Housing Executive funding for community group at centre of UDA allegations trebles in three years
HOUSING Executive funding for a community group which has been the subject of allegations that its office is the unofficial headquarters of the Shankill Road UDA, trebled in a three year period.
The Lower Shankill Community Association (LSCA) received £7,500 from the Housing Executive in 2013/14, rising to just under £20,000 the following year and £25,000 in 2015/16.
Last year, a BBC Spotlight investigation claimed that the LSCA's office on the Shankill Road was the unofficial headquarters of the UDA.
The programme aired an interview with a west Belfast UDA member who said: "You've a problem with the UDA you go to the offices."
In 2013, leading loyalist William 'Mo' Courtney - who is not a paid employee of LSCA - was found guilty of common assault after head-butting Tracey Coulter in the office.
A spokeswoman for the Housing Executive said: "Community groups in Northern Ireland can apply for funding from the Housing Executive's communities team.
"Last year, the Lower Shankill Community Association was one of a number of groups awarded funding to deliver three programmes on women's issues, reimaging and improving race relations."
In addition to the funding from the Housing Executive, the Department for Communities also spent more than a quarter of a million pounds for overheads and salaries for the group over a four year period.
Communities Minister Paul Givan faced criticism after he and four party colleagues visited the offices of the LSCA less than 24 hours after the broadcast of the BBC allegations in October.
Mr Givan posed for photos with loyalist community workers including Denis Cunningham, who was jailed in 2005 after pleading guilty to UFF membership. The charges arose after Cunningham was unmasked as the person who read a statement fronting a paramilitary press conference wearing his glasses over a balaclava.
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the visit was "at best, an incredible lapse in judgement and, at worst, has provided succour to those intent on maintaining a stranglehold on that community."
The department said at the time that it was a "pre-planned visit" at the "request of an MLA".
A Department for Communities spokeswoman said: "Funding has been made available to LSCA since December 2012 and a contract is in place to end March 2017. A total of £266,644.39 has been allocated for this period.
"Any funding made available post-March 2017 will be dependent on evaluation of the organisation's performance against departmental-set objectives and targets, and budget availability."