A Dungiven mum is challenging Causeway Coast and Glens Borough councillors who voted against plans for a multi-million pound sports project for the area to meet with her and her disabled son to explain their decision.
The project, costing £2.8 million, has been in the pipeline for years, but it was brought to a standstill on Tuesday when a proposal to move ahead with the plan was voted down at a Causeway Council meeting.
The decision has outraged local politicians, residents and sporting clubs, including Donna O’Connor, who attended a packed public meeting in Dungiven Library on Wednesday night.
Donna’s 21-year-old son, Ryan, is disabled.
Ryan plays wheelchair hurling and basketball, but he is unable to use exisiting facilities in Dungiven and has to travel elsewhere to train.
“I would like the councillors who voted against the project to come and sit down with me and Ryan to explain what they will do to fulfil Ryan’s ability as a disabled person. He has fought his whole life, and now we are just entering into another fight. It’s heartbreaking for me as his mother,” said Donna.
Sport is not about politics. Sport is about providing facilities for every part of the communityKieran McKeever, Derry GAA All Star
Ryan, who had both legs amputated after a heart transplant in 2012, said he is disappointed and angry.
“I just don’t understand the decision. If the councillors don’t want to help people, then what is the point of them being in their jobs?” asked Ryan.
The new project, which DCAL had committed £2.5 million funding, made provision for a ‘single-site’ development at Curragh Road, including a main hall, smaller halls, gym plus 3G facility. The remaining funding needed to deliver the project totalled £339,000 and a grant for that amount had been approved by the regulator of the Landfill Community Fund, but required Borough Council agreement.
Former boxing champion, Paul McCloskey from Dungiven, said local people are gutted at what has happened.
“Why it has happened? There’s plenty of noise being made, but no real answers are being given out. The decision ruins any opportunity for any future sports people in this community to go up the ladder in whatever field and achieve things. If the next generation have the facilities, and they can do it on a daily basis, who knows what the future holds for talented sports people around here?” said Paul.
Tricia Harkin from St. Canice’s Ladies GFC in Dungiven said members are shocked.
“We don’t have any facilities. We’ve played with nothing over the years. We’ve played in fields and what not. We have no clubhouse, and we’re begging and borrowing all the time to get what we need. We just want better facilities for our children and, if those members of the Council who voted against this could see just how little we have, I really think they would change their minds. It’s for our children, all of our futures,” said Tricia.
Seamus Harkin of Dungiven Celtic FC said members are devastated.
“Here we are, thinking we had been over all the hurdles and now, at the last fence, another hurdle. It’s just seems ongoing. Everyone is gutted,” said Seamus. “Everybody needs this - young and old. To those who voted against this, they should come up to the town and look at the facilities and bring their child, their disabled son or daughter, and look around our facilities to see if they would let them use them.”
Kieran McKeever from St. Canice’s GAC said: “We have a lack of facilities here in the town as it is, a lack of pitches and modern facilities within the local area, and we hoped we would get this, but now this. We are so disappointed. To renovate the facilities we have for £800,000, and using our own money to do it when there is free money there for the new project, all we would be getting is not enough. We need a lot more and, at the end of the day, there is a statutory right that the Council has to provide for us and they’re not providing for us.”
Kieran, a GAA All Star and former Derry senior footballer, added: “Sport is not about politics. Sport is about providing facilities for every part of the community and, we in Dungiven don’t like politics being brought into our sport. All the clubs get on very well, all the sporting organisations. It’s not about politics.”
SDLP Colr. Gerry Mullan said: “I am very annoyed and very disappointed. I’m still hopeful it will go through and I will be supporting the project until the bitter end and I’ll do whatever needs to be done.”
Sinn Fein Colr. Sean McGlinchey said: “I still hold hope for it, and I am still confident it can be delivered, but there is a lot of anger in the community. Let’s give it two or three days and see if common sense can prevail.”
Sinn Fein MLA Cathal O’hOisin said further discussion has to take place among parties on Causeway Council. He revealed efforts are being made at an Executive level at Stormont, and he believes the problem isn’t “insurmountable”.
But Mr O’hOisin warned if talks don’t work, legal action, potentially a judicial review, he said, will be considered.
“I find it quite incredulous given the amount of goodwill and reconciliation that has gone on, down through the years, and I can’t believe people are still in this mindset that they would rather see nothing happen than have facilities for all the comnunity across the board,” said Mr O’hOisin.