On Wednesday of last week, Causeway Coast and Glens (CCAG) council again rejected plans to build a £2.8M leisure facility in Dungiven, Co. Derry. The majority unionist council voted 20-17 against the building of the facility on the basis that there was a funding shortfall. On the face of it this would seem to be a reasonable rationale for adopting this position, but some of the detail around the issue suggests otherwise.
Dungiven, a predominantly nationalist town, had originally been part of Limavady Borough Council. However, following the review of public administration (RPA) and the reduction in the number of councils here, Dungiven became part of the newly created Causeway Coast and Glens council area.
The project to replace facilities already there has been mooted for several years. The original plans, initially approved by Limavady Borough Council at a cost for £7M, were frozen by CCAG in August 2014 prior to the formal completion of RPA because of concerns about the costs involved. The overall cost has since been scaled back to make the project more achievable, but for the second time in as many months it has been rejected again.
Following the decision, Sinn Fein’s Caral Ni Chuilin, who is minister for the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, wrote a piece in the Belfast Telegraph denouncing the decision. In particular she focused on the claim that the decision to vote against approving the development was because of concerns over funding. Ni Chuilin said;
“There is a pressing need for this facility. The total cost of the new project is £2.839m, with £2.5m of this being provided by DCAL.
The remaining £339,000 had been approved by the regulator of the Landfill Community Fund and, therefore, has no implications on the district rate. The cost argument put forward against the development doesn’t stack up. Some £800,000 of refurbishment work will be required to keep the existing facility open.”
Ni Chuilin also alluded to the projected increase in revenue the facility would bring, and wider benefits to a town that suffers from income and employment deprivation.
So who’s right? Has Ni Chuilin got her numbers wrong, or is this a case of ‘petty sectarianism’ as Sinn Fein councillor Sean McGlinchey thinks? He said:
“Clearly there are still those within unionism who are more concerned with narrow and petty sectarianism than providing facilities for those they were elected to serve.
“It is encouraging that at least some unionists were able to see beyond the narrow viewpoint of others and support the development of a much needed sporting facility which would benefit everyone in the entire local community.
“We will continue to work and campaign with the local community towards the delivery of this sporting facility.”
Responding to the fall-out from the vote, UUP councillor Daryl Wilson stated that “we are looking at this in a holistic approach for the entire borough. We know there are a number of people in a number of areas where there are needs and we want to be fair to everyone. It is not that we are focusing on one area.”
This is certainly not the end of the matter, with various challenges to the decision expected in the coming months, including through the courts. Definitely worth keeping an eye on.