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Charities in north say they fear Direct Rule

Charities in Northern Ireland say they are concerned at the lack of a functioning Stormont Executive

CHARITY leaders have expressed significant concern about the current political situation in Northern Ireland and the prospect of direct rule.

More than 90 per cent of those quizzed in the latest Ulster Bank & CO3 3rd Sector quarterly index don't believe the political institutions will be restored this year, and almost two-thirds believe that direct rule would be bad for their organisation.

And almost as many again say that the lack of an Executive and Assembly operating has had a negative impact on their charity over the past quarter, and 68 percent are of the view that the Northern Ireland economy will worsen during the next 12 months.

Other findings of the survey - which garners the views of some of Northern Ireland's largest charities and social enterprises through to small community groups - include that almost two-thirds (63 per cent) saw demand for their services increase in the past three months. But more (28 per cent) saw their cash-flow position weaken than saw it improve (14 per cent).

Nora Smith, chief executive of CO3 said: “The lack of an operational Executive continues to take its toll across the charity sector. Funding cuts, lack of progress in policy and legislative change and the uncertainty that surrounds our members' ability to lead and deliver services is extremely challenging.

"We need our Executive reestablished in order to create the stability that the economy needs to support our most vulnerable in society. We are now in a position whereby we have a democratic deficit and the lack of accountability that implies is deeply concerning.”

Richard Ramsey, chief economist at Ulster Bank in Northern Ireland, said: “Clearly, third sector organisations have been grappling with difficult issues, including the ongoing reductions in government funding, plus the prospect of EU funding coming to an end.

"This is manifesting itself in cash-flow pressures, and falls in real wages in the sector. They are also finding the current political environment challenging.

"But on the positive side, though, third sector organisations are clearly seeing big demand for their services and are working in collaboration with other bodies to grow and meet demand in a sustainable way.”

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