Dublin City Council is working to map all the sports facilities and outdoor recreational spaces across the city, to feed into its first ever sports and physical activity strategy.
More than 300 council staff work at 31 sports facilities and outdoor spaces across the city, said Donncha Ó Dúlaing, a senior executive officer at the council, at a meeting of its Central Area Committee on Tuesday.
The council will include those in the mapping of sports facilities across the city. “This is the first strategic plan to look at the provision of sport, physical activity and recreation in the city and to plan it out in a strategic way,” he said.
With the consultants Teneo, the council plans to carry out extensive community consultation to create the strategy.
They will concentrate on how to fill gaps in sports infrastructure, and how to improve access for those who don’t at the moment take part much in sports, said Ó Dúlaing.
Brian MacNeice, a senior managing director with Teneo, said that the strategy should go beyond organised sports.
“Catering for that uncompetitive, unorganised sport is a critical aspect of this policy,” said MacNeice. So, for example, walking, dancing, swimming or skateboarding.
Councillors at the area committee meeting welcomed the planned mapping and commended the work that the council already does providing sports facilities.
“Really brilliant stuff, we need to blow our trumpet on this. We do a brilliant job on the sports end,” said independent Councillor Nial Ring.
Several councillors pointed out that many more people had gotten involved in physical, outdoor activity during Covid-19.
Older people had started to exercise on their roads and in their gardens during the lockdowns, said independent Councillor Christy Burke. “I think we have a bouncing ball at the moment. Let’s hope it is grabbed.”
So, what’s the plan?
Dublin City Council has contracted Teneo to map all the sports infrastructure in the city, and to consult with the public on what is needed. Teneo is also to research how other cities approach all this.
The company has already started its research. Over the summer, its team intends to create a strategy for sports infrastructure and a separate strategy for policy, according to a presentation to the councillors on the Central Area Committee.
By the end of this year, the council hopes to have a new sports plan drawn up, one that will be rolled out over five years to the end of 2028.
Teneo has also already started with the public consultation, said MacNeice. They are talking to sports clubs and organisations, community groups and sporting bodies, as well as visiting council-owned sports and community centres and talking to staff and management, he said.
Then, there’s the look at other cities. “We’ll take the learning from those cities and bring it back to a Dublin context,” he says.
MacNeice said community engagement will be key. “The success of the existing programmes that we have and facilities that we have is greatly enhanced when there is active and purposeful community engagement.”
A broad welcome
Some councillors said they hoped that gaps in the provision of sports facilities in their own areas would be plugged as a result of the project.
Regularly, councillors at local area committee meetings make calls for better facilities, or more pitches.
Sinn Féin Councillor Séamas McGrattan and independent Councillor Cieran Perry said that several existing sports groups in Cabra need a new indoor sports facility.
Councillors representing the north inner-city pointed to the lack of playing pitches there.
Green Party Councillor Janet Horner wondered if much-needed improvements to existing pitches at the Alfie Byrne Park, near Fairview, might be considered.
MacNeice said those issues were the types that the strategy will aim to address. The mapping will be around need, and it won’t be a case of the group that shouts the loudest gets the most new infrastructure, he said.
Horner said the north inner-city has a general shortage of outdoor recreational space and wondered if the council could better use any available open spaces. A group used to practice capoeira in a car park by the Royal Canal, she said.** **
“Creative solutions to outdoor spaces, that is exactly the type of thought process we are going through,” said MacNeice.
Social Democrats Councillor Cat O’Driscoll said that BMX biking and skateboarding are up-and-coming activities in the city. Loads of young women are getting involved, she said.
MacNeice said facilities for alternative sports, dancing and other forms of physical activity are a major part of the plan. The aim is to bring those alternatives into the mainstream, he said.
O’Driscoll also asked Teneo to ensure that the public consultation is not solely done online, as fewer older people may take part then.
Councillors asked about the budget to roll out the strategy.
The council spends €20 million on sports each year, said Ó Dúlaing. It also has its capital budget and so the plan will guide how that spending is structured going forward.
Labour Councillor Declan Meenagh asked that Teneo consult directly with Independent Living Movement Ireland, an organisation run by people with disabilities.
Ó Dúlaing said that the intention is to particularly focus on groups who don’t currently have high levels of participation in sports and outdoor activities.
Two sports-integration staff, employed on temporary contracts, were doing a great job of involving more people with disabilities and people from new communities, he says.
The council has applied for permanent funding for those posts and if it gets that, it will be the first council in Ireland to have permanent staff focused on integration in sports, says Ó Dúlaing.
Councillors raised questions about girls and women, and their use of existing sports infrastructure. “We’ve got to cater for girls in a way that hasn’t been done previously,” said MacNeice.