Official Report (Hansard)
Date: 11 December 2008
Safety of Sports Grounds
11 December 2008
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
Ms Ruth Barry (Research and Library Services)
Mr Jack Palmer (Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure)
Mr Greg Magee (Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure)
Professor Eamonn McCartan (Sport Northern Ireland)
Mr Paul Scott (Sport Northern Ireland)
The Chairperson (Mr McElduff):
I welcome Ruth Barry, of the Assembly’s Research and Library Services, who will brief the Committee on two research papers. May I remind everyone to switch off their mobile telephones.
Ms Ruth Barry (Research and Library Services):
My presentation will outline the key points of the two research papers on safety of sports grounds in Northern Ireland. I will, first, however, explain the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure’s roles and responsibilities.
At present, the Department oversees the implementation of the Safety of Sports Grounds ( Northern Ireland) Order 2006. However, that will soon change when an overseeing body is established to administer the implementation of the 2006 Order. The Department administered an interim funding package that is implemented by Sport NI to help venue operators to deal with urgent safety deficiencies at their grounds.
The Safety of Sports Grounds ( Northern Ireland) Order 2006 empowers the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) to make regulations; authorises district councils to enforce orders; and gives powers of entry and inspection to authorised persons.
Sport NI is responsible for the administration of the stadia safety programme, which is financed by departmental funds. The safety certification scheme, which is similar to that in Great Britain for larger sports grounds and non-temporary spectator stands, will be administered by district councils.
The Safety of Sports Grounds ( Northern Ireland) Order 2006 is intended to introduce the aforementioned safety certification scheme, similar to that which exists in Great Britain for larger sports grounds and non-temporary spectator stands. The Department’s view is that safety certificates should apply to only enclosed-type sports grounds, such as sports stadia and arenas that host cricket, football, Gaelic games, hockey and rugby. The scheme will be administered and enforced by district councils in Northern Ireland with the guidance of overseeing bodies.
The aim of the certification scheme is to improve safety levels for spectators at sports grounds in Northern Ireland. Sports grounds that have been designated or stands that have been regulated under the Order will be issued by a district council with a safety certificate that specifies the number of spectators that owners or managers of a ground, or event organisers, will be allowed to admit into the ground or stand.
Article 4 of the 2006 Order:
“empowers the Department to designate a sports ground as requiring a safety certificate that in its opinion provides accommodation for more than 5,000 spectators. It also empowers the Department to change the figure of 5,000 after consultation with all interested parties (this may include the club/organisation, District Council and/or governing sporting body.”
The Order specifies two types of safety certificates: a general certificate that can be issued for an indefinite length of time, or a special safety certificate that may be issued for a single event or activity.
Article 8 of the 2006 Order:
“allows for appeals to be made to the Courts by anyone who has applied for a safety certificate and who a District Council has determined is not a qualified person”.
Article 6 of the 2006 Order sets out who should apply for safety certificates for designated sports grounds, and empowers district councils to determine who is a qualified person under the Order. A qualified person is:
“someone considered by the District Council likely to be in a position to prevent any contravention of the terms and conditions of a safety certificate”.
When the district council decides that an applicant is a qualified person, it must issue the safety certificate to the Chief Constable and to the Fire Authority.
Under Article 11 of the 2006 Order, a person who is found guilty of an offence as set out in the Order is liable, on summary conviction, to a fine that does not exceed £5,000, and on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years and/or a fine that does not exceed £5,000.
I will now move on to part two of my report on the stadia safety programme. The programme is financed through funds that have been made available by the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure. Sport NI introduced the programme to assist the owners of major soccer, rugby and GAA grounds on a strategic basis to ensure the safety and comfort of spectators who attended fixtures at their venues.
The stadia safety programme was launched in 2005 in three phases. Phase 1 opened in March 2005 and allocated £6 million to eight sporting organisations. Those are listed in the research report. Phase 2 opened in February 2006, awarding £2·8 million to four sporting organisations, which are also listed in the research report. Phase 3 is under way, and will commit £4 million in this financial year. Applications for the launch of phase 4 will be invited in 2009.
I will now move to the second research paper, “Prohibition notices”. Article 9(1) of the Safety of Sports Grounds ( Northern Ireland) Order 2006 enables a district council to serve a prohibition notice on the grounds that:
“the admission of spectators to a sports ground or any part of a sports ground involves or will involve a risk to them so serious that, until steps have been taken to reduce it to a reasonable level, admission of spectators to the ground or that part of the ground ought to be prohibited or restricted”.
Prohibition notices must include steps that a club must take to reduce the risk to a reasonable level. Each district council can make its own arrangements in accordance with its own enforcement policy. Article 9 of the 2006 Order states that district councils must send a copy of any prohibition notice to the Chief Constable and the Fire Authority.
Appeals may be lodged against an order of the court under article 10(6) of the 2006 Order. Such appeals, which may be cancelled or affirmed by the court, may be lodged by any person aggrieved by the notice; the council; the Chief Constable or the Fire Authority. Under article 11(1) of the 2006 Order, persons will be guilty of an offence where:
“(a) spectators are admitted to a designated sports ground after the date on which the designation order relating to it comes into operation but at a time when no application for a general safety certificate in respect of it has been made or such an application has been made but has been withdrawn or is deemed to have been withdrawn; or
(b) when a general safety certificate is in operation in respect of a sports ground spectators are admitted to the sports ground on an occasion when it is used for an activity to which neither the general certificate nor a special safety certificate relates; or
(c) spectators are admitted to a designated sports ground on an occasion when, following the surrender or cancellation of a safety certificate, no safety certificate is in operation in respect of that sports ground; or
(d) any term or condition of a safety certificate is contravened otherwise than in pursuance of a prohibition notice; or
(e) spectators are admitted to a sports ground in contravention of a prohibition notice”
A person found guilty of such offences will be liable under article 11(3) of the 2006 Order, on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding £5,000, or, on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or to a fine not exceeding £5,000.
If a person is charged with an offence under the 2006 Order relating to prohibition notices, certain defences are available. Article 11(5) states that:
“it shall be a defence to prove —
(a) that the spectators were admitted or the contravention of the certificate or prohibition notice in question took place without his consent; and
(b) that he took all reasonable precautions and exercised all due diligence to avoid the commission of such an offence by himself or any person under his control.”
No prohibition orders have been made in Northern Ireland since the introduction of the 2006 Order. It is seen as a last resort, and sporting bodies are given time in order to bring their facilities up to a reasonable level.
That concludes my presentation; I am happy to take questions.
Thank you, Ruth. I compliment you on an excellent presentation; it was very useful.
Let us go back to the issue of the money that has been set aside in the 2008-11 budget for stadiums. You have explained the reasoning behind the allocation of £111·6 million. Have you been able to, or were you asked to, identify how much money is set aside for safety?
No. I did look into that, and I think that that question could be better answered by Sport NI, as it deals specifically with safety. When I carried out my research, I was able to identify only the general money that was set aside for sport overall.
Was it difficult? We have identified £111·6 million. Would it be difficult for a researcher, or for myself, to find out how much money has been set aside for safety?
I would not imagine so. I dealt mainly with the issues of the Order, and I provided as much information as I could on the stadia safety programme.
You cannot say that the roughly £10·6 million that seems to have been allocated to phase 1, 2 and 3 is a percentage for safety?
My apologies, but I cannot really comment on that.
Mr P Ramsey:
It is a very good research paper. On the issue of prohibition notices, the paper states that:
“Each district council can make their own arrangements in accordance with their own ‘Enforcement Policy’.”
I would have thought that that legislation was brought in to regulate, so that people could not do their own thing, or decide to restrict or not to restrict as they saw fit. That seems to be a clause that allows a council to do whatever it wants.
That is not the case. The enforcement policies are designated by an overseeing body. I could look into that issue further and get back to you, but again, that may be a question better directed at the Department. As far as I am aware, the enforcement policy is good guidance from the Department, so councils will not be able simply to issue their own rules and regulations. Enforcement policies are regulated. However, I could get back to you with further details.
Mr P Ramsey:
I would appreciate that.
Thank you for your paper. In relation to safety certificates, article 4 of the Order states that:
“The Department may by order designate as a sports ground requiring a safety certificate any sports ground which in its opinion has accommodation for more than 5,000 spectators.”
If the capacity is less than that, is there no requirement for a certificate whatsoever?
The number of spectators at which a safety certificate is required is set by the Department at 5,000. I cannot comment on why that limit has been set, although I see from the Order that that can be subject to change if the Department consults with certain bodies. At present, however, the 2006 Order sets that limit at 5,000.
The 2006 Order states “in its opinion”, but who determines the capacity of the ground?
I am assuming from the 2006 Order that that is determined by the overseeing body, which is currently the Department. Once an overseeing body is established, that body will determine the capacity.
If a ground has a capacity of less than 5,000, can it apply for safety grants?
A ground therefore has to have a capacity of over 5,000 in order to get safety grants.
That will affect a body such as the GAA in particular, which has lots of independent grounds, without stands, but which can, and do, accommodate up to 5,000 spectators at certain matches. The GAA is, I believe, concerned about that; we met with the GAA Ulster Council. Obviously, a bad accident is just as serious at that kind of venue as at a venue with a stand.
On a further point; I take it that by accommodation is meant capacity, rather than the fact that there may be a history of about 5,000 people attending. My last point relates to a line on the first page of the research paper, which states that:
"A Prohibition Notice must also include directions setting out the steps which the club must take to reduce the risks to a reasonable level ”.
That is slightly odd language for a legislative matter. What is “a reasonable level”, and who decides what is “a reasonable level”?
I will address your last point first. I cannot possibly comment on the wording “a reasonable level”: that is what the Order states. I could look into the matter further to see what might be meant by that phrase, but, since I do not have that information at present, I will get back to the Committee on that point.
As to the first two questions, is the member referring to permanent stands in GAA grounds?
I am asking about GAA grounds where there are even no stands.
The member asks what can be done —
Obviously, those grounds are not entitled to a safety certificate.
May I suggest that those questions are quite technical and are best put to Sport NI when its representatives arrive?
Yes. However, if I may make a fundamental point, which is that the basis of the legislation needs to be adjusted to suit local conditions and, particularly, some of the points that I have raised.
A stand is defined in the 2006 Order as:
"a permanent artificial structure which —
- provides accommodation for spectators and is wholly or partly covered by a roof; or
- provides seated accommodation for spectators.”
Therefore, I am not sure how the Department judges, in practical terms, what constitutes a stand. The Committee could, perhaps, put that question to the Department and Sport NI.
Some £111∙6 million has been set aside in the 2008-11 Budget for stadiums. Can you provide a figure for safety alone, or is that a general figure within that amount?
That is a general figure.
I know that David McNarry asked that question, but I did not quite hear the answer. Have you a more specific figure?
I do not have a figure for what money has been set aside for safety alone. That is the only figure that I could find in my research. I could research the matter further, or, perhaps, the Department or Sport NI —
Perhaps the gang of four which is coming shortly will be able to give us some idea.
That concludes the session. I thank Ruth Barry for giving the Committee some advice with regard to the research papers.
We will move on to receive the departmental briefing on safety of sports grounds. I draw members’ attention to a copy of the Minister’s responses to the Committee’s inquiries on safety of sports grounds, which is in members’ packs. If I may also refer members to the joint briefing paper provided by the Department and Sport NI, and to suggested questions.
I now invite the officials to join us. Good morning, gentlemen, and thank you for coming along.
Mr Jack Palmer (Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure):
Let me introduce my colleague, Greg Magee, from the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, and Eamonn McCartan, chief executive of Sport NI, and his colleague, Paul Scott.
May I, at the outset, thank the Committee for the opportunity to brief it on progress made to date jointly by the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure and Sport Northern Ireland on developing safety at sports grounds generally, including the implementation of the Safety of Sports Grounds ( Northern Ireland) Order 2006.
I will set out the background to the initiative, which has been one of DCAL’s major policy priorities over the past few years, and arose as a result of an interdepartmental working-group review in the late 1990s. That group produced a report which recommended that steps be taken in order to bring major sports grounds in Northern Ireland — used primarily for soccer, rugby and Gaelic games — up to GB safety standards.
In 2002, as an interim measure, the then Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure, Michael McGimpsey, announced a three-year funding package to be administered by Sport Northern Ireland. That package was designed to help soccer, rugby and GAA clubs to implement urgent health-and-safety work at their grounds. Up to the end of the financial year 2002-03, Sport NI provided £3·5 million of Exchequer and lottery funding to clubs in order to help them to address priority safety issues at their grounds. In the same period, a further £1·17 million was made available from the Football Foundation to soccer clubs. During that period, DCAL, in partnership with Sport NI, undertook a major business-planning exercise with the aim of establishing the longer-term cost of bringing major sports grounds up to standard. The business case, which was completed in 2003 and subsequently approved by the Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP), estimated that the total long-term cost would be in the region of £30 million over 10 years, net the present cost. I emphasise that that cost estimate was in 2003.
In parallel with that work, the Department began in 2004 to develop proposals for new safety of sports grounds legislation based on the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975, and on subsequent legislation — albeit suitably adapted to Northern Ireland’s circumstances.
It is important at this point, I believe, that I put the need for safety legislation into context. Experience in GB has shown that the full implementation of the equivalent legislation there did not, in itself, provide an adequate framework with which to address safety issues. Consequently, Lord Justice Taylor’s report into the 1989 Hillsborough Stadium disaster recommended that the GB Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975 be complemented by additional measures. Those included the establishment of an oversight body, subsequently called the Football Licensing Authority; physical improvements to grounds, for which funding is required; and ancillary public order measures to combat hooligan behaviour. Therefore, in order to ensure that the correct package of measures was in place in Northern Ireland from the outset, it was first desirable to secure the support and co-operation of all key stakeholders in the process. Those stakeholders include the owners and operators of venues, governing bodies, district councils and Government Ministers.
It was recognised that a regulatory framework was needed in order to introduce a safety certification scheme in Northern Ireland that was similar to that in GB. It is vital that financial assistance is available to help clubs to bring their grounds up to acceptable safety standards. It is also vital to introduce ancillary public order measures in Northern Ireland in order to help to combat hooligan and sectarian behaviour. All of those elements were in DCAL’s safe sports grounds initiative, and significant progress in implementing those measures has been made by the Department and Sport Northern Ireland.
Having covered the background, I will now deal with the progress to date. The Safety of Sports Grounds ( Northern Ireland) Order 2006 was enacted in March of that year. The Order is intended to introduce a mandatory safety certification scheme, similar to that which exists in GB, for larger sports grounds and non-temporary spectator stands, and which district councils would administer and enforce. The aim of the certification scheme is to improve the level of safety for spectators, primarily at larger soccer, rugby and Gaelic grounds.
The Department and Sport Northern Ireland are continuing with work to ensure full and effective implementation of the 2006 Order. Articles 9 to 12 of the 2006 Order came into operation on 14 March 2006. Those articles provide district councils with the power to serve a prohibition notice on a sports ground, prohibiting or restricting the admission of spectators to all, or part, of that ground if the council considers that spectators are likely to be at serious risk.
The Department published the first edition of the ‘Northern Ireland Guide to Safety at Sports Grounds’ — commonly known as the “red guide” — on 31 July 2007. The guide provides much-needed technical guidance for key stakeholders who are involved in spectator safety at sports grounds in Northern Ireland. Sport Northern Ireland has established an overseeing body as recommended under the explanatory memorandum to the 2006 Order, which will provide independent advice and guidance on sports ground safety and monitor the overall implementation of the safety certification scheme.
A recruitment exercise for the body was recently completed and suitable staff have now been appointed. After my presentation, Eamonn McCartan will provide further details on the role of the overseeing body. A recent BBC ‘Newsline’ feature on safety of sports grounds suggested that disagreement between the Department and Sport Northern Ireland over the role and remit of the overseeing body was at the heart of the delay in implementing the legislation. I certainly agree that there were several meetings and discussions between the two parties before agreement was reached on how the overseeing body would operate. However, there was nothing abnormal about that process, and I emphasise the importance of ensuring that the role of the overseeing body was appropriate to requirements.
I want to touch on the issue of funding packages. As I stated earlier, in August 2000, the then Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure announced an interim package of funding that was designed to implement urgent health and safety works at major sports grounds. Up to the end of March 2003, Sport NI provided approximately £4·7 million towards those improvements. Since then, Sport NI has established a stadia safety programme, the aim of which is to assist owners and operators of major soccer, rugby and Gaelic venues on a strategic basis to ensure the safety and comfort of their spectators.
To date, Sport NI has made available £7·7 million of Exchequer funding to clubs under the stadia safety programme to help them to develop proposals and to implement improvements at sports grounds. A further seven stadia safety projects are under consideration for funding in the region of £5·4 million. Eamonn McCartan will provide further detail on the impact of the safety stadia programme.
The overseeing body has been established and has met with district councils to explain how the certification scheme will operate. The Department and Sport Northern Ireland have commenced work on the identification and designation of grounds that have a capacity in excess of 5,000 and stands with a capacity in excess of 500, which will require a safety certificate from the relevant local authority. It is envisaged that relevant grounds will be identified in consultation with district councils and other key stakeholders, such as sports governing bodies and ground owners. The Department will introduce statutory rules to designate formally those sports grounds that require a safety certificate from the relevant local authority.
The Department and Sport NI fully recognise that safety standards at sports grounds in Northern Ireland have been unsatisfactory for many years, and that is one reason for introducing an initiative to improve safety at sports grounds. As I indicated, the initiative has resulted in substantial improvements, and I expect that process of improvement to continue.
The Department always expected that it will take time to enact the safety legislation. One of the most important lessons that the Department has learnt from experiences in GB is to ensure that we get the process right first time round. Therefore, it was necessary to seek advice and guidance at various stages of the implementation process and to ensure identification and agreement of the roles and responsibilities of the independent overseeing body, which is now operational and making progress. Eamonn McCartan will explain the future role and work of the overseeing body.
The Minister stated that full implementation of the Safety of Sports Grounds ( Northern Ireland) Order 2006 will not, in itself, solve the problem. Experience in GB has shown that the full implementation of equivalent legislation did not provide an adequate framework to address spectator safety issues. That implementation has, however, acted as a catalyst to bring about parity in Northern Ireland. The Department has adopted the recommendation in Lord Justice Taylor’s report on the Hillsborough stadium disaster that, in order to combat hooliganism, legislation must be complemented by additional measures, including funding and ancillary public-order measures.
The introduction of public-order legislation for sports grounds is a reserved matter and, therefore, is the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Office. However, the Assembly debated the issue in September 2007 and formally passed a motion that called on the Northern Ireland Office to commence public consultation with a view to introducing new legislation. After discussions between Paul Goggins MP who has responsibility for criminal justice matters, and the previous Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure Edwin Poots, the Northern Ireland Office — with assistance from DCAL officials — developed proposals for legislation. The NIO is considering those proposals, which aim to create offences that relate to offensive chanting, missile throwing, unauthorised pitch incursion, carriage and consumption of alcohol, ticket touting and a football banning order regime.
Since the interim measures were introduced in August 2000, Sport Northern Ireland has committed almost £12·5 million to safety improvements in sports grounds, and is considering other projects totalling £5·4 million.
The development of safer stadia is consistent with the draft sports strategy document, which covers 2008-2018, and which is awaiting Executive clearance. One priority in that document is to improve the safety management and fabric of major stadia in Northern Ireland. Sport NI plans to allocate part of its resource to help clubs achieve that objective.
Professor Eamonn McCartan (Sport Northern Ireland):
I thank the Committee for the opportunity to provide a brief on the progress being made with safety of sports grounds. As Jack Palmer said, I, and my colleague Paul Scott, will brief the Committee on key areas, including, inter alia, the impact that the stadia safety programme has had on the upgrade of facilities and improvement of safety management in our stadia. We will also brief the Committee on the role of the overseeing body and its work as it progresses.
Is Professor McCartan going to read the presentation that Committee members have in front of them? Jack Palmer read his presentation to us, of which we already had a copy. Is Professor McCartan going to tell us something different to what we already have in front of us?
Mr P Ramsey:
I do not have a copy.
Nor do I. David’s point is that Committee members should have the opportunity to ask questions, and we will. Therefore, I invite Professor McCartan to continue.
The stadia safety programme was launched in 2005 with funds from DCAL. The aim of the programme is to strategically assist the owners of major soccer, rugby and GAA grounds to ensure an appropriate level of safety and comfort for spectators.
The strategic objectives of the programme were agreed by DCAL and Sport NI. Those objectives include: improving the health and safety compliance within existing and proposed legislation; increasing spectator numbers, particularly of people from under-represented groups, thereby contributing to the sustainability of the governing bodies and their sports; improving the comfort of our spectators by improving accommodation in the venues; and better co-operation between the owners of the venues and the police and other statutory agencies. Having assisted several major sporting organisations, including the governing bodies of soccer, rugby and Gaelic games, the stadia safety programme is in its third phase.
The programme was developed with significant input from the governing bodies of the three major sports: the Irish Football Association (IFA), the Ulster branch of the Irish Rugby Football Union and the Ulster Council of the Gaelic Athletic Association. Each governing body was required to develop a facilities strategy to identify the grounds that could apply for funding under the stadia safety programme. The Ulster branch of the Irish Rugby Football Union identified Ravenhill; the Ulster Council of the Gaelic Athletic Association identified its six main county grounds; and the Irish Football Association identified the grounds of the clubs in the top tier of the Irish League.
At each stage, an open call for applications was made, and all applications were assessed under the Challenge Fund principles. As a result, a number of projects were supported. To date, the following 11 venues have received a total of £7·7 million: in soccer, Cliftonville FC, Ballymena United FC, Portadown FC and Donegal Celtic FC; in GAA, Fermanagh, Derry, Tyrone, Down, Armagh and Antrim; and in rugby, Ravenhill. At Portadown FC’s Shamrock Park and Cliftonville FC’s Solitude, new stands were completed. At Tyrone GAA’s Healy Park, new crowd-control facilities were completed. At Down GAA’s Pairc Esler, a new stand was completed. In addition, it is hoped that work will begin in the new year on a new stand at Ravenhill, to the tune of approximately £1·2 million.
Furthermore, Sport NI has identified seven business cases, for which it has placed a £5·4 million bid for additional funding through the ongoing departmental strategic-stocktake process. Those business cases include proposals for work on Armagh and Down GAA grounds and on Glenavon, Ballymena United, Institute, Crusaders and Newry City soccer grounds. Several programme outputs have resulted, and we hope that more will follow.
Once projects are completed, Sport Northern Ireland will ensure that all work is carried out in accordance with the ‘Northern Ireland Guide to Safety at Sports Grounds’, otherwise known as “the red guide”. Facilities that are built to that standard will meet the forthcoming certification requirements, which are central to the legislation. Moreover, the proposals will result in safe capacity and increased comfort for approximately 610,000 spectators a year, and they include an element for the provision of training for 250 soccer, GAA and rugby stewards.
Future phases are planned, but they will depend on the availability of funding. In 2009, Sport Northern Ireland intends to launch a stadia development programme, which will aim to improve comfort, develop community usage and prioritise safety.
The role of the overseeing body has been agreed by Sport NI and DCAL, and the body will operate within, and from, Sport Northern Ireland. The overseeing body’s main activities will be to provide DCAL, district councils and venue owners with advice on technical matters, and it will monitor district councils’ work in implementing the Safety of Sports Grounds ( Northern Ireland) Order 2006. The overseeing body’s officers will provide regular reports to Sport Northern Ireland and DCAL about progress on implementing the Order and about other functions that must be undertaken. Although DCAL will assume the responsibilities assigned to it in the legislation, it will liaise with Sport NI concerning the overseeing functions and other such matters.
If a district council fails to implement the provisions of the Safety of Sports Grounds ( Northern Ireland) Order 2006 or deviates from the issued guidance, the overseeing body shall endeavour to resolve the matter. However, if a solution is not forthcoming, the matter will be reported to DCAL, which will pursue it with the relevant Department.
My colleague Paul Scott will now provide members with further details about the role of the overseeing body.
Mr Paul Scott (Sport Northern Ireland):
The overseeing body’s primary roles will be to provide information and guidance to DCAL, which, as the Department responsible, will issue the district councils with advice and guidance about implementing the certification and regulatory process for larger venues and for larger stands in smaller venues.
In addition, the body will monitor district councils’ work on implementing the legislation — a similar role to that carried out by the Football Licensing Authority, which has had so much success on mainland GB. It should be remembered that, following the 1971 Ibrox disaster, English local authorities have had a certification role since 1975. Nevertheless, despite legislation being in place and despite subsequent disasters, such as the one at Bradford, and incidents that resulted in the loss of life, such as those at St Andrews, Luton Town and Leeds, that legislation was not fully implemented until after the Hillsborough disaster in 1989 and the subsequent report by Lord Justice Taylor. That resulted in the implementation of the Football Spectators Act 1989, which, in turn, led to the creation of the Football Licensing Authority.
The overseeing body will also act as a source of technical, legal and administrative advice for all stakeholders, including venue owners, sports’ governing bodies, district councils and DCAL. The relevant departments in Sport Northern Ireland will be responsible for capital expenditure as well as for engaging with the police and the emergency services. We will endeavour to create a culture of safety for all sports in Northern Ireland, and offer advice on good practice as to how to run events in an effective and safe manner.
Initially, draft guidance material will be forwarded to DCAL for scrutiny, and will be issued to the district councils and to others. That guidance material will include templates of all documents that are referred to in the 2006 Order.
The process of identifying grounds that are likely to require designation has begun, and we will be liaising with the governing bodies of sport and with the district councils on that list. Those venues will be inspected and assessed against criteria approved by DCAL. Owners of venues in which potential capacity exceeds 5,000 will have an opportunity to comment. Reports will then be forwarded to DCAL, and, as Jack mentioned, by way of regulation, the venues will be designated. At that point, those venue owners will be advised that their venue has been designated, and, that after a certain date, it will be an offence to admit spectators unless a safety certificate has been obtained.
District councils will be advised of the procedures to be followed in the certification process. Following a number of interim steps, they will issue a certificate. That certificate will be a fairly lengthy document but it will, in essence, say two things: it will indicate the safe capacity of a venue, or parts of a venue, and the conditions that must be applied to enable that capacity to be reached.
There will be a number of appeals procedures for venue owners who feel that they have not been dealt with fairly. If such procedures are invoked, certificates will be issued and the monitoring processes will begin.
Importantly, a safety advisory group will be set up for each designated ground. That group will be chaired by the district council and have among its membership the operator of the venue, the police, the emergency services and other interested parties, including, sometimes, spectator groups. Similar work carried out in Great Britain has been perceived as a great success. Initially, some parties were sceptical, but it has subsequently been proved that those fears were unfounded.
Since the Hillsborough disaster, attendances at major venues and fixtures in mainland GB have increased by around 87%. In real terms, income has increased by almost 300%. The best example that I can give you is that England — the pariah of Europe at the end of the 1980s — successfully hosted Euro 96, which was considered to be one of the best ever organised international competitions. Indeed, GB has the potential to host another World Cup, something which could not even have been imagined in the mid- to late-1980s.
Prior to the meeting we agreed that the presentation would last for 10 minutes — it has now lasted for half an hour. On behalf of Committee members, I am duty-bound to convey that, due to the length of the presentation, they feel that they are not being given adequate time to ask questions. If that is the end of the presentation, I will move to members’ questions. Thank you very much for the presentation.
Thank you very much for the presentation. There is clearly a lot of concern among sporting organisations. All of them wish to comply with what is required of them as far as possible. What is the reason for the delay in implementing the Safety of Sports Grounds ( Northern Ireland) Order 2006? Who would be ultimately responsible if — God forbid — there was a serious incident at a sports ground?
My presentation sought to place the matter in a broad context. The initiative has long-term aims. It will take time to turn the ship around, and that has been the experience across the water.
Sporting organisations want to do the right thing, and they are worried about the length of time that it is taking to implement the initiative.
Local authorities that have a concern about a particular ground can introduce a prohibition notice, either to close the ground or to restrict the spectator capacity. They have had that power since March 2008, but none of them have used it yet. We run a stadia improvement programme through Sport NI, and we have been working with it on the overseeing body. Very soon, grounds that require a safety certificate will be designated.
Such initiatives never happen as quickly as we all would like. However, we are pushing the process forward with a view to implementing a comprehensive and effective regime. We also have to work closely with the NIO on other parts of the package, mainly in respect of people’s behaviour inside sports grounds.
I will try to answer Kieran’s second question, and Paul Scott will augment my answer. Responsibility for safety lies, primarily, with the owner of the venue. It is incumbent on the owner to ensure that the venue is safe for the people who use it. However, safety and risk management is a complex matter, and several other key stakeholders also have responsibilities.
Secondary responsibility lies with the district councils. Paul will talk about the relationship between the district council and the venue owner, and their roles and responsibilities. Those are crucial, and it will be worthwhile to hear more about them. Sport NI as the overseeing body and DCAL also have some responsibility. There is an interwoven process involving the owner of the venue, the district council, Sport NI and DCAL. There are various levels of responsibility, and it would be worthwhile to hear more detail about those.
The owner of a venue, or the person organising a fixture, will always have responsibility. For example, Linfield Football Club and the Irish Football Association both have responsibility when an international match is played at Windsor Park.
When certification comes into play, district councils will also have a role in issuing certificates to limit the number of spectators that can attend a ground and in adding conditions in line with the available guidance. That will be based on two factors — the p factor, which is the physical layout and structure of a venue; and the s factor, which is the safety management — both of which are very important. If the certificate was not appropriate for a particular venue and a particular match, the district council could find itself in trouble.
The overseeing body monitors the work of the district councils by calling at venues and carrying out inspections. If the overseeing body identifies problems, such as fire exits being locked, it does not contact the owner of the ground. For example, if fire exits were locked at Arsenal’s stadium, the body would not contact Arsenal Football Club — it would go to Islington Council and ask why that is being allowed to happen and why it is not taking punitive action against that club. That action could range from a warning letter right through to initiating legal proceedings.
If we, as the overseeing body, allow situations to lapse during our inspections, we will also have a responsibility. If we believe that a district council is not properly enforcing the legislation, we will then advise DCAL accordingly because that is the body that is named in the legislation.
You indicated that the ultimate responsibility for safety rests with owners of grounds. In the case of Windsor Park — in which Linfield Football Club has an agreement with the Irish Football Association for international matches — the IFA would surely have to bear some of the responsibility for spectator safety if something happened. Sport Northern Ireland would also have some responsibility because the IFA is responsible to Sport Northern Ireland, which brings the issue back to DCAL. If there was a major accident, would the principal body not be responsible for the liability? I am trying to confuse you.
In a light-hearted manner, if there was an incident, I suppose that the solicitors would sue everybody.
The IFA is responsible to Sport Northern Ireland.
Members may or may not know that there is a relationship between the IFA and Linfield for the hosting of matches in major international competitions. A contract is in place over an extended period of time. The owner of the ground is Linfield Football Club. The contract is with the Irish Football Association, and — in turn — the relationship between both parties and Sport NI is that the Irish Football Association is a governing body that we recognise for the purposes of funding. We are working with the IFA to develop the soccer-implementation strategy.
I come back to the point that I will ask Paul to detail again — the primary responsibility for the ground lies with Linfield Football Club. I imagine that the contract that Linfield Football Club has with the IFA will shift or reposition some of that liability with other bodies and, possibly, with the IFA. The legislation will clarify that the overseeing responsibility will rest with Sport NI, but Belfast City Council will also have a primary responsibility. The situation does not end up as a simple cake — it becomes a raisin cake with plenty of ifs, buts and maybes.
The primary responsibility lies with Linfield. The nature of its contract will determine what responsibility falls on the IFA. Belfast City Council is responsible for overseeing it, and we — in turn — are responsible for overseeing Belfast City Council.
From my understanding of the Windsor Park contract, the responsibility rests with Linfield if a structural matter leads to a problem. If it is an organisational matter or a safety-management matter, that reverts back to the IFA. However, the situation will change when certification comes into place. The responsibilities of the district councils and others will come more into play at that point.
I am mindful of what the Chairperson has said about this section of the session lasting for only 30 minutes, so I am hopeful that he will allow me a little leeway.
In a letter to the Committee, dated 17 November 2008 — which, I know, has been copied to Sport NI, and a copy of which, I am sure, the departmental officials have — the Minister advised that several grounds, “to varying degrees, do not meet the safety criteria”. Before I get into the meat of that, perhaps you could help me to dispose of something that is intriguing me. The letter makes reference to “Armagh (Athletic Grounds) London”. Which ground is that? Does Armagh Athletic have a ground in London?
I believe that that is a mistake.
Any reference to a ground in London is erroneous. I can only apologise for that. It is misleading.
I want to be clear, therefore, there is no way that the Department is funding any type of ground in London from its funds?
Absolutely not; that is a typographical error. There is no way that the Department is funding —
That is probably indicative of how this issue is being treated by the Department, in that people did pick up, in a letter signed by a Minister, what you now call a typo.
In his letter, the Minister states that:
“the following grounds, to varying degrees, do not meet the safety criteria … as set out in the ‘red guide’.”
He identifies six major GAA county grounds, Ravenhill rugby ground and all grounds in the top two tiers of the Irish League, which, I assume, includes Windsor Park. The Minister has actually said, in the letter, that Sport NI identified to him that those grounds do not meet the safety criteria.
How do those grounds do not meet the safety criteria in the ‘red guide’, and how serious is that? Furthermore, is there some leeway: do you have a ‘red guide’ that can be stretched, or one that stipulates that a certain level of safety is not important? In other words, what is the point of a ‘red guide’ if you are not applying it?
I do not wish to delve too deeply into the issue, but, as Kieran McCarthy said, heaven forbid that someone got hurt at one of those grounds. Indeed, there is precedent for such things and that is why the Committee has raised the issue. What is the penalty? Is the Department telling the Committee that all of those sports grounds — six GAA county grounds; Ravenhill, the home of rugby in Ulster; and all the sports grounds in the top two tiers of the Irish League, including Windsor Park — failed somewhere along the line, yet the Department is allowing those grounds to remain open and spectators to enter those grounds?
I believe that it was only when someone picked up on Professor McCartan’s letter that the matter came to the Committee’s attention. Joe Public has not got a baldy about this issue. Not only are senior citizens and able-bodied people, like most of those here, attending those grounds, but children, too.
What does “to varying degrees” mean? Should any of those grounds be shut? If not, what is the Department doing to ensure that those grounds mentioned in the Minister’s letter are putting their houses in order?
Jim Shannon and I are, hopefully, going to see our local team, Ards Football Club, in the Steel Cup final on Christmas Day —
Yes, they are playing at Crusaders’ ground, Seaview.
Yes, where they are playing against Carrick Rangers. Is it safe to go to that match? I do have some other questions —
There is a lot in that, David.
I will try to deal with the last issue first: the match on Christmas Day — the Steel & Sons Cup — is Crusaders versus —
Ards are playing some team called Carrick somebody.
Let us not get too cocky now, just in case. [Laughter.]
With regard to the question: the certification process is not yet in place. It will, hopefully, be in place in a matter of months. As the grounds become designated, district councils will carry out inspections and issue the certificates that will give safe capacities and attendant conditions.
Paul, how long have you been paying out money to those grounds for safety?
The initial tranche of money went out to some grounds in 2001.
And yet, someone thought that, in your words, that is alright: we will get round to it some day.
There is major public concern, which David McNarry has identified, about general safety, and the Committee needs to hear a reply to that.
Funding was finite and was issued on a worst-first basis. Some of the worst terraces, and walls that were sitting at a jaunty angle, have been addressed. The certification process will begin shortly, and at that point, safety certificates will be issued along with attendant conditions. Safety often relates to the numbers attending and the capacity of the ground. Therefore, if a ground in not too good a condition has a limited number of people attending, a degree of safety can be afforded. The Football Licensing Authority has stated clearly that absolute safety is impossible. We try to manage safety on a risk-assessment basis, but safety will be harder to manage, in the S value and the P value, with the numbers attending.
With regard to our capital projects, as has been alluded to, a lot of good work has been done. More is required. That will be accelerated by the certification and regulation processes which will come into play in the incoming year.
Are you confirming that six GAA county grounds, rugby at Ravenhill and all the soccer grounds in the top two tiers of the Irish League have not got that certification?
The certification procedures are kicking in.
Are you confirming that those grounds do not have it?
There is no certification process in Northern Ireland at present. That will be rolled out as a result of the 2006 Order.
The Minister’s informs us in his letter that:
“the total amount of awards made and applications under consideration as part of this programme is £12∙5 million”.
Do you agree with that figure? Information given to the Committee this morning by the Assembly’s Research and Library Services indicates that spending on phases 1, 2 and 3 totals approximately £10∙6 million. There is still phase 4 to get to. What was the total funding given to the stadia safety programme?
I can try to answer that question from the figures that we have.
I am trying to be specific, Eamonn. You said that you can try. You should have those figures at your fingertips. That is public money that is being given to Sport NI. You are not going to try — you are going to give me the figures.
Let us judge the answer by the answer.
The amount spent on the stadia safety programme began with the interim programme, which was the first programme that Sport NI ran. It dealt with 31 venues, and spent £4∙7 million. Another stadia safety programme was run, which dealt with 11 venues and spent £7∙7 million. In total, about £12∙4 million or £12∙5 million has been spent, and I believe that that is consistent with the figures that are with the Committee.
Sport NI, through the stocktaking process, made a bid to the Department for another £5·4 million to address the needs of a further seven sports grounds. In an attempt to answer your question accurately and in precise detail, Sport NI has spent £12·4 million in that area to date, and we have bid for a further £5·4 million. I understand that the Minister wrote to the Chairperson of the Committee to say that £110 million —
It was £111 million.
The Minister’s letter said that £111 million was made available in the strategy for sport. Although he did not say that any of that money would be used for safety, it is hoped that NI Sport would bid, through the process, for some of that money.
I do not think that you have addressed my concerns about public safety, but we will leave it there.
I wish to turn to the news that Windsor Park is to have a new stand to facilitate international football. Is that project likely to receive an award from the stadia safety programme?
Sport NI does not have any money to give to anyone for the stadia safety programme. It is the Minister’s wish that Windsor Park be refurbished. A report has detailed the weaknesses that are inherent in Windsor Park. There is a desire to examine that in detail to find out the cost of refurbishment and whether that cost could be met by public funds.
I do not want to be alarmist, but I am concerned at the flippancy with the feeling that if only 20 people go to watch an Irish League football match or a GAA match — which is probably unlikely — there is not the same concern for their safety as there would be if 2,000 or 20,000 went to another event. I do not care what the numbers are; it does not matter whether 20 people or 20,000 people are at risk. I do not wish to buy in to that argument.
The situation has moved on with regard to what is likely to happen to Windsor Park. I am quite sure that a process is developing there. I appreciate that you could not have factored that situation into your programme, but are you saying that Windsor Park will not open for international football unless it has the safety certificate?
When the certification process begins, it will be an offence to admit spectators to a larger venue unless it has a safety certificate.
I understand that that will be an offence when there is something to offend against. Is it currently a crime in anyone’s eyes that people could be going into grounds at which their safety is at risk? Is it morally a crime? Does anyone really — really — care, or are we hiding behind paperwork?
We do not have a certification process in place. We have given advice to the Irish Football Association —
I will answer Mr McNarry’s question. He is right to be concerned, as we all are, about public safety. At present, district councils have the authority to introduce a prohibition notice. They have had that authority since March 2006. If district councils are concerned about safety at any venue, the power is available to them to close a ground down completely or to restrict its capacity.
Thank you for that answer. It may be useful if the letter from the Minister were circulated to all district councils. Perhaps the councils are not fully aware of their duties.
I want to ask about the S factor and the P factor. Furthermore, is the Department investing in stewarding, and has it done so in the past? I understand that a steward at a sports event must have an NVQ level 2, that a supervisor must have an NVQ level 3 and that a safety officer must have an NVQ level 4. Are the sporting bodies receiving assistance from the Department towards the cost of such training?
Yes. Developing capacity among stewards to enable them to work at sporting venues is part of the safety initiative.
In preparation for the legislation, over recent years, Sport Northern Ireland has run foundation safety courses for stewarding staff and safety officers. However, that is only a foundation course. We have been working with SkillsActive and our colleagues in the UK to develop a course to NVQ levels 2, 3 and 4, and we are working with further education colleges to deliver those courses. The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure has provided funding to assist with the costs.
On mainland GB, all costs are met by the public purse. However, the funding arrangements for further education colleges will allow about only 75% to 80% of the course fees to be met. The shortfall will be met by moneys that DCAL has made available to Sport Ni in order that we can deliver appropriate training at no, or nominal, cost to the club or to individuals.
The P factor is, basically, the layout of the sports ground — the amount of spectator space available and its condition, the number and position of fire exits, etc. The S factor is the safety-management factor — the way in which the sports ground in managed. Often, there is a lot of confusion between safety and security. For example, Hillsborough and Bradford stadiums were secure venues, but they were not safe, because good safety-management processes were not in place to allow people to be evacuated in an emergency.
I am mindful that we are short of time, and I hope that my questions are straightforward, because there are other matters to which the Committee might wish to return. First, have you secured money for the ten-year programme that was described in your document? Secondly, do the sporting bodies have to match the funding that is allocated by the Department?
Thirdly, it seems that the funding applies only to grounds that have capacity for more than 5,000 spectators. Would a ground that belongs to a club that is outside the top tier of the Irish League — such as Portadown Football Club — automatically be barred from applying for funding? Are other grounds, such as the Brandywell in Derry, or the agricultural showgrounds in Belfast, automatically excluded from receiving funding because they are not designated to a particular sporting organisation, and is there an equality issue with that?
I will deal with the money question. During my presentation, I mentioned the business case that was approved. It has been recognised that it will take 10 years to complete the project. The original indicative figure for that was £30 million. As the Committee has heard, about £12·5 million has been spent to date, and bids have been made for other resources. Although the business case for funding of up to £30 million has been approved, we must still secure future moneys to make the project happen. We are engaged in ongoing discussions on that.
It is not currently designated as a ten-year funded programme. That funding must be negotiated?
It is a ten-year programme, but it is being negotiated bit by bit.
A question was asked about matched funding.
A degree of matched funding is required from the venue owner or the governing body. Sport NI traditionally funds at a level of about 85%, with 15% matched funding from the host applicant.
What about the cut-off limit of 5,000 spectators?
Sport NI has been working with the governing bodies and they have nominated the grounds that they consider pose the highest risks. Therefore, funding is always directed on a worst-first basis. The IFA, for example, has advised that its funding should be invested in the top tier. Portadown received funding, but that was when it was in the top tier. The GAA has advised that its funding be invested in six major venues, and the IRFU wants all of its funding invested in Ravenhill. Derry City FC is included in the programme, and funding has been made available to the club over the past few years.
The capital programmes are constantly under review. With the implementation of the legislation, we will be asking the governing bodies whether they still wish to continue on that path. We will operate strategically with our money by trying to address situations on a worst-first basis.
Would Ards FC, for example, be excluded from making a bid by the fact that the IFA has said that it wants only those clubs in the top tier to be funded?
Our funding is prioritised towards the strategic plans of the governing bodies, because we are constantly dealing with a finite pot of money.
One reason why I asked that is because a team in the second tier can be excluded from entering the top tier because its ground is not up to a particular standard.
Yes; although another funding stream, the soccer strategy capital programme, has provided funds to assist clubs in meeting those requirements.
Is that not a disincentive for trying to win promotion? Do you understand the point that I am making?
Teams in the top tier can also go into a separate strategy, so that will reinforce inequality, so to speak.
You identified earlier that this is a 10-year programme. Therefore, we hope that with the passage the time we will move towards trying to cater for those grounds that we should be serving, namely the worst first.
Mr P Ramsey:
You are very welcome. The Committee has discussed safety at sports grounds on many occasions over the past year. Like David McNarry, and other members, I am still not convinced that we are providing the adequate peace of mind, comfort and safety that is necessary.
Under legislation, local authorities provide entertainment licences to licensed premises. As such, it is the local authority that examines the physical layout of the building and determines matters of access and safety. The emphasis is on how quickly people can enter or exit those premises. I have seen premises in my own area closed down. At the Brandywell stadium, the council served a prohibition notice on the old Glentoran stand because it was unsafe.
I do not see how that is different from the letter issued by Sport Northern Ireland to DCAL, which specifically said that:
“the safety of the spectators has been compromised and there have been a number serious incidents in recent years including the riot at the Oval in April 2005”.
I listened intently to Paul Scott, and the issue is about what is happening and what is going to happen. The process is ongoing. When did the overseeing body meet and what is its output? In responses to members’ questions, it was said that it is all down to local authorities, but it is not down to local authorities. It is the responsibility of DCAL, as the governing body of sport, to ensure that that overseeing body is ensuring that local councils are up to the mark.
We do not need the process of the overseeing body coming along with councils and auditing grounds when Sport Northern Ireland has already done that. We are reinventing the wheel: the grounds that pose huge and serious safety consequences for the lives of people in Northern Ireland have already been identified. Therefore, I do not know why we are into this theoretical process whereby clarification and certification will come into play some time in the future. When in the future will all that happen? One presumes that someone is not up to the mark.
In 2003, it was estimated that £30 million would be required to bring stadia in Northern Ireland up to the required safety standard. How much will it cost now?
I am similar to David McNarry in that I want to know what DCAL is doing. As a member of the Committee, my responsibility is to scrutinise the Department to ensure that it is doing its job properly. I am not happy about this; I am conscious that I have a job to do but that I am unable to do it because of the limitations placed upon me. If someone were to die tomorrow — God forbid — I would have partial responsibility for that death, as would the rest of the members on the Committee.
Through a freedom of information request, the BBC learned that that letter from Sport Northern Ireland was sent last September. What is going on? We are getting to a stage whereby the Committee is receiving information as a result of public pressure — not because of legislation from 2006. Why did it take from 2006 to today for the Assembly to find out that there is an overseeing body, and our hopes and aspirations rest on it providing certification at some point in the future. That is unacceptable; I am not happy — and I speak on behalf of everyone, irrespective of what sport they represent. Not been enough effort has been made.
I require clarification on another matter. Our researcher talked about the grounds which hold more than 5,000 people. However, there are many sports grounds about which there are concerns. I want a full list of the grounds across Northern Ireland on which an audit has been carried out. I want to know what problems were identified and the rationale behind their identification. I suspect that some of the big clubs will have the capacity and business skills to develop their own business plans. What assistance is available to ensure that clubs without that skills base are able to access the same level of funding? I want to ask the Minister that question. I have already requested a meeting with him, but, due to today’s meeting, my request was declined.
There is only half an hour of this meeting left, but I have a dozen — [Interruption.]
Only 10 minutes remains for this item, Pat, so come to a conclusion, please.
Mr P Ramsey:
I have a dozen questions, but I know that I am not going to get satisfactory answers today; we will have to return. I want to know definitively from DCAL today what it is going to do. It is insufficient for the Department to say that it is going to identify grounds with the district councils, then meet with the emergency services, and, then, have another meeting to see what someone else is going to do. If the grounds have been identified, what will DCAL do? Will restrictive notices be displayed on every ground? Someone must do something before someone is killed.
Pat, that is a strong statement. Wallace, are you happy that your point has been covered?
I will ask another question. I know that public order legislation is a reserved matter, and I know that you have been having discussions about that. It is not only the size of a crowd that affects ground safety: one must consider also hooliganism and excessive drinking, and everything else that takes place inside and outside the ground. Will the security in the vicinity of the ground, inside and out, be the sole responsibility of the ground’s owner, or will the policing costs have to be met by the relevant club or organisation? Am I correct in saying that Northern Ireland is the only country in Europe in which a spectator cannot be banned from entering a sports ground?
Pat Ramsey asked what DCAL has done, and I would like to give you specific answers.
First of all, we have brought the legislation through. There is provision for local authorities to introduce prohibition notices. We have worked closely with Sport NI. The overseeing body is now up and running, and is now working with district councils. Grounds will be designated in the near future — we do not mean years from now, but in the next few months. I understand the Committee’s concerns and I share them. We are moving to improve —
Mr P Ramsey:
There is little point in having legislation that is not enforced. Nothing has been done to enforce this legislation since 2006. When did the overseeing body first meet? Who are the members of the body and when did they meet the emergency services? Who did they meet in local authorities? Why have grounds that have been identified as unsafe not been issued with prohibition orders by local authorities until safety has been improved and physical changes made?
The overseeing body was put in place at the beginning of last month.
Who sits on the body?
We recruited an administrative officer and a technical officer. I moved across to it from other duties that I was engaged with. We started in the first few days of November. Since that time, we have begun the processes of implementing the various legislative steps. We met with district councils and began to issue —
Mr P Ramsey:
Has the body met with every city council?
Yes. It met with all 26.
Mr P Ramsey:
Have you asked them to inspect specified aspects of every ground?
We have gone through the process with them that will result in certification.
Mr P Ramsey:
This is fundamental, and I am sorry to have to say it. If members know that there are grounds in Northern Ireland that are unsafe, surely it should insisted upon that local authorities carry out immediate inspections and, where grounds are unsafe, the authority should issue a statutory notice. Is that not your responsibility?
Our responsibility is to oversee the certification process that will bring about safety. It is similar to the situation that was mentioned earlier with regard to public entertainment venues, which are licensed.
Mr Scott, that may be your responsibility, but what are the rest of you doing? Is there collective responsibility to address the valid question that Pat asked? It is time for the answers. Who is taking the lead on this issue?
Mr P Ramsey:
There is something seriously wrong when we are waiting on some so-called certification process. I do not need that to tell me that there are unsafe grounds in Northern Ireland. I do not need someone to sign a certificate. We need enforcement to take place before something happens.
I understand that, but we must work within the legislative framework.
I will try to address some of the Committee’s points. The development and implementation of legislation in Northern Ireland is some 15 or 20 years behind that of the rest of the United Kingdom. We have been playing catch up. The Department took the responsibility for the legislative process and a range of discussions have taken place about the overseeing body. That body required resources, and we have been in discussion with the Department on that issue. It is important that everyone sees the problem in context.
Paul identified that, at many grounds, safety is rightly linked to capacity. Where a ground is in a poor state of repair, its capacity is limited, or should be limited. The risk occurs when capacity is in excess of the capability of the ground.
Mr P Ramsey:
When will the Safety of Sports Grounds ( Northern Ireland) Order 2006 be implemented fully?
Further to that, do you have a precise date when you expect the first safety certificate to be issued?
We envisage that the inspection process that leads to designation will take place in January and possibly into early February, whereupon the Department will endeavour to bring forward regulations to designate grounds through the Assembly. We are following procedure that has been used successfully in mainland GB. We must operate within the legislative framework. When that happens —
Mr P Ramsey:
The legislative framework does not have to be worked within if something is wrong. If Eamonn McCartan, the chief executive of Sport NI, wrote that letter over a year ago, I do not see that anything has changed in the interim.
The first line of the letter states:
“I am writing to you to express the concern of Sport Northern Ireland”.
Safety at grounds in Northern Ireland has been compromised because the Order has not been implemented. If grounds are unsafe, why must we wait for legislation? Can action not be taken now to ensure that councils put statutory notices on grounds, or even on parts of grounds, like Derry City Council did at the Brandywell?
Derry City Council, as the owner of the Brandywell, was able to close the facility.
The most serious cases have been dealt with under health and safety legislation. However, health and safety legislation is a blunt tool and is considered to be inappropriate for that type of activity. Thus, the Safety of Sports Grounds ( Northern Ireland) Order 2006 was introduced.
We have carried out work, for example, on the wooden stands at Windsor Park. Due to the enhanced fire risk there, a fire tender will be parked outside during all major matches. Therefore, we have worked with some venue owners. By and large, however, we must rely on certification, which is relied upon and has been successful in England.
There is light at the end of the tunnel. Certification is not far away. Unfortunately, however, we must work with —
Mr P Ramsey:
We will invite you back in February to explain whether that has been successful.
In 2003, it was suggested that £30 million was required. How much is needed now?
The amount that is needed is whatever the cost-of-living uplift is on that £30 million. I do not have an exact figure, but a significant sum of money is still required.
I want to follow up on what other Committee members said, but, perhaps, take a slightly different angle. The Department had around £4 million in its budget at the start of 2008-09. It returned slightly over £1 million of that money to DFP. If safety in sports grounds is critical, which is the message from the Committee, why was that £1 million returned? That money should never have been returned when it should be spent on grounds in different parts of the Province.
I want to ask about money that is available to football clubs for safety measures. Perhaps, Raymond mentioned that earlier. If so, I apologise for asking a question that has already been answered. How do intermediate grounds and clubs whose teams are on a different football tier ensure safety in their grounds? That goes back to a point that David made, which is that safety is important for everyone in all grounds, regardless of whether 20, 2,000 or 20,000 people go to the games.
In his letter to the Committee Chairperson, dated 13 October 2008, Gregory Campbell stated that:
“This legislation will not, of itself, solve spectator safety problems at grounds. Both DCAL and SNI recognise that, as well as the legislation, there are, in fact, a range of vital complementary measures and actions that must be undertaken”.
Presumably, his point is that those grounds and clubs can take action at present. Why have you not instructed or advised people at grounds to take those steps, which are outside the responsibility of DCAL and Sport Northern Ireland?
That also leads to another question, which is that if legislation itself cannot solve safety problems, can they be solved with the money that accompanies the legislation or with something else?
I am sorry for asking so many questions, Mr Chairman. However, I have waited patiently for the opportunity to ask them. I am as deeply interested in the matter as Pat and other members are.
I understand that, Jim.
I will begin by addressing the questions that have been asked about the legislation. We have been discussing the experience across the water. Legislation on its own does not deliver the whole package; there are so many other elements to consider. However, the legislation provides a driver to enable the initiative to progress. Funding is a key element, but there are other issues.
Wallace mentioned public order. The Safety of Sports Grounds ( Northern Ireland) Order 2006 deals with physical safety in sports grounds, but maintaining public order is about dealing with people once they are in the ground. Both those aspects must be improved as part of the overall package. Once those offences are outlined, they will also act as a driver.
There are other issues about the development of capacity safety awareness among owners or promoters of sports grounds. Capacity-building for stewards must also be addressed as well as managing people once they are in the grounds. There are several interwoven strands, one of which is the legislation, but the legislation on its own would not be sufficient.
I will just build on what Jack said. The legislation is the first major step. Public order legislation is crucial, if it is to support the primary legislation. To answer Lord Browne’s question, the public order legislation will deal with the behaviour of people who are inside and outside the grounds. The issue of the cost of policing and public order was raised, but I assume that the question was really about who will pay for it. That issue has emerged in the Republic of Ireland and in the United Kingdom.
The policing of public order is an ongoing issue in Great Britain, but, by and large, police can charge sports clubs only for officers that are invited into the ground. They cannot charge for officers who are in the general vicinity. Tony McNulty MP rubber-stamped that a few months ago when the Metropolitan Police asked whether it could charge for policing outside Tottenham Hotspur’s ground.
What brought about the change in the British model? Unfortunately, it was the deaths of many people, particularly at Hillsborough. However, it was the enforcement of the legislation by the Football Licensing Authority that ensured that local authorities did their job. That was coupled with the public order legislation and the promotion of a culture of safety. As Lord Justice Taylor said, the responsibility for safety ultimately lies with the venue owners, who have a big part to play.
Over the past weeks and months, we have made representations to venue owners and the governing bodies, reminding them of their responsibilities. We have the “red guide”, which gives good advice on physical safety and on how the grounds should be laid out, but, more importantly, on how they should be managed. We have been doing a lot of work behind the scenes.
Why was £1 million surrendered to DFP when the safety of sports grounds is such a big issue? You cannot leave here today without knowing how important the issue is to this Committee.
Having consulted David, I have decided to park several other items because this is such a serious matter.
Why return £1 million to the Department of Finance and Personnel when the owners of sports grounds have a backlog of safety issues to deal with? The said £1 million will not address all the problems that exist, but that surrender means that there is £1 million less to deal with safety in sports grounds. Applications for funding through the first three phases of the stadia safety programme have already been implemented. Why not release even a portion of that money?
As Jim will know, public-sector funding is allocated through an annual cycle. If money is available that is not going to be spent by 31 st March of any given year — for whatever reason — it must be surrendered to the centre following the in-year monitoring rounds. The Department has surrendered those funds, but it will be bidding to retrieve them.
The reason I asked that question is that we have gone through the first three phases, and some applications have been declined while others are still pending. The summary of the applications and funding allocated, which you have provided, suggests there are a number of safety issues that are tied in with each of those applications.
There are still applications in the system, and that £1million could be filtered into those applicants to alleviate both the pressures on those clubs and the very relevant and apparent concerns of the Committee. Why would that not be done when all of those applications are pending?
I understand what you are saying, and I have sympathy for your position. Sport NI distributes those funds. However, sometimes offers of grants are made, but for some reason work on a ground has been slow, and it is too late in the year to divert those funds to another scheme. I assure the Committee that, in future years, the Department will be bidding to retrieve the money that has been surrendered.
Mr K Robinson:
I would like some clarification on that point. The table in the documentation shows the result of some applications as “declined”. Does that mean that the applicant declined, or was it the Department that declined the applications?
For example, one of the declined decisions listed was for Limavady United FC, which was on 16 June 2005. That club wanted a 500-seater stand, a crowd-control point, two new turnstiles and toilet accommodation, at a total cost of £567,820.
When applications are submitted, they are ranked through a “worst first” basis, bearing in mind the strategic plans of a governing body. From memory, there were two issues with that application: first, the Department had run out of money and secondly, Limavady United had only a short lease on the premises — probably about five years. Effectively, if that bid had been successful, the Department would have invested public money in a facility that had no security of tenure.
In response to the questions asked by Mr Shannon and Mr McCartney about the intermediate league, Sport NI operates on the basis of “worst first”. We carry that out in association with the governing bodies, and plan to address all applications over the 10-year cycle. Therefore, such issues within intermediate and even smaller grounds will be addressed through time.
A written answer from the witnesses will be sufficient for my questions. First, as this session has progressed, I have got the impression that there is no awareness of the uniqueness of the GAA regarding the number of grounds that it owns. For example, in Dungiven there are three GAA grounds with big capacities, and in my part of County Derry there are 14 GAA clubs, which between them have at least 20 grounds. The cumulative effect of that on safety in numbers is something that deserves to be examined separately. Such a situation does not exist in Scotland, England or Wales, but it does exist here.
My second question is again on behalf of the GAA. When the business plan was prepared for funding under the Order, 18 GAA grounds were identified as being in need of funding to carry out safety work. That has now been reduced to six. What happened to the other 12 grounds?
There were 18 clubs in the business case. Those are still there, but the six identified are those with the top priority.
My first question is about money being surrendered. Is it not possible to have a number of small, individual projects where the money has been banked? It may be too late in the year to begin some major schemes, but a number of small schemes could use up that money. Most organisations have that sort of reserve of projects to pull off the shelf at the end of the year, if there is money to spend. Who will undertake to ensure that that does not happen again?
Are we satisfied that all local authorities have the requisite competence and expertise to carry out their responsibilities with regard to the inspections?
The overseeing body is working with the district councils. We will invite people over from the Football Licensing Authority in England to provide training, so that each district council will have staff trained to the appropriate level.
In addition, the overseeing body is there to hold the hand of the district council. This work is new to them. If a council invites us to carry out a joint inspection, we will be there to provide our views, and they can take those views on board when they are considering the capacity of the venues and certificates.
In response to Mr McCartney’s question, at smaller venues, stands with a capacity of 500 or more fall within the remit of the legislation and each is termed a “regulated stand”. A safety certificate is issued for the regulated stand, though not for the ground per se.
In addition, there is the potential to issue a prohibition notice. As in GB, prohibition notices have never been used. The threat of a notice has often been enough to persuade the club to take voluntary action to reduce concern for safety.
Nelson made a good point about surrendering money. We are discussing with Sport NI the possibility of building up a reservoir of projects and bringing them to a state of readiness for that eventuality.
For how many years have we been surrendering money for that sort of work?
I do not know the direct answer to the question, and I am confused as to whether Jim was talking about — [Interruption.]
I think that we have our wires crossed.
We have the monitoring-round paper that was received from DCAL in December. It shows that the figure for safety of sports grounds has decreased by a figure of just under £1 million.
The Committee was given information that the Department had £4 million in its budget for safety of sports grounds at the start of 2008-09. We were told a few weeks ago that the Department expects to be able to spend only £3 million, and has had to surrender £1 million to DFP. That is the point.
With respect, that illustrates the issue. We are not being uneccessarily critical of the witnesses. Committee members knew that, but the witnesses did not. That underlines our problems. Some £1 million has slipped by, and no one seems to know that it has even gone.
I take on board the members’ comments, and we will consider them in detail. We are anxious to use our full budget allocation. We work closely with Sport NI to build up a reserve of projects so that money can be used more flexibly.
Can you provide a written answer for the Committee?
If possible, I will try to provide that update. As members know, capital expenditure is end-of-year sensitive. Sport NI is required to advise the Department whether it will be able to spend that money during the year. The Department, rightly, wants that information as early as possible. In September, an easement was made to the Department because it was the considered belief of Sport NI and others that the money could not be spent before the end of the financial year. Given the principle of no surprises in February, the money was eased. Applicants must prepare and establish their 15% and submit their business case, which must match our spend profile. If that process falls out of sync, we are duty-bound to make an easement back to the Department.
It falls to me to wish you a merry Christmas. [Laughter.]
I will add to that No ll ais shona.
In all sincerity, the message you have given us is that you have not caught on to the situation. You have not understood the fears and concerns that the Committee outlined previously. I hope that you reclaim the £1 million, because your reasons for not overspending are absolutely ridiculous. As far as I am concerned, you are passing the parcel. However, we have not yet reached the end of the financial year, and, from what we see, you can certainly spend that money.
I do not need an answer now, but is there room for retrospective awards that will be available to smaller clubs? Members talk to representatives of smaller clubs who say that Sport NI have not pressurised big clubs whose houses are not in order. Small clubs are under the cosh trying to establish safety measures, and several clubs in my own locality, and in other localities, have approached me about that issue. They have spent a lot of money, all of which is their own voluntary money.
We seem to be ignoring the fact that all the people who the Committee and the Minister have identified charge the public to enter their grounds. That constitutes a commercial transaction. A funfair — or, for example, the big wheel at the City Hall — that did not meet public-safety standards would be shut down, because it accepts public money. Sport NI must take that comment on board.
Although you have indicated that you might return for a further briefing session, I want you to guarantee that you will return in January 2009 to tell the Committee when you can give a clean bill of health to your list — it is your list, not the Committee’s list — of GAA, rugby and soccer grounds. The Committee will not move unless you do so.
I thank Jack, Eamonn, Paul and Greg for attending. You are aware how seriously the Committee regards the issue and that we are dissatisfied that developments are not happening with the necessary urgency. As David said, we want you to return sooner rather than later, perhaps in January or February 2009. We want to see evidence of major improvements.
You mentioned major improvements. Sport NI has done all in its power to ensure the safety of people in sporting venues and, with the available resources, continues to do so.
We will revisit the issue at our first meeting in January, by which time we will have the Hansard transcript of today’s meeting, which will be useful to inform our discussions.
You heard Eamonn’s comments. If the BBC had not obtained the letter by hook or by crook, and the Committee had not picked up on it, we would never have known about the issue. I am grateful to Eamonn for his letter, because it highlighted the issue.