Belfast Telegraph

Belfast City Council hands UDA-linked community group £26,000 for 'bonfire diversion'

By Andrew Madden, local democracy reporter

Belfast City Council is to give community groups a combined £400,000 for “bonfire diversion,” it can be revealed.

One group alone, the UDA-linked Belfast South Community Resources (BSCR), is getting £26k.

The controversial move was discussed at a meeting of the council's Strategic Policy and Resources Committee on Friday morning.

Press were asked to leave the room while an item on the council’s Community Development Grants Programme, which is earmarked for arts and culture funding, was discussed.

It is understood the decision was made to give community groups £400k of the public money for "bonfire diversion" programmes.

Alliance Councillor Emmet McDonough Brown criticised the DUP and Sinn Fein, who have a combined majority in the council, for allocating public money to a group with alleged paramilitary links.

The South Belfast Councillor said that not only did the two parties again manage to put their differences aside when it comes to "carving up public money", but that they “actively blocked any attempts at public scrutiny by removing the call in procedure” - an initiative designed to hold local government to account.

"This decision has the potential to have a negative impact on Belfast, once again calling into question the relationships between certain parties and paramilitaries. Either way the DUP and Sinn Féin have proven yet again they are content to finance a divided society," he said.

"What makes this situation even worse, is that the DUP and Sinn Féin clearly recognise their actions are wrong, taking steps to block others holding them to account.

"While stalemate continues at Stormont, the DUP and Sinn Féin as always can be relied on to put these differences aside when it comes to allocation public money within Belfast City Hall - a position they are so determined to protect that they have now removed the call in procedure, stopping other Councillors questioning their motives.

Councillor McDonagh Brown said his party “demand openness and transparency” for all Belfast citizens.

BSCR is a community group based in the Sandy Row area of Belfast. In the past it has been linked to the UDA and received money from Stormont’s controversial Social Investment Fund in 2016.

It was alleged that SIF money bought a £700,000 Sandy Row office block, which veteran loyalist Jackie McDonald used to conduct UDA business, which was gifted to BSCR.

In October last year it emerged that South Belfast MLA Christopher Stalford has his constituency office in the same block. He later said he makes no apology for renting an office said to be linked to the UDA.

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