Belfast Telegraph

Proposals to reverse £400k bonfire diversion rejected by Belfast Council

By Andrew Madden, Local democracy reporter

A proposal to reverse a decision to give £400k of public money to community groups for “bonfire diversion” has been rejected at Belfast City Hall.

Last month, the DUP, Sinn Féin and PUP agreed to give £400,000 to community groups for “diversionary activities related to July and August bonfires”.

Several parties accused the DUP and Sinn Fein of a “political carve up” over how the allocation was made, as BCC’s call-in mechanism, which allows other parties to question decision-making, was removed from the process.

Both the SDLP and Alliance have requested a meeting with the Audit Office over the issue, while the Ulster Unionists have sought legal advice over the process, or lack thereof, that was followed.

At Monday night’s meeting of Belfast City Council, Alliance group leader Michael Long attempted to reverse the funding decision as no “transparent process” was used to select which groups would get the money.

“It appears the funding on Belfast City Council is allocated on a ‘who you know’ basis as opposed to what you know. Truly, when it comes to the DUP and Sinn Féin, some are more equal than others,” he said.

“Several of the groups awarded money do very good work but the fact remains no-one else had the chance because there was not a proper process in place, and instead the only groups approved are those the two biggest parties decided to back.

“Alliance has already requested a meeting with the Audit Office over this matter and I am calling on the organisation to intervene directly to stop this squalid and sordid deal.

"Belfast City Council needs transparency or else it has nothing, and it is clear there that was not in place in this process.”

Sinn Fein councillor Ciaran Beattie said the funding was a positive for Belfast and accused those who were speaking out against it of “hypocrisy”, as previous funding decisions followed the same process and were supported by all parties.

“Next year we hope to have a properly designed community festivals fund, open to all so as to help our city move forward in a positive way,” he added.

The DUP’s Lee Reynolds dismissed concerns in the chamber that the £400k hand out could result in rates increases.

He also said those who were against the decision were the same people who would “express concern if we had a negative summer in the city”.

Alliance, the SDLP and UUP voted in favour of the proposal to reverse the funding decision, however it was defeated by 30 votes to 20, with Sinn Fein, the DUP and PUP voted against.

Belfast Telegraph Digital

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