The Alliance Party has “questions to answer on double standards” over the controversial Social Investment Fund (SIF), the DUP has claimed.
The fund has been dogged by controversy since it emerged a charity headed by the UDA-linked Dee Stitt – Charter NI – was overseeing the delivery of a £1.7 million employment scheme in east Belfast.
In response to calls for First Minister and DUP leader Arlene Foster to have Mr Stitt removed from a body receiving public money, Mrs Foster said it would be illegal for her to do so.
Yesterday, DUP MLA Emma Little-Pengelly questioned why Alliance representatives have been critical of SIF governance when Alliance MLA Paula Bradshaw was “involved with at every stage” the granting of SIF funds to her own Greater Village Regeneration Trust (GVRT) in south Belfast.
“It has been extraordinary to watch Paula sit quietly beside her Alliance colleagues in the Assembly as one after another jump to their feet to criticise the fund,” she said.
“If Alliance opposed the SIF steering group process, why did Paula Bradshaw actively participate in such a process which brought a direct benefit to her own organisation?” Mrs Little-Pengelly added.
Ms Bradshaw said “she expressly declared an interest” at a meeting where GVRT was appointed lead partner in a SIF supported scheme. Ms Bradshaw also said it was public knowledge that she is a member of the South Belfast SIF steering group as an Alliance representative.
“I am on record as having written to OFMDFM to raise concerns over the nonsensical way in which the SIF programme was first mooted, in terms of why it was ever situated within the former OFMDFM and then the sporadic, stop-start manner in which it has been delivered,” she said.
Ms Bradshaw added: “SIF was never more than a vanity project for DUP and Sinn Fein. This poor attempt at distraction politics came from Emma Little-Pengelly, who was an OFMDFM special advisor when the flawed SIF process was designed in the first place.”
In a letter to Alliance leader Naomi Long, the DUP MLA said: “Alliance, in common with other Opposition parties, has branded SIF a ‘slush fund’. However, your party had representatives on SIF steering groups, which means it actively participated in administering what you now term a ‘slush fund’.”
Mrs Little-Pengelly said she had “no doubt that both GVRT and Paula did a good job on a scheme delivering positive outcomes,” but added: “During the numerous comments by Alliance representatives, no mention was made of the decision taken by the South Belfast steering group, which included Alliance’s Paula Bradshaw.”
Yesterday, Naomi Long called for an independent review of SIF: “There is clearly deep public concern regarding many issues around SIF and the processes involved in its implementation and operation.”