Belfast Telegraph

'Local scrutiny' needed for £100m deprivation fund, MLA says

By Sue Doherty

A Belfast MLA who has spent 32 years in community work says a close eye must be kept on a special £100m fund to combat deprivation so that past mistakes aren't repeated.

Stewart Dickson of the Alliance Party was speaking to the Belfast Telegraph following news that the Northern Ireland Executive is to receive an extra £20m per year for five years to deal with "pockets of deprivation" as part of the deal struck between the DUP and the Conservatives.

The two parties agreed an overall package worth £1bn, plus added flexibility on a further £500, for Northern Ireland in return for the DUP's ten MPs helping the Tories achieve a majority on crucial votes in Westminster.

The East Antrim MLA said that, while he warmly welcomes the funding, it comes with "some severe caveats".

Mr Dickson cautioned: "We need a functioning assembly. Otherwise, there can be no genuine, hands on scrutiny of how the monies will be spent."

He questioned the DUP's track record, accusing the party of "wasting resources", and referred to the Renewable Heating Incentive (RHI) schems as "even more serious issues which are now subject to an enquiry".

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Mr Dickson also mentioned the £80m Social Investment Fund (SIF), which saw £1.7m go to Charter NI. The chair of the East Belfast charity at that time was Dee Stitt, a convicted armed robber who has been linked to a loyalist paramilitary organised crime gang.

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"These funds must not end up in the hands of paramilitaries," he said.

"There is no need to filter the money through umbrella community groups. It should be delivered by government agencies direct to programmes, like Sure Start, after consultation with local communities to identify, with total objectivity, the areas of greatest need and the best ways to meet those needs."

"There are plenty of examples of programmes with great track records proving that direct aid works well", Mr Dickson concluded.

Asked to comment on Mr Dickson's remarks, a spokesperson for the DUP said: "The DUP secured a major investment which will benefit everyone in Northern Ireland. It speaks volumes about Stewart Dickson and the Alliance Party that they are reduced to such desperation to attack a good news story."

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