Check Against Delivery
Thank you Shane.
Ceann Comhairle, last Friday’s announcement by the Taoiseach of an acceleration in the Government’s Roadmap has been widely welcomed across Irish sport. It is fair to say that there was a certain sense of relief amongst the population that the journey back for sport is well and truly underway.
As with so many other sectors, the world of sport – domestically and internationally – has been turned upside down as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the start of 2020, who would have thought that the sporting world in Ireland, as elsewhere, would have had to be totally shut down and major events such as the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games postponed. The road back is inevitably going to take many months, but we are making progress.
The accelerated roadmap has provided a much needed and welcome confidence boost to the sport sector. As well as the return of outdoor sport, sporting bodies can now make plans for summer camps for children and teenagers. And I was delighted to see our high performance athletes return to training on Monday at the Sport Ireland Campus and other national training centres.
Sports Capital Programme
Before the pandemic, we were dealing with record levels of interest in sports capital projects. Although that presents funding challenges, it is nonetheless a welcome reflection of the importance that people in clubs nationwide attach to their sport and the need for improved sports facilities.
Over 12,000 projects have benefited from sports capital funding since 1998, at a cost of almost €1 billion. The sporting landscape of Ireland has been transformed with improvements in the quality and quantity of sporting facilities in virtually every village, town and city in the country.
The most recent SCP round in 2018 attracted a record 2,337 applications, with allocations being announced in January, May and November of last year. A total of over €56 million was awarded to nearly 1700 different projects.
SCP Business as Usual
In recent weeks, my Department has received many queries about the SCP, mainly concerning the status of grant approvals. I would like to take today’s opportunity to publicly confirm the continuing validity of prior grant approvals.
I also want to emphasise that it is very much business as usual for the Programme. Club volunteers and officials in my Department, working from home, are busy working together to progress the drawdown of these and other outstanding grants.
The National Sports Policy, 2018 – 2027 contains a strong commitment to further developing our sports facilities and we remain determined to deliver on that commitment. A review of the 2018 round is being finalised and a decision on the timing of the next round of the programme will be taken when this is complete.
Large Scale Sport Infrastructure Fund (LSSIF)
Good progress is also being made for larger capital projects, which are being covered under the newly established Large Scale Sport Infrastructure Fund, or the LSSIF. The Government has provided a capital allocation of at least €100m for the period to 2027 for the LSSIF. The new scheme closed for applications in April of last year with applications initially confined to local authorities and National Governing Bodies of sport.
On 10th January Minister Ross and I announced provisional allocations amounting to over €77m for 25 projects under the construction Stream. Three days later, on the 13th of January, we announced further provisional allocations of €5m for a further 7 projects under the design stream of the LSSIF.
The evaluation procedures and guidelines for the LSSIF provide that once provision allocations are announced, the successful projects will undergo a further process of due diligence. This process includes a further review of projects including economic appraisals and feasibility studies as appropriate to comply with the public spending code. This work is ongoing and I look forward to seeing many of the projects progress to the construction stage in the near future.
To conclude, sport is thankfully starting to resume. However, much work remains to be done, especially around the impact of social distancing requirements and what that means for those sports that inherently involve a degree of contact. There is also the significant issue of future mass gatherings, on which so many sports depend, especially the field team sports. Considerable work will need to be undertaken in this regard. The importance of working through these issues collaboratively with the sector is fully appreciated and we shall do that.