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Council refuses to help Down GAA centre of excellence as it’s in direct competition

A council has refused to support Down GAA’s application for EU funding for its new centre of excellence.

Newry, Mourne and Down District Council’s enterprise, regeneration and tourism (ERT) committee took the decision to reject the County Board’s application behind closed doors this week.

In an apparent increased level of secrecy, the confidential matter concerning the former British army barracks at Ballykinlar, was not listed on the committee agenda.

In open session, ERT committee chairperson, Mickey Ruane (Sinn Fein-Crotlieve) relayed the decision.

He said: “On item 13, Down GAA support for PeacePlus funding application.

“On proposal of Cllr Ruane and seconded by Cllr Campbell (Sinn Fein- Downpatrick), the following was agreed.

“Council notes the application for the Down County Board for a multi-sports hub at Ballykinlar for financial assistance.

“Unfortunately, council are not in a position to provide support to Down County Board for their application to PeacePlus for a centre of participation, wellbeing and shared learning hub as it is in direct competition with the council’s wellbeing hub in Warrenpoint.”

Warrenpoint Health and Wellbeing Hub

The local authority plans to develop a new two-storey community hub building at Clonallon Park to include a four-court hall, changing areas, meeting rooms and activity rooms.

A planning application was submitted to NMDDC in July 2023.

It is expected the new facility will require an investment of £7.1m and will be delivered by December 2025.

Derry’s 1993 All Ireland GAA winner and dual star, the late Colm McGurk (passed away in 2022) was the architect who drew up the Ballykinlar development of a four flood-lit pitch site that will also incorporate a museum dedicated to cross community education and remembrance.

A previous costing exercise has estimated the Ballykinlar development at £10m.

The former army barracks at Ballykinlar also holds historical significance as the place used to intern future Taoiseach Sean Lemass in 1920 as well as the Hooded Men in 1971.

A replica prison hut was recreated in 2021 at the former barracks, with artefacts on display donated to the project including a chess set used in 1921 and owned by interned prisoner Michael Phelan, the uncle of Hollywood actor Martin Sheen.

This week’s NMDDC confidential session made a pledge on the contents of the hut, which is due to be demolished because of deterioration to the structure.

Cllr Ruane said: “Officers continue to consider all options for the future of the hut…and will report back to members.

“The contents of the Ballykinlar hut will be retained by the council for use in future exhibitions at suitable locations.”

The proposal for the Down GAA centre of excellence was mooted more than 25 years ago in 1994 with the Ministry of Defence (MoD), though it was felt that the political climate was not right.

The plans, which were picked up again in 2017, were approved in 2021 by NMDDC and will witness the 32acre Ballykinlar site establish itself as one of the leading sports training facilities of its kind in Ireland.

Down County secretary, Sean Og McAteer has previously highlighted the project’s aim to be cross community throughout with associated Irish history being recognised as well as events marking the history of the British army such as the battle of the Somme.

The timetable for completion would factor in a 16 month construction once the first sod is turned following an earlier procurement stage.

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