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Green groups 'are already laying off staff due to cuts'

By Linda Stewart

Published 06/04/2015

Environment minister Mark H Durkan
Environment minister Mark H Durkan

Environmental groups across Northern Ireland are already having to pay off staff - despite promises that a lifeline of up to £1m could be made available.

The sector could see up to 130 redundancies across the country after the Department of the Environment cut its Natural Heritage Grants programme by 100%.

A number of groups were given a three-month grace period after which their funding will end.

But several groups, including the Causeway Coast and Glens Heritage Trust (CCGHT) and Outdoor Recreation NI, learned last week that their funding would be cut off immediately.

CCGHT chief executive Maxime Sizaret said he had had to tell staff that they would be made redundant.

"We only learned last week that we wouldn't get any core funding from the DOE for the coming year - that's a 100% cut," he said.

"We have a few projects going still but it amounts to a 90% cut in our income and that is quite dramatic. Some of my staff are going to be told immediately that I can't keep them full time.

"This is very directly having an impact on them."

Mr Sizaret says CCGHT employs nine, with one part-tme, but the Heritage Lottery Fund-aided landscape partnership scheme only pays for three and a half staff positions.

"The rest of them are either going to be made redundant or reduced."

Last week Environment Minister Mark H Durkan told Stormont's Environment Committee that the plastic bag levy which provides up to £1m to the Northern Ireland Challenge Fund could provide some relief.

However, Mr Sizaret said that by the time that pot of funding is allocated it may be too late and he has been told to make decisions now.

Meanwhile, Outdoor Recreation NI, which also had its funding cut off this week, says it hasn't had the clarity needed from DoE Minister Mark H Durkan to make key decisions over its future.

"It's a shame that Minister Durkan is making us take this calculated risk," a spokesman said.

"He said there will be more money available and that will happen between now and June.

"We have written to the minister asking for an urgent meeting to get further clarity.

"We were established by NIEA [part of the DOE] and the key thing for us is that we deliver insurance programmes for a lot of the major walks across Northern Ireland - all of the Ulster Way, all the waymarked ways."

Story so far

Minister Mark H Durkan said he would use the carrier bag levy to offer funds to struggling voluntary groups. He said money raised from up to 400 proposed job cuts within his department could also be factored in. Groups which lost funding included the Northern Ireland Environment Link, The Belfast Hills Partnership and the Ulster Wildlife Trust

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