Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 24 September 2014

Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin backs Windsor Park revamp in cash threat U-turn

Artist's impression of new Windsor Park upgrade
Artist's impression of new Windsor Park upgrade
Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin
Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin

Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin has done a U-turn over funding for the redevelopment of Windsor Park – saying she is now committed to ensuring it goes ahead.

Her Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) had pledged £25m to renovate the grounds, which are home to Linfield and play host to Northern Ireland's national side.

But in an unexpected twist earlier this month, the minister threatened to pull the funding until the Irish Football Association had "appropriate governance".

Ms Ni Chuilin's bombshell announcement had followed the controversial re-appointment of David Martin to the Irish Football Association board.

Mr Martin was forced to leave the IFA in 2010 after an unfair dismissal case from former chief executive Howard Wells cost the IFA £500,000. The IFA then introduced competency tests, requested by Stormont, for those put in place for all senior positions.

However, these tests were later dropped by the IFA and Mr Martin, who has failed three of the competency tests ordered by the government for IFA office-bearers, was able to return as deputy president.

At the time, Ms Ni Chuilin told the Assembly: "I need to be assured that appropriate governance and accountability structures have been maintained. Until that happens, I can't sign off on any agreement."

But yesterday at Stormont the minister appeared to have had a change of heart. She told the DCAL committee she was "confident we will achieve a resolution". "What I don't want is for anybody to think that the deadlines won't be met because we've encountered a problem," said Ms Ni Chuilin.

When asked about the June 2015 completion date for the Windsor Park project, Ms Ni Chuilin said: "Am I still committed to making sure Windsor Park happens? Absolutely."

She continued: "My intention is to move on and I am confident we can get these issues with IFA dealt with and move on to deliver a facility that will be world class," she added.

The Windsor Park redevelopment comes as part of a £110m DCAL package to the Ulster Rugby ground and GAA's Casement Park.

BACKGROUND

In February 2013, planning permission was granted for a new football stadium at Windsor Park. A total of £25m was pledged from the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure to renovate the grounds. But issues arose this year when David Martin was elected to the IFA board as deputy president. In 2010, Mr Martin was forced to quit, with the Government saying they could not release funding for Windsor while he and then president Raymond Kennedy were in office. The minister threatened to pull funds until IFA had "appropriate governance".

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