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Peace cash to fight sectarianism in NI set to run out


TALKS: Michelle O’Neill and Arlene Foster have spoken with Conor Muphy over funding

TALKS: Michelle O’Neill and Arlene Foster have spoken with Conor Muphy over funding

Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye

TALKS: Michelle O’Neill and Arlene Foster have spoken with Conor Muphy over funding

Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill have sounded alarm bells over the collapse of multi-million pound funding for tackling sectarianism.

They have held urgent talks with Finance Minister Conor Murphy on finding replacement money to maintain the eight-year-old Together: Building a United Community programme.


Conor Murphy

Conor Murphy

Conor Murphy

But the first and deputy first ministers have insisted they remain committed to the massive project initiated by their predecessors Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness in 2013.

Over the last five years it has included the creation of cross-community Urban Villages and special youth camps bringing Protestants and Catholics together costing £12m a year overall.

T:BUC also includes 10 'shared' neighbourhoods in which more than 480 new homes have been completed and the number of so-called 'peace walls' - interface barriers - has been reduced by 14.

A £60m pot was agreed under the Fresh Start Agreement in November 2015 between the DUP and Sinn Fein -before the fallout over the renewable heating scheme which lead to the three-year collapse of devolution.

Senior Executive Office official Mark Browne warned, however, the funding is due to run out this month without being replaced.

"That funding has enabled significant progress to be made in communities that most need help and it is important that that support is sustained," he told the Assembly committee which monitors Mrs Foster and Mrs O'Neill.

"Unfortunately the Budget does not include a replacement funding stream for shared future funding and there is simply no scope to provide replacement funding from within existing Executive Office budgets."

Questioned by Sinn Fein committee member Pat Sheehan, the top civil servant said the loss of the funding would also mean staff cuts in the Executive Office and the Department of Education.

West Belfast MLA Mr Sheehan said: "The implications are not good. Is there any expectation that the funding will be replaced?"

Mr Browne said: "That is very hard for me to say. The first minister and deputy first minister have already written to the finance minister setting out their concerns."

Following their meeting, a spokesperson for the DUP and Sinn Fein leaders said: "The funding has been used to support delivery of the Executive's Together: Building a United Community (T:BUC) to develop good relations and build a shared and united society.

"Ministers remain committed to the delivery of the T:BUC programme."

More than 20,000 Protestants and Catholics have been brought together in the youth camps along with a further 2,700 young people through sports and creativity programmes. Four of the five 'urban villages' are in Belfast - the Colin area in the west of the city, Newtownards Road in east, Ardoyne and greater Ballysillan north and Sandy Row/Donegall Pass in the south - and the last in the Bogside/Fountain area of Londonderry.

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