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BallymenaNI News

MEA stadia bid continues

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Mid and East Antrim councillors have reiterated the need for Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey to engage with them in a bid to secure long-awaited stadia funding following a recent meeting of MEA United.

MEA United, which includes senior representatives from the borough’s three football clubs and the borough council is urging the Communities Minister to meet with them to hear their collective vision to transform football in Mid and East Antrim, and across Northern Ireland.

The MEA United taskforce is working to transform the football grounds at Ballymena Showgrounds, Taylors Avenue in Carrickfergus and Inver Park in Larne.

The group has now developed a draft strategic plan and is in the final stages of their drawings for the three stadia.

Speaking at a meeting of the borough council on Monday evening, Carrickfergus DUP Councillor Marc Collins said that it was “very positive to see three major clubs in the borough sharing plans and working together” and it was “extremely heartening that MEA is leading the way with this project”.

When he was advised that the Minister will be unable to attend a ‘Zoom’ meeting to discuss the project, he stated: “I think it is an absolute disgrace that the Minister will continue to fob us off while she has had multiple photo shoots at Casement Park already which is meant to be running side by side with the stadia funding.”

He was told by Chief Executive Anne Donaghy that she would send another letter to the MInister on behalf of the council and MEA United.

Ballymena TUV Councillor Matthew Armstrong quipped: “I am slightly concerned that if we waste any more paper on the Minister, this matter will be referred to the Clmate Change Committee.

“If there are any other angles the Chief Executive has and could employ to try to get the Minister to engage, I would encourage her to do that.”

Knockagh Alliance Councillor Noel Williams stressed the importance of continuing to work with the Irish Football Association (IFA) “to align their priorities with ours”.

“I’m not convinced the GAA versus football argument or rhetoric will benefit us. I would suggested that winning over the IFA is just as important.”

Ballymena DUP Councillor Tommy Nicholl called for the issue to be highlighted in the Assembly.

Meanwhile, the council has agreed to the appointment of an external consultant to carry out an economic appraisal for the three clubs and local authority at a cost of approximately £20,000.

If the council’s funding application is successful, MId and East Antrim will be required to pay up to £5m towards the overall project which is expected to cost upwards of £25m.

Almost a decade ago, the Northern Ireland Executive allocated £36m for a sub-regional stadia funding programme.

Following the return of power-sharing at Stormont in last January, the Executive stated its intention to complete the programme, which included plans to upgrade Irish League venues, as well as Casement Park in Belfast.

Finance Minister Conor Murphy has indicated that £20m of public money was being allocated to Casement Park within next year’s budget.

It has been suggested that the total cost to the Executive for the GAA stadium could rise to £102m.

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