Sinn Féin defend role of former prisoners after criticism of group headed by UVF killer

UVF killer Garnet Busby, on right, with prominent UDA figure Jackie McDonald and finance minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir
UVF killer Garnet Busby, on right, with prominent UDA figure Jackie McDonald and finance minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir

SINN Féin has defended the rights of former paramilitary prisoners amid concerns over funding for a community group headed by a convicted UVF killer.

The Executive Office has declined to explain why Belfast South Community Resources (BSCR) received an additional £150,000 in its grant through the Social Investment Fund.

On Tuesday, Sinn Féin joined with the DUP to block a call at the assembly for an independent review of money granted through SIF, which has been under scrutiny since a charity headed by UDA leader Dee Stitt was awarded a contract to manage £1.7 million from the fund.

The operations manager of BSCR is Garnet Busby who was convicted in connection with the murders of Peter McKearney and his wife Jane in 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.

Sinn Féin Mid-Ulster MLA Linda Dillon said the party has "supported the victims of the Glenanne their campaign for truth".

She said: "A number of mechanisms were agreed at Stormont House to deal with the legacy of the past but the British government continues to delay the implementation of those mechanisms on bogus national security grounds."

However, she stopped short of singling Mr Busby out for criticism and said former prisoners are "entitled to hold these positions".

"The contribution of former political prisoners to supporting and maintaining the peace has been widely recognised. .....yet discrimination against former political prisoners continues to be widespread particularly in the area of employment. That is unfair and unjust."

The former Mayor of Dungannon, independent councillor Barry Monteith, said he was aware of an application for SIF funding for sports facilities in the town which was rejected in 2012.

He said people would be angry that groups headed by "those responsible for mayhem" in the area were instead receiving public money.

Last year BSCR received just £6,856 from the fund, and was due to be awarded a total of £757,000 for the "purchase and refurbishment of premises in Sandy Row".

However, in the 12 months up until March 2017, it is set to be granted £906,566 of public money.

It has also emerged that DUP South Belfast MLA Christopher Stalford pays rent to BSCR for his constituency office in the same building in Sandy Row.

Mr Stalford told the Assembly: "The reason why it took so long to get the office open is because the finance office would not allow me to pay rent to an Ulster Unionist councillor (Chris McGimpsey) who was the previous person to own the building, rather than a community group.

"I am proud of community groups such as Belfast South Community Resources, which are committed to peaceful, democratic means and which are determined to drive positive change."