Fine Gael TD for Galway West & Mayo South

Sports Ireland Bill 2014

First, like others, I commend the Minister of State on his work with the FAI in securing the Euro 2020 games for Dublin. That is a considerable boost to the economy. As others stated, hopefully, we will see progress as well on the rugby world cup in 2023.

Each commitment to review and restructure State agencies and bodies to ensure that public money is spent efficiently requires legislation. This Bill is one such legislative measure which will merge the Irish Sports Council and the National Sports Campus Development Authority to create Sport Ireland.

Leaving aside the aforementioned organisations, I have concerns about the sheer number and volume of State bodies, committees, working groups and others. Last Sunday, The Sunday Business Post ran the first in a series of articles examining State agencies which named the organisations, outlined their functions and listed the salaries of the CEOs, along with expenses and the number of staff employed earning in excess of €80,000.

I do not wish to diminish or be disingenuous about the important work that many public sector staff do, but I must voice concerns at the duplication of tasks and the unnecessary existence of some agencies. The list of agencies is almost endless and leads one to question what exactly some Departments are doing if agencies exist to carry out the same functions.

In 2010, the Dublin-based IT consultant and entrepreneur, Mr. William Campbell, wrote a book, entitled Here’s How – Creative Solutions for Ireland’s Economic and Social Problems, and sent a copy to each Deputy. The book received recommendations from a number of journalists, academics and economists and contains an array of suggestions on how to solve some of the problems facing the country. Thankfully, some of those problems have been addressed, with the growth of the economy and the work that has been done by the Government. The chapter on quangos is illuminating. It takes over three pages, in a font that steadily reduces in size, to list almost all of Ireland’s State agencies. At the best of times, it is not appropriate to have such a plethora of State agencies and organisations. When, however, State finances remain in such a constrained position, as they have been for several years, it is ludicrous and must be challenged.

It must be acknowledged that the Government has made a start on reviewing and restructuring with a programme for the public service, including corresponding progress reports. The establishment of a Department with responsibility for reform is evidence of the commitment to address the issue, which is being overseen by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin. Another Minister addressing the issue is the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, who has spoken about the issue before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation of which I am a member. That Department has maximised efficiency and effectiveness by subsuming the functions of some State agencies, such as Forfás, within dedicated units of the Department. This removes the sometimes significant administration costs while preserving the core functions. Some of the good economic news and the job creation figures can be assigned to the reforms taking place.

At times, measures like this are portrayed as ways of minimising transparency or concealing work, but the opposite is the case. By bringing agencies back within their respective Departments, their functions and tasks become much more examinable and accountable to the public because they are more easily questioned through parliamentary questions. We have a duty to ensure that each euro of taxpayers’ funding is spent as efficiently as possible. That involves maximising the duties and tasks carried out by Departments and ensuring that every State agency has a clearly defined, identifiable and compelling reason to exist.

The other aspect of the Bill I want to touch on is the importance of funding for sports and recreation and the knock-on benefits that accrue from such spending. These include health, financial and community benefits. Like others, I commend the Minister of State on the sports capital programme that he initiated when he came into office and its continued positive effects in terms of local economies and the health of communities regarding participation and combatting obesity and health problems.

One initiative worth considering, on which there may be plans I do not know about, is a national sports museum. Those of us who are lucky enough to go abroad at times will have visited sporting museums, whether in Sydney or elsewhere, which encompass every sport and highlight the achievements and traditions in the country concerned. We have a proud sports tradition here in Ireland. We have a rich history of sport, both national and international, and such a museum would allow visitors to get a feel for our national identity and uniqueness. It is a feel-good factor to share our sporting history and successes. While the announcement of Sky Sports broadcasting GAA games might not have been too popular, the international reaction of those viewing games, particularly hurling, for the first time provides a considerable boost to one of the native games. I ask the Minister of State to examine that and consider it for future capital investment.