Northern Ireland news

Orange halls receive more than £350,000 in lottery cash

Former DUP communities minister Paul Givan launched the controversial Community Halls Pilot Programme
Connla Young

ORANGE lodges and halls have received more than £350,000 from lottery bodies over the last two years.

The figures have emerged days after The Irish News revealed that officials at the Department for Communities (DfC) claimed many “faith based” groups such as the Orange Order do not apply for National Lottery cash because of its links to gambling.

The department and its former DUP minister Paul Givan have been criticised after Orange halls were shown to dominate a list of beneficiaries of its Community Halls Pilot Programme.

Launched by Mr Givan with former first minister Arlene Foster at an Orange hall last year, the scheme was said to be "possibly the only opportunity" for many faith-based groups to secure funding for hall improvements.

However, it can now be revealed that over the last two years, 40 Orange lodges or halls have successfully applied to the Big Lottery Fund for grants worth up to £10,000 - receiving £357,000 in total.

Other loyal orders including the Apprentice Boys of Derry and Royal Black Institution also received thousands of pounds, while several groups linked to the Freemasons also feature on the list.

Organisations linked to the Orange Order have also been awarded cash from the Heritage Lottery fund - also raised from lottery games - along with Protestant churches across the north.

Churches claimed grants totalling more than £1 million, with individual amounts from £9,300 to £174,600.

Some of the cash was used to carry out church repair work.

Other mainly Protestant organisations to receive money from the Big Lottery Fund include Ulster Scots societies, schools, flute bands, former UDR associations and community groups.

The Department for Communities' hall improvement scheme has come in for strong criticism from nationalists after it emerged that dozens of Orange halls have received grants of up to £25,000 to upgrade properties.

The cost of the scheme rocketed from an original budget of £500,000 to £1.9m, at a time of cuts elsewhere in the Department for Communities budget.

In total 58 successful applications were from groups “perceived” to be Protestant while just nine were from Catholic organisations.

A total of 34 Orange halls and two Masonic halls were among the 90 successful applicants.

Just two GAA clubs out of around 60 that applied were successful.

Earlier this year it emerged that several ‘cultural societies’ and other community groups also claimed cash that will benefit Orange halls.

Mr Givan has previously branded criticism of the scheme as “narrow minded sectarianism”.

But a recent equality screening document released by the department revealed that officials expect it “to have a positive impact on people of Protestant religious belief and inferred opinion, in that it will go some way to addressing their previously unmet need for improvements to community halls”.

The report claimed that many “faith based groups”, such as the Orange Order, do not wish to apply for lottery funds because “this is regarded as benefiting from gambling”.

"Therefore, the DfC Community Halls Pilot Programme was possibly their only opportunity to secure funding for hall improvements."

The document states that officials believe the policy “is not expected to provide further opportunities to better promote good relations between people of different religious belief”.

A spokesman for the Orange Order declined to comment on the lottery figures.

Daniel Holder, deputy director of the Committee on the Administration of Justice, said the community hall scheme should have been fully open to all.

“In the absence of any evidence of greater unmet need in any particular sector, there should not be such differentials in who gets the money as there currently is on grounds such as gender and community background,” he said.

SDLP assembly member John Dallat dismissed the suggestion that many faith-based groups do not apply for lottery money.

“This kind of disclosure is bound to embarrass the person who wrote the report,” he said.

“It rubbishes the notion they are reluctant to claim from the lottery.

“I think there has to be a very detailed analysis of how double funding could be avoided because it’s clearly being exploited.”

Sinn Féin MLA Alex Maskey claimed the latest revelations were “another example of abuse of public funds”.

“The department have questions to answer as they failed to ensure that normal equality impact processes were followed,” he said.

“These latest revelations are another example of the DUPs disregard for equality and a further example of the DUP’s cavalier approach to public finances, which was also at the heart of the current RHI scandal.”

A spokesman for the Big Lottery Fund said: “Since the creation of the National Lottery some faith-based groups have expressed a moral objection to the source of our funding, and therefore have not applied.”

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