Stormont impasse means Sport NI can’t pitch for more hockey funds

Northern Ireland sports body unable to bid for extra money ‘because we don’t have a minister’

Members of the Ireland women’s hockey team, Emily Beatty and Anna O’Flanagan, with head coach Graham Shaw, pictured with Katie Smith (12), Kildare on a visit to  Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin on Tuesday. Photograph: INPHO/Bryan Keane

Members of the Ireland women’s hockey team, Emily Beatty and Anna O’Flanagan, with head coach Graham Shaw, pictured with Katie Smith (12), Kildare on a visit to Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin on Tuesday. Photograph: INPHO/Bryan Keane

 

The chief executive of Sport Northern Ireland has said it is frustrating that the absence of a minister means additional funding for the all-island hockey team cannot be sought.

Antoinette McKeown was speaking after the rapturous homecoming of the second-placed Irish World Cup squad and an announcement of additional financing from the Irish Government.

Northern Ireland has been without an Executive since January, 2017 due to an impasse between the two largest parties, the DUP and Sinn Féin.

The Irish hockey team boasts six players from the North including the tournament’s best goalkeeper Ayeisha McFerran.

“It’s incredibly frustrating that with Tokyo [OLYMPICS]looming we could probably do with additional resources to really position our team,” Ms McKeown said.

“There is not one political party in Northern Ireland that doesn’t offer considerable support to the sporting agenda here.”

Ms McKeown said without a sports minister her organisation is unable to apply for additional financing, although the outcome of any such application would be impossible to predict.

“We have invested [in sports including hockey] currently through our lottery funding but that is now fully committed for the next four year period,” she said.

“We would not be able to bid for additional funding for Hockey Ireland because we simply don’t have a minister in post.”

Minister for Sport Shane Ross said details of an additional €1.5 million in elite sports investment from the Irish Government would be made clear in the coming days. Welcoming the team home at Dublin Airport on Monday, he said a significant portion would go to the Irish hockey team on foot of their success at the World Cup.

Ms McKeown described his announcement as “delightful” and said the ability to be able to try and bolster it “would have sent a really good message”.

Sport NI’s funding of all-island hockey is similar in structure to that of rugby and golf.

Its currently gives £2.5 million (€2.8 million) to Hockey Ireland every four years. It also provides specialist services including nutrition, physiotherapy and sports psychology.

Ms McKeown said the communal efforts north and south of the border to support to Irish hockey was “a seamless partnership”.

In a statement on Tuesday, Mr Ross said the exact distribution of the €1.5 million would be made known “possibly as early as next Monday, once the Board of Sport Ireland have considered and approved the allocations”.