Northern Ireland

Givan rejects 'discrimination' claims over community halls funding

Paul Givan
Image caption "I refuse to be drawn into a political battle fought by republicans & nationalists as though it was 1690," said Mr Givan.

Paul Givan has rejected claims made by Sinn Féin that a £1.9m community hall grant scheme "appears to be directed to one side of the community".

The DUP communities minister launched the scheme at an Orange Hall in October alongside Arlene Foster.

The funding was originally £500,000, but that figure has nearly quadrupled to £1.9m since the autumn.

On Sunday MLA Alex Maskey claimed its recipients were primarily from the unionist community.

"This looks like yet another example of blatant discrimination and the DUP's contempt for the wider public," he said.

Mr Givan denied the claims saying the "scheme was open to all and made no distinction based on the community identity of the organisation."

He said the programme was "hugely oversubscribed" with more than 850 applications.

'Battle fought as though it was 1690'

He confirmed that 90 organisations would be funded, but said there would be "many disappointed applicants".

"At no point was I involved in the assessment process and was only advised of the successful organisations after they had been notified."

He described the comments as "disgraceful attempts by political opponents to assassinate my character will be seen for the narrow-minded sectarianism that it is."

"I refuse to be drawn into a political battle fought by republicans and nationalists as though it was 1690, but will continue to put our people first and act on behalf of everyone," he added.

Image copyright Department of Communities
Image caption Mr Givan was photographed outside Tildarg Orange Hall as he made the funding announcement

The deputy district master of Sixmilewater Orange Lodge, William Strange, told the BBC that his Orange Hall - Tildarg, near Ballyclare - would receive £24,700 under the scheme.

He was quoted in a government press release, saying the funding was "a great boost for our hall and the local community".

He said the money would be used to install new disabled access toilets, a new kitchen, a new heating system and insulation at the site which dates back to 1873.

Image caption Alex Maskey said the list was 'another example of blatant discrimination' by the DUP

"Mr Maskey said, "There was mounting concern about why the community hall grants scheme had soared from £500,000 to almost £2m.

"This is a shameful abuse of public money and this minister's contempt for the public knows no bounds."

A department for communities spokesperson said: "A robust, transparent and accountable assessment process was followed, with all applications being scored against the stated criteria.

"Additional capital was identified in the department's budget for this financial year which enabled the allocation to be increased to £1.9m. This was a prudent approach."

On Saturday, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said a public breakdown of recipients was "imperative", given that the scheme risked excluding sporting organisations, including the GAA.

Mr Eastwood said his party had concerns from the time that the fund was opened.

'Over budget'

"It seemed, at that stage, that the criteria meant that GAA clubs could not apply," he said.

"We were worried that the minister was trying to look after one community, rather than the whole community."

Image copyright Press Eye
Image caption SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said DUP MLA Paul Givan needs 'to illustrate that he is a minister for everyone'

When it was originally launched, Mrs Foster said the money would be used to improve halls that were in disrepair or had been damaged - with priority given to those targeted in attacks.

'Minister for everyone'

At Christmas, Mr Givan cut funds to a scheme offering Irish language scholarships to young people. Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness said the £50,000 cut was part of the reason for his resignation as deputy first minister.

Last week, Mr Givan said he had "identified the necessary funding to advance" the Líofa Gaeltacht Bursary Scheme. He also claimed his original decision was not "political".

However, the SDLP leader said: "He appears to be a minister for half of the community, he has not done much to illustrate that he is a minister for everyone."

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