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Sinn Féin and DUP continue to defend SIF scheme despite Audit Office report

Auditor general Kieran Donnelly criticised the running of the RHI scheme.

THE leader of the Ulster Unionist Party has asked the Westminster Public Accounts Committee, to investigate potential financial wrongdoing, following a critical Audit Office report into the £90 million, Social Investment Fund (SIF).

Robin Swann said the recent audit report was "deeply concerning and vindicates those who have voiced concerns about the scheme from the outset".

Auditor General Kieran Donnelly identified significant failures in SIF, highlighting bad governance and conflicts of interest in how money was allocated, through the DUP and Sinn Féin controlled Executive Office.

Mr Swann now says that Westminster should further scrutinise the allocation of public money through the controversial scheme.

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"This report, sitting alongside the evidence given at the RHI Inquiry, paints a disgraceful picture of systemic failures in the DUP/Sinn Féin Executive.

"I have written to the Chair of the Westminster Public Accounts Committee, Meg Hillier MP, to bring the report and its findings to her attention.

"Just because there is political stalemate in Northern Ireland does not mean there should be any less accountability and scrutiny when it comes to how public money is being spent".

However, the DUP MP Emma Pengelly continued to defend the scheme saying; "Every SIF project had a full business case and economic appraisal" adding "too much flexibility to Steering Groups was identified and addressed, as recognised in the report.

Video: Arlene Foster explains in 2016 why she posed for a photograph with Dee Stitt, former chief executive of Charter NI

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"SIF gave max flexibility to local communities to find local solutions. It's that flexibility that is criticised in report.

"The report findings are opposite of the then allegations by UUP, SDLP and Alliance that the fund was controlled and directed from the top as a slush fund" adding that "projects are delivering".

Sinn Féin also defending the scheme with Raymond McCartney claiming it was "based on a progressive ethos, seeking to empower local communities and include them in the decision making process".

"The Auditor and Comptroller General’s report flagged up a number of weaknesses in regard to processes, governance and transparency in the SIF scheme", he said.

"Those lessons must be learned and applied to any future schemes.

"Sinn Féin’s focus will continue to be on tackling disadvantage and deprivation", Mr McCartney added.

A spokesperson for the Executive Office told the Irish News last night; "The Audit Office report recognises that governance improved once projects were established.

"Learning from SIF has already been shared across TEO and incorporated into other programmes.

"TEO accepts all recommendations and will respond formally through a memorandum of reply setting out how it will implement the recommendations going forward.

"This will be laid in the Assembly and a copy sent to the Secretary of State".

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