DUP-led grants scheme favored Protestants says official report
Posted By: April 04, 2017
But bias deemed apt to balance “religious objections to lotto funding”
Connla Young. FRONT PAGE. Irish News. Belfast. Tuesday, April 4, 2017
A DUP-driven £2 million community hall scheme is weighted in favor of the Protestant community, a report has found.
However, in an unusual development, the official report found this was appropriate because many Protestant community groups were losing out on lottery funding as religious objections to gambling stopped them applying.
The Community Halls Pilot Program was launched by the then first minister Arlene Foster and communities minister Paul Givan during a visit to an Orange hall last year.
It had an initial budget of £500,000 but the cost of the program spiraled to £1.9 million.
Thirty-four Orange halls and two Masonic halls are among the 90 successful applicants to the scheme.
Just two GAA clubs and two Ancient Order of Hibernians halls were awarded funding.
In total, 58 of the successful applications to the scheme are from groups “perceived” to be Protestant while just nine were from Catholic organizations.
An equality screening document published by the Department for Communities (DfC) last week found that the community hall program was designed to prioritize “organizations that have not attracted previous funding.”
It found that some “faith-based” groups, including the Orange Order, do not apply for lottery funds because “this is regarded as benefiting from gambling.”
And it added: “The DfC Community Halls Pilot Program was possibly their own opportunity to secure funding for hall improvements.”
In a statement, a spokeswoman for DfC admitted it failed to carry out equality screening of the policy when the program was launched, blaming an “oversight by departmental officials.”
Daniel Holder, deputy director of human-rights campaign group the Committee on the Administration of Justice, questioned the lottery funding logic.
“It would be right and proper to prioritize community halls resources towards mostly male-run Protestant faith-based groups if that is where most objective need lies – however, none of the documents produced by the department to date provide any evidence that this is the case,” he said.
“It is also unclear why the department had not mentioned this was their approach until now and why the fund if targeting community centers most in objective need, did not just stick to things like the state of disrepair as its criteria.”
Questions for Department
Editorial. Irish News. Tuesday, April 4, 2017
Former DUP minister Paul Givan was no stranger to controversy during his short time in charge of the Department for Communities.
Just weeks after taking up office he was criticized after being photographed lighting a bonfire on the Eleventh Night in South Tyrone.
Last week the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs confirmed Mr. Givan had been investigated for starting the bonfire and offered advice.
In December, Mr. Givan’s decision to cut the Líofa [The word Líofa means “fluent”] £50,000 bursary scheme caused widespread anger and was cited among Martin McGuinness’s reasons for resigning as Deputy First Minister.
Mr. Givan later reinstated the funding but not before this issue caused intense ill-will.
Then in January came further controversy when the Minister announced a list of community halls receiving cash grants of up to £25,000 to upgrade premises in a scheme that cost a total of £1.9 million – four times the original budget.
Concerns were raised about the apparent lack of balance in the allocation of funds which seemed to include a high number of Orange halls while just two GAA clubs were successful.
Now, in a revised equality screening document, the Department for Communities has admitted that the scheme is weighted in favor of the Protestant community.
It revealed that 58 out of 90 successful applicants were from groups “perceived” to be Protestant while just nine were from Catholic organizations and the rest were cross-community.
According to the department, the program was designed to prioritize organizations that have not attracted previous funding, saying some faith-based groups, including the Orange Order, do not apply for lottery money because of its links to gambling.
This document had raised further questions for the department which need to make clear when the decision was taken to set these rather unusual criteria.
The explanation that equality screening was not carried out before the scheme was launched because of an “oversight” is also unsatisfactory.
By any standards, the community hall scheme has given rise to so many troubling issues that more detailed scrutiny is absolutely warranted.