NI Minister for Sport Carál Ní Chuilín criticised over resignations

Minister insists evaluation of leadership would restore public confidence in Sport NI

Northern Ireland’s Minister for Sport Carál Ní Chuilín said: “Rather than hiding from challenges or denying that the challenges exist, I am dealing with the challenges,” she said. “It’s called leadership.” File photograph: Steven McCaffery/PA Wire

Northern Ireland’s Minister for Sport Carál Ní Chuilín said: “Rather than hiding from challenges or denying that the challenges exist, I am dealing with the challenges,” she said. “It’s called leadership.” File photograph: Steven McCaffery/PA Wire

 

Northern Ireland’s Minister for Sport has said her department is not dysfunctional and that she is still mystified by the resignation of nine Sport NI board members earlier this week.

During an appearance before the Stormont Culture, Arts and Leisure scrutiny committee, Carál Ní Chuilín faced significant criticism and had to bat away calls for her to resign.

“Rather than hiding from challenges or denying that the challenges exist, I am dealing with the challenges,” she said. “It’s called leadership.”

The Minister on Thursday appointed an interim executive leadership team, made up of senior civil servants, to conduct a confidential and independent employee survey, a “cultural audit” and an evaluation of the leadership at Sport NI - a departmental arms length body.

Whistle-blowing allegations

She said the action followed a series of whistle-blowing allegations over leadership at Sport NI regarding a culture of fear, sexism and gender bias, harassment and bullying, and also regarding application of the HR processes within the organisation.

Ms Ní Chuilín strongly defended her intervention, telling MLAs that doing nothing was not an option.

“To do nothing for people in distress was not an option for me,” she said.

The DUP’s William Humphrey asked Ms Ní Chuilín if the department was “dysfunctional” under her leadership.

The Minister replied: “Absolutely not.”

“We have a situation where the chief executive of National Museums Northern Ireland has stepped aside in another arms length body of your department,” Mr Humphrey said.

“You have the whistle-blowing in Sport NI. You have the difficulties within the department around the inquiries around Casement Park and now you have nine members of the Sport NI board who have resigned - we don’t know the position of the two that are on holiday.”

Mr Humphrey also raised concerns that the appointment of civil servants to Sport NI’s board had made the arms length body an “integral” part of her department.

‘You have failed’

MLA Basil McCrea, of the NI21 party, claimed the Minister’s position was untenable.

“I think that you have failed. Completely and utterly,” he said.

“I think your department has failed. All of those people that you are now saying there are serious problems with - you, your department, your senior officials, have failed those people because you had a review in 2013 where you said there were problems and you were going to fix them. You said in 2014 you were going to fix them and you are back to the same thing again.

“You should consider your position. You are not doing your job.”

Rejecting the attacks on her leadership, Ms Ní Chuilín accused some MLAs of playing to the cameras.

She insisted the new mechanisms would restore public confidence in Sport NI and help staff members through a challenging period.

PA