Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Questions (6)

Shane Cassells


6. Deputy Shane Cassells asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he will liaise with the stakeholders involved with Claremont stadium in Navan, County Meath, regarding its proposed sale in order for this national athletic facility to continue to serve Irish athletics and local communities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42150/17]

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(Question to Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport)

I ask the Minister if he will liaise with the stakeholders involved with Claremont stadium athletics facility in Navan regarding the proposed sale in order to secure this national facility to serve athletics and local communities. I ask the Minister not to read the prepared email he sent during the summer. There are many decent athletics and sporting people listening this morning and I ask the Minister to consider the matter.

I will address this in a way that has arisen from consultation. I will certainly address the Deputy's supplementary questions without reading a script. This matter relates to the private sale of Claremont stadium in Navan. I understand the facility in question has been a voluntarily run social enterprise that is used by many local clubs in the area for sporting and other purposes. Sport Ireland, which is funded by my Department, is the statutory body with responsibility for the development of sport, including the allocation of funding across its various programmes. Sport Ireland channels its funding through the relevant national governing body of sport and through its network of local sports partnerships. My Department or Sport Ireland do not provide funding directly to clubs or organisations for ongoing current expenditure. It would not be appropriate for me to intervene in a case where a particular sporting or social organisation is in financial difficulty.

With regard to capital support for sporting developments, the sports capital programme, SCP, is the Government's primary vehicle to support the development of sports facilities and the purchase of sports equipment. The programme aims to foster an integrated and planned approach to developing sports and physical recreation facilities throughout the country. Under the terms of the SCP, grants are allocated to sporting organisations towards the provision of new facilities, the renovation or extension of existing facilities or the purchase of non-personal sports equipment. It should be noted however, that the sports capital programme cannot be used to purchase land or existing sports facilities. Under the SCP, a number of grants were allocated in the past to community organisations and sports clubs that were using the Claremont stadium. I understand that other public funds also supported the development of the sporting facilities on the site.

I am informed the site of the stadium is on long-term lease from Meath County Council and that the land is zoned as "providing for open space for active and passive recreational amenities". It appears it is the intention of the proposed sale that tenants would not be affected. Whereas it is not appropriate for me to intervene in this matter, I very much hope the issues at the stadium can be resolved without delay to ensure the continued use of the sporting facilities by the local community.

I spoke to the stadium manager and trustee members again this morning. These are people who have dedicated their lives to their community in Navan and around Meath, keeping this facility on the go for over three decades. The stress caused to this volunteer-led organisation is immense. It is somewhat ironic that in yesterday's Budget Statement, the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, cited in particular the capital investment in Páirc Uí Chaoimh as an example of the Government getting involved with capital expenditure, providing sporting facilities in this country, while at the same time we could see Claremont go to the wall. We could see the vultures moving in, hoarding going up and this left in the middle of the town. This is a town of 40,000 people crying out for sport investment but this facility could be let go to the wall. As the Minister stated, it is a volunteer-led organisation that the Department has invested in over the years. For example, it provided an international-style running track and the Belgian team was based there during the Special Olympics, a time of great celebration. What celebration will there be if the hoarding goes up, the gates are locked and the people are left out of the sporting facility in the middle of Navan? There is an opportunity to get involved and make a strong statement this morning that nothing will be allowed to happen to the sporting facility. It would ward off the vultures circling over Claremont stadium.

The Deputy knows I have every sympathy but the problem is that the sports capital funding is not meant for rescuing anybody in financial difficulties, much as we would like to be able to do so. I accept what the Deputy says about the service given through this stadium to the community. I would love to be in a position to help. Claremont stadium is in receipt of funding from Pobal towards staff costs under the community services programme. It currently employs seven people and sponsors five community employment places. The facility is dependent on support from Pobal and community employment, CE, and could not provide the service and programmes without that, according to the board secretary. In recent years, the stadium received funding from an ESB fund to develop the lounge area into a multipurpose training facility. Currently, the focus is on renovating and expanding a training room, upgrading the dressing rooms and creating wheelchair access through funding received from the dormant accounts fund administered by Pobal. Funds will be made available after the current situation is resolved, apparently.

The Minister is right as there are so many groups using the facility. They include Parkvilla FC, the Navan athletics club and community groups such as Midway, Career Start and children's groups. My daughter attends a fashion design course in that stadium. It is used by the entire community and not just the sporting community. Optics are important. On there is an aerial picture of the ground. It is not meant for other sporting organisations and the aerial shot is to demonstrate the scope of the land for the vultures circling overhead. Optics are important. It would be a statement of particular substance if the Minister would say that we are not going to allow this stadium to go to the wall. No politician in Meath or Navan is going to rezone this area. The vultures are circling and the Minister's comments could be a statement of intent to ward off such prospective clients. The people of Navan stood outside the gates and protested in order to make a statement to the people attending an open showing of the facility. It would be a statement of substance for the Minister to do the same. I asked the Minister this time last year if he would come to Navan to examine the rail line proposals. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle was in the Chair at the time.

The Minister solemnly pledged that he would come, but he never has. Would it not be great if he would honour that and come to Navan and, at the same time, actually meet the people involved at Claremont stadium and ensure it remains open as a viable sporting social community facility, and not just for the people in Navan and Meath as it is also used by Athletics Ireland and athletes from throughout the country?

The Deputy has made a very good case but he must accept the explanations I think I have given to him. I have already received representations from other Deputies. The office of the Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty, has been in contact about this issue, as has Deputy McEntee's office. We will respond to the Deputy also. The responses to those representations have not yet been finalised but, obviously, the Deputy is not the only person in the area who supports this very worthy stadium.

I was not claiming to be.

It is something which we should recognise has a lot of public support and has done an enormous amount of work for the community there. As I said in my opening statement, while we recognise this is a very worthy cause and the loss of this to the community in Navan would be very difficult, I do not wish to involve myself in an operation which is in financial difficulties.