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Concerns raised about Winston Irvine links to European peace money project

Prominent loyalist Winston Irvine
Connla Young

Concerns have been raised about the involvement of prominent loyalist Winston 'Winkie' Irvine in a £5.1 million project funded through European peace money with the support of the Irish government.

Mr Irvine was one of two men arrested earlier this month by police investigating a hoax bomb alert targeting Irish foreign affairs minister Simon Coveney in north Belfast in March.

He later appeared in court charged with several offences including possession of a firearm and ammunition in suspicious circumstances.

Concerns have now been raised over his links to the proposed Forth Meadow Community Greenway scheme, which has been part funded through the EU’s Peace IV Programme and is managed by the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB).

The Department of Rural and Community Development in Dublin and the Executive Office at Stormont have also provided support for the Peace IV element of the project.

Other funders include the Department for Infrastructure and the Department for Communities.

The project is designed to connect parks and open spaces along a 12-kilometre route in north and west Belfast and takes in the old Mackies site.

A decision on its future was deferred at a meeting of Belfast City Council’s planning committee earlier this month.

Earlier this week the Take Back the City Coalition highlighted Mr Irvine’s involvement in organisations that support the controversial project.

In a letter to interested parties Chloe Trew, director of Participation and Practice of Rights, raised various concerns about the project, which is due before the planning committee again next week.

The coalition, which wants to see some social housing built on the site, has voiced concern that the application for the greenway has been “rushed”.

Focusing on other potential issues, the pressure group warned that the current plans “are at risk of creating a 21st century ‘green-washed’ interface – embedding and reinforcing sectarian division in Belfast and territorial claims for generations to come”.

They also claim the current plans will “in effect declare Mackie’s a ‘no-go zone’ for homes.

Significantly, links between Mr Irvine and the project have also been highlighted.

Mr Irvine is listed as a director of Twaddell and Woodvale Residents Association, which according to Belfast City Council’s own report was asked for “further additional consultation” in relation to the greenway project.

The link between Mr Irvine and his employer Intercomm Ireland, which is involved in peace building, is also highlighted.

A spokeswoman for Sustrans, which encourages people to walk and cycle, last night said Belfast City Council asked it to deliver a volunteer project on the Forth Meadow Greenway and that it “teamed up with Intercomm Ireland”, which carried out mediation training.

The spokeswoman added that Mr Irvine was “part of a three-person team we engaged with for the first couple of months”.

In a report due to be presented at next week’s planning committee meeting it is claimed that funding linked to the project is “timebound” and must be spent by December.

It was claimed over £2m has been spent to date and with a warning “non-completion risks clawback”.

The report warned that “any delay in terms of the timeline risks the funding for the project and the risk of financial and reputational implications for the council”.

Ms Trew last night said: “A sensible solution is on the table, developed by homeless families in partnership with local and international experts, which can deliver a Greenway, funding for communities and homes.

“We urge elected representatives to reject this application and embrace the alternative.’’

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