An Ulster Scots community group treasurer has branded a claim that its Randalstown premises “does not exist” a “deliberate attack” on his community.
Despite the Randalstown Ulster Scots Cultural Society having previously attracted grants totalling more than £60,000 from the Big Lottery Fund and the Northern Ireland Executive – and the Orange hall it uses occupying the same site since 1922 – its bona fides have been called into question.
The hall was put in the spotlight last week when details of a £25,000 award, as part of the Department for Communities ‘community halls’ grant scheme, were revealed.
The group’s treasurer, DUP MLA Trevor Clarke, said he can’t understand why the Irish News published a front page article yesterday saying ‘no sign of the address could be found,’ when a postcode discrepancy was a more accurate assessment of the situation.
The headline on the page 4 version of the story read: ‘Mystery around group offered £25,000 for community hall cash’.
Mr Clarke said there “has been no confusion in the past”.
I see this as an attack on the community I represent, to try to besmirch the name of the Ulster Scots groupTrevor Clarke MLA
He said: “I see this as an attack on the community I represent, to try to besmirch the name of the Ulster Scots group in Randalstown. Number 10 Portglenone Road has always been the Orange hall.
“I think it is misleading. The Orange hall has been there since the 1920s and the Ulster Scots have had a sub lease on it for many years.”
A Google Street View search for ‘10 Portglenone Road’ directs the user straight to the front of the Orange hall (as shown above) – although it then switches the address to ‘Shanes Street’ which is a continuation of the Portglenone Road.
Mr Clarke said: “I am absolutely confused. Anyone who lives in Randalstown will notice that there has been a major renovation to the front of the hall where we took away all the steps and put in new steps and a disabled ramp.
“We put new railings around the hall, we put a new kitchen in the hall a few years ago, all with other funding, and now we’re reading a headline ‘mystery around a group offered £25,000 for community hall cash’. I think we play an integral part within the community.
“The very fact that so many different groups use the hall ... I’m just bewildered at where this story has been generated from. I am only one voice of many, but I just don’t understand it. I was amazed when I read it.”
A spokeswoman for Royal Mail said its official address listings for Portglenone Road jump from number 6 to number 16 with none in between, but said there are occasions when buildings were known locally by another address causing a discrepancy.
“It could just be that it (10 Portglenone Road) has not been registered. If it has been missed off the list then that’s something we can look at,” she said.
In a statement signed by the group’s ‘chairman’ they said: “Randalstown Ulster Scots Cultural Society is a properly constituted and long-standing community group, which has previously availed of public funding. In this instance, we have satisfied the necessary criteria and met fully the requirements of the scheme.”
In 2008, Randalstown Ulster Scots Cultural Society secured a £50,000 grant from the Big Lottery Fund to “provide a comfortable and safe environment for current and future users’ of Randalstown Memorial Orange Hall.
A further lottery grant of almost £10,000 followed in 2009 around the same time as Stormont’s Department of Agriculture and Rural Affairs said it had provided the group assistance to help “with fire and disabled access regulations by improving disabled access to the building and rewiring” to improve fire safety at the hall.
Reacting on the negative social media comments around the Irish News story – including one Twitter posting with the hashtag ‘corrupt’ which was retweeted by prominent Sinn Fein figure Rosie McCorley – Mr Clarke said: “That’s why I am saying that this is a deliberate attack on my community and there is a former Sinn Fein MLA tweeting that, and what concerns me is that people then go further.
“They run a very successful programme in that hall for a women’s night and then a night for fitness. In the past we ran pharmacy nights for men, trying hard to get people who don’t attend doctors into the pharmacy. So we have tried very hard to address issues within our wider community, and then you get comments like that. When does this relentless attack end?”
A Department for Communities (DfC) spokeswoman said: “All Community Halls Capital Programme applications have and will be compliant with best practice guidelines which operate across all of the NICS (NI Civil Service) and which safeguard the allocation of public monies. Following initial desk assessment those applications which progressed to letter of offer are being subjected to vigorous verification on issues such as necessary permissions and approvals, ownership, leases and quotations, prior to the issue of a final letter of offer.”
She added: “Best practice procedures also require DfC staff to carry out verification visits and all payments are made in compliance within existing robust DfC and NICS standards.”
An Irish News spokesman said: “The paper is standing over its story.”