Official Report (Hansard)

Session: 2008/2009

Date: Thursday, 19 February 2009

Safety at Sports Grounds

19 February 2009

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:
Mr Barry McElduff (Chairperson)
Mr David McNarry (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Francie Brolly
The Lord Browne
Mr Kieran McCarthy
Mr Raymond McCartney
Mr Nelson McCausland
Mr Pat Ramsey
Mr Ken Robinson
Mr Jim Shannon

Witnesses:
Ms Hazel Campbell ) Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure
Mr Ciaran Mee )
Mr Nick Harkness ) Sport Northern Ireland
Mr Paul Scott )

The Chairperson (Mr McElduff):

We will now receive a joint briefing from DCAL and Sport NI on safety at sports grounds. The corresponding paper was tabled this morning, which is very unsatisfactory. The Committee has been chasing that paper for days, and the Department produced it only late yesterday evening. The Department knew before Christmas that the Committee would be revisiting the issue in February, yet the paper was circulated to the Committee only late yesterday evening, which does not allow members adequate time to scrutinise it in preparation for today’s meeting. I will register a complaint about that.

Mr McCausland:

Will you also ask for an explanation?

The Chairperson:

I will.

I refer members to the Minister’s response to a previous letter from the Committee. That response specifies the safety work that is outstanding at various sports grounds. Members will note that Windsor Park is not one of the sports grounds included because it did not apply for funding under the stadia safety programme. The Deputy Chairperson, David McNarry, has something to say about that.

Mr McNarry:

I happened to be speaking to the chairman of Linfield Football Club, and I asked him why his club did not apply for funding under the programme. He replied that the club had enquired about applying, but were told that the IFA would have to apply, because Windsor Park is an international ground. That is why Linfield Football Club has not applied for funding, and consequently appears to be losing out. From our correspondence with the chairman of the IFA, it does not appear that the IFA has submitted an application. If the IFA has not applied for the grant, then it is an open goal.

The Chairperson:

Do you mean an own goal?

Mr McNarry:

No, an open goal.

The Chairperson:

Like a penalty kick?

Mr McNarry:

No, I said “open goal”. Do not put words in my mouth, just because you have been playing with a funny shaped ball lately. I noticed that you were doing that with your left foot

The Chairperson:

I was using my right foot.

Mr McNarry:

OK; your right foot.

The Committee should write to the IFA to ask why it has not pursued an application for funding, because it should have done so. That might gee the IFA up.

The Chairperson:

Are you proposing that as a course of action?

Mr McNarry:

Yes. The correspondence from the IFA states, more or less, that it did seek funding from Sport NI in relation to a partnership on floodlighting. After initial encouragement, it was rejected by Sport NI, and the IFA was directed to the current programmes, of which there are seven. That has not been very well explained; I think that we should write to the IFA and ask if it has applied.

Mr Brolly:

I think we should also ask the IFA why Linfield Football Club could not apply, given that it owns the ground.

Mr McNarry:

It depends on which part of the stadium, and for which stands, they wish to use the grant. As you know, some of the stands are owned by the IFA. I imagine that that is why Linfield cannot apply.

The Chairperson:

Does the IFA own one stand or more than one stand?

Mr McNarry:

It owns two stands.

Mr McCartney:

Are those owned by the IFA or financed by the IFA?

Mr Shannon:

There is a 99-year lease on both stands.

Mr McNarry:

The IFA are responsible for them.

The Chairperson:

That explains David’s intervention.

Mr McNarry:

I do not want to jump the gun, but while we are on the issue of stadia, a situation has developed over the Boxing Day matches between Linfield and Glentoran. Is the Committee able to express concern — and I have concerns — over the IFA decision to ban that holiday match?

The Chairperson:

In order to discuss that now, I need to be sure that it is relevant to safety at sports grounds.

Mr McNarry:

It is about hooliganism and antisocial behaviour.

The Chairperson:

Do you want to request that the IFA comes before the Committee on that issue?

Mr McNarry:

I would like to express that we support football spectators in that the Boxing Day matches should not be banned. What the IFA has done is terrible. If that is the view of the Committee, we could ask the IFA to come and explain its decision or challenge our view.

The Chairperson:

I would want to be fully informed before we take a position on anything.

Mr McNarry:

That would make a change.

Mr Shannon:

We want to have all the facts; however, the facts, as declared by the newspapers, are fairly clear. The IFA has indicated that it is not agreeable to those matches going ahead because of the crowd trouble that took place previously. Is it possible to engage with the IFA to make sure that enough personnel are made available to secure the ground so that trouble will not occur again? That match is Glentoran’s biggest money earner, and I can say that without bias because I am not a Glens fan, I am an Ards FC supporter. However, I do feel for the club, and it has appealed against the IFA decision. Perhaps we need to find out how we fit into that process, and if we would be interfering, given that appeal.

The Chairperson:

Is this an internal IFA matter? Perhaps I will introduce the subject of black, red and yellow cards to the Committee.

Mr McNarry:

As far as I am concerned, it is a public interest matter and a sporting matter; therefore, we have some brief. If we are going to talk about public safety, I think that it is totally relevant.

The Chairperson:

Do you want to propose a way forward, David? What should we, as a Committee, do about it?

Mr McNarry:

I would like to bring the Committee with me in that we could express a consensus opinion that this ban should not take place. However, perhaps we are not fully informed about the process.

Mr Shannon:

I second the proposal. I think we need all the facts. I am conscious that Glentoran has appealed to the IFA and I wonder how the Committee fits into that process.

Mr P Ramsey:

I do not disagree with any of the proposals. I think we have a right to be discussing the matter. However, like you, Mr Chairperson, I think we need to be much more informed. I suggest that we write to Linfield and Glentoran and get their views. As well as writing to the IFA, I suggest we write to the PSNI to get its views also.

Mr McCausland:

I would like to make two points, one of which follows on from Pat’s point about the PSNI. Listening to the people being interviewed on the radio yesterday, or whenever it was, there seemed to be some discrepancy about the ability of the police to make arrests and bring prosecutions within the grounds. Could we get some clarity on that? Secondly, if there is an appeal, then any action the Committee might wish to take will need to take account of the timescale for that appeal. I do not know the timescale, but if it were happening very quickly, the Committee would not have as long to express a view on it.

Mr McNarry:

I am grateful to Pat; I think that would be a very useful route to take. The appeal is obviously underway, but I think we should be acting notwithstanding that appeal. If people want to filibuster and mess around with appeals they can do that. To me, this is an issue of public interest, particularly the decision about the match on Boxing Day. Not only that, it could affect every other match due to take place on Boxing Day — the local derbies. There could be implications for those.

The Chairperson:

It was interesting that, when Paul Scott accompanied us last week, he said that there seemed to be a reluctance in the IFA to bring the starting times of matches forward to an earlier time. He said that there was resistance to that, which is a safety issue. I do not know if that is related to the match on 26 December.

Mr McNarry:

I do not know, I cannot comment on whether Linfield and Glentoran could meet at 11.00 am. There is an analogy with Celtic and Rangers, as matches between those two teams have been brought forward to an earlier starting time. I do not know about that, but it could be part and parcel of the issue that we are considering. What I am trying to say is that where there is a will, there is a way. We are talking about 10,000 to 12,000 spectators, whereas normally a derby match of that kind might attract 6,000 people. It is a family occasion. Who will be affected by the decision?

Mr Shannon:

The family will be affected.

The Chairperson:

Raymond Kennedy is challenging the notion that it is a family occasion.

Mr McNarry:

I think he may be reconsidering those remarks.

Mr Shannon:

There is another thing that he is reconsidering. Hopefully the appeal will be successful; in which case the problem will be solved. It might be a smaller match, but there were 3,500 people at the Steel and Sons cup final on Christmas day, and there was no bother whatsoever.

Mr McNarry:

You almost got into trouble; I had to rescue you.

Mr Shannon:

I saw you shouting, or was it that people were shouting at you?

The Chairperson:

Raymond; suggest a way forward that will achieve maximum consensus.

Mr McCartney:

Pat listed a number of organisations. The IFA would have to inform us of its reasoning. One of the issues seems to be the number of PSNI officers available. To my recollection, the clubs do not pick up the cost of policing, whereas in England, I think, they make a contribution. The IFA should inform us of its reasoning.

Mr K Robinson:

As an attendee at that match and other matches, over the years I have noticed a declining number of police officers inside the grounds. I welcome that, because it is taking away a point of confrontation that was lurking on many occasions. The ability of stewards to restrain people who are misbehaving is an issue that must be considered. This Committee has a role to encourage and facilitate all sports, and it has a genuine interest in this matter.

Mr McNarry:

If the match is allowed to go ahead, we will steward it.

Mr K Robinson:

At a football ground or any other ground, stewards are given identification, and are expected to be responsible for the safety of other supporters. Consideration must also be given to how those chaps would have dealt with the situation that confronted them, given their limited powers. Eventually, police arrived in the ground and the trouble was stopped —

Lord Browne:

That was after considerable delay.

Mr K Robinson:

There was considerable delay.

I do not want police to be positioned at every sports ground in anticipation of trouble. I would rather reach the stage at which people behave properly inside grounds; stewards have power to deal with people who cannot behave in that manner, and the police are called in only as a last resort. I have reservations about the issue regarding their ability to arrest people, because, throughout the years, I have seen many a person finish up in the back of a police van inside a football ground.

Mr McCartney:

There is a grey area around banning people from grounds.

Lord Browne:

Ken, I am sure that you agree that, on that occasion, stewards behaved in a responsible and professional manner.

Mr K Robinson:

They did.

Lord Browne:

The delay in the police’s arrival —

Mr McNarry:

So says the voice of Linfield Football Club.

Lord Browne:

I speak for both clubs. Both Linfield Football Club and Glentoran Football Club appealed against the decision that was taken.

Mr K Robinson:

Councils must wrestle with the decision to put wardens on the streets to do a variety of tasks, because unless we give them powers, we put them at risk.

The Chairperson:

Are we agreed on the action that Pat proposed? I have heard David’s and Jim’s sentiment; however, we are not there yet.

Members indicated assent.

The Chairperson:

Members have the transcript of the Minister’s interview on BBC Radio Ulster on Saturday 14 February about the quality and safety of sports grounds. Members also have the responses from Ulster Rugby and the IFA to our request for information about safety at sports grounds.

Mr McNarry:

Can we raise the matter with guests from Ulster Rugby when they attend the Committee? They have said that:

“At the request of Sport NI we have developed a facilities strategy to deliver six strategically placed 3 rd generation rugby pitches… We have however recently been advised by Sport NI that this programme is now on hold.”

Can we ask why it is on hold?

The Chairperson:

OK. Is the title of that programme ‘Places for Sport’?

Mr McNarry:

They refer to ‘Places for Sport’ and third-generation rugby pitches.

The Chairperson:

I believe that there are two programmes; one is ‘Places for Sport: Surfaces’ and the other is ‘Places for Sport: General’.

Mr McNarry:

The problem is that those bureaucrats get clubs that have little-enough money as it is to spend money and volunteers’ time to produce a strategy at their request, which they then pull. It is not satisfactory.

The Chairperson:

Members also have the Hansard report of the briefing with DCAL and Sport NI that was held on 11 December 2008. Also, there is information on spend on safety at sports grounds provided by the February monitoring round. The Department plans to spend £2 million by March 2009. Finally, there is the timeline, which has been drawn up by the Committee office, on progress on safety at sports grounds from the late 1990s to the present.

I draw members’ attention to the departmental briefing paper that has been tabled and information that has been obtained by the Committee office on the Department’s plans for a stadia-development programme. It is fair to say that the briefing paper was not received by the Committee office until this morning.

At this stage, I invite departmental officials to brief the Committee: Ms Hazel Campbell, acting head of sport, museums and recreation at DCAL; Mr Ciaran Mee of DCAL’s sport and recreation branch; Mr Nick Harkness, Sport NI’s director of participation and facilities, and Mr Paul Scott from Sport NI. Good morning, everyone. Thank you for coming along. I remind officials that they have 20 minutes in which to brief the Committee. After that, we will proceed to the substantive line of questioning.

The Committee wants to record its grave disappointment at the late delivery of papers once again: members feel very strongly about that. It was known before Christmas that this issue would be revisited in late February, and yet the relevant papers did not reach the Committee office until this morning. We want to record our strongest possible protest against that, because it is a problem that has been flagged up many times in the past.

Sometimes it does not seem to be fully recognised that this Committee is a Statutory Committee of Government. We would like an explanation for the late arrival of papers, because it is simply not good enough. I had to lay that on heavily at the beginning of the meeting because the Committee feels strongly about the matter. I invite Hazel to both lead the presentation and address that issue.

Ms Hazel Campbell (Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure):

Thank you. On behalf of the Department, I formally apologise to the Committee for the late delivery of the paper. I understand the strength of feeling on the issue, and I can only apologise.

Mr Shannon:

Hazel, I think you are 3-0 down before you have even started.

Mr McCausland:

The officials were asked to give an explanation. How long does it take to write a paper?

Ms H Campbell:

We wanted the paper to inform the Committee of the most up-to-date position, and that is why a paper was not sent earlier. However, I appreciate that we did not meet the Committee’s target date for delivery of the paper, and, once again, I apologise.

Mr McCausland:

I do not wish to prolong the discussion on this matter, but I do want to say something else. I accept the point that we want the most up-to-date information, but I do not think that that the facts and figures contained in the paper have changed in the past seven days. The same paper could have been sent to the Committee seven days ago. If it had have been, we would have had a chance to read it. I ask the question again: why was the paper not sent earlier?

Ms H Campbell:

In addition to the points I have made, there are formal clearance procedures within the Department.

The Chairperson:

We will move on now. I invite Hazel to lead the presentation.

Ms H Campbell:

The paper that we sent to the Committee contains a typographical error. It makes reference to December 2009, but, clearly, that should read December 2008; I apologise for that. Jack Palmer has retired since officials were last before the Committee, which is why I am here today. I will start by giving an update on the current policy and legislation position. I will then hand over to Nick Harkness, who will provide more information on what is happening on the ground.

As members are aware, the overseeing function for safety at sports grounds was established at Sport Northern Ireland in November 2008. It was established to give interested parties advice and guidance and to monitor the implementation of the safety certification scheme on behalf of the Department. Since then, the Department has worked closely with the staff of the overseeing function so that the articles of the 2006 Order that are not yet implemented can be brought into force. A number of actions need to be taken to enable that to happen and to ensure that the legislation is effective once it comes into force.

First and foremost, the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure and Sport Northern Ireland must identify all those grounds in Northern Ireland that have accommodation for more than 5,000 spectators, and therefore, under the terms of the Safety of Sports Grounds ( Northern Ireland) Order 2006, will require a safety certificate. Before sports grounds can be designated, it is necessary to determine their precise spectator capacity, using an appropriate methodology. That will involve visits to sports grounds by the overseeing body.

Sport Northern Ireland, which is charged with the overseeing function on behalf of the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, was recruited on the basis of having the necessary skills to undertake that task. Since the meeting with the Committee in December 2008, Sport Northern Ireland has proposed a methodology for calculating the capacity of a venue. That methodology was drawn up following discussions with the Football Licensing Authority in GB and the Department; the Department has now agreed to that methodology.

Since that Committee meeting in December 2008, the Department and Sport Northern Ireland have informed district councils and the relevant sporting governing bodies of the methodology that we intend to apply for the purposes of sports grounds designation. In addition, in accordance with article 23 of the 2006 Order, the Department has now formally granted two Sport Northern Ireland staff — Paul Scott and Laura Strong — entry and inspection powers to sports grounds for designation purposes.

Also, I recently wrote to the chief executives of the 26 district councils and the governing bodies of soccer, rugby and Gaelic games to advise them of the establishment of the overseeing function; the inspection powers that have been granted to the staff and their role in identifying grounds that will require designation; and of Sport Northern Ireland’s plans to visit sports grounds for the purpose of designation. I am pleased to say that the inspection of grounds is now under way, and good progress is being made. The representatives of Sport Northern Ireland will tell the Committee a little more about that in a moment or two.

Sport Northern Ireland hopes to conclude its initial work by May 2009. By that time, it expects to have submitted recommendations to the Department and a full list of sports grounds that it believes should be designated. The Department will then proceed without delay to lay the necessary subordinate legislation before the Assembly. That subordinate legislation will bring in to force the remaining provisions of the Safety of Sports Grounds ( Northern Ireland) Order 2006 and enable the designation of sports grounds.

It is hoped that the legislative process and the introduction of the safety certification scheme will be in place in this calendar year. The timetable must take account of the necessary statutory processes. In anticipation of that, we have already begun to prepare the subordinate legislation and we are consulting our solicitors. The Department hopes to lay the subordinate legislation before the Assembly as soon as possible after receiving Sport Northern Ireland’s recommendations on designation. All subordinate legislation that is made by the Department under the Safety of Sports Grounds ( Northern Ireland) Order 2006 will be subject to negative resolution.

Once the subordinate legislation has been made, the operators of designated venues will be required to apply to their local authority for a safety certificate. District councils will then carry out safety inspections at the grounds — in effect, a safety audit — and, based on the findings, may issue a safety certificate, which will determine the safe capacity at each ground and the safety conditions that must be applied.

For safety certification to be effective, district councils will require detailed guidance from the Department and Sport Northern Ireland. As the Committee will be aware, the Department has already published a Northern Ireland guide to safety at sports grounds, which is commonly known as the Red Guide.

That was developed by Sport Northern Ireland in 2007 in conjunction with the key statutory stakeholders. That document provides guidance on standards of safety at sports grounds. However, since the December meeting, the overseeing body has begun to prepare additional guidance on the procedures, criteria and enforcement of safety certificates, together with procedures for appeals and the setting of fees for certification, as required under the Order. The guidance will be based on similar information that has been made available to local authorities in GB and will be issued by DCAL in due course.

In addition, the overseeing body is continuing to liaise with key stakeholders — district councils, sport governing bodies, the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service — on the progress and implications of the legislation. Sport Northern Ireland will elaborate on that point. That work will continue, with each district council convening a safety advisory group containing the key stakeholders.

In addition to determining the safe capacity of a sports ground, district councils will also assess safety management and associated stewarding levels for sports events. It is anticipated that each safety certificate issued by the councils will include the number of trained stewards required to be in attendance during matches. With that in mind, Sport Northern Ireland is currently in discussions with accredited bodies regarding the necessary training courses. Furthermore, at the meeting in December 2008, the Committee was advised that Sport Northern Ireland has committed more than £12 million to safety improvements in sports grounds since August 2000.

At the meeting on the February monitoring round, the Committee asked what the outstanding £2 million in the current year’s budget would be spent on. A number of projects are in progress, and a number have been completed recently. Work on major safety projects at Ravenhill and at Donegal Celtic’s Celtic Park has commenced. In addition, work is progressing at Casement Park, and has been completed at Armagh’s Athletic Grounds, Cliftonville Football Club and Portadown Football Club. The total Sport Northern Ireland grant for those projects is £5·6 million, and the target spend for the current financial year is £3·193 million.

Sport Northern Ireland has also been working with seven applicants to bring their projects to business-case stage. Those will require an estimated potential investment of £5·4 million, and that investment is additional to those that I have mentioned already. Sport Northern Ireland bid for that money, and for an additional £5 million, through the strategic stocktake, to launch a new phase of the stadia safety programme. The Department is awaiting final confirmation of the budget position.

The Committee was advised that the Northern Ireland Office, with assistance from DCAL officials, had developed proposals to create new legislation to address spectator-related behaviour problems, namely offensive chanting, missile throwing, unauthorised pitch incursions, carriage and consumption of alcohol, ticket touting and a football banning order regime. Since the Committee meeting in December 2008, DCAL officials have met officials from the Northern Ireland Office, and the Minister has met Paul Goggins MP, the Minister with responsibility for criminal justice, to discuss how that issue can be moved forward. Both Ministers agreed that a consultation should take place, and the Northern Ireland Office is in the lead in that matter.

Mr Nick Harkness (Sport Northern Ireland):

I am the director of Sport NI with responsibility for the programme, and Paul Scott has been appointed as the manager responsible for that area, so we are best placed to advise members on the detail of the ongoing work.

First, I will talk about our investment in the matter. Since 2000, Sport NI has invested in safety matters in sports grounds through its interim safe sports grounds programme, which has been used to invest £4·7 million in 31 projects. More recently, since the launch of our stadia safety programme in 2005, we have funded 11 projects, with the total amount of awards made amounting to approximately £7·6 million.

Money is still being spent on-site on four of those projects. They are: Ravenhill Stadium, Celtic Park; Casement Park, and Cliftonville. Safety works at those grounds will amount to almost £9 million, more than £7·6 million of which will come from Sport NI. Examples of what has been achieved to date through that investment across the three sports are as follows. First, two new stands, with a combined capacity of 2,500, were constructed at Cliftonville’s ground. Secondly, work is ongoing at Ravenhill to replace an old terrace with a new seated stand for 4,400 spectators. Thirdly, a new stand with seated capacity for 3,800 people has been completed at Párc Esler.

Easements have taken place within that programme. Those are partly a symptom of the public-sector investment system combined with the capacity of some applicants to spend money in-year. By way of detail; in this financial year, an easement of £807,000 out of the £4 million budget had been made. That relates to two projects specifically. The first is Donegal Celtic, which was due to receive £500,000. However, business case approval processes, the lack of partnership funding and some legal issues have resulted in delays. The second project that has contributed to the easement is Down GAA, which was due to receive £310,000. One of the main issues for that project was that there were insufficient budgets in the next financial year. The capital construction costs for the project would span two financial years, and, therefore, Sport NI had an insufficient budget in 2009-2010 to allow that project to commence in 2008-09, because of the spend carry over.

Another seven projects, which I will talk about in detail, were at advanced planning stages for spend in 2009-2010 and 2010-11. Again, we have a budget shortfall that precludes us from allowing those projects to begin. However, I am happy to say that the easement of £807,000 was detected early enough to allow it be redirected to our sports surfaces programme, which has funded 23 community sports projects throughout Northern Ireland. Those projects are currently in construction phase, and the money has been used for the development of sport.

As regards our revenue investment history; since 2000, Sport Northern Ireland has invested £750,000 worth of revenue in safety at sports grounds, and, as a result, it has trained 540 stewards and safety officers.

I will update the Committee with further detail on the overseeing function that Hazel already mentioned. In autumn 2008, staff were recruited to undertake those functions, and they commenced work in that area in November 2008. Initially, staff went through an induction and training session that involved liaison with the Football Licensing Authority. The authority has considerable experience in undertaking that function in England and Wales and was able to advise us on relevant matters.

Sport NI staff drafted and forwarded criteria for assessing the capacity of venues for designation purposes to DCAL. DCAL subsequently approved those as the preferred methodology for undertaking the task. The Department then authorised staff to undertake those functions, specifically the inspection of grounds and the inspection process. To date, five grounds have been inspected.

We have subsequently undertaken inspections to assess those capacities. Staff have written to venue operators advising them of our findings and inviting them to comment within two weeks. The respective capacities and the comments of the venue owners will then be forwarded to DCAL. The Department will then proceed with the designation of venues by way of regulation.

Sport NI staff have also drafted guidance material that will be forwarded to DCAL for approval. The Department will consider the information provided, and, once approved, will issue it to councils as guidance on how the provisions of the Order should be implemented.

Sport NI staff have also met with key stakeholder groups to discuss the legislation and its implementation, including the PSNI, the Fire and Rescue Service, district councils and the three governing bodies. A working group has been established, and includes representatives of district councils. It will evolve into a steering group and will include other stakeholder representatives. We have also worked with the Football Licensing Authority, SkillsActive, colleges of further and higher education and accrediting bodies with regard to developing and delivering training courses for personnel involved in safety management.

To return to the point that I made earlier, we currently have seven projects at business-case stage. Those relate to the capital schemes at Institute, Ballymena, Newry, Glenavon, Crusaders, Armagh GAA and Down GAA grounds. Through those business cases, we have identified safety works that need to be done, which total approximately £6·4 million, requiring an SNI investment of approximately £5·4 million over 2009-2010 and 2010-11. That funding is not currently in Sport NI’s budget, but we have bid through the Department, through the strategic stocktake, to have our capital budgets uplifted to allow those awards to take place, and the work to begin in the next financial year. We expect an outcome of that process to be known sometime around April 2009.

Sport NI has bid for an additional £5 million through the strategic stocktake to fund the first round of a stadia development programme. That programme aims to invest, not only in safety improvements at sports grounds, but also in comfort and community-use improvements. That programme is in the early stages of planning, but once launched and funded, will have the potential to complement our work in implementing the safe sports grounds legislation.

In summary, a total of £12·3 million has been invested in capital works; 42 projects have been funded; a total revenue investment of nearly £750,000 has been made, with 540 stewards trained; seven further capital projects are at an advanced planning stage, and bids are being made to fund those projects.

An additional investment of £5 million is being sought for the first phase of a new stadia development programme. However, significant additional funding will be needed to improve safety and comfort at our major sports grounds. That is based on the increased standards required as a result of the Red Guide, and the increased spectator expectation that has undoubtedly arisen around visiting sporting events. Capacity inspections are being carried out, training programmes are being developed and a steering group has been established to expedite the full implementation of the legislation with the target date completion being the end of the calendar year 2009.

Lord Browne:

Thank you. Along with the Chairperson and other members of the Committee, I visited three grounds last week: Ravenhill, Casement Park and Windsor Park. Although I am a regular attendee at a lot of grounds, I was completely shocked at the state of those stadiums, which should be described as state-of-the-art venues for each of the three sports. They were shocking.

I hope that the Chairperson will allow me to quote from the report. Take, for example, the detail on Crusaders Football Club: it states that:

“The standing terraces do not comply with recognised guidance and much of these areas are in a state of serious disrepair. Belfast City Council has served a ‘Dangerous Structures Notice’ on the wall at the York Road end of the venue fearing it may collapse onto the pavement. The wall at the opposite end of the venue has collapsed twice in recent years. The pitch of the Grand Stand is steeper than generally permissible and requires work to address this matter … Access and egress to the venue requires improvement.”

I go to that ground quite regularly. Jim Shannon may have been there at the Steel and Sons cup final. Is the wall about to collapse on people who are going about their day-to-day business — mothers wheeling babies or people going shopping? I really do not know.

The section of the report on Casement Park states that:

“The vast majority of the entrancing and exiting is directly onto the Andersonstown Road. This presents significant crowd management problems and requires that the roadway is closed to traffic at the close of each major fixture.

This will have a significant impact on safety. The Grand Stand falls well short of recognised standards particularly with reference to access, egress and fire protection … The crush barriers require testing for structural loading.”

What would happen if there were a crowd problem in that ground and people had to be evacuated quickly on to a busy road with traffic? People’s lives would be in danger.

The report states that for Ravenhill, which is the home of Ulster rugby:

“The viewing accommodation in the Grand Stand does not meet recognised standards, and is in a poor condition with a limited lifespan. … The crush barriers to the standing area to the front of the Grand Stand do not comply with recognised guidance.”

From those quotes, and by any standard, the current condition of sports grounds leaves a lot to be desired, and they present extremely serious health and safety issues. If those issues are not addressed urgently, I fear that it is only a matter of time before there is a serious incident. The question facing this Committee; and it is one that I have asked before, and the answer depends on whom I ask, is this: who is ultimately responsible for the health and safety of the general public at sports grounds? The Committee needs an answer to that question. If the Department, and consequently the Committee, are ultimately responsible, then we, as members of the Committee, deserve answers. We must immediately address this extremely serious matter.

You said that you think that you have £5·4 million to address safety concerns — that amount will not come anywhere close to doing so. How much money in the 2009-2010 budget is specifically for safety at sports grounds? Has that funding been secured, and how will it address the disgraceful state of some of the major stadiums in Northern Ireland?

I could go on all day. The Football Licensing Authority in Great Britain is perhaps 20 years ahead of us, and it has experience and expertise. As there is no need to reinvent the wheel, and as the authority is so far ahead of us, should we not be taking advice from them? How often do you consult, meet or take advice from the FLA? Can you make use of its expertise?

In considering safety at sports grounds, we must take into account that there are people with disabilities. One cannot simply design separate features for people with disabilities; there has to be an overall design.

Mr Chairperson:

Wallace started by asking how much of the 2002-2010 budget is specifically for safety.

Mr Harkness:

I do not have the exact figure with me, but —

The Chairperson:

I must say that that is a serious matter. If you cannot provide that figure, the Committee will be seriously concerned. How much money is available for safety at sports grounds for 2009-2010? We must have the answer, and we need that information today.

Ms H Campbell:

Sport NI’s total capital allocations in the comprehensive spending review, including the stadium, were £31·2 million for 2008-09; £36·4 million for 2009-2010, and £44·5 million for 2011-12. However, those figures include stadium allocations of £10 million, £28·9 million and £30·3 million respectively. That leaves Sport Northern Ireland, excluding the stadium allocations, with a capital budget of £21·2 million for 2008-09.

In 2009-2010, it drops down to £7·37 million, and then goes up again in 2010-11 to £13·5 million. Therefore, there is a significant drop in Sport NI’s capital budget next year. The Department has already given Sport NI a commitment that we will give it an additional £5 million next year, but that must take account of all Sport Northern Ireland’s programmes and elite facilities, which are included as a priority.

The Department submitted a bid in the strategic stocktake for an allocation from the stadium budget. We asked for £15·6 million for next year and £12·26 million for the following year, but we have not yet received any confirmation on the use of the stadium budget. Therefore, that creates a budgetary problem for Sport Northern Ireland.

The allocation in the comprehensive spending review for safe sports grounds in 2008-09 was £4 million, and the expected outturn on that is £3·193 million. In 2009-2010, the allocation in the Department’s tables is £2 million, and, in 2010-11, it is £2·4 million. However, Sport Northern Ireland can move money between various lines, so it can move money between elite facilities and other programmes.

Mr McNarry:

Are you saying that Sport NI can do that, but that the Department cannot?

Ms H Campbell:

No. The money for the stadium was ring-fenced. We cannot use it for anything else because it was voted specifically for the stadium. However, we can move money around within Sport NI’s capital allocation, but we have to inform DFP.

The Chairperson:

Without wanting to cut across Wallace’s line of questioning; when will decisions be made regarding how much of the 2009-10 Sport NI budget will be spent specifically on safety? When will those decisions be made? When will we know about those decisions?

Ms H Campbell:

We have given Sport NI its overall capital allocation for next year, which does not include any of the stadium money. Sport NI then decides on the allocations to the individual programmes.

The Chairperson:

When will Sport NI make that decision?

Mr Harkness:

We hope to set out budgets at our next council meeting, which will take place on the first Tuesday in April. However, £1·5 million has been committed to finish off the four projects that are in construction phase, that is, Ravenhill, Cliftonville, Casement Park and Donegal Celtic’s Celtic Park. Those projects are on the ground, and their construction phase spans two financial years. The budget allocation to complete them will require £1·5 million in the next financial year. However, there are seven projects at a high state of development, which propose health and safety works to a value of £6·41 million. Those schemes will not be delivered in one financial year. We require £4·45 million for 2009-2010 and 2010-11.

The Chairperson:

Have your questions been addressed, Wallace?

Lord Browne:

Does that include disability? I think that is essential.

Mr Harkness:

Yes.

Mr Scott:

We know the state of the venues from our inspections, and we agree that investment is needed to bring them up to a reasonable standard.

You mentioned liability. At the moment, liability rests with the host club. Under health and safety legislation and under the prohibition elements of the Safety of Sports Grounds (Northern Ireland) Order 2006, district councils can take action, but only if there is a risk of serious personal injury. That is quite a high bar to reach, which is why we had to introduce the safety at sports grounds legislation.

If, when the legislation is fully implemented, a club, or another body, organises a fixture at the ground, there will always be a responsibility on the club. That may also, possibly, be the case with other bodies that organise a fixture, which might be the IFA at Windsor Park in the case of an international fixture or a cup final.

District councils will issue safety certificates and will, therefore, assume an element of responsibility. If the conditions of a certificate are met, and there is an incident, district councils will very much be in the frame. In performing its overseeing role, Sport Northern Ireland will be monitoring the work of district councils in much the same way as the Football Licensing Authority does in England and Wales. We will have a responsibility, but we will be advising DCAL, our parent Department, about safety issues and how those are being addressed by the district councils through their certification and regulation processes.

I am on the phone to the Football Licensing Authority practically every week. In fact, I will be with the authority for two days next week, updating it on where we are going, sounding it out and taking its advice. Over the years, we have leaned heavily on its expertise, advice and guidance. Its officers have been in Northern Ireland on a number of occasions at our invitation, to give us advice on local issues.

Lord Browne:

You mentioned responsibility, but do you not agree that, ultimately, DCAL is responsible?

Mr Scott:

When DCAL is made aware of a situation, DCAL will be responsible and, through the interdepartmental groups, it will have mechanisms to put pressure on district councils to properly apply the legislation. A safety certificate will state the safe capacity of a venue, and parts of a venue. That will be referenced against the Red Guide, which has been mentioned in the presentations, a document prepared by Sport NI and others and published by DCAL.

The safety certificate will also contain a list of conditions that must be applied at certain matches and at certain categories of matches. The conditions for a relatively small league match might be very different to those for a cup final, a match in the county championships or a Heineken league match, for example. There will be a graduated approach, and officials will bear in mind that the safety arrangements required will relate to the number of spectators present, while always recognising that safety must be maintained regardless of the category of the match.

Members will be aware from the meeting before Christmas that there is a business case for some £30 million. That estimate was made in 2002. At the minute, the cost of the outstanding work to bring our larger grounds up to a safe capacity — excluding a stadium or stadia for representative sport — would be somewhere in the order of between £20 million and £25 million in my view.

However, as we said during our visit last week, grounds need to be fit for purpose also. Therefore, not only must they be safe, they must meet the expectations of spectators and the requirements of the governing bodies and relevant competition organisers.

For example, Casement Park lost out earlier this week on the International Rules fixture, which will be staged in Limerick. Two weeks ago, it was announced that the Champions League final will be held at Wembley, and that Lansdowne Road will host the UEFA Cup. However, we are not in a position to host a match of that status, so we must consider whether our stadia are fit for purpose. As Nick said in his presentation, those stadia could become community stadia that the public could use seven days a week, rather than just once or twice a week for a match.

Mr K Robinson:

Could I quickly ask about the role of the councils?

The Chairperson:

I am struggling to give all the members who wish to speak an opportunity to do so — they are all agitated and want to ask questions at the same time.

Mr K Robinson:

Do councils have the necessary expertise, or are you taking steps to ensure that they acquire it?

Mr Scott:

We have developed a working group that will become a steering group, and we will provide council officers with the expertise to consider the structural and safety-management issues at a given venue, and at given fixtures within that venue. So, councils have already had some training, and they will receive a lot more.

Mr K Robinson:

Obviously the larger councils, such as Belfast City Council, have an advantage; but the smaller councils must be considered, too.

Mr Scott:

Indeed, officers in Belfast City Council will also get further training.

Mr McNarry:

I want to return to the very relevant points that Wallace made. Can I assure you that our agitation is not directed at you because you do not know what you are doing; it is just that we do not know that you know what you are doing, and we need to be quite convinced that you do.

When we spoke to you on 11 December 2008, you said that you had returned £1 million of the money that was to be spent on safety. We made our views about that known at the time. I am now looking at the figures for the February monitoring round. You had an opening budget of £4 million. The December monitoring round shows that you have spent £3·383 million. Your revised budget is £3·193 million. Up to December, you managed to spend £1·147 million, and you expect to spend £2·046 million from January to March.

We then have the bids, and it is difficult to know what they are related to. Bids are bids. Do you just go through the process of submitting a bid when, in reality, you cannot spend the money that you get? You could not spend £1 million of the money that you received, so how are you going to convince the Committee that your bids are real? How will you convince members that, if your bids are met, the money will be spent, and spent in time to address the primary objective on which the Committee has been concentrating — basically, to get peace of mind so that we can tell our constituents that they are safe when they go to a sporting venue?

Mr Shannon:

I have a number of questions.

The Chairperson:

We might have to hold your questions, Jim, if you have a number of them. Every member seems to want to chip in on other members’ question today.

Mr Shannon:

I have marked down that I want to ask a question on this issue. I put the question to the witnesses when they appeared before the Committee in December, and we can check the Hansard report of that meeting. I asked then how come the £1 million has slipped away. I have to say that the answers were unsatisfactory, as we all know. The chairman of the Sports Council did not even know that the money had disappeared — he had no idea whatsoever.

Today, you tell us that the figure is now £807,000. The Committee is very frustrated about that. The Deputy Chairperson said that we are not against you, but you are here today making a case for the Department, so you will have to listen to the reasons why the Committee is so agitated. You said that the £807,000 has been passed back and that it is an easement. Way back in December you knew that the money had not been used. Why did you not endeavour then to ensure that the money would be used before the end of the financial year?

I could name a few areas that could have used the money for their grounds, Limavady being one example. Their scheme would have cost £560,000, but you have just handed back £807,000. I am using Limavady as an example, but it applies to the many other clubs that could have used the money to their advantage. The point that all members are making is that we are frustrated by the inability to grasp the fact that the money is there to be spent but is not being used. The Deputy Chairperson is right to ask about all the bids that have been submitted. If they are successful, will the money be spent, or will they simply become another easement next year?

Mr Harkness:

Hazel earlier described the Exchequer capital budget of £5 million, which was combined with our National Lottery budgets, in the last financial year.

Mr McNarry:

Can you stick to what we are here to talk about today? We want to talk about the safety programme. Do not introduce the other things that you had: that is for another day. You committed to a programme for safety. Is it possible to stick to that subject? Stop talking about the stadium and the £10 million and the £29 million: that is gone. What are you doing with the money that you were allocated for this project?

Mr Harkness:

In the last financial year, we had £5 million for capital works. This financial year, at two months’ notice, we were awarded £21 million. It is impossible to increase a capital programme spend from £5 million to £21 million for in-year spend with two months’ notice. There are public-sector procurement requirements related to ODU and business case development and approvals to be carried out. Spending all that money would create a spend into next year, because the projects cannot be planned, initiated, approved, procured and delivered in one financial year. Therefore a spend into the next financial year would be carried over. Our capital budgets in the next financial year drop to £7 million, so we cannot initiate projects in this financial year and finish them off in the next. It is not possible to do that.

Mr McNarry:

We know that. What are you doing about it?

Mr Harkness:

We are bidding for more money.

Mr McNarry:

For goodness sake —

Mr Harkness

We have identified seven projects for which we do not have the money. We have invited applications from them and encouraged them to develop business cases, and they are at a high state of readiness and very close to a procurement exercise. Those can begin in the next financial year, but we do not have the money in the budget, and they will not all deliver in the next financial year. That is why we have not bid for £5.4 million in the next financial year; we have asked for it to be spread, because we have to have budgets that match the achievable spend profile of realistic schemes.

Mr McNarry:

Moving those projects on in this financial year would help the building trade; it is crying out for work.

Mr P Ramsey:

You are welcome to this morning’s meeting. I am not satisfied with the responses and the so-called process that we are talking about. Some time ago, Eamonn McCartan, chief executive of Sport Northern Ireland, said that the safety of grounds in Northern Ireland had been compromised. He deliberately said that to try and ensure that the Department would take cognisance of it and show leadership on it. I fear that lives will be lost. That is not an understatement, and I am not scaremongering; it is a fact. Wallace mentioned the visits that were made to a number of sports grounds in the Belfast area last week.

You have provided us with a list of grounds in Northern Ireland that have applied for funding. Is that list exhaustive?

Ms Campbell:

We are awaiting the report of the overseeing body, which is carrying out the inspection work on grounds with capacity of over 5,000 people. We should receive that report by May.

Mr P Ramsey:

Why is the Brandywell stadium excluded from the list?

Ms H Campbell:

We have not got the list.

Mr P Ramsey:

You have provided the Committee with a list of stadia: the Minister has provided us with the list. It relates to safety at sports grounds, terraces, the safety programme and funding. I have the list, and Brandywell stadium is not on it. Why is it not on the list?

Mr Scott:

The list is not exhaustive; it is a list of examples of grounds.

Mr P Ramsey:

No. I do not accept that.

The Chairperson:

Is it the case that Brandywell has not applied for funding, but I am sure that that is not the case? However, there is a chance that it has not applied, as is the case with Windsor Park.

Mr P Ramsey:

In the past, when I asked about this, departmental officials, the former Minister Edwin Poots, and Gregory Campbell, told me that departmental officials were proposing a business case for the Brandywell stadium.

I was told at Committee meetings, in the Chamber and in meetings with Gregory Campbell that a business case was being considered. In fact, Nick might have been present at meetings that I had with previous Ministers. Why is the Brandywell stadium not included on the formal list? It is a fundamental and important question.

Ms H Campbell:

My understanding is that the Brandywell is preparing a business case.

Mr P Ramsey:

That is not the case: the business case was completed two years ago and has been with the Department since then.

Ms H Campbell:

My understanding is that the Brandywell stadium has not applied to any Sport Northern Ireland schemes.

Mr P Ramsey:

I could quote the promises that were made at the previous meeting in December from the Hansard report. I am sick, sore and tired of this so-called process and deliberation. Eamonn McCartan told the Committee and the wider public that Sport Northern Ireland carried out inspections that highlighted that safety at sports grounds has been compromised. Do Sport Northern Ireland, overseeing bodies and councils need to carry out this constant process, procedure and deliberation? Where will the process end? Will someone have to die before deliberations result in the required certification? Hazel said that a letter has been written to councils. When was that letter sent?

Ms H Campbell:

Early February.

Mr P Ramsey:

Last week?

Ms H Campbell:

It was either last week or the previous week.

Mr P Ramsey:

God save us. I was told, in a session recorded by Hansard, that all councils have been met for discussions. After the December meeting, I spoke to a representative of Derry City Council — a solicitor from the city — and he knew nothing about those discussions. Nobody had contacted him. We are getting bogged down in process and procedure and are making no progress. The Committee continually asks when safety in sports grounds will no longer be compromised. Will someone, today, outline a definitive date when officials will come to the Committee and give members peace of mind on the matter? We are worried.

Mr McCartney:

I am interested in the process of setting priorities and the issue of responsibility and accountability. Wallace mentioned three or four grounds, but I want to ask about a single ground.

Consider that there is a hypothetical sports ground in the North of Ireland with a dodgy wall that could collapse, poor terracing on one side, a grandstand that does not meet expected standards and poor access to and from the ground. If a grant of £800,000 were awarded to that ground, who decides how to spend the money? When the £800,000 has been spent, should we expect the wall to be repaired and that there should be improved access to and from the ground, or should we expect a new grandstand on one side of the ground but that the other problems are unaddressed?

If a sports ground has a dangerous wall, is it the responsibility of the club, the organisers of the event or the council to put it right? In December, you said that Islington Council is responsible for Arsenal’s football ground. Who is responsible for telling organisers that people should not be permitted into the ground because it has a bad wall? If the ground does not comply, who tells it that it should not be open?

Mr P Ramsey:

I quote again from the December meeting. We were told that the inspection process which leads to designation will be finished in February:

“the inspection process that leads to designation will take place in January and possibly into early February”

I suspect that there is a difficulty with capacity in rolling out this programme. Perhaps the Department or the Minister needs to take a personal interest and show leadership in delivering the process.

I am very nervous and uncomfortable about this matter. I do not know where we should turn to. Should the Committee take this matter to a plenary sitting of the Assembly to try to get a resolution? It does not reflect badly on anyone present, but there must be something fundamentally wrong when people are telling us that lives are at risk. That is what Eamonn McCartan meant by “compromise”: lives are at risk. What is being done?

Ms H Campbell:

I will speak on the generalities of the process and then I will ask Paul to address the more detailed questions. We are following through the process that was set out in the 2006 legislation. That legislation provides for councils to issue prohibition notices for grounds or parts of grounds where there is serious risk. That provision has been in place since the legislation was passed in 2006. We are now following through on the other provisions, and we have no choice but to go through this process. In my presentation, I indicated that it is our intention that the certification scheme will be in place later in this calendar year.

Mr P Ramsey:

You say that any council can condemn, or find unfit, an area of any sports ground in Northern Ireland. Had that been the case, Sport Northern Ireland would have had to have identified such grounds a number of years ago — I don’t know when. They cannot recall, and Eamonn McCartan’s letter was disclosed under Freedom of Information. Had that been the case, then he had already identified unsafe grounds. That being the case; who is to blame now? There seems to be buck-passing to the councils.

The Chairperson:

With respect, Hazel, “later this calendar year” is classic Department-speak. Whenever we ask the Department when something will take place, we get answers like that. We have already expressed our annoyance to the Department about that term.

Mr P Ramsey:

I wish to ask a more direct question. The Department will have minutes relating to what Eamonn McCartan said: what did he mean when he said that the safety of grounds had been compromised? Surely, he explained that in definitive terms to the Department and identified the areas and sports grounds in question. That being the case, what have you done to put prohibition notices or notices of unfitness on those grounds?

Mr Mee:

It is for the councils to issue prohibition notices: we have no legislative powers to do so. That power has been given to councils.

Mr P Ramsey:

Is it the case that the Department, on the instruction and advice of the chief executive of Sport Northern Ireland, held discussions with the relevant councils and identified instances of where safety was compromised and asked those councils specifically to issue prohibition notices on those grounds?

Mr Mee:

We have given them powers to issue prohibition notices.

Mr P Ramsey:

I do not say that people are not being forthright, but there is some withholding here. We are not getting to the bottom of this. I was dissatisfied at the start of this meeting: I am deeply unsatisfied now. I am not at all comfortable with these responses.

Mr K Robinson:

Are specific councils aware of specific dangers in specific grounds? Have they been drawn to the attention of councils?

Ms H Campbell:

I will have to pass that question to Sport Northern Ireland.

Mr Scott:

There are several issues here. District councils have been made aware of their powers. We have spoken —

Mr K Robinson:

I am sorry to interrupt, Paul. If I go to the chief executive of my council tonight and ask him whether in my borough there is a specific sports ground that has a danger-element, will he be able to tell me yes or no, or will he tell me that he is aware of the legislation?

Mr Scott:

First, the Safety of Sports Grounds ( Northern Ireland) Order 2006 has not been fully implemented. However, under health and safety legislation, district-council officials have the power to inspect venues, and they do so. Sport NI provides advice, but councils have powers of entry and the powers made available by the present health and safety at work legislation.

Mr K Robinson:

Are you aware as to whether they are using those powers?

Mr Scott:

The powers have been used by some councils. I must also stress that the bar is quite high as regards prohibition notices. People have to be very sure that there is a serious risk to safety. When our chief executive was writing, he noted that grounds fall short of recognised safety guidance. However, there is a difference between that and imminent risk.

Mr P Ramsey:

He said that the safety of spectators had been compromised. There is nothing more forthright than that. He is very deliberately making that point.

Mr Scott:

Yes.

The Chairperson:

I need an answer to Raymond’s question before I move on to Jim.

Mr Scott:

If the wall were in a very precarious state, then that issue would be addressed under existing legislation and through the implementation of the prohibition powers.

Mr McCartney:

If the club were awarded £800,000 for safety work, is it possible that, following that work, the wall could still not have been fixed?

Mr Scott:

I would hope not.

Mr McCartney:

That answer is not good enough. Could it happen? If people are given money to provide safety within a sports ground —

Mr Scott:

When a club makes an application, it advises Sport NI of a number of issues on which it would like to spend the award, and provides a risk assessment. Sport NI officials will go to the club, carry out a full risk assessment and prioritise the various issues. We will of course discuss it with the club, but we will stress to our committee where we think the highest levels of risk need to be addressed, and the club will receive an award based on addressing those issues. The club will make the initial assessment, we will double check, and often we will advise that the money would be better spent elsewhere. That will be done through the business-case procedures.

Mr Harkness:

SNI prioritises investments according to the greatest risk, but we try to involve the club.

Mr McCartney:

I understand that. I do not want to identify any particular club, but there is a dangerous-structure notice on a particular wall in a sports ground. The paper that you have provided this morning states that that ground will be awarded £800,000. By this time next year, I take it that we will not discover that a particular ground still has that type of notice regarding the wall.

Mr Scott:

Subject to the funding being made available —

Mr Shannon:

I feel the frustration that is being felt by other members. I think you said that five inspections had been carried out by the overseeing body; is that correct?

Mr Scott:

That is correct.

Mr Shannon:

What about inspections of other clubs?

Mr Scott:

That is ongoing. In fact my colleagues will be inspecting another two venues today.

Mr Shannon:

How long did it take to carry out the five inspections?

Mr Scott:

It took around half a day for each, not including the administrative work that was undertaken following that.

Mr Shannon:

The reason I ask that question is that, in the Hansard report of 11 December 2008, you stated that all inspections would be carried out as soon as possible. There are clearly lots of clubs that have not been inspected. At the moment, all safety inspections are of premier-league clubs and major stadiums. At what stage will clubs in the first division, or intermediate league, feature? There are safety issues at that level as well. There are people who attend those matches, and there are clearly safety issues that need to be addressed. We do not feel happy that the issues that are brought to our attention by constituents are not being taken account of. David put it very well; it is not that you are not listening, but we are not convinced that you are. We need to be assured of those things.

Ms Campbell mentioned ring-fencing money for stadia. The Maze project will not be going ahead, so money will be available. Have you discussed with the Minister whether the Executive might allow some of that money to be used for improving stadia safety? If some of that money can be secured, your list of applications will be addressed, and you could then begin to sort out stadia in the first division and the intermediate league.

Wallace Browne is right; we could talk about this subject for hours, because these matters are important to us. If you have failed to gauge our frustration about the Department’s inability to make progress, it is a sorry day that you came here.

Lord Browne:

Do you carry out safety inspections on match days? Surely inspections should also take place when spectators are in a ground.

Mr Scott:

Assessing grounds for designation purposes is purely a structural matter. When the certification system is in place, live visits will form part of our programme.

With regard to only five venues being designated to date, members should bear in mind that the body was only set up in early November. We have had to perform various other tasks in support of our work, and we are now getting down to assessing grounds for designation, and we will work through the list of venues on a worst-first basis. We have identified the venues and, in order to determine how best to make progress, we have discussed them with district councils and the governing bodies of the three big-ball sporting organisations. We are not ignoring venues, and we are listening to those governing bodies.

Mr Shannon:

November was three months — 90 days — ago, and, during that time, you have carried out inspections on only two half days. Is that satisfactory?

Mr Harkness:

I hope the presentation illustrated much of our other ongoing work, such as establishing steering groups; taking advice from, and liaising with, the FLA; and developing guidance for district councils, so that they can undertake their functions. A lot of work has been going on.

Mr McCausland:

Sport NI gave us a list of 15 grounds about which there are major issues. We have talked about the safety of people in sports grounds and, indeed, in at least one case, there is an issue about the safety of people outside a ground, because one cannot know which way a wall might fall. Therefore, although seven grounds have been prioritised, the problems are clearly much greater. The Committee wishes to emphasise the fact that all members are deeply concerned, and I am sure that officials sense that.

Paul Scott mentioned liability. I appreciate the Department’s responsibility, through Sport NI, for ensuring that all inspection processes are in place. However, on the day that a wall collapses, or someone is injured or killed, no one will be asking only about the Department’s inspection responsibilities. People will ask why money was not made available to carry out the work, not just on seven grounds, but on all 15. Indeed, as Jim Shannon pointed out, many other grounds require work. Therefore, responsibility lies with the Department, because it is to the Department that people will look. People will not wonder whether Belfast City Council or Newtownabbey Borough Council carried out inspections, because those will happen; people will wonder why money was not made available.

That brings me to two further points. First, with regard to the capacity to deliver; surely, in many instances, work has been done on costing: planning applications are ready to roll, and so forth.

The key thing for me seems to be that the money is not available. Obviously, when one is talking about £7·5 million next year, and yet potentially £21·2 million this year, the scale is nowhere near what is required. However, that was on the basis that, out of the £36·4 million for next year, £28·9 million was going to be spent on a stadium. We are now aware that £28·9 million will not be spent on a stadium. Is it not important — in fact, absolutely vital — that the £28·9 million, or whatever bit of it is necessary, is immediately transferred into whatever budget stream is used to upgrade the grounds? If the Assembly, the Department, and the Committee do not tell the Department to do that, then every singly one of us would be culpable.

We know that the need is there, and we know that the money is available, albeit in a different stream but it just needs shifting across, and any delay in getting that done would be absolutely criminal. I am not asking a question so much as making a heartfelt plea to proceed with that as quickly as possible, and that the Department, the Executive, and every one who has a part in that decision-making process, proceed with the utmost urgency because the situation is serious.

The extra money that can be shifted across would guarantee safety and security. They are not major schemes, although they are big enough, involving more than £500,000. However, getting a tendering process and a contract can be done in a reasonable space of time. Money could be made available to the economy and the building industry far quicker that waiting for some scheme that would take years and years for planning permission, appeals, etc. The schemes to upgrade the grounds could go through the planning process very quickly. Crowds would be safe and secure and money would be put into the building industry and the economy, which would create jobs at a time when people are crying out for them. I appeal for that.

Mr Brolly:

I am worried about the money that has not been spent, and the reason given for that is because the whole process is just too elaborate. It involves business plans, public procurement legislation, and such like. The Assembly has the facility for accelerated passage, and maybe the Committee could help with that. For example, if a wall at Casement Park is dangerous, that is an emergency. We do not need to go through all those elaborate processes. Any sensible Assembly would recommend for the wall to be fixed and the paperwork looked at afterwards. I would be happy to push that line. We do not want to lose £1 million.

Sport NI and the Department should look at their application forms. A single A4 sheet detailing the problem is all that is necessary. It is easy to write on a sheet of paper whether a wall is falling out or falling in, and to ask for the work to be done next week.

The Chairperson:

We have had practical suggestions from members regarding spending streams and procedures.

Mr K Robinson:

From memory, Mr Scott mentioned that 540 stewards have been trained. Before he entered the room, we had a discussion about the powers that stewards have. Will the legislation address that issue.

Mr Scott:

It will; the stewards have received some basic training, but they will be trained to a much higher standard through the courses being finalised and which will be delivered by the regional colleges. That work is ongoing. Stewards will have certain powers inside sports grounds, but there is an additional problem, which was mentioned earlier; we do not have legislation to mirror the Football (Offences) Act 1991, and it is important that public order legislation is put in place to complement the safety legislation. The model that was so successful in GB comprised two pieces of legislation that were enforced together along with a funding package to upgrade stadiums.

Mr K Robinson:

Will stewards have extra powers when that legislation comes into force?

Mr Scott:

The powers of the stewards will be the same as they are now, but they will be better trained in performing their duties. If we have the public order legislation, we will have criminal justice back-up for the work of the stewards and the Police Service for Northern Ireland.

Mr K Robinson:

Could you just clarify that? I am sorry to labour the point, Chairperson. In the past, the police did not seem to have any difficulty in exercising their powers inside football grounds, and, presumably, other sports grounds. Why does there appear to be a difficulty in recent times?

Mr Scott:

Until fairly recently, police officers saturated many of the larger fixtures. However, due to cutbacks, their presence at those fixtures has been limited. The problem with incidents of apparent disorderly behaviour is that they are very difficult to pursue through the courts. If someone, for example, throws a bottle inside a football ground, the police must show that there was intent to hit someone with the bottle. That is difficult to do.

Under the Football (Offences) Act, throwing a missile inside a ground is automatically regarded as a criminal offence, as is invading the field of play without authorisation. Thus, in England, the pitch-perimeter barriers have come down, whereas ours, in some instances, have had to stay up, making the ground very unsightly. Lord Chief Justice Taylor said that when people are treated like animals, they behave like animals. Clubs and stewards have a great deal of work to do in order to make their venues safe and spectator-friendly. Equally, however, we must have public-order legislation to ensure good order among some of our more flamboyant spectators.

The Chairperson:

Could that money be transferred across to more urgent areas, as Nelson suggested?

Ms H Campbell:

I will recap on the budget issue, Chairperson, which is a serious matter. With the Minister’s full support, the Department has made a bid to the DFP for use of part of the stadium budget. We have put that in writing, and meetings are ongoing with DFP, but the solution lies outside our Department.

Mr McCausland:

I will leave that matter until later.

Mr P Ramsey:

Departmental officials told us that bids were being made for £11 million of that money for elite facilities; it was not intended solely for safety of sports grounds.

Ms H Campbell:

No; it is for priority Sport Northern Ireland projects, which include elite facilities as well as safety of sports grounds.

The Chairperson:

The final contribution for today will come from the Deputy Chairperson.

Mr McNarry:

It is clear that the concerns that we are expressing to you are all about spectators. That is the bottom line. I have to say that, for different reasons, I am not sure that your approach meets our requirements. It is easy for politicians to say what our bottom line is. The fundamental question that we — or others — must address is whether safety is being compromised because funding is not being distributed quickly enough to meet safety standards? Someone set down those safety standards and is telling us what the problems are. We must hear from you, either collectively or individually, about how it is going to be put right.

The Minister has now scrapped plans for the stadium at the Maze, and he also indicated the potential financial carve up between rugby, GAA and the IFA. Will the money that is being awarded to Casement Park and Ravenhill to address safety — which is in the documentation that we have in front of us — be kept separate from the carve up that the Minister is initiating to benefit Ravenhill and Casement Park?

It is clear that the three grounds need money, but Windsor Park is the absentee in relation to the issue about safety. Have you received a grant application from the IFA relating to safety at Windsor Park?

Mr Harkness:

Sport Northern Ireland is in receipt of a draft business case for works to Windsor Park.

The Chairperson:

Do the works relate to safety?

Mr Harkness:

The works would enable international football to continue in the interim, and they relate largely to safety matters.

Mr McNarry:

This is all about information, but that information has not been supplied to us. You said that Sport NI has another seven projects, and you listed them, but now you are telling me that you are in receipt of a business case.

Mr Harkness:

That is correct. We asked the Department to commission a business case into the factors just described, and we have just taken receipt of that. It is a draft business case, and we have shared it with the Department. It is very new, and it has not been finalised. We have only just received it, so we have not yet had time to do an analysis of its viability or what it is asking for.

Mr McNarry:

That is good news. Based on the information that you have given us, Sport Northern Ireland has a bid of almost £5·5 million for the seven projects. There is also an additional £5 million bid to launch another phase of the safety programme to complement the legislation. Overall, approximately how much money is required over and above that £10·5 million in current bids to complete the sports safety needs in Northern Ireland? Is it £50 million, or is it £100 million? Where do we go from the £10·5 million? If you are only bidding on structures, the bid is £5·5 million and then perhaps a further £5 million, how many years will it be before we have reached the bottom line of completing what is needed for sports stadium, bearing in mind that the Minister is telling us that in relation to district councils audit safety standards, we are talking about accommodating more than 500 spectators. In my constituency, some junior clubs can accommodate more than 500 spectators, but we have not even got near them. When are we going to get to junior sports? They are pulling in the same spectators and the same Saturday people.

Mr Scott:

The Department and the Minister initiated the business case for upgrading Windsor Park. We have run three phases of the stadia safety programme. Unfortunately, Linfield Football Club, which owns Windsor Park, did not submit an application for that funding, even though its representatives attended the various meetings when we introduced the programme and forwarded applications to them.

Mr McNarry:

Is it not true to say that when they tried to exercise that application passage, they were told that international football is played there and there are two stands —

Mr Scott:

That is not the case: Linfield Football Club was advised that it could apply; it attended meetings and it was given application forms; however, it did not apply. Linfield did apply for some funding under the interim safe sports grounds programme, but did not utilise all the moneys which were made available to it under that programme. We are now in receipt of the business case, which, as I said, was initiated by the Department.

The Chairperson:

Is that a business case, or a draft business case?

Mr Harkness:

The normal process would involve the business case coming to Sport NI for comment and improvement —

Mr McNarry:

I am sorry to interrupt; however, is that business case — draft or otherwise — relative to the Minister divvying up funds between the three sports, or is it a business case concerned with what we are talking about today?

Mr Harkness:

The Department asked us to commission a business case. I do not know what the potential funding sources for that are. We have commissioned a business case and it is at a draft stage —

Mr McNarry:

Did you not ask what you were drawing up a business case for? Is it relative to the Minister’s ideas — which he may not have told anybody about — or is it relative to the programme? Surely to goodness you asked what the business case was for.

Mr Harkness:

The business case was specifically —

Mr McNarry:

Is it a business case to draw up £800,000, or is it a business case to draw up £10 million?

The Chairperson:

You need to allow Hazel and/or Nick time to respond.

Mr Harkness:

The business case was not drawn up for a particular sum of money, it was drawn up for a particular need; that need being that we were asked to commission a business case that would look at the costs associated with a temporary continuation of international football at Windsor Park, that would allow the ground to comply with the requirements of the Red Guide, and that would maintain the ground’s current capacity. That is what we have commissioned, and it is the processing of that business case that sets the funding need, not the other way round.

Mr McCausland:

We were told earlier that the paper did not arrive with us because it is undergoing the process of being signed off. Ultimately, papers that are signed off go all the way to the Minister. When was the paper sent to the Minister for signing off?

The Chairperson:

Hazel, you talked about those internal procedures for clearance.

Ms H Campbell:

I do not have the precise answer to that at the moment.

Mr McCausland:

My understanding is that it did not arrive on the Minister’s desk until two days ago; therefore, it could not be ready in time for this meeting. I will leave the matter there; however, as a Committee, we need to keep a careful watch on how departmental papers arrive. I accept that there are processes; however, if a process only kicks in late on a Tuesday night, there is not much chance of a paper being back in time for a meeting on Thursday morning. The paper did not get back from the Minister until yesterday morning.

Mr McNarry:

I understand that the Minister might be coming to the Committee next week?

The Chairperson:

Yes, it will be next Thursday.

Mr McNarry:

I think this is a key issue, and we are not even a quarter of the way towards getting our questions answered. Can we ask the Minister if he would oblige us by setting some time aside next week to talk about this issue as well as the stadium? He needs to hear our views.

The Chairperson:

We will reflect on that.

Mr Ramsey:

Can we also ask the Minister to share with us the proposals or bids that he has made to DFP?

Mr Shannon:

The Minister should tell us what he intends to do.

The Chairperson:

I thank Hazel, Nick, Ciaran and Paul for coming along this morning and engaging in this exercise.

What further action do we want to take, based on this morning’s deliberations.

Mr McCausland:

To continue with my earlier line of argument; we should write to the Department and to DFP explaining that we are very concerned about the seriousness of the situation on safety in sports grounds. We should say that the issue is very urgent, but that there is also an opportunity. I notice that the Minister stated in a letter to the Committee on 11 February 2009:

“The programmes I could accelerate include Safety at Sports Grounds.”

The Minister is saying that, if money that is not being spent in 2009-2010 and 2010-11 on a sports stadium could be shifted to be spent on safety in sports grounds, an issue that concerns us could be addressed. I do not have any sense of the exact figure that would be required for that, but the Department will know. If the Committee were to write to both Ministers to make that point, we would do ourselves and others a service.

The Chairperson:

A number of suggestions will be made.

Mr P Ramsey:

The document from the Minister of 30 January itemises the areas of sports grounds that require safety funding. It also says that the overseeing body, as the Department describes it, has carried out an inspection of grounds. As a result of those inspections, priority safety issues have been identified in each ground. Can we have sight of that and the process that led up to it? I would like to see any correspondence from the Department to councils on the certification process.

Mr McNarry:

We also have to be careful of a witch hunt against, and of creating a fear factor among, junior clubs. If junior clubs had been listening to our discussion, it would have scared the hell out of them. There may be a disclaimer saying that there is an element of risk when entering a ground, but, nevertheless, there are serious safety factors. Some junior clubs appear to be better than some of the senior clubs, and some of them are a lot worse. We need to be careful about that.

The message coming out earlier was: resources, resources, resources. Paul Scott seems to be carrying out his role manfully as regards training people; however, I think that the next thing that we will hear is that Sport Northern Ireland does not have the resources to do its work. That must be pinned down now so that we know what resources are needed. Above all, we need to hear from the Minister how he intends to spend the money that he had allocated for the stadium. There is £29 million and a further £30 million —

The Chairperson:

You will get a good opportunity to ask him next week.

Mr McNarry:

We are now into end-year bids and monitoring, and we need to know how the Minister is going to settle this. My inclination is that he will do a deal with the three sports; but what will be left after that?

Mr Brolly:

To return to my earlier point, it is not satisfactory that safety in sports grounds is treated simply as another kind of development or as part of an overall capital programme. Safety at sports grounds is, fundamentally, an emergency, and, for that reason, we should find some way of short-circuiting the long and elaborate application process. That is the same point that I made earlier.

Mr McNarry:

The process is overly bureaucratic.

Mr Brolly:

We can carpet people for being too bureaucratic, but we are the people who can examine bureaucracy.

Mr McNarry:

They dream it up, and they play it.

Mr Brolly:

I think that we should look at that and try to put something together. In other words, instead of carping at the officials, we should be proactive in creating another way. For example, I think that it is a scandal, as David said, that £1 million has been lost.

The Chairperson:

The Department surrendered that money and handed it back.

Mr Brolly:

Fundamentally, we need to separate the issue of safety in sports grounds from anything else to do with sports grounds.

Mr Shannon:

Mention was made of the fact that funding for elite sports facilities and safe sports grounds are lumped together. Therefore, they are competing. As Francie said, the two issues need to be divorced. I am not saying that it is wrong, but all of the focus is currently on Premier League clubs and on the venues at which Gaelic and rugby are played. I am concerned that there is no focus on junior football clubs.

The Deputy Chairperson made the point that we are not in the business of scaremongering. However, we are in the business of ensuring that issues are addressed at every level. We must ensure that we question the Minister about that issue at next week’s meeting.

Mr McNarry:

I do not know the answer to this question — can junior clubs submit an application for funding for safety works?

Mr P Ramsey:

Only stadiums with a seating capacity of 5,000 or more can apply at present.

Mr McNarry:

The document says 500 spectators.

Mr McCartney:

Looking at the list, I make the assumption that the maximum amount that a club can get for safety work is £800,000. If all the clubs were to submit bids of £800,000, that would be a long process because of the central procurement rules.

During the Committee’s visit to Armagh, we heard about a local contractor who said that he would repair a stud wall for £1,500, but that after the length of time it took the application to go through central procurement he said that the job would cost £8,000.

There should be procedures in place for safety works. If a wall is unsafe, a club should be allowed to apply for £20,000 to repair it without that money being seen as a bid. That way, a club will not lose out on being able to access £600,000 or £700,000 to carry out safety works. If a club cannot get the money to repair a wall, it will put the job off until it is too late and the wall will fall down. There should be emergency procedures for doing repairs so that the safety of any spectator — never mind 5,000 spectators — is not jeopardised.

Mr McCarthy:

I am sorry that I arrived late. Mr Scott mentioned the Football (Offences) Act 1991 several times. I have raised that issue in the Assembly on a number of occasions. We, as a Committee, should put down a marker for the Minister about Mr Scott’s explanation of how the Act would help to alleviate problems in all sports grounds.

The Chairperson:

The Minister met Paul Goggins recently to discuss that issue, so we should ask the Minister for an update.

Mr K Robinson:

I have an observation on the outworkings of this on the ground. The easy way out is for restrictions to be placed on the number of people permitted into a ground or part of a ground. A better way is to complete the audit quickly and get the necessary remedial work carried out. I fear that some people will seek the easy way out by simply restricting drastically the number of spectators — from, for example, 10,000 to 3,000 — permitted at grounds.

Some clubs are struggling to survive, and we do not want to damage them. Restricting numbers at grounds would have an impact on those clubs. That would be the easy way out, and I am worried about that. Fundamentally, I do not want to compromise safety. There are two options: either the easy option, which I suspect some might be tempted to take, or the better option, which is to get the remedial work done. The latter option is what Raymond hinted at.

Mr P Ramsey:

I mentioned this point to the officials when they were here — is it possible for the Committee to table a motion on the issue in order to ensure that the other Departments, Ministers and the Executive become part of this process, because we are very isolated here?

Mr Shannon:

Before we do that, we should give the Minister the opportunity next week to respond to our questions.

Mr K Robinson:

I have a concern about tabling a motion in the Chamber. There are many different individual concerns in the Committee, but in the Assembly there will be 108 different concerns and we will never get clarity. The Committee must clarify the route that it feels should be taken and then take that into the Chamber.

The Chairperson:

I now ask the Committee Clerk to summarise accurately the action points.

The Committee Clerk:

First, the Committee should write to the Minister and DFP emphasising the Committee’s concern about the issue of safety at sports grounds and making it clear that the Committee attaches great urgency to it. Secondly, the Committee should write a separate letter to the Minister asking him whether the money for the stadium can be shifted across to cover safety at sports grounds.

Mr McCausland:

We should send that letter to both organisations.

The Committee Clerk:

Separate issues for the Minister and Sport NI to be addressed should include; providing sight of the inspections by Paul Scott’s team, and what has been discovered at each of the grounds; providing sight of the correspondence that was sent to local councils on the issue; making the point that the Committee is not satisfied that safety is being treated like any other capital programme in Sport NI’s budget and that it should be treated differently, because it is an emergency; suggesting that there should be a streamlined process for safety development, separate from the normal capital-investment programme; asking for clarification on whether junior clubs can apply for safety funding; making the point that the focus seems to be on clubs that are in the premier league, and asking for an update on NIO legislation on public-order measures.

Mr McCausland:

I have a minor point about the wording of the two letters: can they read “asking that the money” rather than “asking can the money”?

The Chairperson:

That is agreed. I have seldom seen the Committee so exercised in a united fashion.

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