Northern Ireland

Community halls fund of £1.9m is 'directed at one side of community'

Alex Maskey said the list was 'another example of blatant discrimination' by the DUP
Image caption Alex Maskey said the list was 'another example of blatant discrimination' by the DUP

Sinn Féin has said a £1.9m community hall grant scheme "appears to be directed to one side of the community".

DUP Communities Minister Paul Givan launched the scheme at an Orange Hall in October alongside Arlene Foster.

The funding was originally £500,000, but that figure has nearly quadrupled to £1.9m since the autumn.

Mr Givan has not published a list of the scheme's recipients, but said the programme was "hugely oversubscribed" with more than 850 applications.

He confirmed that 90 organisations would be funded, but said there would be "many disappointed applicants".

The deputy district master of Sixmilewater Orange Lodge, William Strange, told the BBC that his Orange Hall - Tildarg, near Ballyclare - would receive £24,700 under the scheme.

He was quoted in a government press release, saying the funding was "a great boost for our hall and the local community".

Image copyright Department of Communities
Image caption Mr Givan was photographed outside Tildarg Orange Hall as he made the funding announcement

He said the money would be used to install new disabled access toilets, a new kitchen, a new heating system and insulation at the site which dates back to 1873.

On Sunday, west Belfast MLA Alex Maskey, who has seen the list, claimed that its benefactors were primarily from the unionist community.

"This looks like yet another example of blatant discrimination and the DUP's contempt for the wider public," he said.

Image caption Paul Givan cut £50,000 from an Irish language bursary scheme at Christmas, but said last week that he had found the money to pay for it

"There was mounting concern about why the community hall grants scheme had soared from £500,000 to almost £2m.

"This is a shameful abuse of public money and this minister's contempt for the public knows no bounds."

On Saturday, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said a public breakdown of recipients was "imperative", given that the scheme risked excluding sporting organisations, including the GAA.

Mr Eastwood said his party had concerns from the time that the fund was opened.

'Over budget'

"It seemed, at that stage, that the criteria meant that GAA clubs could not apply," he said.

"We were worried that the minister was trying to look after one community, rather than the whole community."

Image copyright Press Eye
Image caption SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said DUP MLA Paul Givan needs 'to illustrate that he is a minister for everyone'

When it was originally launched, Mrs Foster said the money would be used to improve halls that were in disrepair or had been damaged - with priority given to those targeted in attacks.

'Minister for everyone'

At Christmas, Mr Givan cut funds to a scheme offering Irish language scholarships to young people. Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness said the £50,000 cut was part of the reason for his resignation as deputy first minister.

Last week, Mr Givan said he had "identified the necessary funding to advance" the Líofa Gaeltacht Bursary Scheme. He also claimed his original decision was not "political".

However, the SDLP leader said: "He appears to be a minister for half of the community, he has not done much to illustrate that he is a minister for everyone."

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