Unionist council told to include nationalists on committee to secure European cash

Lisburn & Castlereagh City Council's offices at Lagan Valley Island, Lisburn
Marie Louise McConville

THE finance minister has called on Lisburn & Castlereagh City Council to include nationalists on a committee in a row which could put £2.5m of European funding in jeopardy.

Máirtín Ó Muilleoir said the unionist-dominated council's "refusal to include both political traditions" is out of step with the principles of the Peace IV programme.

A total of €81 million has been earmarked for local authorities across the north for projects supporting children and young people, shared spaces and services and positive relations.

Councils submit application which are assessed by the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB) and presented to an independent steering committee for decisions.

However, there is a requirement for each council to form a Peace IV committee made up of elected members alongside statutory and social partner representatives.

Lisburn & Castlereagh's committee currently includes eight unionist and two Alliance councillors but none of the council's four SDLP representatives.

The SEUPB wrote to the council in December to say that during deliberations regarding its application, "members expressed concern regarding the nature of the political representation within your partnership".

In the letter, which The Irish News has seen, the funding body requested that the council "re-consider the composition of the elected representation" so that it may "fully reflect the spirit of the objectives of the Peace Programme".

However, in another letter sent on February 14 by Gina McIntyre, chief executive of SEUPB, it refers to correspondence from Lisburn & Castlereagh which communicated a decision "to decline the request to expand the political representation".

The letter described the decision as "regrettable".

"The success of the PEACE Programme is predicated on inclusion, and whilst recognising the contribution of the social partners to inclusion, the political representation from the council is also critically important in this regard".

Ms McIntyre adds: "The steering committee is mindful of its obligation to ensure that projects selected for funding positively support the core aims and objectives of the Peace Programme and to this end, the steering committee will consider what further actions may be required in this instance."

Sinn Féin finance minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir has also written to the council, saying its "refusal to include both political traditions in its partnership is completely unacceptable".

"The council has had a difficult past but it has an opportunity to set the tone for a new era of inclusion. I have written to the mayor seeking an urgent meeting on this matter and I urge councillors to reconsider their decision."

The authority was formed in 2015 following the amalgamation of Lisburn City Council and Castlereagh Borough Council, both of which had been criticised in the past for their approach to power-sharing.

SDLP councillor Pat Catney described the council's position as "an absolute disgrace".

“£2.5m of funding for children and children's services is being stalled because the DUP is refusing to appoint a nationalist to a partnership committee," he said.

“Nothing should unite us like the opportunity to transform the lives of children and young people. That goal should be far above the petty sectarian politics that has dogged this council for far too long."

A spokeswoman for Lisburn & Castlereagh said Peace IV social partners were appointed via an open recruitment exercise and political representatives "using the council's adopted selection process, D'Hondt".

"Further communications have since been received from the SEUPB and from the Department of Finance. The council is currently considering matters and is working directly with the SEUPB to find a satisfactory solution".

A spokesman for the SEUPB also said it was "currently engaged in discussions with Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council on the requirements for funding under the EU's Peace IV Programme".

"Until these discussions have been completed, the body is unable to comment further."

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