Northern Ireland news

GAA defended as unionists concerned at hardship fund allocation

SDLP assembly member Justin McNulty
Connla Young and Rebecca Black

A FORMER All-Ireland winner has defended the GAA after unionists voiced concerns over claims that 40 per cent of a hardship fund for sports clubs has been allocated to the association.

Ex-Armagh star and SDLP assembly member Justin McNulty was responding after DUP MLA Jonathan Buckley said he had "considerable concern" with the distribution of the fund to date.

The Hardship Fund for Sport was launched by the Department for Communities to support sports clubs and organisations amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The £500,000 fund distributes grants of up to £2,000 to help organisations meet essential overheads and maintain their facilities during lockdown.

However high demand saw the fund close to new applications within days.

Mr Buckley claimed yesterday that 40 per cent of the funding has been awarded to the GAA.

He claimed this "is grossly weighted", and asked what consultation had been held with sports organisations and what consideration had been given to equality across sporting sectors.

Mr McNulty last night said that the GAA was one of the largest sporting organisations in the north and pointed out that it serves several codes including football, hurling, camogie, ladies football and handball.

“There has to be fairness and equity in terms of delivery on all sports schemes,” he said.

“I assume the GAA would make up about 40 per cent of sports clubs out there and I don't see what the problem is.

“The GAA has the biggest support by far.”

Communities minister Deirdre Hargey said demand had been unprecedented.

"It's not enough money to meet the need and obviously we don't have enough money to meet all of the need that is out there, but we did move quick with Sport NI and also the Sports Forum, which represents a variety of sports organisations in terms of the delivery of this fund," she said.

"That scheme was launched, everyone got the same information at the same time... obviously the demand has been unprecedented, we had to suspend it because we just need to look at assessing the applications that are in and we will see what money can be made available.

"I take no role in terms of the assessments of applications."

In response to a question from Alliance MLA Chris Lyttle, Ms Hargey added she would like to get the hardship fund "started again as soon as possible if I can get the money available to me".

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