Sinn Fein fails in move to halt minority funding

Sinn Fein fails in move to halt minority funding

9 January 2019

A SINN Fein attempt to defer a recommendation to award £12,500 in funding for minority community projects in the area failed at Monday night’s meeting of Newry, Mourne and Down Council.

Sinn Fein councillors expressed concern at the process used to allocate £10,000 for the Protestant, Unionist and Loyalist (PUL) community and £2,500 for the Black, Minority and Ethnic (BME) community.

They wanted the issue deferred until the funding allocation could be further examined.

Sinn Fein insisted that it had no issue with the PUL community in particular securing local authority funding, but the DUP accused them of turning the issue into a political football.

There was a lengthy debate on a recommendation from the local authority’s influential Strategic Policy and Resources Committee to award the funding to both groups under two themes — cultural expression and positively engaging minority communities.

Councillors were told the funding recommendation was the outworking of a motion passed by the local authority last June which acknowledged the need to ensure all minority communities in

the district, including unionists, felt their cultures, traditions and identities were fully respected and celebrated and that a fair share of funding was allocated to support all cultural expressions.

It was also agreed that the council would use the Good Relations Forum to address concerns of minority communities and report back to the council with recommendations. 

Council officials say the recommendation to award £12,500 in funding had been equality screened and that the council was not aware of any ‘active discrimination’ in any of its financial assistance calls against any group or individuals.

Sinn Fein’s Barra O Muiri outlined the lengthy process and meetings which led to funding being earmarked for the local authority’s Irish language strategy and subsequent funding allocation, suggesting this had not happened in the case of the PUL and BME.

“The council says it has no evidence of discrimination in the organisation and I have seen no evidence of it, but this [recommendation] is discriminatory without a shadow of a doubt. It could be described as affirmative discrimination,” he declared.

“We are saying there is a community not being represented in terms of funding and we will discriminate in their favour and make money available exclusively for them. This money is exclusive for two communities and I think this is a dangerous path we are going down.”

Cllr O Muiri added: “If it was good enough for the Irish language strategy to be kicked into a working group for a year and half to come up with something to sell to this council, why does another stream not go down the same path?”

Party colleague Mickey Ruane said that if there was a substantive paper on the funding recommendation for the two groups it should be made available to indicate how the two figures were arrived at and what the money was specifically for.

He suggested the BME community appeared to have been “thrown into the mix” as a “last ditch attempt to get the issue through council without debate.”

He continued: “The breakdown of the money needs to be explained. “Are we going to set aside separate pots of money for separate communities? My fear is that the message is that we are not treating everyone as equal. This is clearly sending a message that we have not and I would have grave concerns about this.”

Cllr Ruane added: “Everyone can apply to this council for funding and I have no problem with the PUL community getting funding, none whatsoever. We are not opposing this community getting money, but are opposing the way the issue has been put through the council. Questions have been asked about this funding which have not been answered.”

SDLP councillor Gary Stokes said he was concerned about where the debate was going, explaining that under equality legislation the local authority had a duty to promote good relations.

He remarked: “If you look at the history of Northern Ireland, the one thing it tells you is that if you cherish your minority, it will promote good relations.”

DUP councillor Billy Walker said what should have been a “positive news story” in relation to good community relations had been turned into political football.

He said council officers and the Good Relations Forum had worked on the issue and brought forward the subsequent recommendation.

“There is a sinister element to tonight’s debate and it smacks of sectarianism. Sinn Fein has proved beyond all doubt that if you are unionist in this district you will get absolutely nothing. I would appeal to the party to support this recommendation.”

He added: “Streams of council funding have gone to other things, such as Irish language bursaries, and Sinn Fein is wrong to oppose this funding recommendation which fully complies with equality legislation.”

Ulster Unionist councillor David Taylor said the local authority had been trying to find some way of recognising that there was a cultural aspect in the PUL community which it should be recognising.

He added: “A £10,000 funding allocation is a small amount of money and indeed a in the ocean in the bigger scale of things, given the amount the council spends on other projects. I have asked Sinn Fein what the real issue is here.

“This is being dealt with in a transparent way. Sinn Fein want to discriminate against us and I can’t see any other reason why it would refuse the PUL community. This is small recognition and a positive step by the council. Please recognise it as that.”

The Sinn Fein deferment proposal was defeated by 22 votes to 12 with one abstention.