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Culture of fear within crisis-hit Sport NI, Ni Chuilin tells MLAs

By Noel McAdam

Published 10/07/2015

Caral Ni Chuilin
Caral Ni Chuilin
Basil McCrea

A "culture of fear" exists inside crisis-hit quango Sport NI, a Stormont minister has revealed.

Relationships across the organisation have "broken down", Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin admitted.

But the Sinn Fein minister insisted she had "no idea" why two-thirds of Sport NI board members - nine out of 14 - had quit en masse earlier this week.

"It's a complete mystery to me why the board resigned," she told the Assembly committee that monitors her department (DCAL), of which Sport NI is an arm's-length body.

Around a tenth of the 140 staff of Sport NI have made allegations, including sexism, gender bias, harassment and bullying - and more complainants are coming forward.

The minister has imposed an interim executive team of civil servants after the board members' walkout. It followed an internal audit that revealed a range of allegations relating to the leadership and management within Sport NI. Its chief executive Antoinette McKeown was suspended earlier this year following a number of grievances lodged both by her and against her.

Ms Ni Chuilin yesterday said when she put allegations being made by staff to the remaining five board members, including chairman Brian Henning, they were "quite shocked". "There is a culture of fear in the organisation where people are afraid to come forward," she told MLAs yesterday.

Committee chairman Nelson McCausland - a former Sports Minister - asked who was afraid and what were they scared of.

"Two-thirds of a board resigning in one go is incredible. I can't recall another body where it has happened. We need to know some reason why nine people resigned," he said.

Ms Ni Chuilin said the nine had not given her the courtesy of meeting her to set out their reasons, but that was their prerogative.

But she also said she had not had the time to find out, since her prime concern was the staff of the organisation, who were entitled to protection. NI21 leader Basil McCrea said the minister should consider her position.

He said: "I think that you have failed. Completely and utterly. I think your department has failed.

"All of those people that you are now saying there are serious problems with - you, your department, your senior officials have failed those people because you had a review in 2013 where you said there were problems and you were going to fix them.

"You said in 2014 you were going to fix them and you are back to the same thing again.

"You should consider your position.

"You are not doing your job."

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