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Northern Ireland stadium funding project ‘ready to go’

Deirdre Hargey, Northern Ireland’s Communities Minister, has moved to clarify that a £36m (€43m/$49m) funding project for football stadiums in the country remains on the agenda.

Hargey had said yesterday (Monday) that she would be unable to progress the plan following the collapse of Northern Ireland’s power-sharing Executive, with First Minister Paul Givan resigning from his post earlier this month.

The funding plan was first proposed in 2015 and Hargey said yesterday that the proposal is unable to be passed as it requires Executive sign-off.

Hargey has today reiterated that the plans will need Executive sign-off but has insisted the proposal is “ready to go”.

She told BBC News Northern Ireland: “I am ready to bring proposals forward before the end of this mandate. The budget is there and I do think that it’s incumbent on those other parties, particularly the DUP who walked away, to look at that because this is the impact of their decision.”

Following Hargey’s comments yesterday, Patrick Nelson, chief executive of the Irish Football Association, released a statement emphasising the need for investment in Northern Ireland’s stadiums.

Nelson said that the Irish FA had previously expressed concern to senior department officials on the “lack of engagement” from Hargey on reviewing the outputs from a group comprising officials from the Department for Communities, the Strategic Investment Board, Sport NI, the Chief Leisure Officers Association (CLOA) and the Northern Ireland Football League (NIFL).

Glentoran would be one of the main benefactors from the funding plan and is set to receive an investment of £10m to develop its Oval stadium.

Hargey said today: “When I looked at the original programme that was dated nearly 10 years previous to that I felt we needed to do a refresh and re-engagement exercise in terms of looking at that programme because the consultation that was done back in 2016 was already four years out of date.

“We have worked at speed and don’t forget that we had a pandemic in the midst of that, where my focus was also making sure that those clubs could stay alive throughout the pandemic. There were calls from many soccer clubs and indeed other sports that they were going to go to the wall, and I made sure that I stood up urgent funding that those clubs needed and indeed stabilised them over that period.

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

The redevelopment of Belfast’s Casement Park would not be impacted if the football stadium funding proposal does not receive the green light.

Image: Pastor Sam/CC BY 3.0/Edited for size