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The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure is not responsible for monitoring violence at sports grounds. Violence involving spectators is a reserved matter and is the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Office. Violence involving players at sports grounds is a disciplinary issue for clubs and sports governing bodies.
I am cognisant of the issues that surround the Member’s question. It is only a few months since we saw evidence of violence in a Northern Ireland sport stadium on what was, it has to be said, a very rare occasion. However, when violence does occur, it can be serious. To that end, my officials have had meetings with NIO officials, and, recently, I met Mr Paul Goggins MP, the NIO Minister with responsibility for that issue. I am content that he appreciates the need for progress, and I am in correspondence with him. I trust that we will shortly be in a position to make even speedier progress in order to get a satisfactory resolution so that firm and effective action can be taken against those who perpetrate such activities.
Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a thabhairt don Aire as an fhreagra sin.
I thank the Minister for his answer. Will he have discussions with football and other sports bodies about earlier kick-offs to offset any potential for violence outside sports stadiums?
In other parts of the UK, for matches that rate highly for potential difficulties, earlier kick-offs have ensured that problems have been minimised if not eliminated. We all know what we are talking about: less time during the day for alcohol to be consumed. The more time that there is to consume alcohol before a major game, the greater the chance of difficulties, problems and, on a few very rare occasions, violence. Therefore, the earlier the kick-off, the more likely it is that people will be prevented from doing that. Those are issues that the governing bodies must resolve, because they decide the kick-off times. That is usually done in conjunction with the police, particularly for higher-profile games. I hope that that will continue and, where earlier kick-offs are required, I suggest that they be availed of.
The Minister told us that violence at sports grounds is not his responsibility. However, does he accept that well-designed stadiums and venues play a significant role in health and safety? Given that his Department will be involved in the refurbishment of many leading sports venues, has he issued any guidance on that matter to the appropriate authorities?
The Member raises two separate issues. First, there is the issue of a statutory provision to deal with those who engage in activities that all of us would regard as illegal and violent; that is the responsibility of the NIO. Secondly, there is the issue of the responsibility for stadia provision. We have to ensure not only that, where possible, we have the safety and comfort of spectators uppermost in our minds but that those stadia — where large numbers of people are involved — are constructed in such a way as to make it exceptionally difficult for anyone to engage in illegal activity. We are examining that issue, and I hope to be able to make some progress on safety at sports stadia in the not too distant future.