Row over council funding allocation
A row has erupted over proposals for Belfast City Council to give more than £300,000 to ex-prisoner groups.
Applications from Coiste, Tar Anall, Tar lsteach, Epic and Prisoner Area Network Group, which work with former loyalist and republican paramilitaries, are currently being considered, it has emerged.
Even though no decision has been made, concerns have been raised about the process used to allocate the money.
Michael Long, from the Alliance Party, said: "There does not seem to be a proper criteria to deliver this money - it seems to be whoever sends in a letter first gets the money.
"The criteria seems to be very loose. It seems to be an ad hoc system at the minute."
The five groups have requested a share of an £800,000 underspend in the council's central grants unit.
Coiste wants £56,383; Tar Anall is seeking £54,660; Tar Isteach has asked for £50,000; Epic would like £75,120; and the Prisoners Area Network Group has applied for £80,165.
Consideration is also being given to awarding £90,036 to the Wave Trauma Centre, which works with victims of the Troubles.
Tim Attwood, who leads the SDLP group in Belfast City Council, said: "The SDLP has always said we have to have a proper process which is open and transparent when it comes to spending any money.
"If funding is going to be given out then a set criteria should be established.
"It should not be first come, first served.
"But it is fortuitous that there is some money there."
Before money is handed over, funding applications have to be approved by the council's strategic policy and resources committee and then ratified by the full council.
Gavin Robinson, who heads the DUP grouping, said he is seeking clarification on a number of issues.
He said: "We have asked for some issues of clarification around what level of alternative funding is available for the groups that made the proposal and also the work that they do."
Mr Robinson also called for the council to explore what, if any, opportunities were available to recoup the money at a later date - possibly through European peace funding.
It is understood there has been cross-party political support to set aside £175,000 for the continued support of benefit tribunal services which helped residents across Belfast claim back more than £3 million in disallowed benefits in its first year.
Mr Robinson added: "I suspect people are looking at this for political reasons.
"The issues that have been raised were not raised last month when £175,000 was allocated for advice services in Belfast."
Meanwhile, Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) leader Billy Hutchinson has voiced opposition to the establishment of any so-called "special funds".
Instead, he claimed additional monies should be invested in long-term sustainability projects.
Mr Hutchinson said: "We are going to let down more people than we can satisfy. All the organisations do good work but that does not mean we should do it this way.
"I have been really clear on this. This is about having a fair and equitable system - it's not about being the knight on a white charger riding in to the rescue."
A spokeswoman for Belfast City Council said applications for special budget expenditure were subject to at least seven criteria. These include showing how a grant would link with corporate objectives and showing whether it would be of direct benefit to a particular district or inhabitants.
The spokeswoman added: "The council would nevertheless reserve to itself the right to give special consideration to any particular request for financial assistance if the members consider that special circumstances apply and legal advice has been sought where appropriate."