Belfast Telegraph

£200k 'bonfire diversion' cash handed out at Belfast City Council

By Andrew Madden, local democracy reporter

Belfast City Council has signed off on giving £200,000 of ratepayers’ cash to community groups from a controversial £400k “bonfire diversion” fund.

At an impromptu meeting of the council Strategic Policy and Resources committee on Wednesday, Sinn Fein and the DUP voted to press ahead with the allocations for Woodvale and the Feile.

The meeting was restricted, so members of the press were not allowed to attend, however it is understood the cash will go towards to music events in July and August, respectively.

When the decision was made to give £400,000 to community groups for “educational activities associated with July and August bonfires” months ago, Alliance, the UUP and the SDLP were outraged, calling the decision a “political carve-up”.

Wednesday’s meeting saw, as before, Sinn Fein, the DUP and the PUP vote in favour of the proposals, with Alliance, SDLP and the Ulster Unionists voting against.

At Wednesday’s meeting, which was called on Tuesday for an "urgent decision", the council’s “call-in” mechanism was not employed, as in the previous £400k decision.

The call-in allows other parties to question any decision and ask for it to be reviewed.

Alliance councillor Emmet McDonough-Brown said Sinn Fein and the DUP “had the opportunity to show they respected all ratepayers’ of Belfast and they blew it”.

He added his party will not be “letting the matter go” and plan to raise it with the Audit office next week.

“The Alliance Party again tried to block this move, wanting to see a fair process open to all installed within City Hall,” he said.

 “What is clear is that this plan between the DUP and Sinn Féin was decided and agreed long before any details about how the money would be spent were unveiled by their chosen organisations.

“This is not fair, especially while many other organisations never had the opportunity to be fairly considered."

It is understood the money, £100,000 for each event, will go towards artists, stage management and other associated costs.

“It continues to amaze me that while the DUP and Sinn Féin remain incapable of working together at Stormont, when it comes to City Hall and the allocation of public money they manage to put all other differences aside to secure a common goal,” Mr McDonough-Brown added.

“We must send a signal, this type of carve up is never okay and I would challenge every DUP and Sinn Féin member who signed up to this to explain exactly why they believe party politics must come before a fair process for all.”

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