MILK CUP: Funding row escalates

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THE row over funding from the Northern Ireland Tourist Board escalated this week with local MP Gregory Campbell calling on the body to review its funding criteria.

Mr Campbell raised the issue with the tourism minister Arlene Foster after it emerged the board has refused money for two international youth football tournaments - The Milk Cup and The Foyle Cup.

The tourist board backed its decision saying it would only grant money to events that are proven to support tourism.

But Mr Campbell questioned the decision pointing out both competitions had ‘attracted many tens of thousand of visitors down through the years’.

“The tourist board will tell you they have to be very strict in terms of the criteria that has to be met for every application, and I fully accept that,” he said.

“However, on the other side of the coin there are organisations and events such as the Foyle Cup and the Milk Cup which are not just outstanding but have a track record and have attracted many tens of thousand of visitors down through the years.

“If the criteria is such as to debar organisations such as the Milk Cup and the Foyle Cup then we’ve got to look at the criteria.”

The Northern Ireland Tourist Board defended its decisions though and said its application process was “robust”.

A spokesperson said its events scheme aims to grow visitor numbers and revenue through events.

“Unfortunately, the Foyle Cup did not achieve a passable score for public funding as a tourist event,” he said.

“This decision was upheld following appeal. Ten key criteria, including visitor numbers, economic impact and capacity for event growth, were assessed.”

Last week the chairmen of the Milk Cup and the Foyle Cup criticised the decision by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board to withdraw funding.

Milk Cup chief Victor Leonard said there was a problem with the criteria.

Michael Hutton from the Foyle Cup said this year’s tournament would go ahead, but not on the same scale as previous years.

Mr Hutton also questioned the future of the Foyle Cup without this funding.

He said: “We were hoping to bring over certain teams from Europe. Without this funding we will not be able to do that and the quality of the tournament will be affected.

“If we do not get central government support, I do not see us continuing.”

Around 130 young teams and thousands of supporters will pour into Derry in mid-July this year for the six-day tournament, which costs £130,000 to stage.

Thousands more from across the world will arrive in the last week of July in Coleraine and surrounding towns for the Milk Cup.

Jim Sandford from the Milk Cup said that it was ‘a very bad reflection on the Tourist Board if they can’t see fit to fund such events’.

He said: “Part of the problem is the Tourist Board don’t tell you until a very late stage and to lose £40,000 when there was never any reason to suggest you weren’t going to get it is a blow.

“It is a very major chunk out of the funding, especially as we are not there to make a profit. It’s a disgrace.”