Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Now Sammy's timing on rates debate seems out of Order

Timing is everything, for politicians as well as comedians.

So it is not really a surprise that Sammy Wilson (right), our finance minister, didn't dust off a two-week-old statement yesterday morning as he fielded flak about the record number of people crippled by rates debt.

On March 22 Sammy claimed a victory under the headline "DUP's de-rating policy saves Loyal Orders £4.7m" – every single year. It was part of a de-rating deal for community halls which helped the loyalist parading bodies in a big way.

The breakdown of "savings per organisation" showed the lion's share of £4.5m to the Orange Order, with £36,000 going to the Independent Orange, £80,930 to the Apprentice Boys and £56,004 to the Royal Black.

I'm sure they can all do with it.

But the fact is that this is effectively a public subsidy to fairly wealthy organisations who mainly serve only one side of the community.

It looks a little strange on a day when 21,000 ordinary householders – voters that is – are facing court orders for non-payment of rates and another 12,400 are seeking special payment arrangements to avoid action.

Mr Wilson argues that Loyal Order halls are often a hub of community activity.

He has a point.

Yet we have to ask whether the move to favour them over householders really represents joined up government.

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