Ballymena TUV councillor Matthew Armstrong says Sports Minister ‘seems intent on sinking local sports clubs’

BALLYMENA TUV councillor Matthew Armstrong says the Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin “seems intent on sinking local sports clubs”.

He was speaking after confusion surrounded whether spectators would be allowed into the Coleraine versus Ballymena United game in Coleraine on Friday night which was held just hours after stricter pandemic restrictions were introduced. Fans did eventually get in.

In a statement to ‘Ballymena Daily’ Councillor Armstrong said the conduct of the Sinn Féin Minister, who is the Minister for Communities which covers sport, “is nothing short of disgraceful”.

He added: “When I realised that new, tougher restrictions were set to come in I ensured that our local MLA Jim Allister obtained absolute clarity on where local clubs stood when it came to supporters accessing games.

“Jim raised this issue during Wednesday’s special sitting of the Assembly and the answer could not have been clearer – spectators were still permitted to attend Irish League matches.

”It is outrageous that the Minister wrote to clubs telling them that spectators were not permitted to attend games on Friday night. This lead to the ridiculous situation prior to the opening game of the season in Coleraine when officials were attempting to contact politicians trying to find out what the reality of the situation was.

“On the one hand we had a letter from the Minister with responsibility for sport telling us spectators were not permitted while on the other we had a tweet from Mrs Foster contradicting this.

”It was farcical.

“Today, when we can all finally read the regulations, we can see that there is no prohibition on spectators attending matches, the Minister has doubled down and claimed that her belief is that spectators should not attend matches.

”This is the same Minister who was silent after multiple flagrant breaches of the regulations at GAA matches and events.

”This is the Minister who defied the regulations when she attended the funeral of an IRA terrorist – an event we now know she was conveyed to at public expense in her ministerial car.

”This Minister must know that her advice, which is without legal foundation, would sink local football clubs without adequate financial support. Does she care? There are many fans who think she doesn’t.

”I would urge local fans to treat the advice of the Minister with the same contempt she treated local football clubs when she fired off this letter less than two hours before the first match was due to kick off.

”Fans at Irish League matches have followed the rules and heeded every instruction. The same can not be said of the GAA. If the Minister is really interested in public safety she would have spoken out on that issue. The fact she didn’t tells me all I need to know.”

The councillor added: “Once again Northern Ireland can see the cost of elevating convicted IRA terrorists to office. Lectures on public safety from a Provo should surely be treated with the same disdain that she has shown the local game.”

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