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Sport NI now ready to move forward without Department holding its hand, says DUP's Givan

By Steven Beacom

Sports Minister Paul Givan has admitted that he has been alarmed at how long the controversial saga involving Sport NI and former Chief Executive Antoinette McKeown has dragged on.

Ms McKeown has stated her intention to appeal after it was announced last month that she had been dismissed from the government funded organisation following an investigation into grievance cases against her.

Prior to her sacking the ex-Consumer Council Chief Executive, appointed to Sport NI in 2013, had been suspended on full pay in March last year.

Since McKeown's dismissal she has accused Sport NI of mismanaging £30million of taxpayers money it receives and claimed the body was not fit for purpose.

It is an issue that has been the headline act in a difficult period for Sport NI, which also saw Chairman Brian Henning quit the organisation in March this year.

Givan is convinced after all the negative publicity, Sport NI is finally getting back on track and is ready to appoint a new Chairperson, Vice Chairperson and three board members early next year while a process is under way to recruit an Interim Chief Executive.

When asked about the McKeown controversy which has been going on for almost two years, Givan said: "In respect of the Chief Executive's position I don't employ the staff at Sport NI. Sport NI legally is the employment authority and it is for them to deal with employment issues. I can't get involved in that. It would be inappropriate.

"Am I alarmed at the length of time it took to deal with this and, subject to an appeal, which is within the rights of the individual, it took over 18 months and the cost associated with that. Of course that concerns me.

"That is money being taken away from sports activities so that does concern me. I want to find out about those processes and how that was managed once this is complete."

Givan added that despite all the upheaval, Sport NI is moving in the right direction thanks to the help of his Department of Communities.

"The Department put in an interim team to take forward a series of recommendations and that process has been working and it has been turning the organisation around," said the Minister.

"Sport NI is in a much better place today as a result of the support it has received from this Department to the point that we will be withdrawing our support team in there because there is confidence that Sport NI are in a place that they don't need the same hand holding that they had from this Department.

"I have met with the current acting Chairman Brian (Delaney) around this and I indicated to him that the reports I was getting from my officials responsible was that it is at the point that Sport NI can take on its own affairs without this Department being so closely involved.

"A process is in place to achieve that.

"I have to appoint a Chairman, Vice Chairman and three Board members. That will be a significant input into the Board and it is important we get the right individuals to do that.

"At this stage I haven't signed off on who that will be but the application process is finished and it is now with me to deal with that.

"It will be the New Year before I sign off on that which will allow Sport NI to move on.

"I need Sport NI to be focused on the objectives I will be setting them in the next financial year.

"That is where the focus needs to be and not on the historic issues that will have clouded people's perceptions of the organisation.

"That will have had a demoralising effect on the staff within the organisation and we need to be in the position, and I believe we are in that position, for Sport NI to move on."

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