The DUP ‘Communities’ Minister Paul Givan has been accused of acting to a sectarian agenda after he distributed almost two million pounds in grants to loyalist organisations, Orange lodges and Protestant church groups.
Mr Givan (pictured, second from right), who since Christmas has been embroiled in controversy after first revoking and then restoring an Irish language promotion grant of just fifty thousand pounds, has now been accused of blatant discrimination in the runaway operation of a Community Hall grants scheme.
The budget for the scheme quadrupled as Givan divvied out the cash. Among the list of 90 successful applicants were Orange, Royal Black Preceptory and Masonic halls as well as church and community halls and a pipe band. Only a handful of the 90 recipients of his largesse were not associated with the Protestant community in one form or other. However, at least one rejection letter to a Gaelic sports club flippantly dismissed their application, tersely stating their organisation was not eligible to receive support.
SCANDAL UPON SCANDAL
The scandal over the funding of community halls comes hot on the heels of the now infamous ‘cash-for-ash’ corruption scandal, in which some 500 million pounds looks set to be paid out to alleged unionist insiders, as well as a separate scandal over payments made to loyalist paramilitary ‘community groups’.
“This looks like yet another example of blatant discrimination and the DUP’s contempt for the wider public,” said Sinn Fein Assembly member Alex Maskey of the latest controversy.
“I have seen the list of recipients and clearly these public funds have been significantly directed at one section of the community,” he said. “This is a shameful abuse of public money and this Minister’s contempt for the public knows no bounds. This only further undermines public confidence in the political institutions and the people must now be allowed to have their say on the DUP’s arrogance.”
Mr Maskey suggested the scheme was being used by the DUP to generate further support for the party in the wake of the RHI scandal which could cost the public purse up to 600m pounds.
“Public money should be used responsibly to address need rather than attempt to buy support in the wake of the RHI scandal,” he said.
After weeks of uncertainty, Sinn Fein this week reversed its earlier opposition to a public inquiry into the RHI scandal when its Finance Minister Mairtin O Muilleoir announced that it would go ahead.
The controversy over the so-called ‘Renewable Heat Initiative’ increased dramatically this week when two senior DUP Special Advisors stepped aside after being linked to alleged crony payouts -- unlike DUP party leader Arlene Foster, who precipitated the collapse of her coalition with Sinn Fein when she refused to do the same.
“It is clear that, with time short until the Assembly dissolves, the only way to serve the public interest is for me as Finance Minister to move to institute a public inquiry immediately,” said Mr O Muilleoir. “No other type of investigation is now feasible given time pressures.
But a defiant DUP hit back at what it said was Sinn Fein’s “newfound concern” for public finances. It also complained about Sinn Fein’s demands to supporting the Irish language through legislation, and claimed the cost of an Irish language act would overshadow those associated with the DUP’s financial scandals.
Senior DUP figure Edwin Poots said: “Perhaps after they explain exactly whether they misunderstood or misrepresented what was agreed at St Andrews they could explain exactly how many hundreds of millions of pounds they would spend over the next number of years on a politically motivated Irish Language Act were they allowed to proceed with their wishlist.”
Poots caused a furore earlier this week when he said his party had never agreed to an Irish Language Act in the St Andrews Agreement in 2006, despite the inclusion in that agreement a statement that the British government would introduce an Irish Language act “and work with the incoming Executive to enhance and protect the development of the Irish language”.
He said that had been a “side deal” between Sinn Fein and the then British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
“Any gripe Sinn Fein has, it is with the British government. The DUP negotiated the St Andrews Agreement. We never agreed to an Irish Language Act. We have done what we said we would do. We have done nothing dishonourable.”
He claimed Sinn Fein had simply been outmanoeuvred. “The DUP is too strong,” he said. “Sinn Fein want a weaker brand of unionism to deal with, and we have no problem facing up to that.”
In response Sinn Fein’s Barry McElduff said; “It is utterly ludicrous for Edwin Poots to suggest that the DUP did not sign up to an Irish Language Act and that it is not a matter for them. Respect is a matter for everyone. It was part of the terms of the St Andrew’s Agreement. They signed up to that agreement and they have failed to implement it.”