Mickey Harte lends support to Dungiven sports complex plans

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte, chairman of Derry GAA Brian Smith, Derry All Ireland winner Kieran McKeever and Derry manager Damian Barton show their support for the campaign to get the new sports facilities in Dungiven. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin 
John Monaghan

TYRONE senior football manager Mickey Harte has come out in support of a new sports complex in Dungiven at the centre of a political wrangle.

The high profile GAA coach's support came as a public meeting took place last night in the Co Derry town. A large crowd gathered at Dungiven Sports Pavilion to hear residents voice their frustration that the plans for the £2.8 million project have stalled.

According to Sports Minister Carál Ní Chuillín, who has pledged £2.5m towards the project, it could be built with no cost to ratepayers as funding from a separate grant could make up the £339,000 shortfall.

However unionist councillors on Causeway Coast and Glen Council have insisted that sourcing the separate grant would mean the council would have no money left for other projects.

On Sunday Harte and his Derry counterpart Damien Barton posed for a photograph with a banner stating "No Politics in Sport" in an apparent show of support for the new complex.

Sinn Féin councillor Sean McGlinchey has said the motion will be listed for the third time in a month at a committee meeting due to take place tonight.

He said if unionists do not support making up the shortfall from a separate grant there were other routes to source the funds to make the project happen.

"I am proposing that the council either looks at the £70,000 a year savings it would make from the new building to cover the £339,000 gap or takes out a five year loan," he said.

The latest developments come amid an intense dispute over the stalling of the project, with the family of paralympian Ryan O'Connor initiating legal proceedings against the council.

The Ulster Unionist grouping previously said it "utterly rejects any attempt by Sinn Féin to introduce claims of sectarian motivations to the decision making process."

Unionists have also denied claims that they would feel "uncomfortable" to support funding a project in Dungiven while republicans have moved to dismiss claims there would be a trade off by ensuring no trouble at an Orange parade through the town if the project was given the go-ahead.

Work on the Co Derry facility, including halls, a gym and 3G pitch, was to begin this month, until it was blocked at a meeting of the council last month and again last Tuesday.

Sports Minister Carál Ní Chuilín said she was dismayed at the decision, describing the centre as "a no-brainer" in an area where there is a "pressing need" for such a facility.

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