Belfast Telegraph

Sport NI saga continues as boss lodges industrial and employment tribunal claims

 

By Jim McDowell

The chief executive of Sport NI is taking the organisation and a Stormont department to industrial and fair employment tribunals, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

Antoinette McKeown's joint actions were confirmed by the Department for the Economy, which oversees both tribunal set-ups.

The latest revelation to rock Sport NI comes days after this newspaper disclosed that it is already facing a bill of over £250,000 in legal and professional fees.

These have been racked up in a series of tribunal cases and complaints filed by other Sport NI staff.

We also reported that another former employee's case which is pending - and which may end up in the High Court - could cost tens of thousands of pounds more.

The CEO's tribunal claims come after she was first dismissed as boss of the Belfast-based sports umbrella agency last November, and then reinstated to the top job nine months later.

The previous quarter of a million pounds paid in legal and professional fees took up a sizeable gap in Sport NI's annual £30m budget.

The CEO's double industrial and fair employment tribunal cases will inevitably drain the agency's finances - paid for out of the public purse.

It is understood that Ms McKeown's tribunal claims will focus on alleged gender and religious discrimination and loss of reputation.

Yesterday, a spokesperson for the Department for the Economy said: "I can confirm that Antoinette McKeown has lodged claims to an industrial tribunal and to the fair employment tribunal. The named respondents are Sport NI and the Department for Communities."

He said "the matters are not currently listed for hearing", but the statement does rubber-stamp that the claims are on file and live.

Sport NI, with Ms McKeown at the helm, stated earlier this week that it is making no comment about personnel matters.

Meanwhile, new claims have emerged regarding the running internal turmoil at Sport NI's Malone Road headquarters.

They come from the same whistleblower who revealed details of the £250,000 legal and professional fees bill already run up by the agency.

Yesterday, he said that figure "may well be a glass ceiling statistic", and that the current bill - even before Ms McKeown's cases are heard - "could be significantly more".

He also claimed that:

  • Up to 50% of staff have either taken or expressed interest in the Civil Service voluntary exit (retirement/redundancy) scheme "as a result of tensions in the organisation".
  • Staff have, or are currently in the process of moving, because they no longer want to work there.
  • And that the projected figure of at least seven cases of alleged complaints already filed by Sport NI staff could spiral.

Reacting to the earlier revelation about the £250,000 legal and professional fees bill, Ulster Unionist MLA Mike Nesbitt called for an independent review into Sport NI.

He said a review should lead to a mediation procedure being set up within the agency which would ensure public money - which is supposed to nurture sport from the grass roots level up - should not be spent this way in the future.

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