Northern Ireland news

Deirdre Hargey defends payments from £23m hardship fund to sporting organisations during pandemic

Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey

COMMUNITIES minister Deirdre Hargey has defended payments from a £23 million hardship fund to sporting organisations during the pandemic and said "due diligence" is being carried before a decision about recouping money can be made.

The Sinn Féin minister acknowledged that "change would be needed" after a scathing report by the Northern Ireland Audit Office.

Auditor General Kieran Donnelly criticised the Sports Sustainability Fund for not taking bank balances and reserves held by applicants into account, and in some cases profits were underwritten by the grants.

The scheme opened in December 2020 and was designed to help organisations to survive the financial implications of the pandemic, with Sport NI working with the Department for Communities to run it.

The Audit Office report highlighted how the largest grant of £1.5m was paid to Royal County Down Golf Club, which had a "very significant bank balance and a high level of reserves".

The payment covered the club's projected loss for the year and returned it to the same profit level as previous years.

Ms Hargey yesterday said she would take the auditor's report "seriously in the time ahead".

"Firstly all of the organisations applied for the fund based on the criteria and the governance process that was in place," she told BBC Good Morning Ulster.

"That due diligence work in terms of that process is still ongoing.

"There are lessons learned and we will take the auditor's report seriously in the time ahead.

"In terms of the environment we were operating under, we acknowledge that change would be needed and I'm willing to do that as Minister for Communities and in the context of that due diligence we will be looking at that over the coming weeks and months."

When asked if she would be looking at recouping any money, Ms Hargey said: "We will be looking at all aspects of that due diligence, in terms of the implementation of the funds set against the criteria that was set out".

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access

Northern Ireland news