SINN FEIN councillors have warned Craigavon Borough Council they may face an equality challenge after the body agreed to increase fees for some sports facilities.
Sinn Fein’s Johnny McGibbon challenged the Director of Leisure Services Stephen Fraser to make it clear if there would be an equality issue to a phased increase in fees for cricket, bowling and tennis.
Sinn Fein had been arguing that the fees for cricket in particular were at a ‘disproportionately low charge’ in comparison to other sports - even with the increase in fees.
Dealing with cricket, bowling and tennis, the council’s leisure services committee had proposed phasing in fees over three years
However following that meeting, Sinn Fein Councillor Tommy O’Connor had accused the council of not dealing with the inequalities in facility charges.
Councillor O’Connor said: “The Leisure Services Committee had recommended that all fees charged to Sports Clubs should be brought into line. This would have ensured an equal charging rate and ended the practice of supplying cricket pitches at a disproportionately low charge.”
At this week’s meeting of Craigavon Borough Council, Councillor McGibbon sought clarification from the Director as to whether such a ‘disparity’ would leave the council open to an equality challenge.
Mr Fraser said: “There would not be a significant equality issue.
“I am aware of the issues that there is to disparity. I do not believe there is a significant equality issue.”
Councillor McGibbon said the Council had recognised there is a disparity and this may leave the council open to a challenge.
He asked Mr Fraser to confirm that if there is a disparity, and that members chose not to deal with it.
Sinn Fein Councillor Mairead O’Dowd asked for the Director’s comments be minuted.
DUP Councillor Mark Baxter said these were ‘historic’ charges.
He added that while they ‘recognise there is a disparity’ it would take an increase of around 600-700 per cent to bring them into line. He said that the fees would be double this year.
DUP Councillor Carla Lockhart asked if the decision had not already been made and was informed that it had and it could only be changed by a ‘rescinding motion’.
Concerns had been raised by a number of clubs who felt they may have to close for good if there were dramatic rises to fees.