Ballymoney’s WW1 Legacy Programme, which offers financial assistance to groups hosting events relating to WW1 and its centenary, has once again been hotly debated in Council - even resulting in one councillor walking out of the meeting.
During Monday’s Full Council meeting a number of councillors called, once again, for a review of the application process to allow groups with supporting letters to be considered.
The proposal was raised after a group which failed to meet the criteria for funding revealed they had sent a supporting letter before their application outlining their eligibility.
The issue was originally raised during a recent Development Committee meeting when it was revealed that Stage 11 applications for the Ballymoney WW1 Legacy Programme had been closed on Friday, May 23 and were being assessed.
The Development Committee report explained: ‘Some of those organisations who were unsuccessful at Stage 1 have sought feedback and this has/is being provided.
‘A discussion ensued and the officer gave further information on the criteria approved by Council and the application process confirming that applications were considered on the basis of the information supplied by applicants following the open call. However some applicants had received support for WWI events under the Good Relations and Community Festival Fund grant schemes.
‘In response Cllr Ian Stevenson passed on a letter he had received from an applicant and Cllr Finlay asked to review an application while Cllr Evelyne Robinson argued that information supplied by an applicant in advance of the application process should be taken into account.
‘The Chief Executive stated that whilst he understood the sensitivity and problems created where members are being lobbied by groups, it was important to set criteria and ensure that officers apply these in their assessment and that only the information contained in the application is considered. It would be unreasonable and unfair to take account of information supplied outside the open call process. He also advised that applicants who were successful at stage 1 had been invited to and had submitted stage II applications and to abandon the process at this stage was not a course of action he would recommend.
‘Cllr Stevenson asked to be recorded that he is unhappy that, subsequent to the application process, there is a group, who had failed to meet the criteria, had now displayed in a letter, the whole process that they would follow to deliver the project. Cllr Robinson requested that it be recorded that she was “unhappy that a group who supplied all information before the closing date have been disallowed” (the information referred to by the member was not part of the legacy application).’
However before accepting the Development Committee report minutes, the issue was again raised at last Monday’s Full Council meeting with some councillors expressing their disapproval over the application process and the decision not to include supporting letters.
Cllr Finlay criticised Council departments stating: “If a supporting letter came to another department, why wasn’t it put with the application? They clearly meet the criteria. We should reconsider this particular groups application.”
The Head of Corporate and Development Services explained: “Council has an application process which has to be fair to everyone. This group and others didn’t meet the criteria in the application form they submitted. Stage 2 has now closed and it is these applications which are before Council. There is no changes from the discussions we have had at the last meeting.”
Agreeing with Ms Johnston, Cllr Philip McGuigan explained: “There’s an application process, why didn’t this group stick to it? I fail to see why the information in the supporting letter wasn’t put in the application form in the first place? If there wasn’t enough room, then add an extra page. We can’t just move the goal posts when it suits ourselves.”
Cllr Roma McAfee also hit back at councillors stating: “It is unfair to keep challenging Ms Johnston. She has to follow procedure.”
Cllr Anita Cavlan then suggested that the group had been told by a member of Council to send in the supporting letter before the application process call had been opened.
In response, Cllr Evelyne Robinson, who had not signed the Council Code of Conduct document earlier in the meeting and therefore under Council policy was not permitted to speak in the Chamber, hit back at Cllr Cavlan’s comments.
Cllr Robinson said: “I may not be allowed to speak but legally I am a free speaking citizen so I will. The application was dated January 14. This group was not asked to send in the application by me, they sent it in under advice from the Director of Council.”
Cllr Robinson explained she had sort legal advice and had been advised that she didn’t need to sign the Code of Conduct and had until the deadline on July 28.
Before walking out of the Chamber Cllr Robinson added: “This Council should hang its head in shame not allowing me to vote or speak.”
Putting an end to the discussion, the proposal to review the application process to allow groups with supporting letters to be considered was voted on. It won six for and four against.