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Sport NI chief Antoinette McKeown 'shocked' at sacking after 18 months

Dramatic development throws the future of organisation into doubt

By Jim McDowell

Published 24/11/2016

Sport NI chief executive Antoinette McKeown has been sacked
Sport NI chief executive Antoinette McKeown has been sacked
Paul Scott

The head of Sport NI says it was a "shocking decision" to sack her from the post and confirmed she will be launching an appeal immediately.

Sport NI's dramatic move to get rid of their chief executive Antoinette McKeown was confirmed yesterday in response to a Belfast Telegraph inquiry.

A short, abrupt statement released from the sporting body's Malone Road headquarters said: "Following a disciplinary process, the CEO, Antoinette McKeown, has been dismissed, subject to appeal.

"Sport NI are unable to make any further comment."

Ms McKeown was appointed head of Sport NI in June 2013. A former CEO of the Northern Ireland Consumer Council, she was the first female boss of Sport NI.

However, her spell in the sports hotseat was marred by a litany of rows.

A number of staff levelled accusations of harassment and bullying in the workplace.

And she faced a barrage of questions, not least from politicians at Stormont, concerning safety issues over the multi-million pound development of the GAA's Casement Park.

Pointed queries were continuously pursued by unionist MLAs in particular about when safety concerns were first revealed to the then Sinn Fein Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin. There was also a bitter dispute which spanned the whole way from Sport NI's HQ to Stormont involving the whistleblower on the Casement safety issues, Paul Scott. A Sport NI employee, he very publicly aired accusations of harassment and bullying at an Assembly committee meeting. Both Mr Scott and Ms McKeown were suspended from their jobs - the CEO as far back as March 2015.

Just weeks ago, Mr Scott, who was chairman of the Safety Technical Group charged with monitoring the Casement Park development, won an industrial tribunal case taken against Sport NI.

The day before the case was due to be heard, it was settled in Mr Scott's favour and on his terms.

It remains to be seen whether Ms McKeown now takes a case to an industrial tribunal or any other form of redress open to her.

It is understood that the staff of Sport NI - it's believed that there are over 100 employees - were informed of their CEO's dismissal by email yesterday afternoon.

One source said: "To be honest, this came as no surprise."

But the latest dramatic development now throws the future of the whole Sport NI organisation into deeper doubt after a year and a half of controversy and turmoil.

Some MLAs have let it be known that they want the body scrapped.

DUP MLA William Humphrey is already on record as saying it is "no longer fit for purpose".

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