year and next year as we move towards the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Rio and I want to publicly acknowledge the role of the Chair and CEO of the Irish Sports Council for their contribution to Irish sport over the years,




Turning to the National Sports Campus, since its establishment, the National Sports Campus Development Authority has made a major contribution to Irish sport through the development of world-class training facilities at the site.


The Campus has seen very significant progress in the last few years.  We now have facilities in place of which we can be proud and where our elite athletes can prepare for national and international competitions.


New facilities opened in the past couple of years include:


  • a world-class National Horse Sport Arena,
  • a National Modern Pentathlon Centre,
  • a National Diving Training Centre and
  • a Multi-Sport Synthetic Pitch facility.


Athletes now have access to a range of excellent Campus facilities and to the services provided by the Institute of Sport and we can see Irish elite athletes happy to base themselves at home, as they are supported by a world-class and distinctly Irish system at the Campus.


This is a major departure from days when athletes chose to leave our shores, if they wanted a real chance of succeeding at top levels internationally.


This year will see further significant developments at the Campus. Work on the development of a National Indoor Arena is scheduled to be completed in November 2016. When it is completed, the Arena will provide world-class indoor training facilities for a wide range of sports.


As well as athletics and gymnastics, there is potential use for sports such as badminton, volleyball, table tennis, basketball, fencing and numerous others.


The Arena will be a great addition to our national sporting facilities.


Work is also underway on a High Performance Training Centre at the Institute of Sport. That will be ready for handover to the Institute in August this year. The Centre will be available to assist our athletes in their preparations for Rio 2016. Work on the Campus Pavilion is underway and will also be completed in August.


The FAI and the GAA are finalising the development of their pitches which will ready during the summer.


We are proceeding with the development of facilities at Campus on an incremental basis as funding becomes available. I am confident that more world-class facilities will be developed at the Campus in the coming years.


Of course, as with the Irish Sports Council, I also want to publicly acknowledge the role of the Chair and CEO of the NSCDA  for all they have done for Irish sport over the years.




Now that the Sport Ireland Act is in place, we are making arrangements for the early establishment of the new body. With Sport Ireland, we are merging the experience and expertise of two bodies who have delivered a lot for sport in recent years.


The baton is now being passed to Sport Ireland to continue the important job that needs to be done for Irish sport.

The work on transitional arrangements for merging the Council and the Authority has already begun. The establishment of Sport Ireland is a great opportunity for us, as the people responsible for the development of Irish sport, and we must now ensure that we put in place a body that is well-structured and well-focused on delivering for sport.


I will shortly be designating the first CEO of Sport Ireland, who will be appointed for a period of one year and who will have responsibility for facilitating the transition to the new body during that time.


The Public Appointments Service will also shortly be advertising for positions on the Board. I am hopeful that the process will be completed quickly so that the Board can be appointed in good time to allow for the speedy establishment of the new body.


This is an exciting time for Irish sport and I very much look forward to seeing Sport Ireland take its place in the Irish sporting landscape.


The new body will be taking on the existing functions of the Council and the Authority, meaning that a lot of the existing work will continue on as before. However, I hope that the establishment of Sport Ireland will also bring with it a fresh impetus for the administration of Irish sport.


A lot of work is being done in preparing the ground for this new body. I know that my officials will be working closely with key stakeholders, including the Federation to consult about the policy framework needed to underpin the new structures.


We must all ensure, once it is established, that Sport Ireland will work in a way that delivers the very best for sport in Ireland.




The sport sector will have a vital role to play in the implementation of the National Physical Activity Plan which will be published shortly.


As many of you know, the cross-sectoral Working Group that developed this plan was co-chaired by my Department and the Department of Health and also included representatives from the Irish Sports Council and the Federation of Irish Sport.


This structure was chosen because we recognise the cross-cutting nature of physical activity, where policies on sport, health and education all have a key role. I know that greater collaboration between Government departments on sport and physical activity was an issue raised at last year’s conference.


New structures to oversee the implementation of the National Physical Activity Plan will continue with this successful model of partnership and collaboration.


In early March this year, we worked closely with the Irish Sports Council and the Federation to host a Consultation Forum with sports stakeholders on this Draft Plan.


Over 60 representatives from Sports Governing Bodies and Local Sports Partnerships came together and I understand that there was a great atmosphere in the room, a sense of people working together towards a common goal.


While the Irish Sports Monitor shows that participation in sport is rising, it also shows that a large number of Irish people continue to be sedentary and are not meeting the recommended levels of physical activity – particularly among those with low incomes and living in disadvantaged areas.


We know that people with higher levels of education or income are more likely to participate in sport than lower education or lower income groups.


The National Governing Bodies (NGB) and the Local Sports Partnerships (LSP) working together at community level can play an important role in targeting the ‘hard to reach’.


I know that a number of NGBs have been successful in developing adapted versions of their sports and reaching wider audiences.  The LSPs have also been very successful in promoting mass participation events such as Operation Transformation and the An Post Cycle Series.


Community groups, clubs and other organisations at grassroots all have a role to play.


As policymakers we sometimes focus too much on the negative, on fixing things that are wrong.  With the new National Physical Activity Plan, we seize the opportunity to emphasise the positive, to look at what individuals and organisations can be encouraged to do to help themselves.  Simple steps to increase physical activity and improve their physical and mental health.  This is not only great for the individual, it is great for Ireland.


As more people and organisations at grassroots level get involved, the National Physical Activity Plan will be core to building stronger, healthier, more closely integrated communities, which are active and engaged at local level.




My Department is also developing a Sports Policy Statement which will set the framework for sport in Ireland over the next ten years and will also set the agenda for the new Sport Ireland.


It will examine cross-sectoral issues such as the role of sport in education and health and where the focus on Government spending in sport should be.


My Department will engage with the sporting bodies in the development of this policy and the document will take account of existing policy documents such as the draft National Sports Facilities Strategy which was published as a consultation document in 2012 and the National Physical Activity Plan.




With my tourism hat on, I encourage and support the ongoing efforts of the tourism agencies and the National Governing Bodies of sport to attract international events, subject, of course, to an assessment of the costs/benefits involved in any State financial support and, in particular, the number of overseas visitors that we could attract.


The Programme for Government includes a commitment to prioritise event tourism to bring major events to Ireland.  Major sports events provide a great showcase for Ireland, bringing in overseas visitors.


We know that the media coverage of sports tourism events helps to put Ireland on to travel itineraries as a holiday destination.


The Giro D’Italia, hosted on an all-island basis, showed that the island of Ireland can successfully host such events.  With it, the Giro brought 200 of the world’s elite cyclists, 200 domestic and international media, 500 staff, thousands of supporters and a combined TV audience of 800 million across 170 countries.


We also hosted the Croke Park Classic, whenPenn State University played the University of Central Florida in a great game of American football last summer.


Looking to the future, we have secured some major sporting events.  The Government assisted the IRFU in preparing its bid to host the Women’s Rugby World Cup in 2017 and as you know that bid has been successful.


The Government and the Northern Ireland Executive announced our support last December for the preparation of a joint bid for the Rugby World Cup in 2023.  The IRFU, with the support of both Governments, has commenced work on compiling the bid.


Just this week I was delighted to announce former Tanaiste and rugby international, Dick Spring, as Chair of the Oversight Board for the bid and Brian O’Driscoll as Bid Ambassador. I also named other key board members, including Hugo MacNeill, who previously chaired the joint Rugby World Cup Working Group.


I was delighted to see that the FAI and Dublin City Council were successful in the bid to host part of the UEFA Euro 2020 tournament at the Aviva Stadium; a bid which of course had the strong support of the Government. This is a fantastic opportunity to host a premier international tournament.


I am also delighted that Dun Laoghaire Golf Club is set to host the 39th Curtis Cup match which will be held in 2016 and which will highlight the excellence of the golfing available here.  Ireland is of course well known internationally for it high quality golf courses.


Our tourism and sporting infrastructure are amongst the finest in Europe and are well capable of providing the modern facilities required by participants and spectators alike.


We will continue to look for opportunities to both grow tourism and develop sport in Ireland by hosting major events with real overseas revenue-generating potential.




Finally, I would like to thank the Federation for their invitation to address you today. I am well aware of the excellent work being done by the Federation and I would like to congratulate you on your conference which is growing in importance every year.


I am very keen that all of us involved in Irish sport continue to work together and engage productively on matters that are important to sport in Ireland.  We have a mutual interest in seeing sport develop to its full potential.


I want to thank Sarah and the Federation and all of you who are representing your sports organisations here today for your continuing commitment to Irish sport.


I wish you all well in your sporting endeavours for 2015 and beyond and look forward to engaging with you across this afternoon.