Speech at the Sports Policy Consultation at the National Sports Campus

5th November, 2015

Good morning everybody.


I am very pleased to see so many of you here today for our first discussion on the development of a new National Sports Policy Framework.


Myself and Minister Ring want to fully engage with you, the sports stakeholders, on this new policy as you are the people that are working on the ground in sport on a day to day basis.


The aim of the new policy is to provide the framework for sport in Ireland over the next ten years and to set the agenda for the newly established Sport Ireland.


Following today’s discussions, my Department will develop a public consultation and question paper over the coming months.  I will be inviting the sports sector, stakeholders in the public and private sector and the general public to respond to a wide range of questions on the future of Irish sport. Your input today and into the public consultation paper is critical to identify the main issues and challenges facing the sports sector.


Your input today and into the public consultation paper is critical to identify the main issues and challenges facing the sports sector.




I would like to set out the priority issues that I want to see addressed in the National Sports Policy Framework.


My two priorities as Minister for Sport is to promote maximum participation in sport including among smaller sports and in disadvantaged areas.  I would also like to see a further closing of the gender gap between men and women participating in sport.


I am committed to continued support for our elite athletes in delivering high performance and in particular to ensure that the facilities at the National Sports Campus make the greatest possible contribution to this.  I will deal these issues in more detail as I proceed.




I was delighted to be able to secure a significant increase in the funding for sport in last month’s Budget.  Next year will see the overall sports programme allocation increase by 40% to €126 million.


This is strong recognition by the Government of the value of sport in all aspects of Irish society.

The current expenditure allocation for the newly established Sport Ireland for 2016 is €47 million.  This is an increase of €3 million and will allow Sport Ireland to augment its support for high performance athletes and for the programmes of the NGBs across the various sporting codes.  It will also enable Sport Ireland to support the implementation of the National Physical Activity Plan which will be published shortly.


Further funding of €4.5 million will be available next year through Dormant Accounts Funding for sports measures in disadvantaged areas.  This additional funding will allow the development of further much needed sports programmes targeted at people living in disadvantaged local communities.


Almost €25 million is being provided in 2016 for the development of the National Sports Campus, including completion of the National Indoor Arena.  Other major components of the sports programme are the Sports Capital Programme and Local Authority Swimming Pools programme.




Sport Ireland is now up and running and I will be meeting with the new Board this afternoon. The establishment of Sport Ireland is a great and timely opportunity for us to develop a new national policy for sport.  Both the Irish Sports Council and the National Sports Campus Development Authority delivered a lot for Irish sport in recent years.


Sport Ireland has taken on the previous functions of the Council and the Authority, meaning that a lot of the existing work will continue.


However, I want to be very clear that the merging of both organisations must be greater than the sum of their parts. I expect a new departure.


The development of the National Sports Policy Framework will therefore allow us to look at the existing structures, programmes and infrastructure in place for recreational and high performance sport and consider if there are ways to administer these more effectively and deliver the very best for sport in Ireland over the next ten years.


The National Governing Bodies of Sport, the Local Sports Partnerships and volunteers at community and grassroots level are delivering important programmes throughout the country to encourage greater participation in sport.


What I would like to do now is to go through some of the issues raised in the discussion paper in the hope of beginning the dialogue with you in what I hope will be a fruitful half day’s work.




Starting with participation, the most recent figures from the Irish Sports Monitor show that adult participation in sport has risen from 44.8% in 2011 to 47.2% in 2013 which is equivalent to almost 1.7 million Irish adults participating in sport regularly.  Participation rates in outdoor recreation have grown steadily in recent years and there have been increased levels of participation in individual sports.


However, the research also shows that a large number of Irish people across all ages are not meeting the recommended levels of physical activity, particularly among those with low incomes and living in disadvantaged areas.  People with higher levels of education or income are also more likely to participate in sport than lower education or lower incomes groups.


I want the National Sports Policy Framework to look at ways that we can support further increased participation in sport across all ages and groups.


Last week Minister Ring and Minister Ó Ríordáin jointly hosted a very successful Women in Sport Conference which I know many of you attended.  The conference was a great opportunity to highlight the good work that is happening through Sport Ireland’s Women in Sport programme which is celebrating its 10th anniversary.


A lot of positive results have been achieved in recent years with women’s participation in sport growing from 40.9% in 2011 to 42.7% in 2013. This is equivalent to over 750,000 women and girls aged 16 and over participating in sport on a weekly basis.  I am delighted to see the gender gap in sport is continuing to close.  I would like to see the Women in Sport programme continue into the future and a further narrowing of this gap.




The last number of years have been very positive for Irish high performance sport with a wide range of successes by Irish athletes and teams at the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games and at European and World events. The achievement of our elite sportspeople is inspirational to all of us and has a very positive effect on the international perception of Ireland.


The Government is keen to enhance this particularly in 2016 when our athletes will compete at the Rio Games.


As we move towards Rio next year and a new four-year cycle following the games, I want to look at the existing structure, programmes and facilities to support high performance athletes and ascertain if the current high performance system is working or are there areas that could be improved.




The Sports Capital Programme has an important role in the continuing development of Irish sport.  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.


One of the key features of the Sports Capital 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.


Last month Minister Ring announced allocations of €41 million under the Sports Capital Programme. Since 2011, a total of €130 million has been allocated under the programme for sporting facilities and equipment and these allocations have provided support for more than 2,600 projects nationally.


But when it comes to spending money, delivery is key and a key question asked by the paper in this regard, I feel, is “how do we link programmes and capital investment in sports facilities”?




There has been significant progress at the National Sports Campus in the last few years with the development of world-class training facilities where elite athletes can prepare for national and international competitions. Athletes now have access to a range of excellent Campus facilities and to the services provided by the Institute of Sport.


The coming year will see further significant developments at the Campus. Work on the development of the National Indoor Arena is scheduled to be completed in November 2016. The Arena has long been considered to be the missing piece in our national sporting infrastructure.


We are proceeding with the development 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.


On that point, one of the questions posed in the discussion paper that I found particularly interesting was “what further developments to sports stakeholders consider should be prioritised as and when funding becomes available” in the future?




I also want the new National Sports Policy Framework to consider sport in a wider context.  There is a wide range of organisations and entities involved in sport in Ireland, from local to national level, and greater clarity is needed on the strategic direction, desired outcomes and funding for sport across all levels.


The new policy will consider the wider roles of sport in the economy, health, education, tourism, business and social areas and how sport can help deliver Government objectives in these areas.


It is a complex landscape and there is a need to adopt a more joined-up approach on the structures and roles for the delivery of sport policy, across all levels, from local to Government level.  This is not an easy task but it is necessary to ensure that resources and funding are targeted effectively, that there is no duplication of functions and that strategies can be achieved.

Against the backdrop of that landscape, I believe the National Sports Policy Framework should have a regular tool for allowing the voices of sporting NGBs to be heard. Their collective voices on matters such as budgets, agency relationships, planning and the performance of state bodies should be heard.


Minister Ring and I are committed to agreeing this process by the end of this year.




Sports tourism has contributed significantly to the success of Irish tourism.  There are two main aspects to Sports Tourism – activities and events:


  • Outdoor sports activities such as hiking, cycling, and water sports are becoming very popular activities in attracting overseas visitors.
  • Large participative sporting events, such as adventure races, attract increasing numbers of overseas competitors and the hosting of major sports events can generate additional international visits and help put Ireland onto travel itineraries as a holiday destination.


I encourage and support the ongoing efforts to attract international sports events.  The hosting last year of the Giro D’Italia on an all-island basis showed that the island of Ireland can successfully host such events and looking to the future, we have secured some major sporting events.


Other events in the pipeline include the 39th Curtis Cup match which will be held in 2016 at Dun Laoghaire Golf Club,  the Women’s Rugby World Cup in 2017, the UEFA Euro 2020 tournament at the Aviva Stadium, and of course  our bid for the Rugby World Cup in 2023,


Despite these, though, the paper asks the relevant question – “Is Ireland getting its fair share of the estimated €450m global sports tourism market?”.



In the new, recent history of sport in Ireland, entitled Sport & Ireland, UCD historian and author, Dr. Paul Rouse says that sport ‘carries the capacity to provoke extravagant emotions – good and bad – that somehow seem proportionate, even when they are clearly not at all so when later considered. It is with this capacity of sport to seize the emotions that sport finds its meaning. It is an essential part of modern life; a vital presence’.


In considering this, it is important that future policy and Government funding for sport is targeted at the right interventions.  I want the National Sports Policy Framework to consider options for the future financing of sport.  This will include where the focus of future Government funding for sport should be targeted and the potential for other funding sources.


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.  Myself, Minister Ring and my Department will continue to engage with you all as we develop the National Sports Policy Framework and I look forward to some productive discussions today as we start this process.