It’s a very great pleasure to welcome you to Farmleigh Estate here in Castleknock in my own constituency of Dublin West, and of course to the southern corner of Fingal, a county in which cricket has always remained strong.
This is the first reception that I have hosted in my new role as Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport and I am particularly pleased it is happening in my own constituency, and that it is a cricket team that we are honouring.
I am probably not the sportiest member of the Cabinet. I don’t have an all-Ireland county medal like Jimmy Deenihan or indeed an all-Ireland club soccer medal like the Minister of State for Tourism and Sport, Michael Ring. And I certainly have not been winched off any yachts like the Minister for the Marine, Simon Coveney, though we have played on the rugby team on a few occasions – he was the captain, I was the sub.
But I probably am one of the few people in the Cabinet who actually knows quite a lot about cricket. I even know the rules, or should I say the laws. In part, it’s because I played cricket for a while as an under 11s player in Phoenix Park, but more because I have an Indian father and grew up in a house with someone for whom cricket is almost a religion. I grew up with sporting heroes like Sunil Gavaskar, Sachin Tendulkar, Viv Richards and Ricky Ponting.
The Sports Division makes up only a small part of my new Department and it has a relatively small budget. But it’s going to be a major part of the Department when it comes to activity. I am particularly aware of the major cross-over between tourism and sport and the economic and diplomatic opportunities that sport can bring.
On a political level, cricket is an all-Ireland sport and the team playing for Ireland plays for the Republic and the North, for Protestants and Catholics, and those of no particular persuasion.
This year Ireland will host the Volvo Yacht race, the Solheim Cup and the Europa League final, bringing tens of thousands of sport fans into the country and boosting our economy. But I think the highlight of the sporting year will be our team’s performance in the World Cup. The defeat of England, in particular, probably did more to raise Ireland’s profile in the sub-continent of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh than anything else. On my visit to India, meeting politicians, civil servants, tour-operators, academics, journalists and business leaders, all were keen to talk about our cricket team. It has opened a lot of doors. And as a Government, we are a grateful for that.
March 2nd was a day when World Cup records tumbled to the Irish team and to Kevin O’Brien. Enormous praise and credit is due to the team for the exciting and courageous manner in which they chased down a massive England innings total. The highest ever successful run chase at a World Cup, and the fastest ever World Cup Century ensured a most memorable day, not only for Irish Cricket, but for Irish sport in general.
Cricket in Ireland is in a much better place today than it was four years ago. Its popularity is on the increase and more and more people are playing the game. In addition, there is a substantial television and radio audience that eagerly follow cricket on a regular basis.
I would like to congratulate Cricket Ireland, the Irish Sports Council and Sport Northern Ireland for all the work they have done in recent times in promoting cricket in Ireland and in their preparations of the Irish Cricket Team for the World Cup. Four years ago only two professional players went to the World Cup as part of the Irish team. This year the number had increased to 13, and the 11 who took to the field for the England match were all full professionals. This didn’t happen by chance and great credit is due everyone involved.
Of course families, partners, coaches, teammates and administrators all work very hard and make huge sacrifices to help athletes compete at elite level. Each individual depends on those closest to them, personally and in sport, to help them through their preparations and we extend our appreciation to you for your efforts and contribution to this team.
I would also like to give a special mention to the Irish fans, some of whom I’m delighted could make it this evening. And some of whom I met in Eden Park in Calcutta for the Ireland-Holland game. As you would expect they conducted themselves with great dignity and were great ambassadors for Ireland. Having made the journey so far from home to support the Irish team, their presence was a huge boost to the players.
Cricket Ireland has also received great support from sponsors RSA and this has also been a huge contributing factor in the team’s success. It is not easy in the current climate to attract financial sponsorship from the business sector and RSA are to be complimented for their support of Irish cricket.
This evening is all about celebrating the Irish Cricket Team’s performance at this year’s Cricket World Cup. But it really cannot pass without mention of the recent decision of the ICC to exclude associate nations from the 2015 World Cup. Non-Test nations such as Ireland have played a major part in World Cups, not just by their talent and skill, but also by their commitment, passion and love of the game.
It is difficult to see how the best interests of the game can be served by not allowing countries such as Ireland a chance to compete at the highest level. This ‘closed shop’ approach cannot be good for the game, and appears to fly in the face of the sacred values that cricket has espoused for so long - namely fair play, sportsmanship and camaraderie.
A World Cup restricted to ten teams is not a World Cup at all. And the decision made by the ICC does not reflect the values of a sport that aims to be a gentleman’s game. To coin another phrase, it’s just not cricket.
I fully support the efforts of Cricket Ireland and the other non-Test countries to persuade the ICC Board to reverse their decision. And I want you to know that my offices are available to assist the associate nations in their campaign to have this decision reversed, in any way that you see fit.
In conclusion, I would like to reiterate how delighted I am to honour you on behalf of the Government. I thank all the players for the excitement and enjoyment they gave us over the last few weeks. I hope you all enjoy yourselves this evening and I would like to wish everyone well for the future.