Glenariff project “frozen” by DUP “call in”

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Funding for a project in Glenariff has been put on hold because of a row over IRA names on the gates of the planned site.

Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council allocated £180,000 to the project on 24 May.

A spokeswoman for the Council said: “Following the Council decision on 24th May 2016 to adopt a capital grants fund process and consequently part fund the Glenariff Community Facility, the DUP has invoked Call-in, which now necessitates legal opinion in relation to the decision made by Council.

“Until the Call-in process is complete the decision of Council is ‘frozen’.”

SDLP Glens Councillor Margaret Anne McKillop said that the decision by the DUP was “disgraceful and will only hurt local people”.

Cllr McKillop is Chair of the Council Leisure Committee which approved the application.

She said: “I was absolutely devastated to hear that after months of hard work by council officials, local representatives and the Friends of Glenariff community group that the DUP has decided to veto a new community facility in Waterfoot. It is incredibly distressing for those of us who have pressed for this new development which would really lift the whole area.

“As chair of the council leisure committee, I’ve been working closely with Friends of Glenariff who have given their all to get this project across the line. I cannot praise their efforts enough. Now to be told at the very last minute that the DUP has exercised the call-in mechanism which, given the timelines involved, will essentially veto the project is deeply upsetting.

“A community facility like this should be beyond grandstanding. We are elected to deliver positive initiatives like this and to work together to ensure they are welcoming for everyone. Pressing the nuclear button at the last minute is a disgrace.

“I will continue working with local people to explore every possible avenue to get this project delivered. Despite the games of the DUP, we’ll continue working for the Glens.”

Sinn Fein councillor Cara McShane accused the DUP of engaging in a “vile abuse of power”.

“The project received majority support from Council after a lengthy debate last Tuesday night. The support from Council was also necessary in order to secure almost half million pound of match funding from an external funding body by Friday of this week,” she said.

“Despite the DUP opposing the funding and losing the vote, they have now triggered a mechanism where 15% of Councillors can sign a petition calling for Council to take legal advice and discuss the proposal again, essentially a stalling tactic to ensure the Glens group miss out on the crucial deadline this Friday of the match funding and effectively throw six years of hard work into the back burner.

“There is no political agenda here and the last thing anyone wants is for this facility, which is a much-needed in a rural community, to be used for political point-scoring. People are very emotional.

“The Friends of Glenariff have been working hard for almost six years to organise this project.

“The facility in Waterfoot is at an advanced stage, with extensive consultation completed, along with a robust business case, economic appraisals and planning permission secured. The community in the Glens shouldered work that would be the envy of many community organisations across the borough.

“This is political posturing by the DUP. It is a deliberate stalling tactic from a party that doesn’t have a mandate in the entire Glens DEA and who will use any means possible to treat people in this part of the borough as second class citizens.”

In a letter to the press, DUP cllr John Finlay said: “At a recent Council meeting, members were asked to approve guidance that would “make provision for the competitive allocation of £750,000 of public funds to external organisations for community, sport and leisure infrastructure projects across the Borough”.

“My party expressed concerns about the process by which grant funding is made available to outside bodies. We also expressed concern about equality impact assessment and the checks and balances within the funding guidance to ensure compliance with section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998.

“In particular, we sought assurances about a proposal from “Friends of Glenariffe” who were seeking £180,000 from the grant scheme towards the replacement of Oisin’s GAA centre with a combined community and sports facility at the McAllister-McVeigh Memorial Park.

“We questioned the robustness of council diligence in respect of this funding application, as the park on which the replacement sports and community centre will be situated is named after two IRA men who were engaged in an ambush on British forces on 24 May 1922 when they themselves were killed. Despite the very obvious sensitivities surrounding this application, it seems to us that it is being pushed through with undue haste and inadequate scrutiny.

“We were greatly disappointed by the failure of the other parties to stand with us on this issue. Instead, the Ulster Unionists, Alliance, Conservatives and SDLP all supported Sinn Fein.

“Given the tough talk from their party leader in recent times, the Ulster Unionist attitude on Council was frankly astonishing.

“The DUP, meanwhile, will continue to offer real leadership, and we will be challenging the funding for the IRA memorial park through the appropriate channels.”