Northern Ireland

Chuck Feeney: Atlantic Philanthropies funds NI politicians' classes

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Media captionIrish-American Chuck Feeney's Atlantic Philanthropies has donated £1m to the assembly

The Northern Ireland Assembly has been given £600,000 by a US billionaire philanthropist to help MLAs improve their political skills.

The money will be spent on events aimed at making politicians more effective.

Irish-American Chuck Feeney's Atlantic Philanthropies has previously donated £400,000 to the assembly.

Part of this latest donation will be spent on events to promote women in politics, and classes covering subjects like managing your online reputation.

The money will also fund courses on how to become a better communicator, how to write more effective speeches and how to deliver them.

The assembly will allocate about £60,000 of public money towards funding the programme.

It is the second time the assembly has received money from a charity trust set up by Mr Feeney to assist "the development of political leadership" at Stormont.

Speech

However, speaking on the BBC programme, The View, UKIP MLA David McNarry said the money could be spent more productively elsewhere.

He said: "It's not for me to say what Mr Feeney should do with his money. I appreciate the help that he has brought into Northern Ireland.

"I just think that somebody sometime should maybe rap his door and say: 'Do you actually think your money couldn't be used better?'

"If you can't write a speech and you can't make a speech, then you shouldn't be in the Northern Ireland Assembly."

The money will be spent by a private company called the Northern Ireland Assembly Legislative Strengthening Trust (NIALST) that has been set up by the body that runs Stormont - the assembly commission.

The trust administers the fund and the programme is delivered under the brand name Politics Plus.

'Cementing the peace'

Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson, one of the trustees of the trust, defended the work of the programme.

He said: " Politics Plus has provided an opportunity for skills improvement.

"An opportunity for MLAs to cover a range of subjects which in other jurisdictions simply don't happen, or if they do happen they happen at the expense of public funds.

"We've been very fortunate to deliver that cash to allow the public at least not to be putting their hands in their pockets."

A spokesperson for Atlantic Philanthropies said: " The over-arching objective of Atlantic's grant-making in Northern Ireland is to cement peace and contribute to building a more equitable society that protects rights and strengthens democracy.

"Recognising the importance of political leadership to cementing the peace, Atlantic has provided support to Politics Plus to enable them to continue to provide independent, effective and creative programmes for those involved in politics and public life."

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