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Ni Chuilin faces fresh criticism

Published 09/07/2015

Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin has denied her department is 'dysfunctional'
Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin has denied her department is 'dysfunctional'

Northern Ireland's sports minister has insisted her department is not dysfunctional.

Caral Ni Chuilin's faced fierce criticism when she appeared before the Culture, Arts and Leisure scrutiny committee at Stormont.

The Sinn Fein minister, who was forced to bat away calls to quit, also claimed she was still mystified by the resignation of nine Sport NI board members earlier this week.

She said: "Rather than hiding from challenges or denying that the challenges exist, I am dealing with the challenges.

"It's called leadership," she said.

Yesterday, the minister appointed an interim executive leadership team, made up of senior civil servants, to conduct a confidential and independent employee survey, a "cultural audit" and an evaluation of the leadership at Sport NI - a departmental arms length body.

She said the unprecedented action followed a series of whistle-blowing allegations about the leadership at Sport NI; a culture of fear; sexism and gender bias; harassment and bullying; as well as application of the HR processes within the organisation.

Ms Ni Chuilin strongly defended her intervention, telling MLAs that doing nothing was just not an option.

"To do nothing for people in distress was not an option for me," she said.

There were a number of heated exchanges when the minister clashed with committee members during the hour and a half long session at Parliament Buildings.

Among the most scathing criticism came from the DUP's William Humphrey.

He said: "We have a situation where the chief executive of National Museums Northern Ireland has stepped aside in another arms length body of your department. You have the whistle-blowing in Sport NI. You have the difficulties within the department around the inquiries around Casement Park and now you have nine members of the Sport NI board who have resigned, we don't know the position of the two that are on holiday.

"Is DCAL (Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure), under your leadership, not just dysfunctional?"

The Minister hit back: "Absolutely not."

The North Belfast MLA also raised concerns that the appointment of civil servants to Sport NI's board made the arms length body now an "integral" part of DCAL.

Meanwhile, NI21 MLA Basil McCrea claimed the minister's position was "untenable".

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."

Rejecting the attacks on her leadership, Ms Ni Chuilin accused some MLAs of playing to the cameras.

She also insisted the new mechanisms would to restore public confidence in Sport NI and help staff members through a challenging period.

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