Group headed by loyalist killer gets £900k of funding from taxpayers

Garnet Busby, right, pictured with Jackie McDonald and Finance Minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir 
Garnet Busby, right, pictured with Jackie McDonald and Finance Minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir 

THE Executive Office has declined to explain why a community group in south Belfast which employs several prominent loyalists, including a convicted UVF killer, has received an increase in funding to more than £900,000 in a year.

According to the Executive Office's website, £757,000 was to be awarded to Belfast South Community Resources (BSCR) for the "purchase and refurbishment of premises in Sandy Row" to support"community services."

The project was first announced in 2014, but there was no timescale given for either the delivery of funding or the completion of the plans.

Last year the group received just £6,856 from the controversial Social Investment Fund (SIF).

However, it has emerged that in the 12 months up until March 2017, it is set to be granted £906,566 of public money, a 150-fold increase.

More than £470,000 of that amount has already been paid to the group between April and October this year.

The Department for Communities (DfC) and it predecessor, The Department for Social Development, has additionally provided more than £100,000 to the group for each of the last five years for "salaries, rent and running costs".

The operations manager of BSCR is Garnet Busby, who received five life sentences and spent 16 years in jail for UVF killings.

He was convicted in connection with the murders of Peter McKearney and his wife Jane, who were shot at their farmhouse outside Moy, Co Tyrone, in October 1975, and the bombing of the Hillcrest Bar in Dungannon on St Patrick's Day 1976 in which four people died.

Also on the staff of BSCR are former UDA prisoner Trevor Greer and the UDA's most prominent figure, Jackie McDonald.

SDLP South Belfast MLA Claire Hanna said the Executive Office's refusal to provide further information about funding for BSCR "exposes their arrogance".

"Exactly what justifies this additional £150,000 remains a mystery," she said.

"The Executive's refusal to respond to these questions totally contradicts their assertion SIF is both transparent and accountable.

"We know there is some good work being funded by SIF but any good work is being undermined by the secrecy coming from the Executive Office and their attitude towards questions."

The SDLP MLA added: "We maintain our call for an independent audit of the processes of SIF and the grants it awards to lift this veil of secrecy."

In their response to an assembly question from TUV leader Jim Allister, the First and Deputy First Ministers said that funding had been provided to the group for "delivery of the Sandy Row Social Investment Fund project."

They also said that more than £17,000 had been awarded by the DfC "for costs related to management of the Sandy Row Social Enterprise Hub", while last year the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure paid £50,000 to the group for the purchase of laptops, iPads and accessories.

Mr Busby did not respond to a request for comment from The Irish News.

Asked for the reasons for the increase in SIF funding and what the additional income would be used for, the Executive Office did not respond to a request for comment from The Irish News.

The latest revelations come as the DUP accused Alliance of "double standards" over the awarding of SIF money to the Greater Village Regeneration Trust (GRVT), also in south Belfast.

DUP South Belfast MLA Emma Little-Pengelly said: "If Alliance opposed the SIF steering group process, why did Paula Bradshaw (Alliance MLA) actively participate in such a process which brought a direct benefit to her own organisation?"

In a letter to Alliance leader Naomi Long, Ms Little-Pengelly wrote:

"Alliance, in common with other opposition parties, has branded SIF a 'slush fund'. However, your party had representatives on SIF steering groups, which means it actively participated in administering what you now term a 'slush fund.'"

Ms Bradshaw said she had "expressly declared an interest" when GRVT was appointed lead partner in a project funded by SIF.

"I am on record as having written to OFMDFM to raise concerns over the nonsensical way in which the SIF programme was first mooted, in terms of why it was ever situated within the former OFMDFM and then the sporadic, stop-start manner in which it has been delivered.

"SIF was never more than a vanity project for DUP and Sinn Féin," added Ms Bradshaw.