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OFMDFM takes a year to answer FOI on Carl Frampton funding

Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness with Carl Frampton at Stormont in 2014 following his world boxing triumph
Brendan Hughes

STORMONT has responded to a Freedom of Information request about boxer Carl Frampton's taxpayer-funded title fight in Belfast – more than a year after it was sent.

The first and deputy first ministers' office was asked to disclose correspondence amid controversy over £300,000 of public money given to the 2014 world title bout.

Concerns had been raised over the funding after The Irish News revealed Peter Robinson's son was part of the team behind the event.

The then first minister rejected suggestions that he should have declared an interest over his son Gareth's involvement, and insisted he was not lobbied for funding by him.

Under Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation public bodies should respond to requests within 20 working days.

But the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) took more than 14 months to issue The Irish News with a response.

Just six pages of correspondence were eventually released. Many areas were redacted, including the name of the boxing promoter's representatives who met with officials.

OFMDFM said other documents were also withheld because they contained the "personal data of third parties".

SDLP Mid Ulster MLA Patsy McGlone last night blasted OFMDFM's "inefficient and secretive approach to government".

"The one-year delay in responding to a Freedom of Information request by the first and deputy first ministers is shocking but sadly not surprising from a department that responds to criticism by drawing down a veil of secrecy or sticking their fingers in their ears," he said.

"A significant amount of public money was spent on the hosting of the Frampton fight. And while it was undoubtedly a success for the city of Belfast, it drew significant profit for private companies while no return was made to taxpayers.

"With the appointment of a new first minister [Arlene Foster], the office now has a chance to display a new spirit of transparency and openness."

The fight in Belfast's Titanic Quarter against Kiko Martinez was organised by Barry McGuigan's Cyclone Promotions, with ringside seats at the 16,000-capacity event costing up to £750.

The correspondence reveals how executive officials met with Cyclone at the Europa Hotel in Belfast to discuss public funding for the fight.

In one email David Sterling, then permanent secretary for the enterprise department, warned Cylone that the "short notice" funding request "does pose challenges for us".

"In order to access these funding streams you will need to work with each organisation to develop a proposal that delivers benefits against their objectives," he said.

He also asked for Cyclone's press announcement to thank First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness for the executive's assistance, but "without quoting any figures at this stage".

Four days later on June 30 2014, a letter was sent confirming the ministers had agreed to support a bid for £250,000 of funding.

The title fight eventually received £300,000. The Department of Enterprise gave £150,000, the Department of Culture (Dcal) gave £100,000 and Belfast City Council £50,000.

The Irish News previously revealed how Cyclone submitted their Dcal funding application just five days before the fight.

The PSNI waived almost 90 per cent of its bill for policing at the event, charging organisers just £5,000.

Last year the SDLP's Dolores Kelly criticised the PSNI's decision to provide a discount for the Frampton fight after plans were outlined to charge for policing at amateur sport and charity events, but not parades.

The Upper Bann MLA said that "any such event in the future must be dealt with more appropriately".

The Stormont executive fails to answer more than a quarter of FOI requests within 20 working days.

OFMDFM is among the worst performers, with just over half of requests receiving responses within this time period during 2014.

Only the finance and enterprise departments were lower with 46 per cent and 32 per cent respectively of requests answered within the time limit.

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