More than £370,000 from a contentious ‘bonfire diversion’ fund run by Belfast City Council has been shared out between three community groups.
The annual scheme provides funding for community festivals and events in a bid to reduce tensions around July and August bonfires.
It was shelved in 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic and funding in 2021 was due to be postponed until later in the year.
But in a late change last month, most councillors agreed to split the money between only those groups who received funding in 2019.
Alliance, the SDLP and Green Party opposed the move, branding it a DUP-Sinn Féin political “carve-up” that “lacked any semblance of an open process”.
The Audit Office also warned it “increases the risk of inappropriate funding being awarded”.
Local government auditor Colette Kane said it could “lead to the perception of favouritism and is also unfair to groups not able to apply”.
The first batch of funding was agreed behind closed doors during a meeting of the council’s Strategic Policy and Resources Committee on Monday afternoon.
It is understood Féile an Phobail was awarded £250,000 for various diversionary events before and during August 9 – a period when bonfires are lit in some republican areas to mark the anniversary of the introduction of internment during the Troubles.
The events include a dance night on August 8, with 2,000 free tickets provided to young people, as well as a wider programme of community and cultural activities.
The Twaddell and Woodvale Residents’ Association was given £84,386 towards events this month – two ticketed headline concerts on August 20 and 21, a youth engagement programme and a family fun day.
The Greater Village Regeneration Trust was awarded £37,229 for activities during August and September to be held in areas including Sandy Row, Finaghy and Taughmonagh.
The DUP and Sinn Féin are understood to have backed the funding proposals while Alliance, the SDLP and Green Party were against.
Further decisions on allocating the remainder of the £500,000 annual funding pot are expected to be made later this month.
Alliance councillor Nuala McAllister said her party’s concerns remain over a “lack of openness and transparency”.
She questioned why the funding was urgently required when “many of the events take place after the contentious periods during the summer”.
Alliance councillor and former Belfast lord mayor Nuala McAllister
“There is no reason this funding could not have been targeted at a later date with an open call process,” she said.
“This decision highlights again that Sinn Féin and DUP are quite content to dismiss proper processes to allow fair funding for all organisations in the city who could use council funding.
“We will continue to raise issue with the allocations of funding which are not made in an open and transparent way.”
The DUP has previously defended the funding move, saying it was about helping “disadvantaged communities benefit from funding”.
“It is deeply disappointing that three parties tried to prevent these communities from benefiting from this funding opportunity and displayed a lack of practicality in the exceptional circumstances of this year,” a party spokesman said.
A Belfast City Council spokeswoman said: “We can confirm that there was a special meeting of the Strategic Policy and Resources Committee this afternoon to consider Community Diversionary Funding, but as these papers were restricted, we are not able to provide further comment.”
The council has previously said awarding of funding would be subject to an “application assessment” and “due diligence”.
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