Having been “ousted” from the public gallery at the North Down council meeting last week, community groups protesting over the “mismanagement” of Peace III funding are showing no signs of slowing down their campaign.
Last Tuesday evening, the group of protesters holding placards labelled bold with the words “shame” and “cover up,” were removed after councillors voted to call in the police to escort the group out of the premises so they could press ahead with council business.
The protesters fear for their communities now European ‘Peace’ money they have spent on local projects is to be “clawed back” after the official funding body (SEUPB) were unhappy with the huge volume of errors associated to its administration.
Rathgill Community Association is being asked to pay back £3,500 of money it was granted under Peace III funding.
However Karen Worrall, community development worker said: “The council who managed the funding approved and stamped all our accounts and asked us to continue spending the money — even though we had raised concerns as to the council’s administration of the funds.
“The fact that these monies haven’t been accounted for properly is not our mistake. It’s just not acceptable that we have to return this money, money that has already been spent in the community — where are we supposed to find this money they want back?”
Alison Blayney, director of Kilcooley Women’s centre said: “Kilcooley Women's Centre was granted Peace III funding in August 2009 from North Down Borough Council and the first training we received to manage the budget was November 2010 — right after a damning audit report issued from SEUPB which highlighted the council's monitoring failures.
“The fact that the council want to claw back some of this funding from community groups who have followed the procedures council administered to them is despicable and will put many projects into jeopardy.
“A letter from the body which distributes the money to the council shows that this council is guilty of a 60 per cent error rate. We will have to make seven people redundant because the funding has been redirected away from us as a result of these errors.
“The outcome of all this is that now these community groups are now being prevented from applying to the next round of Peace III funding. It would seem if one speaks out against injustice, they pay a heavy price.”
A spokesperson from NDBC said the Peace III Partnership had undertaken a consultation with community groups across all three council areas, arriving at the consensus that the funding carries a ‘significant administrative burden’.
An alternative method of delivering funding was being prioritised, she said.