OFMDFM 'failed to respond to Community Relations Council'

The chairman of the Community Relations Council has criticised the Office of First and Deputy First Minister for failing to respond to a request to appoint new council members.

Tony McCusker the chairman of the Community Relations Council, says his group contacted OFMDFM last May regarding the appointment of eight new members to the body but they failed to respond.

He made his remarks at Westminster to members of the Northern Ireland Affairs committee.

The committee is examining the work of the Community Relations Council.

MPs were told that OFMDFM was asked to nominate new members to the council and Mr McCusker said they were "awaiting for a reply from May of last year".

The North Down independent MP Lady Sylvia Hermon said she "was "astounded" that OFMDFM had not replied.

In response Mr McCusker said "no more than we are ".

Lady Hermon told MPs that the Northern Ireland Affairs committee should contact the Office of First and Deputy First Minister to enquire about the seven month delay.

Mr McCusker was giving evidence alongside his colleague Jacqueline Irwin who is the chief executive officer of the Community Relations Council.

Both were quizzed by MPs about the role of the council, its funding, the recent flag protests and the council's relationship with the Stormont Executive.

The Labour MP Kate Hoey and the DUP MP Ian Paisley raised questions about the way the group was funded and how money was spent.

Stormont ministers are still working on a new community relations policy, known as the Cohesion, Sharing and Integration strategy.

Mr McCusker told MPs that he expected the new policy document would be made public this year.

In response, an OFMDFM spokesperson said: "OFMDFM has the option to appoint up to one third of the board of the Community Relations Council.

"However, since the future delivery mechanism for good relations funding, scrutiny and advice was under consideration by the Cohesion, Sharing and Integration Strategy (CSI) working group, it was decided that it would not be appropriate to make new appointments at this time.

"The board can operate without departmental appointments."

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