Councillors raise concerns about £400,000 handout for 'bonfire diversion' scheme

Questions have been raised about a "bonfire diversion" scheme organised by Belfast City Council
Andrew Madden

A CROSS-party delegation of councillors in Belfast has met with the Audit Office over a controversial £400,000 handout of public money for a "bonfire diversion" scheme.

Alliance and SDLP councillors met with the Audit Office yesterday to voice concerns about how the funding decision was made by a Belfast City Council committee in May.

At the meeting of the Strategic Policy and Resources (SPR) committee, Sinn Féin and DUP representatives decided to split £400,000 of raterpayers' money to a range of community groups for "diversionary activities associated with July and August bonfires".

No "call-in" mechanism was employed in the decision making process, meaning those in disagreement could not ask for it to be reviewed.

The two main beneficiaries of the cash hand-out are west Belfast's Féile and the Woodvale festival, who have already been given £200,000 of the £400,000 for musicians, running costs and other associated costs of what the council term's "Area-based Festivals".

SDLP councillor Donal Lyons said the funding applications received by the council had "no detail whatsoever" and no "input or output" in terms of where exactly the money was going, or any visible due diligence.

DUP councillor Lee Reynolds, however, said both the Alliance Party and the SDLP are simply "unhappy about the decision".

Earlier this week, it emerged that the Woodvale festival will be for "Shankill locals only".

Event organiser Alfie McCrory told the BBC's Good Morning Ulster programme that the event was going to be "a local festival for local people".

"I need to stress that people will need to show ID that they live in the greater Shankill area," added.

Yesterday Mr Reynolds said such festivals can only accommodate so many people and it should be no surprise organisers are "prioritising the area [the festival] impacts on".

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