Belfast Telegraph

Centre’s fate in Sinn Fein’s hands

by Chris McCann

Republicans could be the unlikely saviours of an east Belfast community centre facing closure.

Last night (Wednesday, December 1), Belfast City Council met to decide whether to rubberstamp an earlier motion to end Connswater Community Centre’s lease following a funding dispute.

Former centre manager Stephen Baine has conceded that he had made ‘silly mistakes’ with payments to volunteers.

At the time of going to press, Sinn Fein’s 14 councillors were being urged to agree to take the issue back to the council’s Development Committee, which oversees the running of community centres — effectively buying the centre more time, by committee chairman Conor Maskey. He was responding to appeals from PUP councillor John Kyle.

The Alliance Party’s Mervyn Jones said he was “optimistic” on the issue and was planning to put forward a motion to give the centre further time.

Speaking ahead of last night’s meeting, Dr Kyle told the Community Telegraph that there could be “the fascinating position where Sinn Fein will vote to keep open and the DUP will vote to close down a community-run community resource in east Belfast.”

“That speaks volumes,” said Mr Kyle. “Belfast City Council have been at fault because they haven’t given the support to this group that they deserve. They were left to their own devices without adequate support and training.

“The group that have been running it have mismanaged funds through negligence as opposed to wilful illegality.”

Mr Kyle said: “In terms of running it they have done a far better job than when the council ran it. It was only open two days a week but is now open seven days a week.

“It’s used by community groups representing all ages from children to senior citizens including disabled facilities and the normal five-a side football and stuff.”

Councillor Jim Rodgers of the UUP said: “I’m not against this going back to the Committee for further consideration. But, it’s causing concern within the council, the money spent there without authority. Council staff are working with the group at the minute so we await the outcome of that.”

The DUP’s Robin Newton added: “I met with them last week and have arranged a meeting with the council’s director of development today (Wednesday) on this issue.

“I was supportive of establishing the facility when it came out of a group called Mersey Street Area Residents Association.

“There are two other centres in Belfast and both are extremely successful. If Connswater is to succeed, it will have to come up to a similar benchmark to those two.”

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