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Elections… 2015, 2016 and Government Reshuffles: Where does Sport Fit?

The 2015 Westminster elections are to be held on the 7th May and therefore are quickly approaching! In recent weeks we have seen much discussion and debate on the potential manoeuvrings of the political parties in Northern Ireland taking part in these elections.  Many have commented on the ongoing negotiating and political haggling taking place behind the scenes between many local parties and their potential political partners from the rest of the UK in what is widely forecasted to be a hung or coalition government. Negotiations that have reportedly seen these parties secure various pledges from their potential suitors in exchange for their support in that same potential government.

Last week at Stormont, approval was given to the establishment of an All Party Group on Sport and Physical Recreation. This is something that the Northern Ireland Sports Forum has campaigned hard for in recent years and will now provide secretariat to. It’s remit ranges from increasing the profile of sport and physical recreation at the Assembly government level; influencing their policy; liaising with Sport NI and other agencies/organisations to keep MLA’s informed on issues affecting sport and physical recreation; and to recognise the value of sport as a tool that can affect socio-economic change in all our local communities.

A review of the election manifestos for all five local parties contesting this 2015 Westminster election shows that their common priorities are to stabilise our front line services such as health, welfare, education and living standards. How this would be achieved is where each party ultimately differs.  Our focus, in this blog, is to highlight what our local parties are pledging, or even seeking to secure, for sport and physical recreation in Northern Ireland regardless of the eventual outcome in this election.

The manifestos of the DUP, UUP and Alliance parties focus on the economic benefits achievable through sport.  They recognise that sport can be used as a major tourism draw and/or provide an economic boost through securing major sporting events such as the World Police & Fire Games, the Giro d’Italia, the Irish Open at Royal County Down or the anticipated British Open at Royal Portrush.

The manifestos of the SDLP and Alliance parties focus on the social and health related benefits of sport.  They both recognise that increasing physical activity can be used as a means to prevent poor health and ease demand on health services. The SDLP’s manifesto focuses on the benefits sport can play in tackling social exclusion, crime and educational underachievement, especially in areas of social deprivation, whilst also discussing the issue of safeguarding in sport and the use of defibrillators in sports grounds. The Alliance Party’s manifesto  pledges support for improving sporting facilities and increasing participation.

The UUP’s manifesto focuses on securing animal welfare and respecting the rights of those who engage in country sports i.e. shooting and that these are values that should be mutually dependent – not exclusive.  They also focus on supporting ethnic minorities to engage in sport within Northern Ireland.

The Sinn Fein manifesto does not make any explicit reference sport or physical recreation.

The terminology of local party manifestos differs vastly to those of the main Labour, Conservative and Lib Dem parties. NI will elect 18 MP’s to Westminister, less than 3% of the total 650 seats available, and therefore the impact of their manifestos pledges in 2016 will be much greater to the people of Northern Ireland.

The upcoming reshuffle of the devolved Stormont Government departments in 2016, that coincides with the 2016 Stormont elections, will see responsibility for sport and recreation come under the auspices of the Department for Communities – replacing the Department for Culture, Arts and Leisure. With social development and sport under the same department this will be a great opportunity to provide greater collaboration and alignment between sporting performance and participation, and sport for social change and development.

The election manifestos from the Stormont elections in 2011 did not show a great commitment to sport, however, the Northern Ireland Sports Forum and the All Party Group on Sport and Physical Recreation will be working hard to fight for greater commitments to the sport and physical recreation sector in 12 months’ time.  Time will tell whether the 2016 election manifestos of our local parties reflect this too.

Ciaran Kearney
Executive Manager