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Tenth of staff at Sport NI have submitted complaints

By Noel McAdam

Published 08/07/2015

Adamant: Sports minister Ni Chuilin
Adamant: Sports minister Ni Chuilin

Around one in 10 of the entire workforce at crisis-hit Sport NI has complained about their treatment, it has been revealed.

Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin disclosed the number of staff who had made allegations - including bullying - was in double figures.

Senior sources in the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure also confirmed complainants now amount to 10% of the staff - signalling a massive wave of anger and discontent in the organisation.

The concerning figures were revealed after the shock resignations of nine of Sport NI's 14 board members on Monday.

There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing on the part of any board member.

The Sinn Fein minister is to meet the remnants of the Sport NI Board again today.

With two-thirds of the board quitting - and chief executive Antoinette McKeown suspended - Ms Ni Chuilin is expected to spell out the future for Sport NI, at least for the short-term.

But while she has signalled her intention to stand down as minister after the next Assembly election, she insisted she would not be quitting over the Sport NI situation.

She has agreed to appear before the Stormont committee that monitors her department, possibly as early as tomorrow.

Its chairman, former DUP Sports Minister Nelson McCausland, said the developments were "shocking and unprecedented" and confirmed his scrutiny committee will want to quiz those who have resigned.

"It is a whole quagmire, we need to get to the bottom of it," he added.

Last Friday Sport NI board members were summoned to an urgent meeting with the minister following a damning internal report that set out concerns about "the leadership, management and the overall culture within Sport NI".

But the board members, who are all volunteers, were in contact over the weekend and decided to stand down before the meeting on Monday evening took place.

"Significant numbers of staff within Sport NI, now into double figures, have brought their concerns to my department," Ms Ni Chuilin said yesterday.

"I will ensure that not only those staff are protected as fully as possible, but indeed try to ensure other members of staff who may feel they want to come forward, that it's appropriate to do so."

In a joint letter to the minister, the nine who resigned en masse said: "We have at all times operated professionally and competently with openness, honesty and integrity and with the best of motives for sport and Sport Northern Ireland.

"Regretfully we believe the conditions no longer exist in which we feel we can make this important contribution to sport and we now wish to resign with immediate effect."

In response, Sport NI chairman Brian Henning said: "Their resignations are a great loss to (us) and the expertise and input they provided into sports development at all levels in Northern Ireland has been invaluable."

Senior sources yesterday insisted the issues at the centre of the crisis fall outside the controversy surrounding the redevelopment of Casement Park in west Belfast.

Allegations at the centre of the report are believed to run parallel to claims raised by another Sport NI official, Paul Scott, at a Stormont committee investigating the Casement Park project.

Safety expert Mr Scott told the committee he was bullied and put under "undue pressure" into passing health and safety plans despite fears the 38,000-capacity stadium could not be vacated safely in an emergency situation - giving rise to fears of a Hillsborough-type disaster.

Belfast Telegraph

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