Belfast Telegraph

Sport NI in meltdown as nine board members resign after damning report

By Steven Alexander

Troubled Sport NI has been rocked after the mass resignation of nine board members in the wake of a damning internal report.

Caral NiίChuilin - the Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure - met with the Board of Sport NI last night to discuss what she had described as a "range of serious allegations and concerns" about the organisation.

Read more: Sport NI crisis: Who are the nine board members who've resigned?

But before the meeting with the board, nine of the 14 members offered their resignations - which Ms Ni Chuilin immediately accepted.

Last night the DUP's David Hilditch - a member of the Stormont committee that scrutinises the work of the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) - told the Belfast Telegraph that the resignations were "massive".

There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing on the part of any board member. Mr Hilditch said it was indicative of the underlying problems surrounding Sport NI.

"I am shocked that this runs so deep that nine board members tendered their resignations," the East Antrim MLA said.

"There is a lot to do to get to the bottom of all this to see what exactly has been going on.

"A very serious situation is unfolding."

The minister had demanded last night's meeting on Friday after an internal report detailed a "range of serious allegations and concerns" about Sport NI.

The arm's-length body of Ms NiίChuilin's department has been plagued by controversy in recent months.

The concerns relate to "the leadership, management and the overall culture within Sport NI", whose chief executive Antoinette McKeown was suspended earlier this year following a number of grievances lodged both by her and against her.

The minister made clear on Friday that the allegations at the centre of the report were separate from bullying claims raised by another Sport NI official, safety expert Paul Scott, who had claimed his fears of a potential Hillsborough-type disaster at a revamped 38,000-seater Casement Park had been ignored.

SDLP MLA Karen McKevitt said she was shocked at what had happened and that the resignations had been immediately accepted.

The South Down MLA said the minister should appear before an extra DCAL committee meeting that had been called for Thursday to explain what had happened.

"I would expect the minister to have her finger on the pulse and to be given the opportunity to address the DCAL committee urgently," she said.

"We need to know the reasons for the resignations, and we need to be able to protect the staff and Sport NI's programmes for the public."

In a statement issued last night, Ms Ni Chuilin said she met with the board of Sport NI "and advised them of my deep concerns at the issues raised by their staff with the head of internal audit".

"Just prior to the meeting I was advised that nine members of the board of Sport NI have tendered their resignation with immediate effect. I am accepting their resignations and wish to thank them for their efforts in promoting and fostering sport during their time in office," she said.

"Given the ongoing challenges in Sport NI, I am taking steps to intervene directly to support both staff and the remaining board members.

"I also wish to advise staff that their concerns are being taken seriously and that they will be fully addressed. I have arranged to meet again with the remaining board members later this week and will be making no further public comment in advance of this meeting." On Friday, Ms McKeown's union representative said she was "under suspension pending investigation into leadership issues not necessarily related to her, but to the organisation in general".

Neither the minister nor Ms McKeown were available for comment last night.

Belfast Telegraph


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