Belfast Telegraph

Alliance calls for £400k 'bonfire diversion' funding U-turn

Councillor questions why DUP 'so keen to support festival they spend so much time complaining about'

By Andrew Madden, Local Democracy Reporter

The Alliance Party at Belfast City Hall has called on a controversial decision to give £400K of ratepayers’ cash to community groups for “bonfire diversion” to be reversed.

Two weeks ago, Sinn Fein, the DUP and the PUP supported funding a series of “educational and diversionary activities associated with July and August bonfires” at a council committee.

Alliance and the SDLP, who voted against the proposals alongside the UUP, have since requested a meeting with the Audit Office over the funding allocation, which earmarked £400,000 to several groups across Belfast for activities over the summer.

The Ulster Unionist Party said its group of Belfast councillors will be meeting with party legal representatives over how the controversial decision was made later this week.

One organisation which is to receive £100,000 is the Feile festival in west Belfast, which council figures show has already received £130,000 funding this year.

Alliance council group leader Michael Long said his party will call on the decision to be reversed when it is due to be officially ratified at City Hall next Monday.

“At a time when so many organisations across our city are struggling with funding cuts, it appears that Feile is doing just fine with their already substantial funding being massively increased through the deal between the DUP and Sinn Fein last week which Alliance opposed,” Councillor Long said.

“It appears that Feile just need to write in a letter to get more money whilst other groups spend many hours filling in forms to even access small amounts of money.

“At the meeting, many other groups were excluded from funding by the DUP and Sinn Fein and you have to question why the DUP are so keen to provide so much funding to a festival they spend so much time complaining about.”

Since the decision was made at the council’s Strategic Policy and Resources Committee almost two weeks ago, some parties have criticised the lack of use of the “call-in” mechanism in the process.

A call-in allows other parties to ask for an issue to be revisited if they believe it was not properly made in the first instance.

Ulster unionist councillor Jim Rodgers accused those who supported the £400K decision of “abusing” the council system by not allowing the call-in to be used.

In recent weeks representatives at City Hall have referred to a "string of controversial decisions" pushed through the council by some parties in which the call-in was not used, including February's reallocation of £4m of council funds for "community tourism".

Councillor Rodgers said how both decisions were pushed through committee was “an absolute disgrace”.

When others criticised the funding as a "carve up", DUP council group leader Lee Reynolds said the money was not just about bonfire diversion - but was “a sensible investment to deliver a good summer for our city".

"Some of these parties will stand up and condemn when the DUP and Sinn Féin don't agree, and then if we do have something that we are both willing to vote for they still find reasons to condemn us," he added.

According to council documents seen by this reporter, a total of seven groups and events are to be funded.

Cash earmarked for “Woodvale” and the Ulster-Scots Agency - a combined £180,000 - is "to be taken from the European City of Culture budget".

The council’s European City of Culture bid was torpedoed last year due to Brexit.

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