Busy times at Donegal Sports Partnership

These are busy times at the Donegal Sports Partnership (DSP), not 
least for its co-ordinator, Myles Sweeney. Since taking up the 
position in 2006, the Dungloe native has seen a lot of changes and 
developments take place within the organisation through additional 
support, investment and the dedication of the DSP team.
“There’s also been the addition of new staff and new blood coming into 
the Donegal Sports Partnership which has kick started it on even 
further over the years. So it’s definitely a busy organisation that is 
evolving and changing as time goes on” he says.
Twelve years ago, there were three people employed at the Donegal 
Sports Partnership – Myles, Administrator, Deirdre O’Toole and 
Assistant Administrator, Danny Nee.
“We also had a number of part-time tutors delivering sport-related 
education workshops for us. Then in 2008, Therese Laverty was 
appointed as Sports Inclusion Disability Officer on a three-year 
contracted programme. Thankfully, through the support of Sport Ireland 
and local agencies, she is still with us in a full-time capacity. In 
2011 Karen Guthrie was appointed as Community Sports Development 
Officer to deliver on a number of community based sports programmes. 
They were two key appointments and allowed us to develop those 
particular areas.”
The Donegal Sports Partnership has received funding in recent years 
from the International Fund for Ireland, Peace III, Peace IV and its 
cross-border links. This has made it possible to recruit part-time 
project officers and development and administration staff to grow the 
organisation. The core funding in the form of an annual grant comes 
from Sport Ireland who govern the 29 Sports Partnerships in the 
country, and who have a responsibility for participation sport 
“Our local statutory organisations also provide us with financial and 
in-kind support, it’s very much a bottom-up, top down approach to 
funding. DSP is challenged to provide 50 per cent from local 
contributions, with Sport Ireland providing the other 50 per cent.
“That’s the model that’s been used for years and we’ve been successful 
in terms of securing funding from other agencies as well,” Myles says.
Despite the ever-evolving nature of the Donegal Sports Partnership, 
its objectives remain the same – growing participation sport and 
providing equality, education and training programmes.
Myles has noticed an increased emphasis on the recreational side of 
sport and physical activity.
“There’s a real growth in that area now. A lot of it is about looking 
at our personal health outcomes and people are looking at how they can 
improve the quality of their life. Sport and physical activity is 
playing a huge role in this area and I would like to think that the 
DSP have also contributed in some way to that in terms of supporting 
community sport and supporting sports leadership and education,” he 
According to the co-ordinator, there are a number of huge health 
issues in society.
“Low levels of activity and poor eating habits have brought on weight 
management problems resulting in low levels of fitness. These tie in 
with chronic diseases such as heart related problems, type 2 diabetes 
and indeed mental health problems. So we have seen sport and exercise 
being pulled into the health area more now than it has heretofore, and 
we’ve been challenged in some way in partnership with other agencies 
to contribute to providing some solutions.
“For us it’s trying to link up the sport and physical activity 
programmes into the communities in order to target the most vulnerable 
or marginalised.”
Myles believes the community sports area is where most can be gained, 
and where most work needs to be done.
“Sure, we have our national governing bodies in sport who have 
responsibility for individual sports and we have our club structures. 
But within the community there’s also a great cohort of people who are 
not participating in clubs for various reasons. A lot of these people 
might be marginalised from sport for whatever reasons.
“It could be as a result of where they live, it could be around income 
levels or perhaps a disability or indeed a poor experience of some 
sort that is preventing them from participating.
“So, from our point of view we are trying to focus on that particular 
grouping of people, those that are not currently engaged in sport and 
physical activity just to see if we can provide a meaningful sports 
programme which would make a difference to their lives,” he says.
Myles points out that while there’s a continued growth of 
participation in children’s sport, the challenge is at teenage years, 
the target group of 16 to 25-year-olds who drop out of sport at an 
early age.
“I think a bit of thought needs to go into why there are so many 
dropping out of sport so young.”
To address and fix this problem is not the sole responsibility of any 
one agency, Myles believes.
“It should be a collective thing. It’s like anything that’s an issue 
in society – it can’t be just left to sport, to health or to the 
schools. There needs to be a broader provision in terms of tackling 
the issue.
“That’s from the parents and guardians at home encouraging young 
people to participate in physical activity and sport, to the schools 
having a broader sports provision, to the clubs being more engaging 
and providing a more recreational sports to allow not just the 
children that are competitive, but also those that are non-competitive 
to participate. So there needs to be a broader look at all that.”
Myles hopes that sport would remain a regular part of teenagers 
routine as they approach early adulthood, that they remain physically 
active thereafter and that sport in some form would be a part of their 
“Be that by going for a walk in the evening, going for a short run or 
taking a spin on the bike. We have seen a lot of young people drop 
away from sport totally and come back in after a year or two again. 
It’s very much an individual thing.
“Some young people might stay involved because it’s the right club, 
the fun is good and they like the positive social interaction.
“But it can be difficult, too, because a lot of young people are 
moving away and emigrating to go to college or to take up employment 
therefore moving to new communities.
“What we are trying to do is provide the skills and deliver the 
message that physical activity and sport, in whatever format, should 
be a daily part of all our lives and should be a routine thing that we 
do,” he says.
The Donegal Sports Partnership is about to enter the final year of its 
current four-year strategic plan. In developing a new strategy from 
2020 the various stakeholders within the county will be consulted in 
order to get the necessary feedback around where they feel 
participation sport and the DSP should focus over the next number of 
“What we would do in developing a new strategic plan is set up 
information sessions, community-type focus groups and provide an 
online questionnaire in order to get feedback on areas they think we 
should be focusing on.
“We also have an extremely effective Board of Directors as well made 
up of community and statutory agencies and they would help guide where 
Donegal Sports Partnership is going. Governance is huge with us as 
well,” he explains.
Maximising what is at hand is the approach Myles and the organisation 
takes; one of the key themes in the last strategy was around the 
natural environment.
“That meant utilising our rivers, our mountains, the sea and the walks 
we have – all the natural environment that’s out there in terms of 
sports provision. That model is being used in a number of areas in the 
county where we’ve developed community sports hubs.
“Again, the theme will probably be something similar going forward as 
it has been effective with a number of initiatives.”
The key goal of the new plan will be to identify areas where the 
Donegal Sports Partnership can make a difference through the 
establishment of appropriate programmes and where the work of the DSP 
can be most effective.
“Ultimately we are trying to grow participation across the entire 
population. There are 160,000 people currently living in Donegal, so 
we would like them all to be participating,” Myles adds.

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