Sports minister Deirdre Hargey to be grilled over how Covid hardship cash doled out

The minister in charge of sports in Northern Ireland is expected to be called before a special session at Stormont next week to answer questions about a multi-million-pound grant scheme.

By Adam Kula
Friday, 26th March 2021, 2:24 pm
Rory McIlroy at Royal County Down in 2015; the club received £1.6m of grant money under the fund
Rory McIlroy at Royal County Down in 2015; the club received £1.6m of grant money under the fund

The Sports Sustainability Fund has doled out about £22.4m to the governing bodies of various sports, to help with the effects of the Covid-19 crisis.

They then parcelled out the money to individual clubs.

The fund was operated by Sport NI, and fell under the spotlight this week thanks to Stephen Nolan, who has been asking questions about how the cash has been doled out.

Sport NI is ultimately answerable to the Department for Communities, headed by Sinn Fein MLA Deirdre Hargey and it is she who will be summoned to Stormont’s communities committee next week.

The grant money is designed to “minimise the financial stress on the sports sector due to lost income as a result of Covid-19 lockdown”.

There are large differences in terms of the cash handed that was out for each sport.

For example Golf Ireland put in a bid covering 29 clubs.

It was given £4.2m, which works out at about £145,000 per club on average (though this is not how the money was divided – in reality some clubs got little or nothing, whilst Royal County Down got a whopping £1.6m).

In addition Ice Hockey UK put in a bid on behalf of two clubs. It asked for, and received, just under £408,000 – or about £204,000 per club.

By contrast the Irish Athletic Boxing Association put in a bid on behalf of seven clubs, and was given just over £62,000 – an average of slightly under £9,000 per club.

The IFA meanwhile got a grant of £6.6m to cover 77 clubs – a rough average of £86,000 per club.

Yesterday Mr Nolan raised the issue of Cycling Ireland’s £400,000 grant application, which he claimed was submitted despite not meeting the right criteria. In the end, Cycling Ireland got only £14,500.

DUP MLA Paula Bradley chairs Stormont’s communities committee. Despite the Assembly being in recess next week, she is calling a special session (probably on Wednesday or Thursday) so that questions about the fund can be put to Ms Hargey, Sport NI, and top departmental civil servants.

“The areas of most concern would be the amount of money that has been handed out. Was it based on need?” she asked.

“What was the due diligence here, what background information was given? It’s public money after all, at the end of the day.”

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