Belfast Telegraph

Belfast City Council votes to give £500,000 to controversial bonfire scheme

A bonfire at Bloomfield Walkway in east Belfast in July 12 2018. Pacemaker Press
A bonfire at Bloomfield Walkway in east Belfast in July 12 2018. Pacemaker Press

Belfast City Council has voted to set aside a further £500,000 for a controversial bonfire diversion scheme.

The scheme gives money for "area-based festivals" and is aimed at reducing tensions around bonfires this year.

The events that got money last year included £100,000 for the Feile an Phobail (West Belfast Festival) and £100,000 to Twaddel Woodvale Residents Association to run a concert on the eleventh night.  £80,000 also went to the Ulster-Scots Community Network to plan for a new festival.

The Alliance Party had proposed an amendment that would have seen the money taken out of the council's rates budget.

Alliance Belfast Group leader Michael Long said in a statement before the vote "we simply cannot support a rates increase that will improve the life of some in our city at the literal expense of others.

He added: "That's why at a meeting late last month we sought to remove this additional fund from the rates increase, proposing a rise of 1.67 percent, rather than the DUP and Sinn Féin backed 1.98 percent, and will again be putting that forward as an alternative on Monday night."

Alliance Party’s Michael Long

Mr Long, speaking at Belfast City Hall during the debate, said: "As it stands I can see that those two parties (Sinn Fein and DUP) are thinking less about the fact we are in a time of continued austerity and more about what they can gain for individual groups".

During the meeting, 13 councillors voted for the amendment, 35 voted against, with five abstaining from voting.

A SDLP amendment to direct the funding for the scheme to an anti-poverty fund also failed, with 10 members voting for and 43 councillors voting against.

Critics have labelled the scheme a "political carve up" by the DUP and Sinn Fein after £400,000 was allocated to groups last year.

Concerns were also raised over secrecy surrounding how groups were chosen to receive funding.

The Northern Ireland Audit Office examined the scheme and made recommendations, including proposing groups seeking funding should be directed towards already established programmes, and "reliance on discretionary funding should be strongly discouraged".

However, supporters of the scheme have said it led to a reduction in anti-social behaviour and meant destructive and illegal bonfires did not take place last summer.

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