Presbyterian minister is appointed assessor of bonfire grants scheme
A Presbyterian minister has been appointed as an independent assessor of a programme which allocates grants to bonfire events in Belfast.
The Reverend Bill Shaw, currently director of the 174 Trust in north Belfast, will be involved with approving applications under the council's troubled Bonfire and Cultural Expression Programme.
The programme awards funding to small scale community festival events and activities across Belfast - July 11 bonfires within the loyalist community, and also anti-internment bonfires within the republican community in August. But its moves to withhold funding from some groups who signed up for the programme sparked anger and several walked away from it.
Both loyalist and republican bonfires sparked anger after flags and election posters were burned on them. There were also environmental concerns over the burning of tyres.
The programme sees groups asked to comply with a number of conditions which include not burning tyres on bonfires, not displaying any "paramilitary trappings and paramilitary flags on or in the vicinity of the bonfire site" and not burning "any flag, emblem, posters, effigies or any other symbols".
Six out of a total of 46 groups awarded money by Belfast City Council to hold bonfires in 2014 were found to have broken funding conditions, including the burning of tyres and flags.
The Community Culture Forum - which represents 14 Eleventh Night bonfires across east and south Belfast - were among those who walked away in December 2015.
They said they felt punished despite working hard to clean up the pyres in their area, pointing out that flags were often placed at the last minute before they were lit by people from outside the area, emphasising that it could be dangerous to try and remove them.
However, it is understood that some of the groups have since re-engaged with council officials, and may rejoin the programme this year. A spokeswoman for Belfast City Council yesterday said 27 groups have registered for the 2017 programme so far.
Meanwhile, a decision made by the Shared City Partnership to review the St Patrick's Day Small Grants Programme has been voted down.
During a meeting of the Strategic Policy and Resources Committee last month, Sinn Fein group leader Jim McVeigh and his party colleague Deirdre Hargey proposed to reject the decision of the partnership to review the current approach to St Patrick's Day celebration grants, and undertake a consultation and screening process with current grant recipients.
This was voted through by 12-4 votes at the committee and that decision was ratified at a meeting of the full council on Monday.