Football funding: Fury as Hargey says £36m stadium boost can't go ahead

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Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey

Q Radio Sport/PA

A funding scheme to upgrade football stadiums in Northern Ireland cannot be progressed without an Executive, Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey has told MLAs.

In 2015, the Executive allocated £36 million for the sub-regional programme for local football.

During ministerial question time Ms Hargey said the programme needed to be signed off by the Executive, and she was now unable to do this.

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

But the DUP said the scheme had been with the minister for two years and should have been progressed before now.

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.”

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.”

Alliance Assembly member Chris Lyttle: "I’ve played, coached and been inspired by football all my life. I will not play politics with football. DUP and SF Ministers have both had the authority to release the £40m Football Stadia Fund. It will empower people across our community and must be allocated without delay."

Green councillor Brian Smyth: "Irish League shafted over yet again. Cliftonville and Glentoran, both vital sporting and community institutions in this city are left waiting again, alongside others."

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.”

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. 

“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, adding: “Northern Ireland deserves better, and local football clubs and supporters certainly deserve better than the repeated failure to deliver.”

Northern Ireland Football League chief executive Gerard Lawlor said: "I think this has been part of the plan for a long time, we're now waiting nearly 11 years for this.

"I don't think when we're sitting now on 14 February that the minister was ever going to deliver this in the current mandate. We've been asking for clarity.

"We've already put plans in place to take our plea elsewhere. That is currently under way and we will just continue with those plans. 

"I don't think it has gone completely, but the question for us that we haven't been able to get answered is, the money is not visible in the 2022-25 budget either for the Executive, and no upspend - there is upspend for Casement Park, but there's no money for football.

"We're being used as a political football as we have been for nearly 10 or 11 years."

Casement Park in west Belfast - development looks set to get green light 


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