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Political row goes down a tweet as social media debate sees Irish League stadium funding hit Stormont agenda

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The Oval

The Oval

The Oval

Sammy Wilson v Naomi Long - it wasn't exactly the football battle Irish League fans were expecting yesterday but that's what they got as two of Northern Ireland's most high-profile politicians had their say on stadium funding.

It is a long-running saga which dates back to 2015 when the Northern Ireland Executive allocated £36.2million to football through the Sub Regional Stadia Programme.

With the Executive collapsing in January 2017, the cash was never released.

A government consultation had recommended Glentoran receive an investment of £10million to upgrade The Oval. Another strand of £17m was available to other 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 £3million for Championship clubs, while the same figure was put towards intermediate and junior football and a further £3million for a national training centre.

The topic was a subject of discussion this week when DUP MP for Belfast East Gavin Robinson called on the Sports Minister Deirdre Hargey to engage with Glentoran about the issue and to treat the matter with "urgency".

Robinson added: "Clubs such as Glentoran need to see a substantive action plan but, ultimately, a timeframe for the roll out of the new stadium fund."

In response to those comments, Larne owner Kenny Bruce tweeted: "Here here. All clubs urgently need this redevelopment funding. Please support us to create jobs, opportunities, increased revenue for local businesses and improve the health & well-being of all people within our community."

Enter the DUP's Sammy and Alliance's Naomi.

In response to Bruce, east Antrim MP Wilson tweeted: "You have my full support. The Communities Minister needs to end the dither and delay and release this crucial funding."

Cue Justice Minister Long, who replied: "It was your colleague Paul Givan (former Sports Minister) who abandoned the original commitment to Glentoran when Communities Minister in 2016-17 and instead put a freeze on sub-regional stadia funding.

"This could have been delivered at that time.

"Hopefully, there'll be no more false dawns."

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