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Glentoran chief frustrated as Stormont crisis latest to delay £36m funding

By Graham Luney

Glentoran chairman Stephen Henderson fears the Irish League is braced for another huge setback while the political crisis at Stormont unfolds.

A £36million raft of government funding for local football ground improvement and development was put on hold amid legal concerns and now it is difficult to see that badly needed investment emerging in the coming weeks or even months.

The much needed and long-awaited grant aid was due to have been announced to a fanfare by Communities Minister Paul Givan last month but the Belfast Telegraph revealed that the process needed stringent legal checks to ensure every detail is completely fair, equitable and watertight against any legal challenge or judicial review application from clubs unhappy with their share of the pot.

The entire portfolio was referred to the office of the Attorney General John Larkin for a definitive legal opinion on the integrity of the proposed awards.

But as a political crisis threatens to bring down Northern Ireland's power sharing government, the Irish League clubs look like being losers as any potential stadium funding is kicked into the long grass.

While all the clubs will be frustrated by any further delay in funding to transform facilities, Glentoran are set to feel the most pain as they were hopeful of receiving £10m towards their planned redevelopment of The Oval.

That is a huge, ambitious project and Glens fans have waited so long for positive stadium redevelopment news that they have virtually given up hope. The Stormont crisis will only serve up more frustration for The Oval faithful as well as fans of other Irish League clubs in desperate need of new, improved facilities.

Glens chairman Henderson said: "The political crisis at Stormont is undoubtedly a setback for Glentoran and the Irish League because we had reached the stage where there was going to be an announcement from the Sports Minister regarding investment for football grounds and it's now very uncertain whether there is any scope for a decision to be taken to allow that funding to be released.

"The funding had been approved by the Northern Ireland Executive but as the political climate changes dramatically the fear is that the money will not be forthcoming in the near future.

"This is a very frustrating development for Glentoran and other Irish League clubs. The longer the delay the frustration deepens because building costs will be higher.

"From Glentoran's perspective we are also slightly frustrated not just with local politicians but with other clubs in the Irish League and their actions which have contributed to the delay in the funding announcement."

The east Belfast giants say they have been starved of funding at a time when Windsor Park has never looked more modern.

Henderson added: "This club has been waiting since 2012 for funding from the Executive and that has not been forthcoming while other clubs have received funding such as Crusaders, Cliftonville, Portadown and Ballymena. Linfield have their own agreement with the Irish Football Association.

"Meanwhile, Coleraine and ourselves have been waiting patiently for investment. We had received funding for floodlights at The Oval before 2012 but nothing since and we are looking at a total rebuild of The Oval.

"It's a significant project which cannot be completed after receiving small amounts of money. It's a rebuild from scratch and there are issues such as drainage that have to be addressed to make a new ground feasible.

"Funding of £1million and £2million is not going to provide the desirable, sustainable model that is needed."

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