Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Sports Grounds: Safety

Culture, Arts and Leisure – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:30 pm on 18th May 2009.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Thomas Burns Thomas Burns Social Democratic and Labour Party 3:30 pm, 18th May 2009

2. asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure to outline his Department’s proposals for ensuring that spectator safety at sports grounds is not compromised.          (AQO 2752/09)

Photo of Naomi Long Naomi Long Alliance

6. asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure what action his Department is taking to increase safety at sports stadiums.      (AQO 2756/09)

Photo of Gregory Campbell Gregory Campbell Shadow Minister (Transport), Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

With your permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, I will answer questions 2 and 6 together.

In the first instance, responsibility for increasing safety at sports grounds and ensuring that it is not compromised rests with the owners and operators of those venues. However, the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure is currently taking forward a safety at sports grounds initiative. The aim of that is to encourage and assist owners and operators of major sports facilities to improve spectator safety at their grounds. As part of that initiative, the Department has introduced and is currently implementing new legislation on safety at sports grounds; that is, The Safety of Sports Grounds (Northern Ireland) Order 2006.

Furthermore, Sport Northern Ireland, which is responsible for the development of sport, including the distribution of funding, has been running funding programmes designed to assist owners and operators of venues to improve spectator safety at their venues. Those include a stadia safety programme and, previously, an interim safe sports ground scheme.

In addition, I am in ongoing correspondence with Paul Goggins MP, Minister with responsibility for criminal justice in the NIO, about the introduction of complementary public order legislation to help combat spectator behaviour problems where they arise. DCAL officials have assisted the NIO with the development of draft proposals for legislation, and I have since written to Minister Goggins asking him to publish those for consultation as soon as is practicable. I understand from the NIO that a response will be provided shortly.

Photo of Thomas Burns Thomas Burns Social Democratic and Labour Party

Can the Minister tell us how much money is available to upgrade facilities at sports grounds? Does he not agree that the GAA county grounds, the Irish league football grounds and rugby grounds such as Ravenhill need a massive injection of cash immediately to get them up to the necessary standard?

Photo of Gregory Campbell Gregory Campbell Shadow Minister (Transport), Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

I can tell the Member that, in the past eight and a half years, Sport Northern Ireland has made available approximately £12·5 million since August 2000 to help clubs develop proposals and implement safety improvements at their grounds. There are a number of schemes in place, and I know of a range of applications that are currently being processed that will complement that total. It is work in progress that needs to continue, and I certainly intend to ensure that, in so far as we can, we will develop grounds in which spectators can watch sport in safety and those participating can do so in safety.

Photo of Naomi Long Naomi Long Alliance

I thank the Minister for his answer. Does the Minister have any concept of the shortfall between the funding that is available and the amount of money that is needed to bring the grounds up to the required safety levels? Furthermore, can he give us a time frame or any indication of when we are likely to see some progress on the issue of the Football (Offences) Act 1991?

Photo of Gregory Campbell Gregory Campbell Shadow Minister (Transport), Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

I do not have figures for the shortfall between what is available and what is required, because a number of stadia can be assisted by offering provision merely to eliminate relatively minor safety problems, whereas other grounds may have more major problems. The obvious example is Windsor Park, where there are safety considerations involving some aspects of the ground that are more significant than others. Work on what needs to be done is ongoing. I cannot provide the Member with a time frame, but I will obtain that and write to her, so that she can get a clear picture of when that is likely to be achieved.

Photo of Ken Robinson Ken Robinson UUP

Will the Minister indicate what proportion of his Department’s overall safety-linked expenditure on football goes towards major league clubs and what proportion goes to local and community-based football teams? While I am on my feet, will he join me in congratulating Glentoran Football Club on lifting the Gibson Cup? I am sure that he trusts that Glasgow Rangers can emulate that achievement.

Photo of Gregory Campbell Gregory Campbell Shadow Minister (Transport), Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

In relation to the latter part of the Member’s question, I know that he is a long-standing Glentoran supporter, but he will understand that, as sports Minister, I must remain neutral.

Moving swiftly on, he has asked me to outline the breakdown of expenditure on major league grounds and how that compares with the smaller teams. I know that Sport Northern Ireland recently provided funding to Ballymena United, Cliftonville, Portadown and Donegal Celtic and to Gaelic football grounds in Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Tyrone and Antrim. The smaller grounds do not require such significant investments in safety, but Sport NI will be able to provide the Member with a comprehensive list that he can peruse at his leisure.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon DUP 3:45 pm, 18th May 2009

I thank the Minister for his comprehensive response about safety at sports grounds. Many of us have concerns about that issue, but does the Minister know whether there have been any major incidents or injuries at football grounds in the past few years?

Photo of Gregory Campbell Gregory Campbell Shadow Minister (Transport), Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

I thank the Member for his question, which is pertinent in the context of some headlines that followed previous questions for oral answer. Unfortunately, discussions about spectator safety can cover anything from a faulty turnstile or light bulb to major problems with stands in which a significant number of people may be at risk. Some people in the media concentrate only on the major issues, for understandable reasons. I am not aware of any safety considerations at football grounds that have led to major accidents in recent years. However, that is not a cause for over-optimism in future. There are grounds in need of upgrading that have received money and will continue to receive money. We must ensure that maximum spectator safety is delivered and that participants play at grounds that have safety provisions built in.