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Adjournment Debate. - Swimming Pool Projects.

Wednesday, 27 March 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 551 No. 3

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Mr. Enright: Information on Tom Enright Zoom on Tom Enright I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to raise this matter on the Adjournment.

The people of Birr, Clara and Edenderry provided three excellent swimming pools many years ago. The cost of building them was met by the people of those towns. The major portion of the money collected to build them was raised by the hard work of voluntary committees made up of [762] members of the respective communities, in most cases, parents who wanted to provide facilities for themselves and their children. The money was raised by selling lotto tickets, sponsored walks, church gate collections, cake sales and a variety of other activities. The people of Birr, Clara and Edenderry have welcomed those facilities.

As the Minister of State is aware, the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation, Deputy McDaid, gave a commitment more than three years ago that the provision of swimming pools for inland counties was a priority, but sadly failure to honour that commitment has resulted in frustration for the people involved in trying to develop the pools in Birr, Clara and Edenderry.

In regard to Tullamore swimming pool, the development of which is also of the utmost importance, the Minster of State is no doubt aware that the Minister has refused to meet representatives of the Tullamore swimming pool project committee. He was contacted about a meeting six months ago but has still not agreed a date for one. It concerns me that he refuses to have such a meeting? Regrettably, on each occasion Offaly County Council and Tullamore Town Council requested him to proceed with these projects they were met with stonewalling, further requests for information and at this stage they are frustrated about the matter. I call on the Minister of State to give a commitment that the Minister will proceed with the development of each of these pools. That is an absolute priority.

If one is well off, one can swim in the excellent facilities provided in a number of hotels and clubs in these towns, but the cost of joining those clubs is way in excess of what most young people can afford. Swimming facilities are available, but many people cannot afford to use them.

Initially the Bertie bowl project was to cost £350 million, but it now seems it will cost in excess of £1 billion. The aquatic centre, in respect of which so much has happened, including the resignation of its former chairman, Mr. Paddy Teahon, was to have cost about £35 million, but it now seems it will cost in excess of £60 million. The people of Offaly are seeking much less funding than that being provided for those two projects. They need those facilities because Offaly is an inland county. Such funding should be provided and it is worrying it has not been. It is my duty to speak on behalf of the people who provided the existing facilities in Clara, Birr and Edenderry. The people in Tullamore have collected €317,000 to date and a further €580,000 has been promised by Tullamore Town Council to develop these pools.

I ask the Minister of State to give a commitment to the development of these facilities. This is something that I and other members of my party will raise in the run-up to the general election because we believe it is essential that those facilities should be provided. If the Minister of State were to say the Government would give a commitment to these projects, everybody in those areas would be happy.

Dr. Moffatt: Information on Tom Moffatt Zoom on Tom Moffatt I thank Deputy Enright for raising this matter and affording me the opportunity to [763] outline the current position in relation to swimming pools in the Offaly area.

The aim of the swimming pool programme is to assist local authorities in the development of swimming pools. However, the type of public swimming pools that were provided and accepted in the 1970s and 1980s are no longer acceptable. This is evident by the improvement in the quality of the facilities now being provided – a higher standard that has quickly become the minimum standard for the future.

Under the local authority swimming pool programme, which is administered by the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation, there are four stages in a swimming pool project, following an initial submission and approval of a feasibility study. In order of progress, they are preliminary report stage, contract document stage, tender stage and construction stage. The Department's technical advisers, the Office of Public Works, evaluate each stage and local authorities cannot proceed to the next stage of a project unless prior approval issues from the Department. Grant aid is allocated only when tenders have been received for the project and will be capped at the time of allocation.

Proposals have been received from Offaly County Council and Tullamore Town Council for the development of swimming facilities in Birr, Clara, Edenderry and Tullamore. The Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation has asked the council – with reference to the financial commitment which would be required from Offaly County Council in the event that all these projects were to proceed simultaneously – to prioritise and, if necessary, review these applications in relation to the demand for local public swimming pools in the Offaly area. On receipt of a response form the county council, the Minister's Department will certainly give further consideration to these proposals.

The Government has, to use the well known phrase, “put its money where its mouth is” in support of sport. Our commitment to the development of sport and, in particular to the provision of sporting and recreational facilities, has been demonstrated in very practical terms in all parts of the country. My colleague, the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation, Deputy McDaid, has secured significant increases in the funding for capital expenditure for this purpose.

These increased provisions include a fourfold increase from €3.8 million in 1999 to a total of €57 million in the annual provision for the swimming pool programme for the years 2000, 2001 and 2002; an increase of almost 700%, from €7.6 million in 1998 to €56 million, for the funding for the sports capital programme in 2001; and €7.55 million towards the development of Ireland's first [764] ever 50 metre swimming pool in Limerick, which is due to open in the next few months.

Mr. Enright: Information on Tom Enright Zoom on Tom Enright Why was Offaly ignored?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon The Deputy went over the time he was allocated and in fairness to the staff of the House, I ask him to allow the Minister of State to reply.

Mr. Enright: Information on Tom Enright Zoom on Tom Enright Why were Birr, Clara and Edenderry ignored?

Dr. Moffatt: Information on Tom Moffatt Zoom on Tom Moffatt I will come to that. The Minister is anxious that the substantial investment of taxpayers' money by this Government provides value for money by ensuring that attractive, viable facilities are built. The increased levels of grant-aid now available will be a major boost to local authorities in the development of swimming pools.

Swimming is a sport in which most people can participate from a very early age and continue throughout their entire lives. Swimming is a most basic, natural and efficient way of taking exercise. The national survey of involvement in sport and physical activity showed that swimming was second only to walking as the most popular form of physical and recreational activity. Although this survey may be somewhat dated, I am not aware of anything that would indicate this trend has changed. It is estimated that around 425,000 people participate in swimming throughout the country. Among leisure and recreational activities, it is generally considered to be one of the best forms of physical exercise for developing and maintaining high levels of physical fitness.

It is vital that the promotion of sport and the development of facilities such as swimming pools is carried out in a strategic and focused way, which means establishing priorities, avoiding overlaps and ensuring full access to available facilities. Under the swimming pool programme, the development of pools for the future will be done in a structured and focused way, concentrating on areas of greatest need.

Mr. Enright: Information on Tom Enright Zoom on Tom Enright The towns I mentioned are areas of greatest need.

Dr. Moffatt: Information on Tom Moffatt Zoom on Tom Moffatt I wholeheartedly agree with the point made in the Deputy's text for discussion tonight that the provision of proper modern swimming pool facilities is essential and that good quality, well managed and attractive facilities are fundamental elements in any effective delivery of sporting programmes.

I thank Deputy Enright for raising this issue and assure him that the Minister, Deputy McDaid, and the Government will remain vigilant in providing funding for modern swimming pool facilities around the country. I reassure the Deputy that the Minister has not forgotten the needs of Offaly.

The Dáil adjourned at 11.45 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 28 March 2002.

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