Belfast Telegraph

Unionists seek legal advice on claims of Belfast council rules 'abuse'

By Andrew Madden

Parties at Belfast City Hall have accused Sinn Fein and the DUP of "abusing" the council's 'call-in' procedure in a string of controversial funding decisions.

Ulster Unionist councillor Jim Rodgers said his party will be meeting its legal advisers over the issue this week.

Alliance's Michael Long accused Sinn Fein and the DUP of "scuppering any sort of scrutiny" in recent funding decisions by removing the call-in mechanism from the process.

The 'call-in' is a safeguard which allows councillors to ask for an issue to be revisited if they feel the original decision was not handled correctly, or if a decision could have a disproportionate and negative affect on a particular community.

Two weeks ago, the issue of the call-in raised its head following a controversial decision by BCC's Strategic Policy and Resources Committee - on which Sinn Fein and the DUP have a majority - to award £400,000 to community groups for "bonfire diversion".

When the matter was brought before committee the call-in procedure was removed from the process.

Mr Rodgers said "abuse" of the mechanism was "getting absolutely out of hand".

"We will be holding talks later this week with our party legal advisers over the abuse of the call-in mechanism," he said.

"It's an absolute disgrace what happened with the bonfire diversion fund decision and the community tourism decision back in February."

In recent weeks councillors have referred to a "string of controversial decisions" pushed through by some parties in which the call-in was not used, including the reallocation of £4m of council funds for "community tourism".

Mr Rodgers said that as chair of the council's audit panel, he was "extremely alarmed" because the council has to "stand over every penny" it spends.

Alliance council group leader Michael Long said "loopholes" need to be closed "as a matter of urgency".

"We are extremely concerned, what we saw in the bonfire diversion decision was a deliberate attempt to scupper any chance of transparency and fairness in the funding," he said. "The abuse of the call-in mechanism is something we will be raising with the Audit Office urgently."

Belfast Telegraph

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