Unionists defiant in face of nationalist sports row anger

Unionists at the Causeway Coast and Glens were warned that their decision to continue with a spending freeze would end up costing more money.

At an emergency meeting held to discuss an ongoing impasse over plans for a sports facility in Dungiven, unionist politicians remained steadfast in their support for a spending freeze that nationalist politicians say means the project is now likely to miss out on millions in funding from the Department of Culture, Arts and Lesiure.

Sinn Féin’s Sean McGlinchey, who represents the Benbradagh ward on the new council, submitted a motion calling for the Dungiven proposal to be allowed to progress to the next stage - at an estimated cost of around £250,000 - in spite of a previous vote in favour of a spending freeze.

The Ulster Unionist Party’s William McCandless, who had proposed the spending freeze, later said: “Our decision was made on sound economic business sense and not on sectarian issues. At no time over the past weeks have the UUP said that the Dungiven project will not proceed. Our view has to be a holistic approach based on population density, areas of need and deprivation.”

Nationalists, such as the SDLP’s Orla Beattie and Sinn Féin’s Tony McCaul, said that the potential loss of £2.5 million in funding from the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure meant that it was in the best interests of rate payers to allow the Dungiven project to proceed rather than lose out on the funding.

The DUP’s George Duddy expressed doubt that the funding would definitely be available. He said: “It would have been very nice if the Minister had sent us a letter saying that the £2.5 million is going to be available.”

Sinn Féin councillor Sean McGlinchey came in for criticism from unionist councillors for previous remarks which labelled their decision to vote against allowing the Dungiven proposal to be excluded from the spending freeze as ‘sectarian’.

Cllr Richard Holmes stated that he wanted to “Put on record my disgust at being labelled sectarian over the decision to delay the Dungiven project. The decision to delay this project, like the decision to delay the leisure services projects in Ballymoney, were all taken on the basis that there needs to be a strategic overview of leisure services across the new council.”

Calls were made for Councillor McGlinchey to apologise.

Speaking after the meeting, Mr McGlinchey said that he stood over his remarks and pointed out that voting on the project had followed sectarian lines - all unionists on the council rejected his proposal while all nationalist councillors and one Alliance councillor voted in favour.

“I am very dissapointed for the people of Benbradagh and I have to say we have a long road ahead of us in this new council”, he said.