Anger as minister halts £36m stadium allocation pending Executive ‘sign-off’

Communities Minister Deirdre HargeyCommunities Minister Deirdre Hargey
Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey
Irish league figures have branded the withdrawal of funding for sports stadiums “disgraceful” and “outrageous”.

Unionist politicians have also hit out at Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey told MLAs that the allocated £36 million cannot be made available without an Executive in place.

Northern Ireland is without a working Executive after the DUP resigned the first minister post as part of the party’s protest at the NI Protocol.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Chief executive of the Northern Ireland Football League Gerard Lawlor described the decision as “disgraceful and unforgivable”.

In a message on Twitter, Mr Lawlor said: “Disappointing but not surprised at today’s announcement by @CommunitiesNI minister, to coin a well-known political phase ‘we haven’t gone away you know’ nor will we.

“Our clubs offer so much to their communities & the economy, this treatment is disgraceful & unforgivable.”

Also reacting on Twitter, Larne FC owner Kenny Bruce said: “@DeirdreHargey I will be seeking legal advice on how we recover the 10s of thousands we have spent on planning, building consultants & designers. Not only have you pulled the rug from under our feet you have cost our communities millions. This is outrageous.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Ms Hargey told MLAs she “shared the frustrations” expressed by members that the funding programme had yet to be implemented following its original endorsement.

She added: “I won’t be able to progress this scheme as it is at the moment because the agreement has always been that I need to take any proposals to the Executive for approval and also to sign off the programme and the funding.

“With no Executive that cannot be done.

“I had aimed this to be done before the end of the mandate, but because some walked away, this cannot now be done.”

But the DUP said that as the scheme had been with the minister for two years, it should have been progressed before now.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

DUP MLA Stephen Dunne said the minister’s answer was an “insult” to clubs waiting for the funding.

He added: “They have been kept in limbo because of the minister’s dithering and delay.

“Even by her own admission there has been plenty of time for her to bring proposals to the Executive. This is a failure entirely of her own making.”

UUP MLA Andy Allen said: “There have been repeated false dawns for the programme with the latest being delivered under the guise of the collapsed Executive.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“However, football clubs and supporters across Northern Ireland have been let down by successive ministers.

He said local football “badly needs” the funding to upgrade facilities, and added: “Northern Ireland deserves better, and local football clubs and supporters certainly deserve better than the repeated failure to deliver.”

SDLP MLA Mark Durkan said: “The DUP’s self-interested decision to collapse the Assembly has undoubtedly put key legislation and initiatives at risk, but myself and SDLP colleagues have been campaigning for years to have this programme progressed and now, right before the end of the current mandate, we receive confirmation it won’t proceed.

“Sinn Fein told us over five years ago that this funding was guaranteed and successive communities ministers have failed to deliver it, much to the disappointment of local teams and their supporters.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

TUV election candidate Lorna Smyth said: “Deirdre Hargey’s decision to press ahead with funding for Casement Park while shelving the £36.2 million had been set aside for football clubs across Northern Ireland is highly questionable.

“Where is the equality and fairness which Sinn Fein are so fond of paying lip service to? Today’s announcement will only compound the sense that some sports are more equal than others.”