Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1 - 19)




  1.  Mr Allen, a very warm welcome to you and to your colleagues. We really enjoyed the dinner which we had with you, not all that long ago, and it is an index of the extent to which we enjoyed it, that we were anxious to have the opportunity of taking evidence from you directly. It may be helpful if I say that we are having a series of these conversations and examinations of non-departmental public bodies. We will not be publishing individual reports on each such session, but we will be producing a composite document which embraces a series of such bodies that we have seen, so there is a formal aspect to what we are about. I do not know whether Mr Robinson had the opportunity of seeing you before he left the building, but he has a Committee meeting of the New Northern Ireland Assembly this morning and I think we all agreed it was probably better, since he is a member of your body, if he was not engaged in asking you questions himself. We will endeavour to make our questions follow a logical order. We have a couple of colleagues who will be flying in this morning who have not yet arrived and who will join us during the course of the proceedings, that is quite apart from any other Member from the Province who joins us. Because we will seek to follow a logical order it may well be that the questions will come from different corners of the room in sequential order. If you want to gloss an answer you have previously given while we are in session today, or if after we have taken evidence and sent you a transcript, you wish to add a gloss, please do not hesitate to do so and, likewise, we will reserve the right to send you some supplementary questions in writing if there is something that occurs to us, after having read the transcript, that we have not yet been able to cover. Before we open the formal questions, is there anything of an introductory nature you would like to say over and above the helpful documentation you have already sent us?
  (Mr Allen)  I think everything is in our Strategy for Sport and our Annual Report. I think everybody appreciates what the Sports Council's roles are and basically it is the development of sport, encouraging young people into sport, boys and girls, taking them right up to excellence and also the responsibility for facilities and the National Lottery in distributing the National Lottery funding for sport throughout Northern Ireland. We also feel that, within all that, sport plays a major role in the economics of the community and a survey which was carried out at the end of 1989 showed very clearly the importance of sport within the economy for Northern Ireland. We are talking at the moment of about 12,500 jobs created through sport within Northern Ireland. The last figure we have for money spent on sports equipment within Northern Ireland was in excess of £100 million. They are key points and they show what we can do with peace and with the development of real facilities within Northern Ireland. That would be my opening gambit.

  2.  How many different sports received Council support in the last financial year?
  (Mr McCartan)  To the best of my recollection, Chairman, there are about 85 different governing bodies recognised by the Secretary of State as being eligible for grant-in-aid. Some years there is a variation and 79 or 80 may only make an application.

  3.  That clearly determines the framework within which you operate. How do you decide which organisations are going to get priority? I noticed from the Annual Report that there are some sports where you spend more money on administration and less money directly on the sport concerned and then there are others where the opposite occurs.
  (Mr Allen)  I think you appreciate the low level of funding that we have within Northern Ireland, and we have to have priorities the same as a good business has, and we have to look at the priority sports and we have listed 26 priority sports which would give not only money but officer time, but there are a large number of sports that are minority sports and they need support financially and in terms of giving manpower to them, they do not justify that because of the costs. What we are trying to do is concentrate on the top 26 sports as a priority. This is not unique because it is something that the rest of the United Kingdom has followed.
  (Mr McCartan)  There exists three prioritised groupings of sport. Priority one is where 26 or 27 sports fall into three categories: first, those sports that are associated with the physical education curriculum in our primary schools and our secondary schools; second, those sports that are linked with the Commonwealth Games; third, those sports that are linked with the Olympics. They receive the major focus of the very small amount of money that the Sports Council in Northern Ireland has.

  4.  I am conscious of the role that you have in encouraging excellence in sport, which can mean a quite substantial concentration of resources on a relatively small number of people. I am also conscious under "Sport for All" of the need to encourage mass participation and your figures show the extent to which you are succeeding in that. It would be quite interesting to know how those compare with other parts of the Kingdom and whether that is calculated. How do you determine the balance between the two aspects of policy?
  (Mr Allen)  I think the priority must be "Sport for All" and that is what we spend the vast majority of the money on. I think what we do is we spend money on excellence where there is excellence and that is a small percentage. I think we have been able to promote programmes that not only are unique to the United Kingdom but the rest of Europe. For instance, we have city sport and youth sport. Youth sport is all the curriculum sports and we have it in Belfast and district and we have put it into Londonderry and they have been extremely successful as they have given young people the opportunity of playing sports of his/her choice. There is an enormous amount of money going into that. We look at every governing body who put a bid in on its merits. Our excellence is really within the Commonwealth Games and when the Commonwealth Games come in we put in a very substantial sum of money.
  (Mr McCartan)  You quite rightly say, Chairman, that there is always a dichotomy between where we should invest the very limited amount of money we have. There are over a quarter of a million volunteers participating in the organisation and administration of sport. We probably only have about £1.4 million to cover the A to Z of sport, beginning with excellence, so you can see that there is only the capacity to spread the jam very thinly. To the best of our abilities we try and prioritise into three sections, i.e. getting started, keeping going and searching for excellence, which are the three themes which are contained in the Strategy for Sport in Northern Ireland. I have on my right Dr Shaun Ogle who can give you the statistical information you ask for in relation to your comparisons.

  5.  We did not have a note in advance about Dr Ogle so perhaps he would like to say a word about his own role.
  (Dr Ogle)  I am the Senior Research Officer with the Sports Council for Northern Ireland. As to figures about comparisons, we lag slightly behind Great Britain in that 64 per cent of the adult population in Great Britain participate in sport on a regular basis and we are 59 per cent. We lag slightly behind in terms of males in that we have 67 per cent participation against 70 per cent in Great Britain; in terms of females, we are 53 per cent here in comparison with 57 per cent, so we are slightly behind, but, nevertheless, those figures are substantial. To get over half the population involved is very significant.

  6.  You alluded in your last collective answer to the young. Can you say a bit more about how those programmes are mounted, and how far you are actually able to respond across the 85 sports to initiatives or requests to get things started among the young in particular sports?
  (Mr Allen)  I think the first thing was city sport. City sport was really for the primary schools. It was for two sports, Gaelic football and soccer, within the deprived areas of Belfast and they had the link between the coach, the school, the community and the club. In other words, what happened is not only did they teach the young people how to play their sports, but they also helped the teacher to be able to take on that particular sport and that particular coaching after they had left. There was a development within the club whereby, whenever the young people started getting to a certain age, they were easily collected by the club to join their sport, but we developed that even further into what we now call "youth sport" and youth sport is all the curriculum sports. I think you will agree, Mr Chairman, it is all about money. If we had all the money we require, we would love to have youth sport throughout the whole of Northern Ireland, but the money is not available as yet. We would like to introduce more sports into it and other sports would like to be part of that, but the money is not available. The increase in participation has been quite staggering and that is coming from the governing bodies of sport because, first of all, we are getting more people into sport, we are getting more people to play sport of his or her choice and that is a key area especially within Northern Ireland. For instance, a school may be a rugby school and it might not be every young person who wants to play rugby, some might want to play cricket or soccer. Within the schools that we have concentrated on, we are concentrating on curriculum sports. The schools have played a major role in keeping the doors of their schools open to 11 o'clock at night and having the coaches coming in from the clubs, from the governing bodies and helping to encourage young people into sport, to develop their excellence within sport and also to help the teacher. I think they are key areas all within the one scheme.
  (Mr McCartan)  Youth sport seeks to integrate three strands of activity, i.e. the school, the club and the community and acts as a model which has been copied by our colleagues in England and Scotland in particular. Youth sport now exists in four out of the five Education and Library Boards. Youth sport now exists in 15 out of the 26 district councils. Youth sport has seen the development of a significant number of Sports Development Officers. What it tries to do in essence is close the circle because in the past the primary and secondary schools have developed an interest in young people in sport, only to find when that interest was tested outside, the clubs—the community clubs—were not of themselves ready to handle it. We are taking a three strand tripartite approach to the development of youth sport.

  7.  My observation is descriptive and not evaluative, but there have been difficulties in Great Britain over the course of the last 15 years in making certain that there was provision for supervision by teachers of sports activities outside ordinary school hours. Is that a problem from which you have not suffered within the Province?
  (Mr Allen)  I think we were suffering from that and even in your time, when you were Secretary of State, I was trying to encourage the Department of Education to make it almost law that the schools should be open after school hours. We thought at the end of the day it was easier to introduce something like youth sport, which encouraged the schools to be part of something bigger and better and make them feel ownership, and I think that has been pretty evident, especially over the last year, where Principals from schools have been saying how great this is and how honoured they are to be part of it, because for the very first time they are giving their young pupils the opportunity of playing a sport of his or her choice. I cite one school in Downpatrick where in November of last year I was presenting prizes, and the Principal got up and said that having applied to get into youth sport for over a year, they were now delighted and honoured that their school was now part of this and he went on to tell the parents who were there of the big advantages for their pupils and for the schools from being part of what is a great operation. The answer to your question is that things are getting easier. If we have more money to put into youth sport, then we can encourage the schools of the benefits of joining our scheme and therefore their facilities have to be open to all.
  (Mr McCartan)  In terms of working relationships, it has been noted that there has been a significant decline in after-school activities, particularly in England, Scotland and Wales as a result of some educational policies which some people call Baker days. It would be true to say that in Northern Ireland the commitment of our physical education teachers and non-physical education teachers has been maintained and there is a strong and vibrant after-school activity programme for a range of sports.

  8.  In a lot of the areas we have been talking about you are quite clearly operating in concert with other agencies and schools, but I assume that district councils would also come into that category. In those activities where you are working in collaboration with some other agency, either Province-wide or individually, how far does the initiative come from you and how far does it come from them in terms of the collaborative activity?
  (Mr Allen)  I think the initiative must come from the Sports Council because it is our role to try and develop sport and it is our role to make sure we bring the partners with us. We have been very very fortunate within Northern Ireland as there is a law going back to the Stormont government, whereby all the district councils have to statutorily provide sporting facilities. This is the only part of the United Kingdom where that happens. Basically we work, very, very closely with the district councils, we meet them on a regular basis and where there is a good scheme they have worked very closely with us and the Department of Education, the schools and so on have all worked together for success and it is an amazing situation that within sport everybody does work together within Northern Ireland from whatever party they may be.
  (Mr McCartan)  The Sports Council in Northern Ireland take the lead in exercising their statutory responsibilities. One of the ways that is most readily recognised is in the fact that for every 70 pence we have invested in activities related to district councils, their investment has been £1.70. We believe that we have levered a significant return on our investment and we believe that can only happen when the district councils are very happy with the product that they are being given.

Mr Salter

  9.  I want to explore the area of cross-border co-operation. Perhaps you can start off by setting out the cross-border initiatives. Let us deal with the extent of cross-border co-operation that there is at the moment with the Republic.
  (Mr Allen)  I think it is evident that there are approximately 35 all-Ireland sports. It is pretty obvious from that statement that we have to make sure that, as we did on Saturday when our team were playing France, we work to the same coaching instructions and therefore it is pretty evident in funding that we have to work in the same way. We have introduced a number of schemes, e.g. youth sport within Foyle which includes Donegal and the City of Derry. We have also introduced at the Omagh leisure centre within the last couple of months a Sport for All leader board which covers the border counties of Ireland between the north and the south and that is pretty significant. I think it is also very important within Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland that we make sure there is not double funding. We have to make sure that we work together and see who is getting what, because at elite level it could be possible that an athlete could be getting funding from ourselves and the Republic of Ireland. I think that is really where we have got to at this moment in time.
  (Mr McCartan)  At a strategic level, the Sports Council have a respective involvement in the collective strategies for sport. A representative of the Irish Sports Council, then COSPOIR, sat on the Committee for the Northern Ireland Strategy for Sport. Members of the Northern Ireland Sports Council sat on their strategy committee. At a strategic level, given that we have 35 all-Ireland governing bodies of sport, there has been significant interaction. That interaction also takes place at the operational level. We have Sport for All leadership awards where we have Youth Sport Foyle, where we have cross-border initiatives on peace and reconciliation, where we have commonality to ensure that our coaches and referees all abide by the same set of rules and all abide by the same set of interpretations. There is a fairly healthy relationship.
  (Mr O'Connor)  The district council sector within the Republic of Ireland over the last 20 years would have sought advice on both facilities and management from ourselves. Also, the Institute of Leisure and Amenity Management is an all-Ireland body with a southern and northern committee, and through that mechanism we have been able to be part of, and influence, the facilities strategy which has been developed in the Republic of Ireland and we will continue to play that in an informal but productive way.

  10.  It is heartening to hear all these initiatives are up and running, but they do not appear to be reflected in the Annual Reports. Having read through it, I can only find two references to any all-Ireland initiatives at all. Is this a light you are hiding under a bushel?
  (Mr Allen)  No, I would not have thought so. When you write an Annual Report you are writing it really a year in reverse. What you have to consider is the best initiatives we have had, which are the last two I have talked about, youth sport between Derry and Donegal and the same with Sport for All leader boards. In the last few years, these things would have been talked about because of our all-Ireland sports. For instance, we employ and we pay for a development officer for rugby within Northern Ireland, but that development officer obviously comes from the Rugby Union of Ireland, because the strategy has to come from the governing body right through to the schools and so on, so that they are being coached in the same way. Maybe we should be blowing our trumpet a little bit more.

  11.  What co-operation do you have with sports councils in England?
  (Mr Allen)  We have a very very close relationship. For the very first time ever under the United Kingdom Sports Council, Northern Ireland has become a member. Unfortunately, for many long years I was an observer under the old GB Sports Council and I suppose in many ways Scotland and Wales felt they were only an observer anyway, even though they were full members because it was controlled mainly by England and the vast majority of the people there were English and so were the officers. I think really what has happened within the United Kingdom Sports Council is it has given Northern Ireland a major role in it and we do play our part. I think it has now become a body that is wholly United Kingdom, where the views are coming from the United Kingdom and it is not an English viewpoint. As a member, I would say that maybe it was not very helpful to see the numbers on the Sports Council increased from what was nine members up to something like 12 members because it creates the balance a wee bit towards the English way.
  (Mr McCartan)  The Sports Council in Northern Ireland is a relatively small Sports Council in comparison to our colleagues in England and Scotland in particular, but nonetheless the relationship operates at three levels, i.e. at strategic level, at corporate level and operational level. The Sports Council in Northern Ireland makes a significant contribution on a number of fronts. For example, most recently, the concept of school coordinators was developed and piloted and came out of our youth sport scheme and has been adopted by Scotland and England as a major item of expenditure from their Lottery funding. Given our size, we can frequently act as a pilot for projects and we do so frequently.

Chairman:  We are now going to move on to the area of major facilities and capital expenditure, but because we want to make certain that we have a comprehensive go over the whole course, I am going to slightly interrupt the logic by taking the next series of questions on major facilities and capital expenditure, then completing the pattern that we want to have completed and then, since I think a number of other Members of the Committee may well have supplementary questions to ask arising out of your initial evidence about major facilities and capital expenditure, coming back at the end so that there is the opportunity around the table for people to pick up things, particularly in the context of the concept of a national stadium.

Mr Beggs

  12.  Good morning, gentlemen. What progress is being made with the proposal for a major multi-sports stadium for Northern Ireland?
  (Mr Allen)  I think a lot of progress has been made. I think it is fair to say that I have talked to senior politicians within the United Kingdom as well as on this side of the water and I think the case that we have put is a very strong one. Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom that does not have a national facility. We are in difficulty in losing out totally in major sport. For instance, international rugby matches are all played in Dublin. When Ulster was playing in the European final, 60,000 people from Northern Ireland wanted tickets when there were only 28,000 tickets available. That was a day not just for the people of Ulster or Ireland to remember but for people throughout the whole of Europe. We could have had that in Northern Ireland if we had had that facility. What has happened to us over 30 years is the traffic has all been going one way. It does not matter whether it is entertainment or sport, no matter what sport it is, no matter what final it is, it all goes to the Republic of Ireland. I think rugby would agree with us and say, "Yes, we will help you and we want to help you, providing you have a facility that will not cost an enormous amount of money". Our facility at Ravenhill at the moment seats around about 2,500 people and stands probably another 5,000 or 6,000, and when there is a special match they have temporary seating, but you cannot keep doing that all the time and obviously there is a danger as well with that. We talk about Windsor Park and its 13,000 capacity. I know for certain that if we had the stadium in a neutral venue we would get 30,000/40,000 wanting to support Northern Ireland and it is very very evident from talking to the Irish League clubs and their Chairmen that they would prefer their national team to play in front of 30,000 to 40,000 people rather than play at Windsor Park at the moment in front of a maximum of 12,000/13,000 people because they would all benefit from the share of the gate and everybody would benefit, whereas at the moment the ground is owned by Linfield and Linfield take all the benefit. I do not criticise them for that, because that is the way it always has been. I think we should look at the great opportunities that are there in the future. We should look at the Ulster rugby team. In the past they were playing in front of 2,000 to 3,000 people and then all of a sudden we have peace where people can go and stand freely and enjoy themselves. We saw the success of the Ulster team and the crowds that came out at both the qualifying round, the quarter finals, the semi-finals and the final and we saw people from all sides of Ulster supporting Ulster as a team. I am convinced that, in the future, there is nothing to stop soccer doing that somewhere along the line in the European league because soccer is changing dramatically and will continue to change and there will be opportunities for bringing a European cup final to Ulster, e.g. Manchester United against Benefica or maybe it might be team Ulster against whoever. We had a write up in the Telegraph led by the Sports Council and a phone-in which showed 94 per cent of the population thought a national stadium was necessary and that is massive by any standard, and the number of phone calls that came in was by far in excess of anything the Telegraph had ever had from people phoning in. We have support from soccer, support from athletics and entertainment. For entertainment purposes, we have the Waterfront Hall and we are going to have an indoor arena. It is not too long ago, within the past year, that 40,000 people turned up to watch "Entertainment Young People" in Botanic Gardens. If it had been a wet night, it would not have been fair to our children to have to stand out in that. You could have a national facility with 40,000 seats and the concert in the middle of the ground. That is what we are looking for. We are not looking for a stadium just for sport, but one that all of the people can own and we want a stadium owned and managed by the people of Northern Ireland and I think this is one of the areas that brings success.
  (Mr McCartan)  The concept of a national stadium was identified some six to seven years ago when the Sports Council in Northern Ireland created a shopping list for national facilities. Northern Ireland does not have any significant national facilities for playing or training. If our sports men and women are to develop to the highest level, and if they are to have a quality of opportunity with their counterparts in England, Scotland and Wales, then a national stadium is required. The vision for a national stadium is currently being looked at in terms of the development of a strategy and a structure for its implementation and discussions are taking place between the respective bodies, which include government departments, the Department of Education in Northern Ireland, the Department of the Environment and some of the potential users of it, which includes the Ulster branch of the Irish Rugby Football Union, the Irish Football Association, Northern Ireland Amateur Athletic Federation, event managers like Jim Aitken, and others.

  13.  So you are saying that your options are very limited if a major sporting event has to be staged in Northern Ireland. Is there any possibility of Lottery funding helping with the provision of a new multi-sports stadium?
  (Mr Allen)  I think this is the crux of the matter. In Northern Ireland we have no difficulty with the way the money has been distributed, we get per head of population, but I think what we have grave difficulty with is that for 30 years nothing has been spent on sporting facilities within Northern Ireland and I think there should have been an amount of money set aside to bring Northern Ireland up to the proper standard, and I have spoken to Mr Chris Smith on a number of occasions and said to him the money must be found to help Northern Ireland with a national facility. We had the same argument with the indoor arena and the money was found. We are going to have an indoor arena for indoor sport and entertainment. We need an outdoor facility and Northern Ireland itself cannot find the money. We cannot find £50 million from what we have here. We come under the Department of Education and there is no way that the Department of Education is going to throw out £50 million of their funding. What we need is for there to be a special case made for Northern Ireland and it needs to be made very very strongly and I hope this Committee helps us to do that. We have got the great belief that when the Millennium part of the funding finishes at the end of this year, that will be used to help those under-developed parts of the United Kingdom who do not have the facilities and Northern Ireland is not the only part and that could be done, but it has now been decided that that money will go into the New Opportunities Scheme. If there is a New Opportunities Scheme, then Northern Ireland could be one of the recipients of a new opportunity for Northern Ireland through this scheme. I would hope that in some way the argument could be put in that way and that we could be helped through that.
  (Mr O'Connor)  Could I maybe give the scale of the Northern Ireland Lottery Sports Fund? £6 million per annum is our budget figure at the moment and we are talking about £100 million for the stadium. It would take us quite a few years, even using all of the budget, to reach that. There is only £4 million of that budget available for capital funding and it has to cover both the local, the district and the national need. Our own budget just does not have that potential. England, for instance, would have £220 million-odd from the Lottery, a sizable sum and a budget which allows them to have an opportunity to do major developments when ours just does not hit the target. Our major award to national facilities tends to be around the £½ million mark and we try and spread the budget round and it does not go very far.

  14.  What international standard swimming facilities are presently available in Northern Ireland?
  (Mr Allen)  I think the answer to that is none and again we are the only part of the United Kingdom that does not have a 50m swimming pool and every part of England has a 50m swimming pool and Scotland and Wales have. It is also a fact that not even in the whole of the island of Ireland do we have a 50m swimming pool. I think there are great opportunities, because if we were the first part of Ireland to have a 50m swimming pool then it would mean for the first time a national team training in Northern Ireland. That is good for our economy and a good boost for Northern Ireland as a whole in terms of swimming.

  15.  Do you have plans to develop further facilities in the near future either on new sites or by upgrading existing facilities?
  (Mr Allen)  What we have—and we hope to announce it before the end of this month—is a national training facility under the United Kingdom Sports Institute and, from our point of view, this is a breakthrough because at one particular time it had been suggested that, because Northern Ireland was so small, we should not have it, that we should be sending our athletes to Sheffield. Of course, we argued very strongly that if you have a good athlete who could win a medal at the Olympics or the Commonwealth Games, it just does not make sense if they have to travel one day to get there and one to get home and one day for training. The fact that we always have to argue, Mr Beggs, is that need comes first. I know finance has to come afterwards, I know it is an important asset. If we do not have these facilities then we will always be second best and we will always be travelling. At the end of the day, we are saying Northern Ireland needs these facilities and we should not be disadvantaged because we are part of the United Kingdom and because there is a piece of water in between us.
  (Mr McCartan)  The Committee should be aware that facilities in essence can be subdivided into two, i.e. national training facilities, which Northern Ireland does not have any significant level of, and performance facilities, e.g. in the shape of a national stadium and a national indoor arena. Northern Ireland is soon to get a national indoor arena, but I would bring to the Committee's attention the fact that sport is a global activity, and unless Northern Ireland has the capacity to participate in that global activity, then it would fail to attract potential major international events because it does not have the facilities to host these events. If you look down at England and you look at Wembley, you see that there is £200 million plus going into that and they have Twickenham and Crystal Palace. If you go north and you look at Manchester, a whole host of indoor and outdoor facilities are being made there for the hosting of the Commonwealth Games in 2002. If you go to Scotland, you see that Scotland has Hampden Park, they have Ibrox, they have Parkgate, Murrayfield and Meadowbank. If you go to Wales you see that they are going to host in Cardiff Arms Park the World Cup in rugby capable of hosting upwards of 100,000 people. If you go to the south of Ireland, you see that they have stadiums in the shape of Croke Pairc, Landsdowne, and in Cork, they are in essence building a new one at £65 million. We will not be there unless Northern Ireland gets itself into a position where it has a national stadium or a 50m pool.

  16.  In your memorandum you draw attention to the potential £20 million compliance costs of improving safety standards in sports grounds. What is the timescale in which this is likely to be incurred and what representations have been made to Government to seek to secure a contribution from public funds?
  (Mr Allen)  I think the difficulty we have is the legislation for health and safety grounds within Northern Ireland has not yet been made, it seems to be put off from year to year. If the legislation was in place for Northern Ireland, then we feel very strongly that government would have to put some money down to bring those grounds up to standard. If they do make a law, then I think it follows that somebody must put some money into it. I think soccer has been particularly disadvantaged over a number of years because their grounds have been dilapidated, mainly because of a lack of support, and it is pretty evident that over the last three or four months, crowds are coming back to soccer, mainly because of the easy access and the ease there is with the peace process, people can be more confident going to grounds. Glentoran and Linfield played a match around Christmas time when 13,000 people got into Windsor Park and the ground was full to capacity. In previous years the figure would have been about 4,000 to 5,000 people. Coleraine is not the richest club certainly in the United Kingdom, but they have been given a bill by the health and safety people of about £250,000 that they have to spend on their ground to bring it up to standard otherwise it may be that they cannot use their ground. We cannot get money from government because there is no legislation. We want legislation so we can get more money and so we can help them. It is extremely difficult for them. We are having situations arising in Irish League matches where the RUC are saying they cannot allow more than a very small number of people into the ground, so they are losing revenue on a regular basis. We have a match this weekend where there is a team from Portadown coming to Belfast and they are saying they cannot come because this could be a difficulty. So all the time soccer is losing through health and safety, through other local difficulties that we have, and I think if legislation was pushed through then we would see a massive step forward. We have a plan with the Sports Council, the Football Trust and the IFA and if that was put into place then money could be loosened up very very easily.
  (Mr O'Connor)  We have the stewarding of grounds, crowd management and we have facility development, and the £20 million relates to the facility development. There is a joint working party between the Sports Council and the Department of Education and the Health and Safety Department within Belfast offering advice on that side of things. We have put in place a Northern Ireland Football Safety Officers' Association, and that is beginning to make a contribution towards the training of stewards and the development of a safety culture within the clubs themselves. That is something that is on-going at the moment and we got a small budget for that last year of about £5,000 which enabled us to get that up and running and that is on the move at the moment. As the Chairman has said, without the legislation we do not have the same clout as they have in England with the Bradford report and the Taylor report and how that was implemented. We recognise this could be an Assembly matter which will delay it somewhat. In the interim, the Lottery Sports Fund can allocate up to between £400,000 and £500,000 per year and that means it would take us 40 years! The Department are looking at the moment to see whether there is any other funding that might be able to be matched to that which would make it a budget of maybe £1.2/1.5 million per annum and which would allow us to do the basic essential works. We have commissioned a piece of consultancy work which is looking at what the essential pieces of work that need to be done are and what is the priority within the grounds where they would go. The third thing to say is that one of the difficulties in Northern Ireland is that in the rest of the United Kingdom, clubs can put their hands in their pockets and make a contribution of 25, 30 or 50 per cent towards their costs. In Northern Ireland there is little or no money in clubs at all and they are looking for a much higher percentage. There is some action being taken and we await the legislation. In the interim we have a few possibilities and we are depending on some matching funding because £½ million out of the £4 million of Lottery funding is quite a sizable amount for what does not give you one more person kicking a ball.
  (Mr McCartan)  For us there is an equity issue here because under the Taylor Report the Football Association was able to provide very very significant amounts of money through the Football Trust to clubs in Scotland, Wales and England. Those monies came as a reduction in the levy taken from the football pools. Northern Ireland did not benefit significantly from that because we had not in place the legislation that would enable the Football Trust to do it. In fact, the Football Trust were willing to do it, but we could only find a mechanism through a contribution to Windsor Park and a couple of other relatively small minor contributions. We are exploring with the Minister for Sport, Mr McFall, and the Football Trust ways and means by which that equity of opportunity can be redressed.


  17.  Before I call Mr McWalter, let me ask one supplementary question on the subject which Mr Beggs has just been raising with you. In your briefing note on capital funding, uniquely in the entire documentation, you have five words in capital letters where you ask under 6(v) "Where will this come from?" in relation to safety in sports grounds and the necessary compliance costs. In the evidence which you have just given Mr Beggs, I understood the arithmetic of the difficulty in reaching the £20 million figure. On the other hand, I also got some flavour that, if only the legislation was in place, it would be possible to do all sorts of things which cannot be done at the moment. Would you like to shed light on whether your situation is really one of despair and disaster, or whether it is a case of the Perils of Pauline and if only the train could be switched on to a different track the problem would go away?
  (Mr Allen)  Despair sometimes but not disaster. I think our role is to keep pushing what we believe is right for Northern Ireland. I think what we would like to do is maybe move the tracks a little, maybe we would like to get the tracks coming across the water and maybe thinking in terms of what Northern Ireland needs, because really what we have had is three per cent of funding from the Pools Association going into the Taylor Report; really where it started was from top to bottom, from the Premier League clubs in England and Scotland and Wales, but Northern Ireland were so far down the line that there was no consideration given to us, with the exception of Windsor Park. We would like them to think in terms of what they could do for Northern Ireland in terms of sport. We look at the situation on a weekly basis. A number of people leave Northern Ireland to watch their favourite team. There is an interest in soccer, there is an interest in sport, and I think if we had the right facilities we would like more of the Linfield-Glentoran support that we saw very recently and I think that would be only fair and just.
  (Mr O'Connor)  You used the word "disaster" and the department within the Belfast City Council who deal with safety in sports grounds used that language just recently following a game where it was as close to a disaster as you could get. It is the one area which requires immediate attention. We are actually in the business at the moment of controlling crowds attending matches in a number of these areas and there is an urgency there. It is my fault if the words are standing out a little bit on that one, but it is an immediate one and it is not a big sum because the £20 million cannot be spent all at one fell swoop. It is maybe a £4-5 million budget over four or five years which would allow that to begin to happen.
  (Mr McCartan)  There is also a strategic issue in relation to the Football Trust and the funding of it. You will be aware that the funding which comes from pools is about to end in March of this year and I know there is a presentation being made to the Treasury to see if it can be sustained. Northern Ireland has not been a significant beneficiary of that fund to date. However, if it is closed in March of this year, it will close with Northern Ireland not being a significant beneficiary and what we would hope is that the Treasury would allow an extension of this 2.5/3 per cent from the pools to the Football Trust to complete the unfinished work throughout the United Kingdom.

Chairman:  Mr O'Connor's capitals seemed to have the salutary effect of attracting our attention to the issue. As far as Mr Allen's answer is concerned, I shall think of this as a new dimension of the Giant's Causeway!

Mr McWalter

  18.  I begin with an observation. I think one difficulty with football in Northern Ireland has been that no Northern Ireland match has ever been in the football pools and that makes a huge difference. Vauxhall Conference clubs now get huge attendances because they become higher profile because of that. I do not know whether it is within our power or your power to suggest to those that devise the football pools that Glentoran, Linfield and others might at some stage appear on them.
  (Mr Allen)  I think it is a very good observation and it is one where we would wonder why. Northern Ireland play the pools and as a percentage of the population they have been a bigger player than any part of the United Kingdom. It is also true with the National Lottery that more money is spent per head of population in Northern Ireland than anywhere else. It just seems as if somewhere along the line, at the time we need it most, in our most difficult year, we seem to have been excluded. Maybe we have not played the right role. Maybe soccer has not played the right role. It is an issue that comes up from time to time and it just seems to fade away, and maybe it is one that we should put in a very strong way with your support.
  (Mr McCartan)  I would not wish to challenge the accuracy of your opening statement, but I think I can recall a very bad winter we had in the sixties when a number of matches were cancelled across England, Scotland and Wales and the weather had not been as inclement in Northern Ireland and Northern Ireland was included in the football pools.
  (Mr Allen)  So we have our uses!
  (Mr McCartan)  I would also point out that Northern Ireland per head of the population is the biggest purchaser of pools coupons in the United Kingdom.

  19.  Those are some interesting observations and I hope we can give you some support in trying to raise the profile of Northern Ireland football as that would be helpful. Secondly, there have been two references already to the rugby match on Saturday and I hope that we will not have any more. It is rather painful, is it not? In your memorandum you draw attention to the low level of capital funding available to you and, indeed, the highest amount of money you ever achieved from the capital budget was back in 1982/83 which was just over £8 million. Presumably that is at 1982/83 prices as well. That would be significantly more in current terms. Clearly it has gone down a lot. What effect does this have on sports development in Northern Ireland?
  (Mr Allen)  I think it is fairly significant when we look at what was spent when the Department of Education looked after the budget and maybe I played a role in the budget being transferred from the Department of Education to the Sports Council because I think that is where it should be, where we can use our own priorities, but when they made the decision to hand the budget to the Sports Council they decided that all major facilities that were acquired already had been completed and therefore they gave us a very small sum of money, £118,000, to continue with that and that is a fight we have on a regular basis and it is unfortunate that when the budget for the Department of Education comes through, the priority is schools and the refurbishment of schools which seems to be a better argument than sport. I think somewhere along the line we need to get sport at the top of the agenda, because sport is very very important to any country in that it is good for the community not just in sport terms but in economy and tourism terms. The statement I make very often is that sport brings tourists to Northern Ireland; tourism does not bring sport to Northern Ireland, yet in comparison with the Tourist Board for Northern Ireland, the Sports Council are way down the list in funding terms. The same thing goes for the arts. I have nothing against the arts, but there is no doubt in my mind that more people play sport than support the arts, yet we get about a third of their budget. Somewhere along the line we need people who are interested in sport to say, "Stop. We must re-think this situation. We must prove the value for money of sport." The vast majority of tourists come to Northern Ireland on sports occasions. I highlight one particular significant event that is taking place on 27th and 28th March and that is the world cross-country championship with 83 countries competing, it will be televised throughout the world and a large number of people will come to Northern Ireland for that. There is an add-on to sport and I think we must be recognised for that.
  (Mr McCartan)  The failure to invest significant amounts of capital in sport has a number of impacts on sports development in Northern Ireland. In the mid-1980s the capital investment was largely in the main through the Department of Education and ring-fenced for leisure and recreation facilities, it was not focused on national training facilities and/or national performance facilities. The decline in the capital investment has a two-fold impact. The two-fold impact is those facilities that were originally built now need refurbishing and so they are making a significant claim on our Lottery funding while at the same time our Lottery funding is completely incapable of financing any level of national training and our national performance facilities.
  (Mr O'Connor)  We talked about a 50m pool earlier on and one does not exist. There is no district in Northern Ireland that requires a 50m pool, but Northern Ireland requires one. Lisburn are developing a new 25m pool and we did a feasibility study to see how much extra it would be to make that a 50m pool, but the problem was we did not have a reasonable budget on two counts. The first one was to meet that additional cost so that the ratepayer would say it is not just for us and, secondly, there is a level of on-going cost. Without the capital funding we are not able to make that step forward to bring people with us and to develop and move forward. There are a whole range of side issues also attached to capital funding, such as the database which we have for Northern Ireland which is actually in place, but we can just about keep it on an even keel, we cannot develop it further. Out of that will come the facilities strategy and again that is another issue that requires funding. There is the whole quality issue in management and again we are being overtaken there rather than being able to make strides forward, because the capital budget does not exist to develop that side of things. Sports development does not actually get moved forward because you do not have that seed funding to enable you to bring others on board with you.

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