Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20 - 39)



Mr McWalter

  20.  Even the facility in Sheffield is not of sufficient standard for international swimming events and there is great difficulty in having the appropriate facilities for the number of spectators that such facilities would ever encounter. In the south of England, where I come from, it is a particularly vexatious issue. What in your view would constitute an adequate capital budget?
  (Mr Allen)  I think we are talking in the region of around about £70 million, i.e. £50 million for a national stadium——

  21.  That is per annum?
  (Mr Allen)  No, we are talking about collectively over a number of years because I think what we are always talking about is catching up. I believe the Lottery should have been saying, "Government will hold on to a percentage of that money and they will distribute it to the lesser developed parts of the United Kingdom", and we would have been one of them. We do not have a national stadium. We are talking in the region of £50 million. We are talking about £12 million for a 50m swimming pool and we are talking around about £20 million to upgrade grounds within Northern Ireland to a level that would pass the health and safety regulations. Really what we are talking about is around £80-85 million. If we got that over a period of four years then I think we could go places. Some people say we are always looking for something, but what we are looking for is something that we have not got and I think this is unique within sport. We have seen the benefits of sport in the last 30 years in spite of not having all those facilities, the success that we have had within sport, the number of winners we have had at top level, and I think it is obvious in soccer as Northern Ireland are still the holders of the Four Home Country Championship and we say it is a pity we won it because England might have played and continued to play and we would have benefited from that. We are the holders and may be for a very long period of time. We would love to see them coming back again. During the 30 years of difficulties, sport has kept people together and it has brought people together in a very natural way. It has kept the fuse off the keg really in many many ways because in some of the most difficult circumstances rugby would have won the Five Nations Championship, Northern Ireland won the Home Country Championship, with people winning gold medals at the Olympic Games, e.g. Mary Peters, the Commonwealth Games success of the boxer Barry McGuigan, all sports that brought people together. I think somewhere along the line there needs to be some reward. All we are asking for is just to get up to scratch. After we get up to scratch, then we should be able to maintain whatever we have got because, as you all know, it is the cost of the borrowing to build these facilities that brings the facility down, but once it is paid for the difficulty of maintaining it is not that great.
  (Mr O'Connor)  I think the 50m pool is where people need to sit round and decide where additional funding comes from to do the major one-offs. There is the routine job of providing, for instance, synthetic pitches at strategic locations where you are looking at upgrading of the voluntary sector and, indeed, supporting district councils in not just bringing the old facility back up to what it was 20 years ago, but enhancing it and giving it a new life. When we were operating the Lottery budget two years ago, a purely capital budget of about £8 million a year, that was the figure we felt over a ten-year period would have been very adequate to do the basic work. We are talking about needing somewhere between £3.5 to £4 million per annum to do both the planning and development work around that and the advisory services that go along with it. That would be an ideal figure that would make that happen.

  22.  In summary, you think there is a £70 million catch-up figure and you need something like £4 million a year thereafter. Would that be the sort of thing you are talking about? The phasing in of £70 million would be open to negotiation, is that right?
  (Mr Allen)  That would be adequate and that would be a huge success from our point of view.

  23.  At least we know what the need is. You mention in your general briefing paper that the current formula generates 2.8 per cent of UK resources for Northern Ireland because that is related simply to population. The difficulty with that, of course, is that is a figure for the whole of the United Kingdom and if one bit starts negotiating a special deal then other bits of the United Kingdom will instantly do that and it can be quite difficult to break that philosophy. You probably need other partners to assist you in doing that and that relates back to the question my colleague Mr Salter asked you earlier about the extent to which there is co-operation, because you really would need a substantial lobby of people who all agreed that there was something wrong with this formula and who made a concrete suggestion about how that formula might change. Have you considered there might be another tack, which is that in Northern Ireland you have got a much stronger case if it is peace and reconciliation money? I notice, for instance, that you have not got the GAA involved in your plans for a national stadium, they were significantly missing, and that makes it much harder for people who might think of Northern Ireland as being a special case, even if they want to keep the basic formula intact, looking for a justification which is peculiar and special to Northern Ireland for the really very large sums that you have suggested are needed.
  (Mr Allen)  I think you have asked a number of points and to me they are very, very significant. I think the support we had from other parts of the United Kingdom is there and we have seen that within the four Home Countries sports councils at a UK level. I think it is also very clear that over the past 30 years we have been the only part of the United Kingdom that has been subjected to enormous problems on a daily or hourly basis on some occasions, and we are now coming out of that and no matter what country in the world it has been, they have always needed help. I do not think we can be any different. The point about the 2.8 per cent is a very difficult argument to win and I like to fight winning battles or at least go in that direction. I think what we need to be talking about is how we can catch up. Perhaps we need a separate fund. You used the words peace and reconciliation and I think that is an excellent way of going forward and you coupled that with the GAA, but the GAA is different in structure to any other sport. We would love to see them within the national stadium and everybody else would, but the pitch is 160 yards long by 100 yards wide and, therefore, to put a soccer or rugby pitch into the centre of it would be difficult from trying to create the atmosphere point of view, but the costs of the facility would increase dramatically because obviously everything widens. We have talked to the GAA and they would support very very strongly a national stadium, they would like it to happen. They have a county structure and we have been helping their grounds because they have been very very fast, through the National Lottery, to own their facilities, whereas in soccer in many cases they were professionals so we could not really help in a significant manner. If we take Casement Park within Belfast, they would want to play their county home game in their own ground, as would Tyrone or Armagh or wherever and when it comes to the all-Ireland semi-finals and finals then we would need, if we were going to put significant funding into it, a guarantee that at least one semi-final would be played for hurling and alternate years the all-Ireland football finals being played in Northern Ireland otherwise this would not represent value for money.
  (Mr McCartan)  If I could just address your question using three "P"s. The first of those "P"s is partnership. The Sports Council for Northern Ireland extensively uses partnership though levering up the limited amount of money it has, whether it be district councils, whether it be Education and Library Boards, whether it be governing bodies or whether it be other Sports Councils within the United Kingdom. For example, for the United Kingdom Sports Institute we have managed to lever in an additional £5 million from England and £1 million from Scotland to help us provide here in Belfast a United Kingdom Sports Institute. That partnership is one we pursue. The next one you referred to is percentages, and you referred to the 2.8 and the need to change that or grow the lobby. I would point out to you that the National Lottery Charities Board gives Northern Ireland in the region of 4 per cent based on need. I would point out to you that the Millennium Commission gives Northern Ireland 5.2 based on need, and so we see that within the five good causes that exist within the Lottery there are variations and methodologies used other than a population base. The final "P" that I would point out to you is power. You will note that the new Scottish Assembly which is about to be formed will have tax raising powers and those tax raising powers can, at least in theory, be utilised to help fund some of those. You will note that the Northern Ireland Assembly does not have tax raising powers and so does not have the capacity to make a contribution towards it.
  (Mr O'Connor)  The funding for the Sports Council and the capital grant that we were talking about earlier is the grant-in-aid side of things, which falls within the Department of Education's grant to the Sports Council. They may use it as a guide, but they are not tied to it by any particular Act other than to be seen to be making some sort of a comparable contribution. What it misses is the adequate threshold that you require, because a 50m pool will not cost us one-fortieth of the cost that it costs in England, it will cost us exactly the same.

  24.  I get the impression from this that you probably recognise that the way of getting the monies that you are seeking is probably really not to try and get the formula revised, which might be banging your head against a brick ball, but finding other ways round it. Certainly, in the estimates for Northern Ireland there is over the course of the next three years something of a decrease in the total amount of resources dedicated to security, but I think people are mindful that it is possible that that may be an over-provision if things go well with the Belfast Agreement and I think that those who are hovering nearest the table at the relevant time may get some substantial morsels from that particular feast.
  (Mr Allen)  It is very encouraging and it is something we have our eyes on. I would like to comment on the peace and reconciliation point and say that really soccer is played by all communities and so is rugby. Rugby is now increasing in terms of popularity. Once upon a time and not too far away it was only played by some schools. The number of schools playing rugby is increasing within both communities. If we had a stadium in a neutral venue it would encourage people to go into a peaceful and enjoyable atmosphere to support a team whether they win or lose and that would be very significant in peace and reconciliation terms.

Mr Donaldson

  25.  Gentlemen, you are very welcome. The Assembly will have limited tax raising powers insofar as it will control the levy of the regional rate which does encompass certain sports issues, and so it may be that there is some leverage there, that the Assembly could use in respect of additional capital expenditure being made available to sport from the levying of the regional rate. When deciding on capital expenditure priorities, how do you balance your limited resources between those primarily for use on the wider Northern Ireland level and those where there are relatively low levels of achievement, for example, and those for more limited use but designed for aiming at the highest level of achievement?
  (Mr Allen)  We do not have capital funding. The only way we have it is through the Lottery and we have made a very conscious decision that it is the people who play the Lottery, the people who create it, the man in the street and so they should benefit greatly from that. The vast majority of our money goes into the grassroots of sport and to the junior clubs. We help district councils in making facilities happen that otherwise would not have happened. We are talking in the region of about 75 per cent of our funding going into the grassroots and 25 per cent goes into the elite. That is because there is so much difficulty at junior level. If you look at any soccer club at junior level you will see the amount of changing facilities they have had in the past is poor or if you look at the park facilities, they are basically rented from farmers who put in some form of changing facilities but no showers, no proper facilities that young people need now to encourage them into sport. It is a problem we do not have because we do not have the funding. We would like to encourage a change.

Mr Hunter

  26.  Mr Allen, on page 23 of your Annual Report you deal with the Lottery Sports Fund and point out that, in four years, the Lottery has contributed some £29 million to sports in Northern Ireland through the Lottery Sports Fund. This is larger than your own current programme. I am wondering if you could give us a flavour of the sort of capital schemes that have benefitted. Can you give us an indication both of the capital schemes and the revenue schemes?
  (Mr Allen)  It has certainly been across the board. One of the things we have been complimented on is the spread that we have had across the sports across Northern Ireland, sports that are united so men and women can play the same sports and across the community divide and I think that is something we are very very proud of.
  (Mr O'Connor)  Up until two years ago it was all capital, so the scheme would have been capital grant totally. In 1996, we were given the ability to do revenue funding. Since revenue funding has come on board, and with the Commonwealth Games just completed, we have made approximately 30 per cent of our grant go towards revenue schemes and 70 per cent towards capital. We are working up our strategic approach to the distribution of Lottery funding which the Minister has requested and that is coming back to us now, and we are recommending within that document approximately two-thirds capital and one-third revenue. That is because, within the revenue side, with a budget of less than £4 million, you could make no adequate contribution to anything. We need to work from that figure. That is a global picture. The bulk of the £34 million that we have allocated over the past four or five years would be capital grant. As the Chairman mentioned in his last answer, even more than 75 per cent of that is at grassroots level, that is club level, association level, the Scouts who are running outdoor pursuits centres, that type of thing. We have focused our grant. Because it is a small budget, we do not do it in the same way Scotland and England would do. With large amounts of money, they tend to take a scheme coming in that is costing £4 million and they make them an offer of £2/2.5 million. We focus our grant very closely on the playing facility. So, if a grant comes through, it would go towards the pitch, the changing rooms and floodlighting for training. We would not floodlight the main pitch. We have a cap on what we will give towards changing rooms or towards a pitch upgrading or a new pitch, so people's expectation is managed to a certain extent in that way. We have dealt with approximately 400 schemes. 60 sports have been dealt with, ranging from angling right through to the Scouts who have an outdoor pursuits centre down in Fermanagh. They needed bunk accommodation for their canoeing and their use of that facility. Our average grant is around about £70,000 and it is small but it is focused. We lever probably twice that amount on the actual aspect of the facility that we are grant aiding. Someone comes in with a major scheme and we grant aid the pitch and the changing rooms. We lever about 50 per cent more on the part that we are funding and it is a multiplier of about three to four on the overall project. We have levered with that £30 million well over £100 million-worth of facilities in the province in the main at voluntary club level and at the grassroots level. District councils would come into that as well in that they are working mainly with the other sports. On the revenue side, our scheme has been in the main focused on the development of a programme of talented individuals which is a UK initiative, but each of the home countries has its own project for that. The Commonwealth Games was the main one to benefit from that to the tune of almost £800,000 in their training and preparation. We did that through the governing bodies, so each one presented their plan on that. We have two new programmes coming on board below that to build the performance ladder from the bottom up. The third thing to say is that we have a small programme around major international events and we have the world cross-country championships coming up and the world boxing championships in the pipeline, so we have a number of smaller bids in that particular area.
  (Mr Allen)  From our £30 million, we are able to make that grow to about £120 million of spend within that facility and to the benefit of the community, that is to the economics of the country and also government benefit from VAT and from taxation.

  27.  When a capital scheme is backed can an endowment be provided that then would have revenue implications?
  (Mr O'Connor)  Within our Capital Grant Scheme we have the ability to have what we call a revenue tail. We have only a small number of revenue tails at the moment, that is where a scheme comes forward and it requires assistance to get its feet under the table and get up and running. There is always a gap between the capital fund being spent on the facility and then the use of that facility which gives the income to run it. We have a revenue tail at the Badminton Centre, we have one in Portadown where they built a synthetic pitch at the school, but it is for the club, the school and the District Council and we gave them the development officer. We tend not to put the money into caretaking or into the heating and lighting, but into the development of the programme, because we see if they get the programme running, then by inference they get the income which puts them on the road to development. We have not turned any down for that. We have had only a few bids for that.

  28.  Is there evidence of any capital schemes failing to achieve an adequate level of participation and not generating resources to justify that initial investment?
  (Mr O'Connor)  Our monitoring officer at the moment is rigorously going through all of the programmes that we have developed so far, so we will have a better answer for you in the next two or three months to that particular question. We have no evidence of any scheme falling down in the sense that we have been quite tight with what we are supporting. We have pulled them back from maybe being a little bit more imaginative with the scheme than they would like to be. Because we are dealing in the main with a backlog here, and because the people that we have been dealing with now for the last four years are people who have been planning and did not have the availability of budgets to put into the programme, they have been fundraising, they have a tradition of raising their own funds and we have been very close to that and we have a fairly tight assessment process which looks at the business plan aspect of it.

Mr Donaldson

  29.  We touched earlier on the whole issue of Lottery funding. What do you see as the current priorities for the application of Lottery funding and are these likely to change in the foreseeable future?
  (Mr Allen)  I think what we are doing is the right thing to do. I think the right thing is to try and give every sport and junior clubs the opportunity of developing their facilities. The more facilities we have, the greater the increase in participation. I think that would be the need for the future. The one thing we have to be mindful of is that with the national facilities that we do not have, we would have to be able to pressurise somewhere along the line that funding should be found from outside the Province and from outside is what we have got. Really what we are actually saying is that we should be doing more of what we have been doing. There is an awful lot more to do. We have got in the backlog somewhere around about £20 million of funding which we do not, just do not have, and I am sure you are aware that we have had to suspend any funding from the Lottery until September of this year because of the New Opportunities Scheme, and because government are taking back money which was used to fund the new students' scheme which was created at a certain date, and therefore, it is now into operation. From 1st April to the end of September, that money will be called upon and we will be getting a very, very small sum of money during that. The figure has been reduced from 20 per cent to 16 and two-thirds, but that percentage has been backdated so you can understand where it leaves us. About £1 million is what we will be getting in the six months compared to £4 million.
  (Mr McCartan)  In our first period of distribution with the Lottery we focused very much on the grassroots. Our average grant to an applicant was £70,000, compared to our colleagues in England which was £281,000. Having tried to address the grassroots, we will now re-focus and there is a strategy process being implemented at this very moment to determine the new direction for a Lottery, but we imagine that it will re-focus on people and on national training and national development facilities. We are now beginning to grow the people to actually participate and develop the sport and the grassroot facilities that we have provided.
  (Mr O'Connor)  Up until now, and even at this moment in time, the Lottery is discouraged from having a strategic focus, but we have now been asked to develop a strategy which will come into place on 1st April. We have our consultation document out at the moment with all of the local authorities, all our partners, all our key users. We are working up a strategy and we have based that strategy round the Northern Ireland Strategy for Sport which is Starting Well, Staying Involved and Striving For Excellence. The new strategy for the Lottery is picking up on the themes contained in the document. It will be homing in on that and still working within the parameters of the policy directions and the financial directions which tell us the way we have to move with the Lottery but within a strategic framework.
  (Mr Allen)  In England they allow up to around 95 per cent of funding for any particular applicant. We just cannot do that within Northern Ireland otherwise we would be giving to a lesser number of bidders and we have had to reduce our level to around about 20 per cent funding of the total bid. The difficulty in England is they have had facilities and they are just adding and making them better. We are trying to create facilities that we never had even at junior level.

  30.  You have touched on the short-term difficulties that will be created by the introduction of the sixth good cause in terms of Lottery revenue and obviously there is the reduction from 20 to 16.6 per cent. What is the impact likely to be in the longer term on that reduction to sport in Northern Ireland?
  (Mr Allen)  I think we will be significantly more disadvantaged than ever in the past because with the 20 per cent that sport got throughout the United Kingdom we got 2.8 per cent of that and it is less so we are worse off really. It was our great expectation that whenever the Millennium finished at the end of the year that money would be divided in four ways through the other four good causes, but Government introduced the New Opportunities Scheme and made it a sixth good cause. So whenever you now go back to five good causes, the money for the Millennium is also going into the New Opportunity Schemes. They are having 40 per cent of 100 per cent and the rest of us are getting a quarter of 60 per cent. We are losing out quite considerably throughout the United Kingdom, particularly in Northern Ireland.
  (Mr O'Connor)  I think we have been capped at about £6 million and that is up until 2001 and beyond, as Chris Smith has indicated. There may be a capping there of around about the £6 million mark. We were doing about £8 million until recently.

  31.  You have indicated, Mr Allen, that what you tried to do with the Lottery funding was to spread it out, but it is clear from a lot of the evidence you have been giving that what sport in Northern Ireland needs is a boost at a macro level. Could it be that you will reach the point where you may not be able to spread the revenue so thinly and that you may, in fact, have to look at the possibility of trying to consolidate it towards that kind of larger project which might, although in the short term impact upon those smaller projects, in the longer term have a beneficial effect which hopefully would trickle down through the whole system?
  (Mr Allen)  I think you are quite right, Mr Donaldson, I think we would have to do that. If no money was coming from outside the province we would have to look at flagships. We must have a national stadium, we must have a 50m swimming pool, we must have a lot of facilities we do not have and unless we do that then sport will crumble, because we will be training people from the bottom up to a level and there will be nowhere for them to go. We also want to be in a situation where some of our good stars in soccer, football and rugby stay here and what we are finding in rugby is that they are coming back. The Ulster team was significantly better this year because a lot of the stars came back and played at home and we all benefited and I think that could happen in soccer. So there is a difficult time ahead for us to come to and we may well have to make a decision, but the people who are going to be disadvantaged at the end of the day are the grassroots sports and they are the man and woman in the street and they are the people who play the Lottery and I think they should benefit, not lose. We are looking at getting that level of funding that would bring us to the starting line and put us equal to the rest of the United Kingdom and then I believe we can move significantly better together.

Mr Barnes

  32.  My home is a mile away from the Sheffield border and, as you were mentioning to Mr Beggs earlier, there are some problems with travelling in the other direction as far as sports men and sports women in Northern Ireland are concerned. I want to ask you about the Sports Institute at Sheffield. What are your expected contributions that have to be made to that Institute?
  (Mr Allen)  We have to make 2.8 per cent out of the total contribution to the United Kingdom Sports Institute. We are part of the United Kingdom Sports Institute, we want to be part of it, we have fought to be part of it and I think we have to contribute to it and that even goes for the athletes who are from the United Kingdom. We put 2.8 per cent of the funding in to the development of United Kingdom athletes.

  33.  Is the 2.8 per cent based upon the size of the population?
  (Mr Allen)  That is right.

  34.  It is not based upon potential pro rata use of the Institute by Northern Ireland sports men and women?
  (Mr Allen)  If it was we would be significantly better off. There are times when we are looking, as we are now, for funding and we cannot take it whatever way pleases us. I think what we are is that we are part of the United Kingdom. We get the Lottery, which is 2.8 per cent. We support our athletes from wherever they may come, Northern Ireland, Scotland, England or Wales. We need a facility which is a United Kingdom Sports Institute and it is only right and proper that we should pay our contribution into it. From the point of view of a return from it, I think you understand that we will not because of the limited number of athletes we will have using that facility.

  35.  In terms of making use of Sheffield, there is the whole question of disabled sports men and sports women and you have your own programmes in connection with that. It is contained within your report. Presumably there will be an extra difficulty to do with disabled people being able to get from Northern Ireland over to Sheffield. Do you feel that that problem needs to be tackled? Could it be tackled short of a national stadium being established in Northern Ireland or would it be seen as part of the confusion that would be there within a national stadium, both presumably for disabled spectators and disabled sports people?
  (Mr Allen)  I think the national stadium is one we have been promoting for a number of years and I think we are getting to a level where we think we can have greater sport within the political arena, which is where it is going to be decided. I know the difficulty you can have in coming here because we have it also two or three times a month where we are depending on planes arriving on time or trains and so on. With regard to Sheffield, the difficulty, no matter what way you look at it, is it takes a day to get there and it takes a day to get back. From the athlete's point of view, it is very important we have our own sports institute. It is also very important that the young people at the top of their trade, the elite, the people in excellence, can go across for a number of days, maybe for a week and spend time with the best coaches in the world and mix with the best athletes in the world and therefore that is significant. I think it is very important we have our own national stadium from a playing point of view, that we can play our own matches at home within Northern Ireland and bring much needed economy to Northern Ireland.
  (Mr McCartan)  There has been a change in direction about having a centre in Sheffield. Once upon a time it was thought that a centre in Sheffield would be in the region of £60-70 million. The centre at Sheffield now will be split into two. One part of it will be the headquarters for the UK Sports Institute, which in essence will largely be an administrative and coordinating headquarters providing those services and facilities which are not provided but needed at a UK level. Across the road or across the city will be an English satellite centre of the UK Institute providing facilities and services for English athletes. So Northern Ireland athletes, whether they are able bodied or disabled, will be catered for in the main by the satellite centre that hopefully will be created in Northern Ireland in the not too distant future and it will only be for exceptional services that we will actually commute to Sheffield.

  36.  Could I maybe pursue the point about disabled people. What is it that you would be proposing to do that would be of considerable benefit as far as disabled athletes are concerned in Northern Ireland if you had a sports stadium that was established here? Have you given serious thought to this? Have you got proposals that would be able to handle the position as far as disabled spectators are concerned because the problem about disabled spectators at sports events is that sometimes, if they are in wheelchairs, they are shown to the front and disabled spectators should have as much right as anybody else to view sport from the areas that they would enjoy it the most.
  (Mr Allen)  Disabled sport has a very high priority within Northern Ireland. A typical example is we have created our own governing body for disabled sport within Northern Ireland and I understand that is the only part of the United Kingdom that has that. They are able to apply for funding in the same way as any other sport because they are a governing body in their own right. We felt that if they were part of a series of governing bodies they would lose out because of their minority voice and we gave them a voice in their own right. The fact about a national stadium is yes, it will be the newest national stadium within the United Kingdom and yes, disabled sport has to play a role in helping to design that and (we have within the Sports Council for Northern Ireland the Chief Executive of Disability Action) it is right and proper that they should be given the same seat as anybody else. There may well be a position for a wheelchair within the stand, but it does not look very good when I am watching television and I see them sitting on a touchline or places like that in foul weather, and I think it is almost a slight on the sport and the whole community.

Mr Grogan

  37.  I want to follow up a couple of points on the national stadium following on from Mr McWalter's questions. Given that it would be desirable to encompass all sports in the national stadium and I think you acknowledge that, if that was at all possible, are there any figures on how much it would cost to include Gaelic football, for example? You talk about the size of the pitch, but you also mentioned having an athletics track in there as well, so you are talking about a pretty big venture anyway where the spectators are not going to be right next to the football pitch. What sort of figures are we talking about?
  (Mr Allen)  There is new technology within indoor arenas whereby you can move the seats backwards and forwards and so on, so the atmosphere from that point of view is significantly improved. From the point of view of bringing Gaelic sports into it, we have not got an exact figure for a national stadium. What we have is a good idea. We have an idea of that we know must happen some day. We know that we cannot be the only part of the United Kingdom not to have a national stadium. It would not be good for any government to have that. There have been good reasons for not having a national stadium in the past because of the troubles that we have had, but now we are moving into peace and sport has played its role in peace. I have said it very often and I will say it in front of politicians: I think when the history books are written, sport will have played a major role in making that happen and, therefore, there should be some rewards for that and I believe this will happen through goodwill.
  (Mr McCartan)  At this stage of visioning and conceptual development nothing is excluded at all, so if the Gaelic Athletic Association were to perceive a benefit from being part of a national stadium then one would try and accommodate them.

  38.  What is the official position on the national stadium of the Gaelic Athletic Association?
  (Mr Allen)  Four years ago, when we were talking about a Millennium bid, we talked to them and they were very, very supportive and they have been very supportive of the national training facility. In fact, there is no doubt that their county teams will use it and we need them to use it to justify it. The difficulty is it is like asking Sheffield United to play in Wembley all their home matches. The answer would be they would rather play at home, and within Northern Ireland the six home counties have got their county ground and their home support and it is a big plus and we all know being at home is a big advantage.
  (Mr O'Connor)  There is a burgeoning international dimension within the sport but it does not have the same sort of structure in that way. The additional cost would be between 25 and 30 per cent extra.

  39.  You have talked of the importance of having a neutral venue, which are carefully chosen words. Would you say that at the moment Windsor Park is not a neutral venue? For example, if the big game coming up between Northern Ireland against Germany was in a neutral venue would it attract far more Catholics than it is likely to do at Windsor Park?
  (Mr Allen)  I think it is clear, and it is not just from one side of the community, that Windsor Park is not a neutral venue. I think people from various walks of life accept that. If we had a stadium in a neutral venue and Northern Ireland was playing Germany then the minimum I would estimate would be around about 30,000. I think we have to look at what is happening in the south of Ireland at a rugby venue where there are around about 38,000 people and those tickets are sold out well in advance of the venue. The difficulty we have is at least a third of that support is from Northern Ireland and what we would like to see is those people coming back and supporting their own team and feeling ownership in a facility which is their facility, and I think that could happen. If we do not have a national stadium in Northern Ireland, then it means that every international for the foreseeable future in whatever sport we have will be held in Dublin.

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