Belfast Telegraph

Nesbitt 'disgust' as Pensioners Parliament group funding denied

By David Young

Former Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt MLA has described as "disgusting" a decision by a Stormont department to deny funding to the organisation responsible for the Pensioners Parliament.

Age Sector Platform had sent a business case to the Department for Communities seeking support for its work.

But yesterday it received an official reply saying there were no current funding programmes or mechanisms that could provide any support.

The Pensioners Parliament was launched in 2011 and allows older people from across Northern Ireland to have their say on the issues that matter to them.

The Department for Communities also blamed the lack of a functioning Executive at Stormont for its inability to allocate funding.

"In the absence of a Minister to make decisions on funding priorities, we are not in a position to consider this request at this time," the Department's letter said.

Strangford MLA Mr Nesbitt slammed the decision.

"Having read the letter from the Department for Communities declining the funding request, I despair," Mr Nesbitt said.

"On the one hand, Age Sector Platform is applauded for diversifying its funding streams and for the good work it does for older people, but with a short sweep of the pen the application for help is dismissed out of hand.

"It is all very well to quote the lack of Executive Ministers to make decisions - and ultimately this is about political failure by the DUP and Sinn Fein - but Executive Ministers regularly accept invitations to speak at the Pensioners Parliament, where they speak positively about the Parliament's work.

"Surely that in itself is an endorsement of Age Sector Platform, who are seeking a relatively modest sum to ensure they do not have to fold?

"Age Sector Platform submitted a detailed, 15 page business case for funding, only to be knocked back by a 10 line letter lacking all humanity."

Age Sector Platform was formed in 2008, and was initially funded by Atlantic Philanthropies, the charity established by Irish multi-billionaire philanthropist Chuck Feeney.

Age Sector Platform spokesman Eamonn Donaghy said that if his organisation was unable to secure any further alternative sources of funds, the project had at most just 18 months left before it had to close its doors for good.

"Our work is very closely aligned with some of the key objectives of the Department, such as the active ageing strategy and the draft Programme for Government," Mr Donaghy said. "By supporting us, we can actually help the Department deliver some of its key objectives."

But last night, a spokesperson for the Department for Communities said it had already been allocated a budget for next year.

"This will require it and the bodies it supports to make further reductions in their spending. Unfortunately in these circumstances the Department is unable to allocate funding to new initiatives at the present time."

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