I will start by giving out to the Minister of State because he is too fair. His predecessors used to curry political favour in the home county of the Minister with responsibility for sport or the Minister for Finance. The Minister of State has been most fair in giving each county a fair share of the funding available based on population. Limited though the funding is, each county has benefited on a pro rata basis and I congratulate the Minister of State on this, even though I am giving out to him for being too fair.
My county received a number of small amounts of funding for various groups which I know will be used to great benefit, as it was on the previous occasion, particularly as the amount of matching funding required by the clubs or organisations was reduced from 30% to 15%. A former Minister from my constituency, Charlie McCreevy, dished out allocations of €700,000, €800,000 and €900,000 and clubs had to come up with 30% of it. As a result some of them are now in financial difficulties because they had to borrow to provide the matching funding. The Minister of State has been smart enough to recognise a small pool of money can go a long way to get more people participating in sport at local level.
I congratulate the Irish Sports Council on its phenomenal work. Everyone speaks about the elite athletes, and I congratulate the two sailors who qualified for the 2016 Olympic Games. However, when one looks at the figures beyond the elite athletes one sees that 700,000 kids participate in sport, which to my mind is a huge success for the Irish Sports Council. The establishment of the sports partnerships in each county, and the annual funding of €5 million allocated to them, has accrued benefits in getting people participating in sport.
There are 685 walking trails throughout the country. Walking trails cater for someone as young as three years of age to someone as old as 100 and are of huge benefit to cross-sections of the population. I will be parochial and ask the Minister of State to examine the canals running through Kildare. I have been pushing hard for many years for these to be opened for cycling and walking. Kildare is bereft of tourism and we do not have a Westport or the glorious sights along the Atlantic Way such as there are in Mayo. We are fortunate to be the thoroughbred county and horse racing is our main sport. I must say to the previous speakers, who are from Tipperary and Clare, that Kildare won more all-Ireland hurling championships this year then either Tipperary or Clare, or Cork for that matter as I see Deputy Creed looking at me.
The canals are a potential tourism facility in Kildare, and if they were opened up to cycling and walking, it would be excellent. I can see huge potential in the long term.
Investment in sport occurs in a number of ways and one way which goes unnoticed is how the Tús scheme works for sports clubs and sports organisations in helping to maintain what they have and allowing improvements to be made.
I am delighted we will amalgamate two organisations. The National Sports Campus Development Authority started off on a bad vein with the Bertie bowl, and thanks be to God this was got rid of years ago. It also had problems with the pool. We will have a national sports centre run by the Sports Council, which has an interest in sport. With the amalgamation of the two bodies will we see a reduction in staff and the associated administrative costs? If amalgamations take place in the private sector, inevitably there are staff reductions. Will we see this in the short term or will it take longer to reach the objective of reducing the costs of running the two organisations?
I have not seen any mention of a board in the Bill. The Sports Council board has nine members and there are 15 on the National Sports Campus Development Authority. Will there be a board? People speak about gender equality. I am very much in favour of putting people on boards who have the capacity to add to the board and are not put on it for the sake of being put on it. I would welcome as many sporting people as possible because they have a knowledge of sport.
My next point is not associated with the Bill. It is with regard to a serious problem with young people, which is concussion in sport. I have written to the Minister for Education and Skills and perhaps the Minister of State will be able to help me in this matter. There is a good programme in Northern Ireland for schools to ensure the implementation of the procedure to be followed when concussion occurs. Perhaps we need to implement something similar in our schools. I have seen it at national sport level but not in school sports and we need to address it.
The Minister of State might contact his colleague about implementing what is going on in the North of Ireland at the moment with regard to concussion in young people.
I wish the Minister of State the best of success with this. He is most unfair in being even throughout the whole county. I hope we will have the next round of sports capital grants as soon as possible.