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Belfast City Council

£500,000 bonfire fund goes up in smoke

19 July 2021

A bonfire in the Lower Newtownards Road area of East Belfast.
(Image: Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.)

Some time ago Belfast health authorities apologised when it was discovered that they had distributed initial Covid vaccines to "community" groups.(1)  The trust apologised,  but it didn't explain.  Everyone understood. Every initiative in the North involves a routine sectarian carve up with a share going to local groups influenced by Sinn Fein and loyalist paramilitaries

The annual bonfire scheme by Belfast City Council is part of this culture and claims to reduce tensions around July and August bonfires by shelling out £500,000 to the groups. In 2020 and 2021 the scheme did not go ahead because of Covid restrictions.

But in early July councillors agreed to split the money between those groups who received funding in 2019.  It seemed a strange decision given that the bonfires were just about to be lit and therefore there was no way that the funds could change the plans of the loyalists.  Alliance, SDLP and Green Party opposed the plan.(2)

This decision has now been queried by the local government auditors. They had investigated earlier schemes and "strongly discouraged" a reliance on discretionary funding and advised that criteria should be "widely advertised". They now note that these concerns have been ignored.

A Northern Ireland Audit Office (NIAO) spokesman said:

"Following the NIAO's 2017-18 audit of Belfast City Council, the local government auditor made a number of recommendations regarding the summer diversionary events and programmes and we noted the following year that there had been processes put in place to implement these recommendations.
"The local government auditor has written to the council to highlight her concerns that an amendment in respect of the programme, made by the council at its July 1 2021 meeting, appears to repeat some of the concerns we had previously raised regarding this funding."
Alliance councillor Nuala McAllister, who met with the Audit Office said "transparency is key to maintaining confidence in politics, particularly local government".
"Once again we have seen no open process and once again we have seen the DUP and Sinn Féin working closely together to carve up money when it suits them." (3)
Nothing will come of the protests. In fact Sinn Fein and the DUP are cooperating to take charge of the presentation of resolutions and to exclude other parties. Despite the fireworks at Stormont the day to day division of spoils in the councils is the bedrock of the peace process. That sectarian logic is accepted by almost everyone and will not be challenged until an effective working class movement emerges.

An unexpected accomplice
People before Profit and the Belfast Bonfire fund

The investigation around the allocation of bonfire funds at Belfast City Council will involve an unexpected group. That group is People before Profit (4).

So why is a socialist group involved in a sectarian carve-up?

Has it anything to do with their close links with Sinn Fein?

Has it anything to do with their close links with union leaders? After all, Mick O'Reilly of Unite sponsored UDA boss Dee Stitt for the Social Investment Fund based in Stormont.(5)

How about connections to the loyalist PUP that you seem to identify as working class?

Finally, why is that PbP in Dublin see an endless landscape of corruption in Southern politics while your Facebook pages in the North seem unaware of the sea of sectarian decay in which Northern politics operates?

Just asking for a friend.


(1) Coronavirus: Belfast Trust apologises for community workers vaccine ‘error’

(2) Belfast City Council's £500,000 bonfire diversion funding move branded a DUP-Sinn Féin 'carve-up'

(3) Audit Office raises concerns with Belfast City Council over £500,000 bonfire diversion fund

(4)  People Before Profit councillor Matt Collins criticised the "lack of openness" in the proposal and "the way it repeats the Sinn Féin/DUP communal carve-up that exists on Belfast City Council". But he added: "That said, we recognise that there are important community groups that do good work off the back of this funding. For that reason, we were not willing to block this proposal".

(5) UDA boss Dee Stitt 'lied' on his Charter NI application

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