With only two days until people across Northern Ireland set out to vote in the 2016 Assembly Elections at the Northern Ireland Sports Forum we have decided to have a quick delve into the manifestos of the five largest political parties here to see what commitments to sport and physical recreation they have made for 2016-2021. In the last year we have worked harder to engage with our MLA’s to create a greater understanding of the value of sport. We have held several meetings with MLA’s, campaigned for greater Rate’s Relief for CASC’s and also asked MLA’s to pledge their support for our sector with our #ISupportSport campaign.
Looking back to the 2011 manifestos it was clear that sport and physical recreation wasn’t as high up the agenda as it is today. Thankfully the political engagement that our member organisations have also undertaken has been reflected in the greater commitment to development of sport and the recognition of the vastly important role that sport plays in our society in terms of social development, health benefits and also tourism potential.
The UUP pledge to put greater emphasis on prevention in Northern Ireland in regards to obesity. They outline the importance of increased physical activity to individuals but also the cost benefits to the health service and believe exercise prescription schemes should incorporate physical activity in green spaces.
The SDLP state that they recognise the importance of working with sports clubs and venues to tackle obesity levels through sport.
The Alliance party believe that obesity is a huge problem in Northern Ireland which puts our health service under increasing pressure and pledge to provide support for people wishing to lose weight. The Alliance party outline their understanding of the role that sport and physical recreation plays in health promotion, community cohesion and boosting tourism. They state that obesity is causing 450 deaths a year at a cost of £500 million to the economy and that healthier living and physical activity should be promoted from schools and working alongside councils and creating adequate infrastructure.
Greenspaces & Cycling
Four parties recognise the outdoors potential for Northern Ireland and how much of an impact it can play improving lives of our citizens. Alliance, SDLP, DUP and UUP all outline their support for the development for a greenway and the potential to connect people with nature. An upsurge in the amount of people cycling in Northern Ireland is clearly noticed by the four parties and they have realised the potential of specific cycling strategies and greenway developments. Cycling also provides a sustainable mode of transport and the four parties pledge their support to make it safe for cyclists and walkers in our towns, cities and greenways.
Events and Social Change
The DUP believes Northern Ireland can continue to shine on the international stage by securing more and bigger international events. The DUP believes we should be seeking to attract events such as the Grand Depart of the Tour de France, a future Commonwealth Games bid and supporting the 2023 Rugby World Cup bid. The Alliance party outline their support for bids for major sporting events to be held in Northern Ireland where the infrastructure exists.
The Alliance party like the SDLP want to promote grass roots sport to engage and enthuse communities into sports and people who don’t particularly engage with sports and to use sport as a driver for social change. The Alliance Party also want to ensure that facilities are adequately used and remain financially viable.
The Sinn Fein Manifesto outlines the areas were DCAL Minister Carál Ní Chuilín invested in sport’s facilities and using sport to tackle poverty and social inclusion however these areas both outlined that they were aimed towards Ulster Rugby, Ulster GAA and the Irish Football Association. The Sinn Fein manifesto outlines their 10 Point Programme for the Assembly term however their commitments to sport and physical recreation are not outlined within this programme.
Department for Communities
The upcoming reshuffle of the devolved Stormont Government departments that coincides with the Assembly 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.
Last year 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. Its 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. With the recent establishment of a Public Affairs Subcommittee, we here at the Northern Ireland Sports Forum will continue to work hard on behalf of our members to further develop sport and physical recreation in Northern Ireland