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GAA and other sports premises without bars to pay no rates, finance minister says

Tattyreagh GAA club in Co Tyrone had previously raised concerns about its rates bill

GAA clubs and other amateur sporting premises without bars will no longer have to pay any rates under changes confirmed by the finance minister.

The move, which brings GAA facilities in line with Orange halls, was welcomed on Tuesday night by former Sinn Féin MLA Daithi McKay in his first public comments since resigning over a Stormont 'coaching' controversy.

Máirtín Ó Muilleoir announced that sporting clubs can apply for 100 per cent rates relief from Land and Property Services from today.

The Department of Finance had carried out a consultation on extending rates exemptions over the summer.

The Sinn Fein minister told the assembly on Tuesday: "These regulations now implement the consultation proposals that will secure an increase from 80 per cent to 100 per cent rate support for community amateur sports clubs without a licensed bar area on their premises.

"My department has taken account of a range of views expressed during the recent consultation and this has informed the final shape of the scheme.

"This change has struck the right balance between the interests of amateur sport on the one hand and the commercial sector on the other."

Orange halls and other community buildings have been exempt from rates since 2006 and plans to include sporting premises were first proposed three years ago.

The GAA has campaigned for an end to rates bills which it said are inflated because of "non-profit-making" stands in its grounds.

In March, Tattyreagh GAA club near Omagh said it was facing being "put out of business" after building new stands which had pushed up its bill.

Last year Mr McKay attempted to bring in a bill that would have exempted sports clubs from paying rates.

However, the DUP used the controversial petition of concern mechanism at Stormont to defeat the legislation.

The bill would also have included sporting premises with bars, with Hospitality Ulster expressing concern that they would be given an unfair advantage over pubs, hotels and restaurants.

Mr McKay resigned as an assembly member in August after claims he and another Sinn Féin member, Thomas O'Hara, coached loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson as a witness to a Stormont inquiry into the sale of Nama's northern loans portfolio.

The former North Antrim MLA, who has not spoken publicly since his resignation, wrote on Facebook last night that he was pleased by the rate relief news "after three years of campaigning".

"Thanks to the 1,000 + people that responded to my Private Members Bill consultation, that attended the public meetings throughout the north and to everyone that helped organise the public consultations that were held," he wrote.

"The idea came from a cup of tea I had with a man back in Ballycastle in early 2013 and he will be happy tonight!"

Mr McKay said the move will save GAA, soccer and other sporting clubs hundreds of pounds, although he added that the "bar issue" still needed to be addressed.

"A good day for sport clubs that will make me happy in my retirement!" he wrote.

"Now back to my social media detox!"

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