Belfast Telegraph

UDA-linked group gets share of £400k 'carve up of public money' by Sinn Fein and DUP

By Andrew Madden, Local Democracy Reporter

More details have emerged over what is being described as a £400,000 “carve up of public money” by Sinn Fein and the DUP at Belfast City Council.

At last week’s meeting of BCC’s Strategic Policy and Resources Committee, in which Sinn Fein and the DUP have a combined majority, the decision was made to give the money to groups for “bonfire diversion”.

The call-in mechanism, which allows other councillors to question the decision making of other parties, was removed from the process.

In a report prepared for Friday’s meeting, under the headline “Area based Festivals”, a full list of those who are to be given funding was compiled, as well as those who had requested funding in the days prior to last weeks SPR meeting.

The Press were asked to leave the room while the item was being discussed, however documents seen by this reporter detail precisely where the money is intended to go.

Those to be given funding are: Feile (Feile - £100,000; Northern Ireland Alternatives Community Festivals Summary - East Belfast Community Festival - £50,000; New Lodge - £40,000; Market - £10,000; Belfast South Community Resources - £26,521)

£100,000 is also earmarked for “Woodvale”, while £80,000 is to go to the Ulster Scots Agency.

Friday’s report states that the original committee discussion on the funding at April’s SPR meeting (such as the money going to Feile and BSCR) “focused on diversionary and educational activities associated with July and August bonfires”.

In addition, the documents list the recent funding requests BCC received from other organisations, which mainly focus on arts, culture and charitable activities.

These include: SOS NI (£50,000), Springfield Charitable Association (£250,000) and Lenadoon Community Forum (£25,000), among others.

“Additionally members are reminded that there is no budget to allocate to these requests at this point. At the last SPR meeting, activities discussed totalled approximately £400K. This has now grown to over £1 million,” the document adds.

“If the Committee is minded to invest in any of these proposals, then the money will have to come from reserves, some of which could possibly be replenished, at least in part, from end of year re-allocations, which will be considered in June.”

SDLP council group leader and SPR member Tim Attwood said he was concerned that the committee has committed £400,000 to area-based festivals “without an open and inclusive process”.

“It is also a matter of concern that the DUP and Sinn Féin voted to stop the decision being subject to a call in,” he added.

“Area based festivals in nationalist and unionist areas are one approach that could help to tackle problems around bonfires and anti-social behaviour that occur, especially during the summer months.

“There are other organisations such as SOS NI and youth clubs in a number of areas who are working with young people to tackle anti-social behaviour and reduce tensions in interface areas.

“Regrettably, due to funding issues, many youth clubs including Shankill, Divis, Ormeau and East Belfast have to close for four weeks during the summer."

One group receiving funding is the Sandy Row based Belfast South Community Resources, which in the past has been linked to the UDA.

In 2016, BSCR received money from Stormont’s controversial Social Investment Fund.

It was alleged that SIF money bought a £700,000 Sandy Row office block, which veteran loyalist Jackie McDonald used to conduct UDA business, which was gifted to BSCR.

In October last year it emerged that South Belfast MLA Christopher Stalford has his constituency office in the same block. He later said he makes no apology for renting an office said to be linked to the UDA.

Alliance councillor and SPR member Emmet McDonagh Brown criticised the decision to give a paramilitary-linked group public money and said his party will be writing to the Audit Office over this issue.

"This decision has the potential to have a negative impact on Belfast, once again calling into question the relationships between certain parties and paramilitaries. Either way the DUP and Sinn Féin have proven yet again they are content to finance a divide society," he said.

"What makes this situation even worse, is that the DUP and Sinn Féin clearly recognise their actions are wrong, taking steps to block others holding them to account.”

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