Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein says £500k bonfire diversion scheme works amid claims of carve up with DUP

Sinn Fein has dismissed Alliance claims Belfast City Council's bonfire diversion scheme has nothing to do with bonfires and is ineffective.

The DUP and Sinn Fein joined forces on Monday night to approve £500,000 in funding the controversial scheme. Last year the Audit Office said the awarding of cash from the scheme on a discretionary basis should be "strongly discouraged".

Sinn Fein said the Audit Office has set out the parameters on how the money should be spent and it would be followed for this year.

However, Alliance said the money could have been better spent and they would have rather more cash was injected into the council's bonfire management programme

"That actually makes a difference to local areas. We would have been happy to see that extended," Councillor Michael Long told the BBC.

He said not a penny of the programme was spent in east Belfast where there were issues last year with legal action taken and contractors brought in to remove two bonfires.

"This is not anything to do with bonfires. It is a carve up between the DUP and Sinn Fein which was totally and utterly condemned in terms of the way it was dealt with last year.... processes were not followed, there was no advertising... it was done basically on the groups they favour."

Councillor Long added: "The reality is most people will be amazed that at a time when businesses are struggling Sinn Fein and the DUP are prioritising this particular type of funding which has very little to do with bonfires rather than good things like trying to increase employment levels, increase skills and provide new services for ratepayers."

However, Sinn Fein Councillor Ciaran Beattie said there had been success with last year's pilot scheme.

He said: "We had an event in Woodvale Park in the Shankill area and there was a massive reduction in anti-social behaviour. There were interfaces I have never seen as quiet in that particular time.

"In August 2018 we did not have one single bonfire in nationalist areas in Belfast for the first time since 1971. So there is clear demonstration of how this funding worked."

He also defended £100,000 being awarded to the west Belfast festival from the scheme.

He said one of the reasons the festival was established 30 years ago was to "move communities away from bonfires" and there were still "significant bonfire" issues in nationalist areas.

"These bonfires are not just one night. The is a collection of wood, the storing of wood for months which causes huge problems for residents.

"Feile has moved our community away from that negative impact. It has put on something positive... without the burning of bonfires without the offensive display of burning flag or effigies.

"It is moving our society away from negative impacts to a positive future."

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