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DUP minister facing questions over £500,000 'Orange halls' funding

DUP ministers Arlene Foster and Paul Givan with Billy Thompson of Orange Community Network at Salterstown Orange Hall to announce £500,000 in funding for community halls
Brendan Hughes

A DUP minister is facing questions over a new £500,000 fund for 'community halls' due to concerns it may exclude GAA clubs.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood last night asked whether a decision to omit 'sporting infrastructure' from the scheme was an "ill-concealed attempt to exclude GAA clubs from funding".

Communities minister Paul Givan was pictured with First Minister Arlene Foster at an Orange hall in Co Derry as they announced the funding yesterday for 'improvement works for community halls'.

The Orange Order also released a statement shortly afterwards warmly welcoming the initiative.

With applications closing in just a month's time, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood claimed the "haste with which the minister has thrown this funding stream together raises serious questions about how it will be rolled out and who will benefit from it".

"DUP promotion of this fund has already encouraged Orange halls and church groups to apply for funding. And where they qualify, it's right that all community halls should receive funding.

"But I was concerned to see that the minister explicitly excludes funding for 'sporting infrastructure' in this stream.

"Given that community activities across the north, and particularly in rural areas, are intimately connected with sport, the minister should explain the rationale for excluding clubs from accessing this resource.

"Is it simply, as many will view it, an ill-concealed attempt to exclude GAA clubs from funding?"

Mr Givan has previously been criticised for reinstating a grants scheme for marching bands shortly after being appointed minister, at a time of cuts to the arts sector.

Mr Eastwood said he would demand a full explanation at Stormont.

"The minister is setting about a course that seems to mean funding for a particular community at the detriment of others," he said.

A Department for Communities spokesman last night said the fund was for "improvements to an entire range of community halls, including GAA halls".

"A number of other funding streams are available for sporting infrastructure throughout the year," he added.

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