Concern over Sinn Féin/DUP carve up for council funds
MORE details have emerged over what is being described as a £400,000 "carve up"of public money by Sinn Féin and the DUP at Belfast City Council.
At last week’s meeting of the council's Strategic Policy and Resources (SPR) Committee, in which Sinn Féin and the DUP have a combined majority, a decision was made to give the money to groups for “bonfire diversion”.
The call-in mechanism, which allows other councillors to question the decision-making of other parties, was removed from the process.
In a report prepared for last Friday’s meeting a full list of those who are to be given funding was compiled for “area-based festivals”, as well as those who had requested funding in the days prior to last week's committee meeting.
The press was asked to leave the room while the item was being discussed, however documents leaked show in detail where the money is intended to go.
Those to be given funding are: Féile (Féile - £100,000; Northern Ireland Alternatives Community Festivals Summary - East Belfast Community Festival - £50,000; New Lodge - £40,000; Markets - £10,000; Belfast South Community Resources - £26,521)
£100,000 is also earmarked for “Woodvale”, while £80,000 is to go to the Ulster Scots Agency.
In addition, the documents list the recent funding requests the council received from other organisations - which mainly focus on arts, culture and charitable activities.
These include: SOS NI (£50,000), Springfield Charitable Association (£250,000) and Lenadoon Community Forum (£25,000), among others.
“Additionally members are reminded that there is no budget to allocate to these requests at this point. At the last SPR meeting, activities discussed totalled approximately £400K. This has now grown to over £1 million,” the document adds.
“If the Committee is minded to invest in any of these proposals, then the money will have to come from reserves, some of which could possibly be replenished, at least in part, from end of year re-allocations, which will be considered in June.”
SDLP couuncillor Tim Attwood, who sits on the committee, said he was concerned it had committed £400,000 to area-based festivals “without an open and inclusive process”.
“It is also a matter of concern that the DUP and Sinn Féin voted to stop the decision being subject to a call in,” he added.
One group receiving funding is the Sandy Row based Belfast South Community Resources, which in the past has been linked to the UDA.
In 2016, BSCR received money from Stormont’s controversial Social Investment Fund.
It was alleged that SIF money bought a £700,000 Sandy Row office block, which veteran loyalist Jackie McDonald used to conduct UDA business, which was gifted to BSCR.
Alliance councillor Emmet McDonagh Brown, who also sits on the committee, criticised the decision to give a paramilitary-linked group public money and said his party will be writing to the Audit Office over the issue he described as a "carve up".
"This decision has the potential to have a negative impact on Belfast, once again calling into question the relationships between certain parties and paramilitaries. Either way the DUP and Sinn Féin have proven yet again they are content to finance a divide society," he said.