Coronavirus: Councils given £1.5m to tackle poverty during pandemic

Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey has released £1.5 million to local councils. Picture by Pacemaker
Marie Louise McConville and Brendan Hughes

COUNCILS are to share £1.5 million of Stormont funding to help target need and alleviate poverty during the coronavirus crisis.

Communities minister Deirdre Hargey released the cash from the Covid-19 Community Support Fund.

She said it will assist people in financial stress, ensure access to food, and help those living alone or in rural and border areas who face greater challenges accessing services.

As the first tranche of funding, its impact will be evaluated next month to consider how further funds should be distributed.

Ms Hargey praised the "tireless dedication and commitment" of many people who have helped vulnerable citizens during the pandemic.

The Sinn Féin minister added: "Over the coming weeks we will all rely on this selfless commitment of many volunteers as our local councils continue to work with the sector to ensure that helps gets to where it is most needed."

Belfast City Council is to deliver an emergency funding package to community groups worth more than £735,000.

This comprises of £485,700 from the Department for Communities and £250,000 from the council's own funds.

Groups awarded funding will assist in services such as food supplies, community support and financial advice.

"Funding recipients will coordinate the work of smaller local bodies to ensure support is targeted and effective," the council said.

"Oversight arrangements will be in place to ensure delivery aligns with the high-level objectives set out by the department of enhancing the emergency response to vulnerable residents.

"There will be an emphasis on activity undertaken in the months April, May and June and groups will work closely with the Covid-19 response hub being established by Belfast City Council which will help to coordinate the council response to communities."

It comes after The Irish News on Monday revealed that a UDA-linked organisation and some groups with strong republican connections were among community organisations which shared in an initial £120,000 from Belfast council.

Proposals on how to allocate the 'emergency coronavirus fund' were made before the council had asked groups how they intended to use it.

There have been concerns over transparency in decision-making during the health crisis, as council meetings have been suspended and authority is delegated to senior officials with input from party group leaders.

Belfast City Council said this initial funding was a "short-term injection of a small amount of cash" which has been allocated "in accordance with governance arrangements".

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