Belfast Telegraph

Audit Office urged to probe 'bonfire diversion' cash

By Andrew Madden

The Northern Ireland Audit Office has been asked to investigate a controversial Belfast City Council decision to award £400,000 of ratepayers' money to community groups for "bonfire diversion".

Sinn Fein and the DUP, who backed the decision made at Belfast City Council last week, faced allegations of a "political carve-up" after details of the restricted meeting leaked to the media.

It has since emerged that Alliance and SDLP councillors have requested a meeting with the Northern Ireland Audit Office "as a matter of urgency" over how the decision to award the public money was made.

Yesterday, the Ulster Unionist Party said its Belfast councillors would be meeting at the beginning of next week to discuss their "next course of action" over the issue.

The decision to give various groups cash for "area-based festivals", which involve "educational and diversionary activities associated with July and August bonfires", came following a slow uptake in Belfast City Council's bonfire grants programme.

DUP council group leader Lee Reynolds said the festival funding was "positive and worthwhile".

However, both Alliance and SDLP representatives referred to a "string of controversial decisions" pushed through the council by Sinn Fein and the DUP in recent months, including February's reallocation of £4m of council funds for "community tourism".

"We have asked the UUP and the SDLP to join us in registering concern over the abuse of ratepayer's money regarding this latest carve up by Sinn Fein and the DUP," Alliance councillor Emmet McDonagh Brown said.

"It is an issue we think the Audit Office, which I have been in contact with over this political carve-up, needs to look at as a matter of urgency to ensure a fair and proper service for all."

SDLP council group leader Tim Attwood added: "We want to raise our concerns with the Audit Office to ensure ratepayers' money is handled in a fair and equitable way."

Belfast Telegraph

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