Robin Swann, the North Antrim Ulster Unionist Party Assembly member and UUP Leader, Robin Swann, has said he is delighted after it was revealed to him that following his amendment to Northern Ireland’s rates law in 2016 already 20 local pigeon clubs have benefited from new 80% rates relief on their premises.
Assemblyman Swann, a Past President of the Young Farmers' Clubs of Ulster, said: “Northern Ireland long had a policy that building associated with sports such as sheds and many clubhouses would benefit from 80% rates relief. Whilst this was all fine and well – and it’s a policy that I still support today – there was a major oversight in that pigeon racing was until recently never legally classified as a sport and therefore was always ineligible to benefit from the 80% relief.
“This was always a source of great frustration and feeling of unfairness amongst local pigeon clubs, especially as other pass times such as camping and even model power boating were considered sports and therefore eligible for the relief.
“Working closely with pigeon clubs in my own North Antrim constituency, as well others across Northern Ireland, for years I lobbied consecutive Finance Ministers urging them to address the error. Whilst each time I met or corresponded with them they appeared to listen, when it came to the crunch they never actually did anything about it.
“That is why I took the decision in 2016 to table a major legislative amendment in the Assembly to redesignate pigeon racing as a sport for rates purposes.
“I tabled an amendment to have pigeon racing formally and legally classed as a recreation and even though the then Finance Minister stood up in the Assembly Chamber and dismissively labelled my efforts untenable and unworkable, I was glad that it passed with a clear majority of 55 votes in favour compared to just the DUP’s 29 votes against.
“Recently I wrote to Land and Property Services asking for an update on how my amendment is working in operation. In the subsequent response I was delighted to learn that as of October 2016 the LPS received 23 applications from local pigeon clubs seeking rates relief. 20 of these applications resulted in the successful award of relief to pigeon clubs and 3 applications are currently still in progress.
“I am pleased to see that the clear outcome of the amendment shows a significant shift of NAV out of the fully rateable category area and into the sports and recreation area which results in 80% relief.
“Pigeon racing remains a wonderful sport which not only requires skill, time and dedication, but also an ongoing financial commitment from all those involved. I am glad therefore that my amendment has helped 20 local clubs save money on rates, with hopefully 3 more in the not too distant future, and I am confident the sport continues to have a positive future," said Assemblyman Swann.