*Action at the home of Lifford AFC, formerly named Cassidy Park and now Tom Steele Park. Photograph: John maNGAN

LIFFORD FC’s loan to the Clare Schoolboys/Schoolgirls Soccer League (CSSL) has been repaid this year, new accounts have outlined.

Having been a bone of contention in recent years including a heated debate which led to the postponement of the 2020 AGM, the ‘Lifford loan’ has been finally paid off.

Speaking at last year’s AGM, Treasurer Cathal Jones informed delegates that the loan would be cleared off in 2022 with €1,200 paid last year.

Cathal Jones. Photograph: Natasha Barton

This year, €4,777 was paid to the CSSL thus clearing the loan. Funds had been sought by the Ennis club to assist with the purchase of their two field facility initially named Cassidy Park and now known as Tom Steele Park in Drumcliffe.

Founded in 1961, shortly after Ennis United withdrew from the Limerick District League, Lifford played their first game in August 1960 and scored a 6-0 win over Astor Athletic but after the league directed that they play all their games away in Limerick, they withdrew. This led to the formation of the Clare District League in September 1962 with many of the Ennis United team to the fore in the setting up of the league. Lifford joined the inaugural Clare League and played their first game on Sunday October 14, 1962 against Gardimex.

Addressing the 2022 AGM, Jones who was stepping down as Treasurer said one of the major movements in their balance sheet was the sorting of the loan. He noted it had been “a topic of conversation in every league AGM is that we lent money to Lifford, it took a while to come back and it all came back this year, I’d like to hear nothing more about it. From a club perspective, they’ve done a great job in what they’ve said they would do in two difficult years”.

Tony Downey. Photograph: Natasha Barton

Detail on the terms of the loan agreed between CSSL officials and Lifford FC have never been clearly outlined at any of the AGMs.

Current Treasurer of the CDSL, Tony Downey has for many years asked questions of the loan at AGMs of the CSSL.

Tensions reached boiling point at the 2020 AGM held virtually in April 2021 following further queries from Downey leading to the suspension of the meeting. In a subsequent letter issued by then CSSL secretary, Caroline O’Brien she apologised to clubs on the committee’s behalf, “I would like to begin by apologising for the turn the meeting took. Very aggressive and inappropriate behaviour was demonstrated by the Ennis Town delegate. Some of you expressed your shock and dismay last night and we have since received calls from people who attended expressing their concerns at what transpired. Statements were made to discredit peoples professional and personal reputations”.

Lifford AFC also took umbrage with the Ennis man and said no representative from their club would attend a future CSSL meeting if he was present. In correspondence, Chairperson Deirdre Allan stated, “I have never witnessed anything like the total disrespect and despicable behaviour of Mr Tony Downey”.

Lifford’s Matthew Davenpost and Lunga Balinan celebrate scoring a goal in Tom Steele Park. Photograph: Natasha Barton

She believed he had “his own agenda, to disrupt, insult, undermine and question the integrity of several people and clubs, not to mention the professional accountant who prepared and signed off on the accounts”. She expressed her fury with the damage caused and called for Downey to issue a profuse apology to the CSSL.

No apology was issued and within a short period of time, six of the seven CSSL officials resigned from their roles weeks before the start of the season delaying the commencement of the 2021/22 action.

Prior to moving to their current facility, Lifford had been involved in a long-running dispute with the Mid-Western Health Board. Both parties were set to appear before Ennis Circuit Court in November 2000 after the health board had issued eviction proceedings against the club for failing to vacate lands at Our Lady’s Hospital in Ennis.

Lifford’s refusal to move had prevented the signing of contracts for a £2.4m deal agreed in September 1998 for the hospital and 65 acres. It also delayed an agreement between Shannon Development and Clare County Council over the sale with the local authority then interested in relocating its central buildings there before opting for the New Rd in Ennis.

Up until then, Lifford had played at the grounds for 32 years and had in years leading up to the dispute had invested £8,000 in upgrading the pitch. The club had refused to move until alternative accommodation was provided.

Ennis Urban District Council in May 1999 did find alternative accommodation. However, the dispute continued with the health board over the issue of compensation to allow Lifford finance the purchase of the council land. After protracted negotiations between legal representatives for both sides a settlement was finally reached. Exact compensation was not specified but was believed in the region of £40,000 to £50,000.

Former Clare TD, Brendan Daly (FF) was a pivotal figure in helping both sides to agree to a resolution.

Shannon Development after acquiring the lands lodged a planning application for a £40m digital park. At the time of its launch in November 2003 by then Minister for Enteprise, Trade and Employment, Mary Harney (PD), the technology park was forecast to provide 3,500 jobs for the Mid-West.

At the launch, Shannon Development stated that they anticipated that €110 million will be invested through public and private sector investment in the 35-acre park, modelled on the successful National Technology Park in Limerick. The plan on a 35-acre site formerly on the site of Our Lady’s psychiatric hospital is to include 22 separate office blocks in a parkland environment that will provide 750,000 square feet office accommodation. The €9 million first phase is to provide 45,000 sq ft in office space.

Currently, the site is in the ownership of Shannon Commercial Properties but it has not delivered on the ambitious aspirations set out.

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Subscribe for just €3 per month

If you’re here, you care about County Clare. So do we. Did you rely on us for Covid-19 updates, follow our election coverage, or visit The Clare Echo every week for breaking news and sport? The Clare Echo invests in local journalism and we want to safeguard its future in our county. By becoming a subscriber you are supporting what we do, will receive access to all our premium articles and a better experience, while helping us improve our offering to you. Subscribe to clareecho.ie and get the first six months for just €3 a month (less than 75c per week), and thereafter €8 per month. Cancel anytime, limited time offer. T&Cs Apply. www.clareecho.ie.

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