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Call for probe into Sport NI claims and DCAL's handling of the quango

By Rebecca Black

Published 09/04/2016

Sports Minister Caral Ní Chuilín
Sports Minister Caral Ní Chuilín
Exclusive: Our story yesterday

The former chairman of Stormont's culture, arts and leisure committee has called for an inquiry into Sport NI.

Nelson McCausland said revelations from the body's ex-chairman Brian Henning in yesterday's Belfast Telegraph had raised questions about the organisation.

Mr Henning claimed Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin told him and his vice chair Ian McAvoy to resign or be sacked.

Last week the minister said both the chair and vice chair felt "the time was right to step aside to allow some new leadership on the board of Sport NI".

In a statement to the Belfast Telegraph yesterday, Ms Ni Chuilin defended her decision, saying it was "absolutely clear" from the findings of the interim executive leadership team (IELT) report that there was "a need to refresh the board at the highest level".

Sport NI has faced a number of challenges in recent years, including the suspension of chief executive Antoinette McKeown, who is currently the subject of separate grievance proceedings; nine of the 14 board members resigning last year, and allegations from staff of widespread poor treatment and bad practice.

Mr Henning claimed relations between Sport NI and the Department for Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) had been "toxic" for some time. He accused DCAL officials of lacking any understanding or feeling for sport here, adding that he had been disappointed by Ms Ni Chuilin's ministerial style and leadership.

However, he said he felt Sport NI had been turning a corner before he and Mr McAvoy were summoned to a meeting with Ms Ni Chuilin (below) last week to discuss the IELT report. It found that a third of Sport NI staff claimed to have been the victim of workplace bullying and discrimination and that there was an absence of clear leadership and direction from the board and senior management team.

"The minister came in and read a prepared statement in which she said she was concerned about the report's findings before telling us she would be asking us to submit our resignations by 11am the next day or she would sack us," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

Ms Ni Chuilin responded, saying: "On receipt of the IELT report, and having given careful consideration to its findings and recommendations, it was clear to me that a change at the very top of Sport NI was necessary to ensure that the organisation could move forward. I shared the report with Mr Henning and discussed my concerns and, having considered his position, he offered his resignation, as did Mr McAvoy."

She added: "I must emphasise that a key role for any chair in any public body is accountability and leadership, and it is the gravity of the issues contained in the IELT report that undermined my confidence in those leading the organisation. Let me be absolutely clear, leadership of the organisation is a key responsibility of any chair of a board. The chair of the board of Sport NI is no exception. It is absolutely clear from the findings of the IELT report that there was a need to refresh the board at the highest level."

The Sinn Fein minister also insisted she had "led from the front in relation to sport".

Calling for a probe into some of Mr Henning's concerns, Mr McCausland said: "I would like to see the inquiry completed and then a parallel piece of work on DCAL and Sport NI."

Belfast Telegraph

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