Second group with strong republican links revealed to have sought money
A west Belfast tourism organisation that runs a centre managed by the former IRA man who announced the end to its armed campaign in 2005 applied to a fund marking the centenary.
Failte Feirste Thiar (Welcome to West Belfast) applied to the Northern Ireland Office’s Shared History Fund for a project called ‘Community Reflections’, but was rejected.
The group runs the James Connolly Visitor Centre on the Falls Road, which is managed by Sinn Fein councillor Seanna Walsh.
Sinn Fein refused to back events or symbols proposed by unionists to mark the centenary.
Mr Walsh served several prison sentences during the Troubles and was one of the leaders of the blanket protest in the Maze Prison in the 1970s and 1980s.
In July 2005 he appeared on camera to formally announce the end of the IRA’s armed campaign.
Failte Feirste Thiar’s application came to light following a Freedom of Information request submitted by the Belfast Telegraph.
The application was part of the large grants section of the scheme, which provided funding in excess of £10,000.
The organisation’s mission statement says: “Failte Feirste Thiar took the opportunity arising from peace to develop the West Belfast Tourism product, develop the tourism infrastructure; support tourism related business and social enterprises, train local people as tour guides, promote local social and economic regeneration via small business development and job creation.
“We market the uniqueness of West Belfast as a tourist attraction, rebranding the area as a place to visit which provides a quality tourist product and customer satisfaction.
“Failte Feirste Thiar acts as a role model, a leader and living example in what can be achieved when local communities work collaboratively and in partnership with Government departments, tourism promoters and other stakeholders to create employment, opportunities and to contribute to the portrayal of an image of a community — confident, welcoming and vibrant.”
The £1m Shared History Fund was set up last year to provide grants for community groups to mark the Northern Ireland centenary.
Failte Feirste Thiar’s application was one of 166 that were rejected.
Failte Feirste Thiar and Mr Walsh were contacted for comment.
Sinn Fein has been criticised by unionists over the last year over a perceived failure to allow several centenary events to go ahead.
It opposed illuminating Belfast City Hall to mark the milestone, and blocked the installation of a centenary stone in the grounds of Stormont.
It also emerged on Tuesday that a community body providing services to republican ex-prisoners applied for a grant from the fund.
Set up in 1998, Coiste na nIarchimi is the coordinating body for groups and projects across Ireland, providing services to republican ex-prisoners and their families.
It applied to the fund for money for a project called ‘Echoes of Internment’.
The application was also rejected.
Michael Culbert, director of Coiste na nIarchimi, is a former IRA man who served 15 years in the Maze for his involvement in the 1978 murder of RUC man Millar McAllister.
He said the funding would have been used for an oral history project dealing with internment.
“My starting point is that I’m an Irish republican. What we were thinking with it (Echoes of Internment) was the other aspects of what had been happening during the 100 years of the existence of the state,” he said.
“Roughly speaking, every decade there was internment. There were people in prison because of their disagreement about the existence of the state right throughout the 100 years,” he said.
“We were going to be moving in that direction with the project, not with a negative attitude, but just to highlight there were other aspects of the centenary.”