Sinn Fein ministers accused of ‘sectarian decisions’ over stadium funding

Mason McGrandles and Caoimhin McBride play football beside Solitude which is home to Cliftonville FC in north Belfast. 

Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEyeMason McGrandles and Caoimhin McBride play football beside Solitude which is home to Cliftonville FC in north Belfast. 

Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Mason McGrandles and Caoimhin McBride play football beside Solitude which is home to Cliftonville FC in north Belfast. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
A decision to halt a scheme to upgrade football stadia while continuing the redevelopment of Casement Park has been branded “sectarian” by a DUP MLA.

Former economy minister Paul Frew accused Sinn Fein’s Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey and Finance Minister Conor Murphy of making “sectarian decisions” as he claimed they were treating one project differently to the other.

Mr Murphy responded by describing Mr Frew’s comments as an “insult”.

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“Neither the GAA or the soccer fraternity are sectarian,” he said.

North Antrim MLA Mr Frew raised the issue in exchanges with Mr Murphy in the Assembly chamber.

On Monday, Ms Hargey told MLAs she would be unable to progress the £36.2 million programme to redevelop local sub-regional football stadia due to the absence of a functioning executive.

She claims while the funding has been secured for the initiative, the approval of the wider Executive is required before it can progress to allocating funding for projects at specific grounds.

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Ms Hargey has blamed the DUP for the situation, claiming the party’s decision to pull Paul Givan out of the first minister’s role meant the stadia programme had to be placed on hold until a functioning administration is back in place.

The DUP has disputed this position and contrasted it with the minister’s insistence that the redevelopment of the GAA’s Casement Park in west Belfast can continue despite the Stormont crisis.

Both Ms Hargey and Mr Murphy moved on Tuesday to explain that the two projects were at different stages of progression, with the Casement redevelopment a live project that had been approved by the Executive, while the sub regional stadia programme had not reached the stage of identifying what works would be undertaken.

In the Assembly, Mr Frew accused the Sinn Fein ministers of “playing silly games” with the issue.

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“The sports regional sports stadium for football funding and the Casement Park funding has both been approved by this Executive,” he said.

“Why has this finance minister and the communities minister made sectarian decisions to proceed with Casement Park, but to stop and halt the sports stadiums for football.”

In response, Mr Murphy claimed the DUP had not thought through the consequences of collapsing the Executive.

“In scrambling to defend your own seats you haven’t thought through what the impact of that will be, and the impact is going to be very, very real across a range of communities and sports stadia are one,” he said.

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“The sub regional stadia have not identified any specific projects and would require to come back to the Executive for further approval.

“The fact that you have collapsed the Executive means that all those clubs who are waiting on money will continue to wait on money until such times as you grow up and start to play at serious politics.”

At a later press conference, Mr Murphy added: “To try and describe that as sectarian is an insult.”

Minister Hargey insisted the funding for the programme was secure.

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The minister said while she would examine “other ways” to progress the initiative, she was significantly limited by the absence of an executive.

“I am ready to bring proposals forward before the end of this mandate,” she told BBC Radio Ulster.

“The budget is there and I do think that it’s incumbent upon those other parties, particularly the DUP that chose to walk away, to look at that because this is the impact of their decision.”

Foyle DUP MLA Gary Middleton dismissed Minister Hargey’s comments.

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“Deirdre Hargey has been in office for two years but has failed to deliver on an NDNA (New Decade, New Approach) agreement to advance funding for football stadiums across Northern Ireland,” he said.

“There is an Executive commitment on sub-regional stadia funding.

“That could have been delivered upon at any time during the last two years, and it still should be delivered today.

“For two years she has dithered, telling everyone that a result was just around the corner, but still today nothing has been delivered.”

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