‘Full transparent probe’ call as council refuses to support Down GAA EU funding hopes

‘Full transparent probe’ call as council refuses to support Down GAA EU funding hopes

27 March 2024

A CONTROVERSIAL decision by Newry, Mourne and Down Council not to support Down GAA’s bid for EU funding for a multi-million pound centre of excellence in Ballykinlar is being challenged by an MLA  and former All-Ireland winner.

Justin McNulty has this week called on the council to make public the advice which led members of the local authority’s Enterprise, Regeneration and Tourism Committee to make the decision three weeks ago.

The committee ruled the £10m GAA project earmarked for a 12 acre site — that would include four full-size pitches, covered stand, office space, player facilities and multi-use games area — would be in direct competition with the local authority’s plans to develop a £7m community hub in Warrenpoint.

Following a secret debate, the council committee said that while it noted the Down County Board’s EU application for the multi-sports hub, it was, unfortunately, not in a position to support its bid for PeacePlus funding and would not provide a letter of support.

Describing the council’s GAA snub as a “shock refusal”, Mr McNulty, an All Ireland medal holder with Armagh, said that what he called a flawed process had to be referred back to a full meeting of the council for a “fully transparent investigation”.

The Down County Board had requested a letter of support from the council as part of its bid to secure cross community party political support for a share of European Peace Fund cash.

The ambitious project will also include a museum and interpretative centre reflecting the intertwined culturally significant role of the site to both Nationalist and Unionist traditions.

During the First World War, Ballykinlar was used for training Irish regiments in trench warfare before they embarked for France and Belgium. Later it was used by the British Government as an Internment Camp for Republican prisoners until 1921.

Describing the council committee’s decision as “absolutely baffling”, Mr McNulty said he hoped that “vested political interests have not played a part in this decision”.

He continued: “The unique cultural heritage of Ballykinlar makes it a perfect building block in the evolution of a properly shared future. It has hugely symbolic meaning for those from the Nationalist and Unionist traditions. 

“The proposed building of a museum highlighting those intertwined elements of our past is at the core of the Down Board scheme. Ballykinlar can be a world symbol for peace and reconciliation. It is a scandal that its full potential could now be being jeopardised.”

Mr McNulty said the council must be prepared to call for a complete review of the advice provided prior to the rejection vote. 

“Many thousands of sports people, from all disciplines, that stand to benefit from the development of a state of the art complex at Ballykinlar,” he said.

“The full council must be prepared to overturn this decision and pledge its support to the single biggest community and sporting organisation on this island.”

Mr McNulty added: “If it won’t it will be impossible to escape the conclusion that local projects in a particular area can, and will, take precedence over a scheme with international peace and sporting importance.”

The council committee’s recommendation not to support the Down County’s Board request has to be rubber-stamped by the full council when it meets next month.