Sport: Reconciliation

Oral Answers to Questions – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:45 pm on 28th May 2012.

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Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

I recognise that the development of sport in the North has in the past been affected and hindered by community tensions and has, on occasion, reflected segregation. However, I also believe that well-managed sport has, and can, play an important role in reconciliation here. That is recognised in my Department’s 10-year strategy for sport and physical recreation, Sport Matters. Sport Matters commits the Government to the promotion of sport in the context of a shared and better future, and it encourages sport to embrace and facilitate the process of reconciliation. To achieve that, the strategy contains a number of targets and actions to help to promote community cohesion through sport, including improving participation rates among under-represented groups of people and the provision of shared spaces for sport that promote community integration.

Photo of Alasdair McDonnell Alasdair McDonnell Shadow SDLP Chief Whip, Shadow SDLP Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow SDLP Spokesperson (Business, Innoviation and Skills), Shadow SDLP Spokesperson (Health), Leader of the Social Democratic & Labour Party

I thank the Minister for her answer. Will she tell the House how far down the road we are with the 10-year strategy? Are we on target, and what is the level of achievement? In other words, is the strategy working to schedule, behind schedule or ahead of schedule?

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

I will take the last question first. The strategy is not only working to schedule but is working better than we had anticipated. Can we do more? Absolutely. We can always do more to provide better opportunities for reconciliation, integration and cohesion. I honestly believe that the community and voluntary groups that are involved in participation in sport are the best example for all of us. For many years, they have led by example, and Sport Matters complements that. If the Member, or anyone else, for that matter, has suggestions about anything that we have not thought about or that is not included in the strategy that would promote better reconciliation and inclusion, I would be really happy to hear about it.

Photo of William Humphrey William Humphrey DUP

I very much agree with the broad thrust of Dr McDonnell’s question. I am proud to be a member of the green-and-white army, and, growing up in north Belfast, my idol was Pat Jennings. Does the Minister agree that any player born in Northern Ireland, or who has represented Northern Ireland at youth level, should play for Northern Ireland and that failure to do so actually damages community relations?

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

I do not agree with the Member. I think that it is a choice for the players, and it is down to the sporting bodies. It would be irresponsible for someone in my position to try to corral people. I am on the record as saying that I would much prefer an all-Ireland team, as did George Best. I honestly believe that there would be great support for such a team and everything that goes with it. Regardless of what team people prefer to play for, they have my support.