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Creationism reference not a funding condition says trust

Published 17/10/2012

Connla Young

THE National Trust has denied it was a condition of trust funding to promote a fundamentalist religious belief about the origins of the Earth at the Giant's Causeway visitor centre.

Opened in July, the £18.5 million centre received £9.25m of public money from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (Deti) where the DUP's Arlene Foster is the minister.

An email indicates the National Trust resisted an attempt by the department to force it to include 'young Earth creationist' ideas at the north Antrim centre as a "condition" of grant funding.

The email was sent by an unnamed Deti official and obtained by North Down borough Alliance councillor Andrew Muir under the Freedom of Information Act.

It refers to the trust's "unwillingness" to refer to the fundamentalist belief at the centre.

"I've amended draft to take on board NITB [Northern Ireland Tourist Board] comment re National Trust unwillingness to accept creationism to be included in the exhibition, as a grant condition. Are you content for submission to be submitted?" the email read.

The identity of the sender and receiver were redacted but the Deti postal address remained.

The existence of the email was revealed by the News Letter yesterday.

Young Earth creationists are Christian fundamentalists who believe the Earth was created around 6,000 years ago.

They also place strong emphasis on the book of Genesis in the Bible.

Scientists say the rock formations at the causeway, which is a world heritage site, were created by volcanic lava between 50 million and 60 million years ago.

Controversy erupted in July when it emerged that an audio exhibit at the causeway visitor centre referred to the creationist belief.

However, earlier this month the National Trust changed its original audio recording to give significantly less coverage to creationist views.

A spokeswoman for the National Trust said the organisation had been put under no pressure to include creationist ideas at the visitor centre.

"There was never any condition and we were never put under any pressure for there to be a condition," she said.

Mr Muir said Deti officials must provide answers.

"The correspondence raises more questions than answers and we need to know what influence was placed on the National Trust," the councillor said.

"There is no transparency and therefore no public confidence in relation to this issue.

"I think we need to know if there was any intention by Deti or the tourist board to put a condition on the National Trust in relation to creationism.

"Some of the information provided was quiet heavily redacted and I want to know what was the rationale behind that.

"I also want to know if there was any information not disclosed and the rationale behind that."

A spokeswoman for Deti said: "The content of the visitor centre at the Giant's Causeway was developed by the National Trust.

"At no time did the minister or the department try to dictate or influence the content of the exhibition at the visitors' centre or make the content a grant condition.

"This has already been confirmed by the National Trust."

A spokeswoman for the tourist board said: "There was no stipulation in the letter of offer of what the visitor centre should exhibit."