| 17.8°C Belfast

Local football will finally get £36.2m injection but review could see it carved up differently, says Sports Minister Hargey


Close

Cash flow: football in Northern Ireland is set to receive the financial boost promised back in 2015

Cash flow: football in Northern Ireland is set to receive the financial boost promised back in 2015

Getty Images

Cash flow: football in Northern Ireland is set to receive the financial boost promised back in 2015

Football in Northern Ireland will receive £36.2m of government money, as agreed five years ago, but there is no guarantee that the finance will go to the original designated areas, with Sports Minister Deirdre Hargey insisting that she wants to make sure "it is going to the right places".

In 2015, the Northern Ireland Executive allocated significant funds to football here through the sub regional stadia programme, though with the Executive collapsing in January 2017 the cash was never released.

Now that Stormont is up and running again, Hargey has confirmed that the £36.2m will be made available, revealing that she ordered a review into where it will end up - suggesting the Irish Football Association will play a key role in who gets what.

Previously, a government consultation had recommended Glentoran receive an investment of £10m to upgrade The Oval. Another strand of £17m was available to other Irish Premiership clubs capable of hosting fixtures with a 5,000 capacity, with teams able to apply for up to £3m to provide "quality football facilities and community facilities".

There was another £3m for Championship clubs and the same figure was to be put towards intermediate and junior football, and a further £3m for a national training centre to aid current talent and nurture future stars.

It is understood, however, that there is a possibility the goalposts could be moved in relation to some of the above, with women's football potentially an area to benefit.

Hargey said: "The New Decade New Approach deal commits to delivering on this programme in terms of the finance and the £36.2m. I'm committed to delivering that as quickly as possible.

"One of my first endeavours as Minister was to meet with our staff and sports branch in terms of getting an update on where the programme was sitting.

"I have asked for a quick review of the programme. I know there has been concern in the football fraternity that there seems to be another delay but I do have to satisfy myself that the money will be going in the right direction and that it is meeting the need, not just now but in the future as there is talk about how football may change.

"It is making sure that the investment meets those aspirations going forward. I want to make sure if the investment is going in, and it is a huge investment, that it is going to the right places and it is targeting health and safety issues and it is looking at issues of inclusion.

"My officials are engaging with the IFA and others around that in terms of their facility plan and strategy. That will be coming back to me.

"Things have changed a lot in the last couple of years, and the Department's engagement with the IFA, who lead on this in terms of the sporting code, is going to be crucial to make sure the two align.

"There is no point in us putting an investment in this way if they are going to go that way, so that is why the engagement has started. We need to have up to date information and data in order to progress this to the next stage."

Hargey and her officials will meet with the Irish FA this month with the outcome eagerly awaited by Irish League clubs, not least Glentoran.

Asked if the east Belfast club would have to start again with an application process to receive public funds, Hargey said: "It's not that the process is starting again, it is to review everything that has been there.

"It is to make sure it is still in line with what the focus of the IFA is.

"I want to satisfy myself as Minister that everything is aligned and then the money can start to flow, and to make sure the accountability and processes for applying for that money are in place and they are open and transparent.

"That is important for clubs who may not receive money, so they understand why.

"That's why I am pushing for a phase two in the future because I know that £36.2m is never going to be enough because of the facilities that are there.

"If we can do more in the coming years then I want to do that.

"Once the review takes place, I will move on it and will engage with clubs."

Belfast Telegraph