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Minister demands talks with Sport NI after shock report meeting

By Noel McAdam

A Stormont minister has demanded an urgent meeting with the heads of Sport NI following a damning internal report.

Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin said the report sets out a "range of serious allegations and concerns" about the organisation, which is an arm's-length body of her department.

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.

A statement from Sport NI said: "(We are) aware of the minister's request to meet the Sport NI board. It would be inappropriate for Sport NI to comment any further at this time."

The minister made clear yesterday that the allegations at the centre of the report were separate from the claims raised by another Sport NI official, Paul Scott, at a Stormont committee investigating the stalled Casement Park redevelopment 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.

The Belfast Telegraph revealed Mr Scott had successfully invoked Sport NI's formal grievance procedures against Ms McKeown because of the way she had handled his complaints.

But senior DCAL sources yesterday emphasised the latest internal audit report did not flow directly from Mr Scott's evidence, and involved "wider and deeper" issues within Sport NI.

Ms McKeown, who joined Sport NI from the Consumer Council, could not be contacted but her union representative, Kevin McAdam of Unite, said she was "under suspension pending investigation into leadership issues not necessarily related to her, but to the organisation in general".

Ms Ni Chuilin said: "I will be making no further public comment on this issue until I have the opportunity to hear from Sport NI, have considered their response and decided on the best way forward."

She has, however, written to Sport NI chairman Brian Henning and the 12 members of its board asking for an urgent meeting and said she wanted to hear their response to concerns raised by their staff.

Stormont's Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee had written to DCAL "for clarification on the situation" inside Sport NI. DUP member David Hilditch said: "There should be no secrecy. As a public body, Sport NI must be accountable and transparent." SDLP member Dominic Bradley said: "Sport NI has no right to erect a wall of silence around what is going on internally."

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