Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40
MONDAY 8 FEBRUARY 1999
O'CONNOR and DR
40. Finally on the national stadium, there
is a reference in the briefing note to a Belfast United Football
Club somewhere down the line. At one stage there was press speculation
about Wimbledon moving over to Belfast. That would create a week-in-week-out
occupancy of the stadium that no other sport could do. What would
your comments be on the attitudes of some people in Northern Ireland
football who would oppose that in terms of the current structures?
Is there a need to be very ambitious here? Also, is not a big
football club the only real way of attracting any private money
into the development of a national stadium?
(Mr Allen) I am not so sure about the last comment,
but what I would say is we have to look at it in a structured
fashion. I think the difficulty we had in the past was that some
people ran off and tried to bring in Wimbledon Football Club to
Northern Ireland without any evidence that they wanted to come.
The first thing they should have done is asked Wimbledon if they
really wanted to come. If I was the Chairman of the Football Association
and I had a very very successful organisation, would I want to
break it up? Would I want Wimbledon to be playing in Belfast and
Chelsea playing in Dublin and Manchester United playing in France?
The answer is no. It is a dream, but a poor one at that. If we
had the right facility and the right opportunity arrived, then
I think there would be a better opportunity, but I think rugby
have led the way in this one. People said team Ulster would not
happen and some people from the other side of the water used to
taunt us saying, "Ah, but you're really a provincial team
playing at club standard." So what? We are the European champions
and we have put a team together to win it. I think there are great
opportunities for soccer. We do not know what is going to happen
in the future in soccer, but for certain there are going to be
changes and would it not be great if we had a team Ulster, for
instance, playing in the European Cup? That is possible and would
bring great crowds. It would bring great crowds to Northern Ireland
if, for instance, there was the opportunity of a European league
at a high standard where team Ulster could get into it, even though
it may be at second or third division, but at least we would be
in there and once we are in there we can score our prize.
41. Finally, when the Northern Ireland Act
comes fully into force sport will become the responsibility of
the Assembly. What effect do you anticipate this having on your
operations and on your access to funding?
(Mr Allen) I think that will be excellent. I think
everyone would agreeand I say it with no disrespect to
the Ministers who have come across from England to administer
from Westminster, I think they have done a fantastic job for us,
they have put their heart and soul into doing itthat there
is no better person than a home person who has got devotion and
is going to be here for a much longer period of time, perhaps
for a lifetime and I think we would all welcome that. I think
we will see a Minister for Sport who will have a very strong interest
in sport and who will make a lot of things happen and I think
we are all looking forward to that as being a part of the jigsaw
that is going to bring Northern Ireland together as a team both
politically and sport wise.
(Mr McCartan) I am not wishing to enter into areas
of expertise where you work, but the Sports Council in Northern
Ireland, like the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, like
the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation in the south,
like some 13 other European countries, would very much like to
see the name "sport" reflected in the title of the new
department which currently stands as "CAL", which in
itself has significant implications for Northern Ireland, but
we believe it would be much better to be called "CLAS"
(Culture, Leisure, Arts and Sports) and we believe this would
enable us to maximise the benefit on an east-west axis, to maximise
the benefit on a north-south axis and would also be reflective
of the fact that 78 per cent of the people of Northern Ireland
believe that sport is of value and can significantly contribute
to the social, economic and political development of the country.
Chairman: I said at
the beginning that if there were individual supplementary questions
which people wanted to ask, we would have an opportunity to do
so before we closed. You have been extremely patient with us and
we will try and avoid prolonging this too much, but I did want
to give everybody the opportunity, should they wish, to ask a
supplementary and I have quite good ground to suppose Mr Donaldson
wants to ask one.
42. Gentlemen, on the sports stadium again,
I would very much like to see that sort of venture taking place
in Northern Ireland. You did mention in the briefing note that
you provided to us on the idea of a sports stadium the current
state of play and the fact that there had been a tentative offer
of land on the Belfast Lough foreshore made by the Department
of the Environment for Northern Ireland. There were also tentative
re-location plans for the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society which,
as I understand it, are now looking towards Blaris rather than
Tillisburn. Do you have any thoughts on the location? Obviously
you would want such a stadium to be in a reasonably centralised
location where accessibility is obviously a high priority. Does
the Sports Council have any views as to location?
(Mr Allen) The one-stop shop is the best shop
you can have. In Belfast we are talking about a railway station
within a few hundred yards, City Airport is a couple of miles
away and we are talking about a boat that stops outside. Scotland
is a great supporter of Northern Ireland, and I think a lot of
them will want to come not only to our sporting occasions but
to our entertainment occasions. Northern Ireland is a small place
and I know everybody is always asking me what is going to happen
in my constituency and so on, but when you are handling major
events I think you have to have the capital and I think we would
lose out. I do not think we are totally sold on Belfast, but if
there is the land there and it is easy for parking as well
We have a big industrial area around that and these facilities
are closed in the evenings and closed at the weekends so there
is the opportunity for massive parking. I do not rule anything
43. Again just a supplementary on the issue
of the 50m pool that you talked about. Can you recall approximately
what the additional costings would have been to have made the
new pool in Lisburn a 50m pool? Do you have any idea of what the
costings involved would have been?
(Mr O'Connor) I have a feeling it was around the
£3 million mark. We are not talking about the one that would
host the European championships, we are talking about a modest
pool with leisure facilities attached to it. The additional cost
was around about the £3 million mark to do it to a good quality
with around about 500 seats, with the ability maybe on occasion
to add seats in to top up that.
44. Have the Sports Council had any discussions
with the RUAS about their plans? It looks like they have significant
plans in terms of leisure facilities in addition to what they
are proposing to do with their showground-type situation. They
are looking at some kind of exhibition centre and some kind of
facility that would replace the King's Hall facility for large
concerts and so on. It strikes me that if there is the prospect
of significant private expenditure there and the facility to accommodate
large numbers of people then there might just be the possibility
of linking that in in some way to the idea of a national stadium.
(Mr Allen) There is no doubt that the Royal Agricultural
Society have been extremely successful in the past and have hosted
many many successful sporting occasions and entertainment ones
as well as agricultural. I think there is a big possibility that
they would be involved at least in the management of a national
facility because we will need somebody to manage it and I think
that is one area we would be talking about in the same way as
we tried to with the indoor arena, but they had the view that
they would like to go a different way. The door is not closed.
45. I want to ask you to provide us with
some data after the event. I will come on in a moment to the transfer
from DENI of capital sports funding to you. In that context you
gave us a list of capital grants paid by the Department of Education
between 1974 and 1998 which appear in your Annual Report which
you summarise in the briefing note on capital funding and Mr McWalter
remarked on the fact that the £8 million in 1982/83 was obviously
in 1982/83 money. I think it would be helpful if you could rework
that table so that it was in a common currency. I think it would
be helpful to our report if that was so. When one gets into percentages
there is a hazard that the verbals that surround the percentages
get the prepositions wrong and I have a suspicion that when Mr
O'Connor was answering Mr Hunter's question and he described the
£30 million and then he said we get 50 per cent on top of
that as part of those schemes and then we get some more from other
facilities that are being built in, he meant another 100 per cent
rather than 50 per cent. I think the sensible thing would be if
we could have a note on how that funding has built up overall.
On the transfer from DENI to yourselves, paragraph 5 in the briefing
note on capital funding says that the remit was passed in 1994
and a meagre £100,000 budget passed with it. Was that a budget
of spending or was that a budget of administration?
(Mr Allen) It was supposed to be spending, Mr
Chairman. So you can see you cannot get too much for £100,000.
46. No you cannot, but although that happened
in 1994, the capital figures handed over to you in the chart in
the Sports Council Annual Report, showed a figure of £900,000
in 1995/96 and £321,000 in 1996/97 and we only get down to
163 and 118 in the current year right at the end of that period.
Is that because they were operating on a three-year basis?
(Mr O'Connor) The figure you see there was money
actually spent by the Department themselves and it was projects
which they had been funding prior to when they handed it over
to us and they wished to complete them themselves. They did it
out of their own funding.
47. That makes the figures considerably
more transparent. The last question I want to ask relates to briefing
note entitled "Sport is Good News and Value for Money".
It is the last four lines in that note where it says, "Unlike
charities, Heritage, New Opportunities and Millennium which have
needs based formulae, the Lottery Sports Fund is based on the
inadequate 2.8 per cent formula and provides NI with £6 million
per annum, a significant element of which is predetermined to
meet government commitments." Since the whole principle of
the Lottery is that additionality does not apply, what are the
government commitments you are meeting?
(Mr O'Connor) The United Kingdom Sports Institute
is an example of where we have had to contribute both to the UK
aspect of it and to our own. We are not suggesting that that is
not a worthwhile cause, but we had no debate or discussion about
it, we were told. We also had to make our contribution to the
Millennium Fund and that was £15 million, so we had to make
our 2.8 per cent to that. There is also a "request"
to support the funding of the safety in sports grounds. There
are a number of projects which are decided outside and this would
not matter if we had a sizable budget, but when it is very small,
every time that happens it is not an equal transfer because of
the percentages that you mentioned earlier on.
48. I do understand how the figures were
made up, but it would be sensible if we had a note which indicated
what government commitments you have been required to meet and
how farI want to probe the words "government commitments"
slightlythose were commitments which were entered into
on a national basis and each of the relevant sports bodies agreed
that they would be making a contribution, which is a slightly
different thing from it being a government commitment.
(Mr O'Connor) It would be all of them.
Chairman: The note
can make that clear. If there are no other supplementary questions
on the national stadium let me just ask Mr McCabe to ask a final
49. Despite all the issues about funding
that we have been listening to this morning, could you give us
your overall assessment of the health of sport in Northern Ireland
at all levels at the present time?
(Mr Allen) I think under the difficult circumstances
we had, sport has been very, very healthy and successful. Participation
in sport in Northern Ireland was low. It has increased dramatically
over the last couple of years and that takes money and we are
encouraging clubs and bodies to increase that in order to give
every young person an opportunity. They are great demands. I think
they are finding themselves totally stretched and so we need to
have funding to help them in administration, in coaching and other
(Mr McCartan) It is very difficult to give an
overall description of how sport is going because it is going
better in some areas than others. But if we were to look at a
collective or consolidated view and if we were to look at the
level of participation which is a key factor, participation has
increased by 15 per cent within the last decade, and that is despite
the fact the grant made through the Sports Council has actually
declined. What I would suggest to you, gentlemen, is that we put
that money to very good use. Female sport has increased by 14
per cent and that is reflective of the various policy strategies
and programmes that we have adopted along with our partners in
the governing bodies, districts councils, Education and Library
Boards. In terms of measurement of performance at major international
games, well, the major international games we utilize to measure
that performance is the Commonwealth Games. Two Commonwealth Games
ago, Northern Ireland had its highest achievement ever, winning
a sum total of 11 medals. Unfortunately this year we won five
and that is indicative of a complete absence of national training
facilities because the rest of the world is moving forward, our
athletes are just standing still and we need to address the capacity
which is required to grow our athletics through international
athletes. In terms of disability sport, we have progressed significantly
and our disabled athletes, in terms of participation and excellence,
have increased significantly.
50. I said at the beginning that the fact
that we have come back for the session that we have asked you
to was an index of the quality of the dinner you give us and the
interest you gave us and it is a further index of the manner in
which you presented yourselves. This is without question the longest
session this Committee has ever done. You should certainly regard
yourself as heroes in terms of having sustained it, though I acknowledge
the questions were spread over four people rather than a single
person. It has been extremely worthwhile and I hope you genuinely
will feel it is a compliment that you have been made to work so
hard because of the influence that you all had on a subject for
which you are responsible.
(Mr Allen) Thank you very much. We are delighted
to have been given the opportunity of promoting sport within Northern
Ireland and if this is the longest duration then we have to say
we are delighted and honoured at that and we look forward to meeting
again in the future. Thank you very much for giving us your time.