Northern Ireland

Council urged to overturn decision not to support Down GAA funding application

Newry, Mourne and Down council’s failure to back Ballykinlar centre of excellence bid was met with disappointment

Planning approval for Down GAA's centre of excellence was granted by Newry, Mourne and Down District Council in 2021
Down GAA's proposed centre of excellence at Ballykinlar

Councillors have been urged to reverse a “short-sighted and potentially catastrophic” decision not to support Down GAA’s bid for EU funding for its new centre of excellence.

Newry, Mourne and Down District Council’s enterprise, regeneration and tourism (ERT) committee last month took a behind closed doors decision not to back Down GAA’s application to secure £10m for its new facility at the former British army barracks at Ballykinlar.

Committee chair and Sinn Féin councillor Mickey Ruane later said the council was not in a position to support the application for PEACE-Plus funding as it would be “in direct competition” with the local authority’s planned wellbeing hub in Warrenpoint.

The decision, which was regarded as a major setback in the effort to secure EU funding, is understood to have been met with both shock and disappointment in Down GAA circles.

While securing the EU funds is not contingent on council backing, the local authority’s support is nonetheless seen as crucial to the bid.

Down hurling boss Ronan Sheehan told The Irish News he would be “absolutely stunned” if the council ratified the ERT committee’s recommendation not to back the Ballykinlar project, which would include four flood-lit pitches as well as a museum dedicated to cross community education and remembrance.

Down hurling manager Ronan Sheehan. PICTURE PHILIP WALSH

The former army barracks at Ballykinlar holds historical significance as the place used to intern future Taoiseach Sean Lemass in 1920, as well as the Hooded Men in 1971.

“I genuinely couldn’t believe it, or understand the logic because the council have given them land, are providing funding, they were only being asked here to sign a letter of support,” Mr Sheehan said.

At Monday night’s full council meeting, councillors will be given the opportunity to ratify or overturn the ERT committee’s decision.

Independent councillor Jarlath Tinnelly said the committee’s decision not to support Down GAA’s funding application was “short-sighted and potentially catastrophic for the future of the Ballykinlar project”.

“With over 40 clubs and many thousands of GAA members within our county who desperately want to see Ballykinlar developed, it is genuinely bewildering to try and figure out what came over the ERT members at last month’s committee meeting,” he said.

“Irrespective of any advice given to councillors before that vote the consequences of their decision are so far reaching that it just cannot go unchallenged.”

Mr Tinnelly said he would be urging his fellow councillors to “get this decision overturned”.

“I would plead with my colleagues on the ERT committee to consider the potential damage and fallout from the decision previously reached and be mature enough and humble enough to admit they have made a mistake and vote with me to ensure that NM&DDC do in fact unequivocally support Down GAA and their application to secure over £10 million of European funding, by approving that a letter of support be issued immediately,” he said.

A Sinn Féin spokesperson told The Irish News the party had supported the development of a Down GAA centre of excellence at Ballykinlar and looked forward to “once again demonstrating our commitment to supporting Gaelic games in Newry, Mourne & Down.”

“Sinn Féin will continue working with both council and Down GAA throughout the process to ensure this project can progress smoothly,” the spokesperson said.