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DUP slam Alliance's 'double standards' in funding row

By Cate McCurry

A DUP MLA has accused the Alliance Party of "double standards" over its stance on the controversial Social Investment Fund (SIF).

Emma Little-Pengelly called on the party to clarify its position following its criticisms of the funding initiative.

The SIF has attracted criticism following controversy surrounding the awarding of £1.7m in public funding to ex-prisoner charity Charter NI.

The organisation's chief executive and UDA boss Dee Stitt then gave an interview to The Guardian in which he described his North Down Defenders flute band as "homeland security" protecting the area "from anybody".

Calls were made for Stitt - who now says his paramilitary history is in the past - to stand down, which he has resisted.

Alliance leader Naomi Long has also said there should be an independent review of the SIF, which will be debated in the Assembly today. The party has also been critical of potential conflicts of interest as some of those deciding where money goes are also linked to groups receiving funds.

Ms Little-Pengelly said that Alliance's Paula Bradshaw was a member of a SIF steering group in south Belfast when it decided to allocate management of a project to the Greater Village Regeneration Trust (GVRT) - of which Ms Bradshaw was director.

The DUP MLA said: "The Alliance Party has been very vocal in its criticisms of the SIF.

"Whilst others have welcomed the £80m investment to tackle deprivation, Alliance has preferred to unfairly concentrate on what it calls 'flawed' processes rather than the huge amount of positive and valuable work funded under the fund.

"During the numerous comments by Alliance representatives, no mention was made of the decision taken by the South Belfast steering group, which included Alliance's Paula Bradshaw."

Ms Little-Pengelly said the steering group had allocated the project management for the Employability South project to the GVRT.

She added: "Indeed, she may have had direct involvement in the GVRT project management role allocated by the SIF steering group she sat on.

"It clearly raises questions about the sincerity of Alliance's SIF attacks.

"If Alliance opposed the SIF steering group process, why did Paula Bradshaw actively participate in such a process which brought a direct benefit to her own organisation?"

But the Alliance MLA hit back saying SIF was a "vanity project" for the DUP and Sinn Fein.

"As is public knowledge and as I have talked about previously, I am a member of the South Belfast SIF steering group, as an Alliance representative," Ms Bradshaw said.

"This mudslinging exercise by the DUP will therefore be seen by people for exactly it is. This poor attempt at distraction politics came from Emma Little-Pengelly, who was an OFMDFM Special Advisor when the flawed SIF process was designed in the first place. It's clear the DUP have now given up on defending it entirely and are instead throwing accusations in a bid to deflect their own poor choices."

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