Football in Northern Ireland needs investment says IFA CEO Patrick Nelson

Irish FA Chief Executive Officer Patrick Nelson has reiterated the need for investment in local football after sub-regional stadium funding was put on hold.

Football clubs in Northern Ireland have been left in limbo with regards to the £36m development fund allocated by the NI Executive after Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey announced on Monday that the programme could not progress without executive sign-off.

Individual ministers remain in place at Stormont following the resignation of first minister Paul Givan earlier this month, but they can only make decisions that are not deemed “significant or

controversial”.

Irish FA Chief Executive Officer, Patrick Nelson

In a statement of the IFA website Nelson highlighted the association’s Social Return on Investment (SROI) results, and said the IFA had “expressed concern” to senior department officials on the lack of engagement from the minister on reviewing the outputs of a structured focus group of which they were part.

“Football in Northern Ireland needs investment,” said Nelson.

“It is a game that unites communities, raises aspirations, improves people’s physical and mental health, not to mention generating employment and income which is crucial to people’s lives.

“We see this every day through the different programmes of work we deliver and our Social Return on Investment (SROI) results, released last year with UEFA, confirmed we add around a half a billion pounds to the Northern Ireland economy.

“The Sub-Regional funding was a commitment by the NI Executive made 11 years ago. It was then reaffirmed in the ‘New Decade, New Approach’ document in 2020, where the NI Executive stated it would advance with plans to complete both the Regional and Sub-Regional stadia programmes including Casement Park.

“We have been part of a structured group including officials from the Department for Communities, the Strategic Investment Board, Sport NI, the Chief Leisure Officers Association (CLOA) and NIFL for two years.

"This group was geared to progressing the implementation of the sub-regional investment programme and the group met as late as last week.

"We have previously expressed our concern to senior department officials on the lack of engagement from the Minister on reviewing the outputs from this group.

“Given the 11 year delay on fulfilling these commitments, we expect that any additional resourcing requirements needed will be made available for both projects.”

Nelson added the IFA are also “fully supportive of the Casement Park project”.

He said: “We are fully supportive of the Casement Park project and will support all efforts in making this happen.

"It is a project the GAA community has waited too long for and that it fully deserves.

"We note with interest the Finance Minister’s comments and, given that both sub regional and Casement Park are part of the same Executive commitment, we expect that his confirmation of funding extends to the sub regional programme too."

Meanwhile Ms Hargey has told BBC News NI that the funding programme has not been shelved, and that her department's proposal is "ready to go".

"I had always said that my commitment was to bring this programme forward before the end of this mandate, that's what I was completely committed to and I was moving at pace to do that," Ms Hargey said on Tuesday.

"I'm still here as a minister, I'm willing to work out around that executive table. I want to see this money released."