A report for Stormont’s ‘Department for Communities’ has admitted that a scheme for funding community halls was biased in favour of the Protestant community.
The Community Halls ‘Pilot Programme’ was launched by former DUP Minister Paul Givan during a visit to an Orange hall last year. However, the Minister was already notorious for a series of apparently sectarian acts.
Just weeks after taking up office, Givan was photographed lighting a loyalist bonfire on the Eleventh Night in south Tyrone. Last week it was confirmed Mr Givan had been investigated for starting the bonfire.
In December, Mr Givan’s decision to cut an Irish language educational bursary scheme caused widespread anger and was one of the reasons for the collapse of the Stormont Executive.
It has also now emerged that a list of community halls issued by his department received cash grants that cost a total of 1.9 million pounds, four times the original budget but just shy of a key level.
Had the cost of the scheme gone over 2 million pounds, Mr Givan would have needed the approval of the Department of Finance, headed by Sinn Fein’s Mairtin O Muilleoir.
A high number of halls associated with the Protestant marching orders received funds from the money, while just two Gaelic sports clubs were successful.
Now, in a revised ‘equality’ document, Givan’s former department has admitted that the scheme was weighted in favour of the Protestant community. It revealed 58 out of 90 successful applicants were from Protestant groups, while just nine were from Catholic organisations.
It excused the imbalance by claiming it was used to compensate for the failure of Protestant groups to apply for grants funded by lottery money, possibly for religious reasons.
The Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) deputy director Daniel Holder said the department had made no effort to show an objective need for those groups it funded.
He said: “Originally the department ‘forgot’ to equality screen the community halls fund.
“When this was spotted they put out a flawed document that avoided any equality analysis of who got what despite being done after the money had been allocated.
“We complained to trigger a review to try and get the equality test done properly. This is the document we now have.”
SDLP assembly member John Dallat also criticised the department’s approach.
“To put forward the notion that Protestants don’t apply to the lottery is a poor excuse for the failure of the scheme to reach out to all the community,” he said.