Check Against Delivery
Thank you Ceann Comhairle. I propose to share my time with my colleague, Minister Brendan Griffin.
Today’s debate in the Dail provides a welcome opportunity for Deputies to air their views about the pandemic’s impact on sport. I look forward to hearing your ideas and suggestions.
I don’t pretend that we have all the answers at this point. Far from it, there are still many questions to be answered. Although considerable uncertainty still prevails for Irish sport, I think we are much better placed now than we were before the launch of the Government’s Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business, which was accelerated last Friday as a result of the progress made during April and May in fighting the pandemic.
I understand that the Irish sporting community was pleasantly surprised at the extent of the references to sport in the roadmap and the clarity provided for each of the five phases initially, and now four. I know that it doesn’t answer every question for every sport but it does give a vital planning framework.
Just a few days into phase two, we already have nearly 20 outdoor-only sports restarted, in accordance with the various public health requirements. That is about a third of all sports in Ireland and so we are making headway. There are however considerable challenges ahead. Nobody is confidently predicting an early return to the exact situation that prevailed before the pandemic. There will certainly be a new normal for sport.
I know that there is disappointment in this House and across the country that the big attendance field sports are not covered in the early phases. We are all missing the excitement of those big match days, all the more so given the glorious weather of the last few weeks. People may feel that those days may never return but I would like to sound a positive note today.
There are huge challenges ahead, especially for mass gatherings, but I am convinced that solutions will be found that work for everybody, both for public health and for the viability of sport. I was encouraged to hear over last weekend the planned resumption of inter-county GAA matches later in the year and the resumption of training by four League of Ireland clubs. Further afield, soccer is resuming with limited spectators in some European countries and rugby will shortly follow in New Zealand. I think we can take heart at these developments.
Cross-sectoral Government response
As with other sectors, Irish sport has been hit hard by this crisis. The Government has taken a cross sectoral approach where the aim has been to stabilize the situation. The Government’s overarching, cross-sectoral approach to the COVID-19 pandemic was designed to ensure that economic activity recovers as quickly as possible, consistent with public health advice.
The cross-sectoral measures introduced by the Government to date have benefitted national and local sporting organisations and have been widely welcomed. This includes in particular the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme, the Pandemic Unemployment Payment and the series of enterprise supports ranging from liquidity funding, loan schemes and grants\vouchers, as well as deferred tax payments and deferral of commercial rates.
Engagement with the sports sector
Will further supports be needed? I think the answer is almost certainly yes. Discussions are underway but not yet concluded. The details will need to be worked on and we will liaise closely with the sector. Not all sports organization have been affected to the same extent. The most acutely affected are those with summer seasons and with a heavy reliance on gate receipts. A targeted and focused response is clearly appropriate in these circumstances.
Despite the current difficult situation, we must continue to work towards hosting such major events as the postponed UEFA football championships. As you are aware, Dublin was due to host four games this year and an economic impact study commissioned by Dublin City Council indicated that up to 96,000 overseas visitors were expected to attend delivering an economic impact of up to €126m.UEFA sought confirmation from the governing authorities of the twelve host cities that they were willing and able to host in June/July 2021. The Government has reconfirmed the guarantees required and I have written to the President of UEFA confirming that Ireland would host next year’s EURO 2020 matches.
The Government remains fully committed to working with all of the local organisers and UEFA to mount a very successful UEFA EURO 2020 in Dublin in 2021. Obviously we live in very uncertain and trying times, but the rescheduled tournament will provide a much needed economic, social and sporting boost for the country.