Flags and parades body's 'independent' chairman is DUP appointee to SIF group
THE 'independent' joint-chairman of Stormont's flags, parades and identity group is also the DUP's representative on a Social Investment Fund (SIF) steering group.
Community worker Neville Armstrong is the party's sole political appointee on the body overseeing SIF projects in the 'Western' zone, which includes Co Fermanagh and Co Tyrone.
But in June the Executive Office named Mr Armstrong and academic Dominic Bryans as "independent" joint chairmen of the new Commission on Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition.
While seven members of the commission were selected by Stormont's main parties – including two each from the DUP and Sinn Féin – Mr Armstrong secured his place through a recruitment competition.
He has declined to say whether or not he is a DUP member.
Speaking to The Irish News yesterday, Mr Armstrong said he was "not political in any way" and that he had been approached by the DUP to fill its post on SIF.
He described himself as an "ecumenist" and said he could not recall if when applying for the post with the Commission on Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition whether he stated that he was the DUP's appointee on the steering group.
"I am very committed to leading the commission's work and carrying it out with integrity and enthusiasm," he told The Irish News.
When the make-up of the commission was announced nearly six months ago, the SDLP voiced concerns that five of its members had clear links to unionism, including two of the non-political appointments. Just three nationalists sit on the panel, and only one woman.
Mr Armstrong was not regarded at the time as being linked to any political party.
SDLP assembly member Claire Hanna said the revelation about the SIF steering group member's DUP associations did "not inspire confidence".
"Our primary concern about this commission is the lack of any output – it is now a year since DUP and SF failed to progress this issue and shunted flags and identity into this commission," she said.
"In June we raised concerns about the make up, not about the emphasis on unionism as such, but the record of named members' on openness to addressing this issue and taking a wider view – that a further independent member is DUP doesn't really inspire confidence."
Ms Hanna said the DUP and Sinn Féin "stuffing it with their people" did not bode well.
Last night a spokesperson for The Executive Office said: “Mr Armstrong was appointed Co-chair of the Commission on Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition through an independent public competition for commission members.
"Mr Armstrong is a DUP Political representative of the Western Steering Group. He was not a political appointment. The two appointments are entirely separate.
“Geraldine McAteer is not, and never has been, a member of the Belfast South Steering Group. She does sit on the Belfast West group as a Community Representative.”