Northern Ireland

Councillors overturn decision not to back EU funding application by Down GAA for new Centre of Excellence

Application will go ahead with council backing following vote at monthly meeting

Planning approval for Down GAA's centre of excellence was granted by Newry, Mourne and Down District Council in 2021
An artist's impression of the proposed new Down GAA centre of excellence.

An application for EU funding to build a new GAA Centre of Excellence will go ahead with council support after councillors voted to overturn a decision not to back it.

Down GAA has welcomed the u-turn following last month’s decision by a Newry, Mourne and Down District Council committee not to support the application for £10 million in funds.

Members of the council’s enterprise, regeneration and tourism (ERT) committee had voted against backing the bid by the GAA county board to get PEACE-Plus funding to build the centre in Ballykinlar.

The decision sparked surprise and anger within the county’s GAA community, which hopes to see the new centre constructed at the site of Ballykinlar’s former British army barracks, where former Taoiseach Sean Lemass was interned in 1920.

Abercorn Barracks in Ballykinler is expected to be sold off by 2018
The former Abercorn Barracks in Ballykinlar.

Following that meeting, committee chair and Sinn Féin councillor Mickey Ruane said the GAA application was in “direct competition” with the council’s own application for EU funding for a wellness hub in Warrenpoint.

However, at Monday evening’s full council meeting, councillors voted in favour of overturning the ERT committee’s decision following a debate behind closed doors.

It is understood the motion, proposed by Mr Ruane, was passed with 29 votes in favour, and six against.

Following the meeting, Sinn Féin councillor Oonagh Hanlon said her party colleagues “have been determined in resolving the matters arising following last month’s ERT committee meeting and to ensure councillors received all the correct information before this process could proceed any further”.

She added: “It is positive that the matters have now been resolved and we have been able to overturn the decision at last month’s ERT committee meeting.

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

Independent councillor Jarlath Tinnelly said he commended the “change of heart shown by those who previously refused to support the request”.

“Ballykinlar will be transformational for all the Gaels of Down, by providing state of the art facilities for all the county teams across all codes and, as has been proven across the country, when the facilities are built success on the field normally follows,” he said.

Down GAA chair Jack Devaney told The Irish News that he welcomed finally having council support for the funding application.

“We were taken aback and confused by the previous committee recommendation, whereas this decision makes a lot more sense,” he said.

“We have taken steps to engage with the council to understand what was behind the previous recommendation. There are of course a number of other projects in the mix for the EU funding, but we feel we have a strong case, and council suport for our project is important.”

The Down GAA project plans - which were approved by Newry Mourne and Down Council in 2021 - include four flood-lit pitches at the site along with a museum dedicated to cross community education and remembrance.