The CEO of Sport NI has defended the agency’s handling of a Covid-19 hardship fund which had to be closed 48 hours after it opened for applications.
Antoinette McKeown told the Stormont communities committee the administration of the fund had been transparent and fair.
She said no sector had been informed about the funding in advance of others.
The hardship fund gave grants of £2,000 each to about 270 clubs negatively impacted by the coronavirus crisis.
However the scheme was heavily oversubscribed, with about 130 unsuccessful applications.
Closing down the scheme
The DUP’s Jonathan Buckley said he had considerable concern about the administration of the fund.
Mr Buckley pointed out that whilst GAA clubs accounted for 30% of applications they had received 36% of the funding.
The DUP MLA asked whether the programme had been subject to an equality impact assessment.
Ms McKeown said there was equality of opportunity regarding those applying to the scheme.
She told MLAs Sport NI had anticipated high demand for the fund but had hoped the Northern Ireland Executive would provide additional resources after its initial grant of half a million pounds had been exhausted.
When it became clear the executive could not provide more funding, Ms McKeown explained that, as Sport NI’s accounting officer, she had no option but to quickly close the scheme.
Ms McKeown told MLAs Sport NI has identified a further £750,000 from within its existing budget which it will now distribute to clubs that made applications to the hardship fund but were not previously successful.
Former Culture, Arts and Leisure Minister Carál Ní Chuilín said the hardship fund had been a victim of its own success.
Ms Ní Chuilín said she did not think the communities committee should go down the route of pitting GAA versus soccer.
Ms McKeown recognised widespread frustration amongst those sports clubs which did not get funding or weren’t able to send in their applications before the hardship fund closed.
She pledged to learn any lessons from the experience and suggested the committee could play a positive role by writing to the executive to request extra resources for local sporting organisations hard hit by the Covid crisis.