Efforts to progress a scheme to upgrade football stadia in Northern Ireland in the absence of an Executive have received the support of some Stormont ministers, Deirdre Hargey has said.
The Communities Minister updated the Assembly on the £36.2 million programme, telling them that there were still “legal impediments” to be overcome.
Last month, Ms Hargey said she would be unable to progress the long-awaited scheme to redevelop local sub-regional football stadia due to the absence of a functioning executive.
She claimed while the funding has been secured for the initiative, the approval of the wider Executive is required before it can progress to allocating funding for projects at specific grounds.
Ms Hargey blamed the DUP for the situation, claiming the party’s decision to pull Paul Givan out of the prime minister’s role in protest at the Northern Ireland Protocol meant the stadia program had to be placed on hold until a functioning administration is back in place.
The DUP disputed this position and contrasted it with the minister’s insistence that the redevelopment of the GAA’s Casement Park in west Belfast can continue despite the Stormont crisis.
During ministerial question time on Monday, Ms Hargey told MLAs: “I have undertaken a number of actions to progress this program in the absence of a functioning Executive.
“I have met with representatives from both the Irish Football Association (IFA) and NI Football League (NIFL) to reaffirm my commitment to this program and to provide clarity on the work undertaken to progress the programme.
“I issued a letter to the Finance Minister to seek assistance in addressing the cost increases that inflation has brought to the programme.”
She added: “I have also written twice to Executive colleagues to seek support for my efforts to advance this flagship programme.
“In my follow-up letter I clarified I would be grateful for colleagues’ views and willingness to help progress the program in the absence of an Executive and I can confirm I have received some responses.
“I have got some support from some ministers around progressing the program and doing all that we can to get round the impediment of no Executive.
“I still await the response of a few other ministers to my letters.”
She told the Assembly that the ministers who had responded to her were Finance Minister Conor Murphy, Justice Minister Naomi Long, Education Minister Michelle McIlveen and Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon.
DUP MLA George Robinson asked: “Would the minister agree that if her party and other parties in this Assembly would join with the DUP to oppose the protocol this money could be distributed to those clubs tomorrow morning?”
Ms Hargey said: “If we had a functioning Executive I could bring a formal paper to them in terms of the finance and the next phase. I don’t know quite frankly what the protocol has to do with the sub-regional stadia programme.”
TUV leader Jim Allister asked: “To be clear, is the minister saying that contrary to what she told this house, that this funding couldn’t be released without Executive approval, that it now could be released on the foot of a positive response from other ministers.
“And if so, has she got the money that would be necessary?”
The minister said: “Firstly, the money has been secured, it is a commitment on behalf of the Executive.
“We still have an impediment in terms of no functioning Executive, but what I have communicated to Executive ministers is my attempt to try and progress this programme.
“I have, in the absence of an Executive, asked those ministers to work with me.
“But we still need to work through those legal impediments which may arise as a result on no functioning Executive.”
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.