Charity Commission silent on claims of threats to staff and plans to relocate

The NI Charity Commission has refused to comment on claims threats to a member of staff has led to plans to relocate from Lurgan to Belfast.

The union NIPSA has condemned plans to close the Lurgan headquarters at the Lough Road, relocating around 25 jobs from the area.

Upper Bann Sinn Fein MLA John O’Dowd said that while he condemns a threat against a member of staff, ‘such a despicable threat should not be used as cover for a broader policy decision’.

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Opposition to any proposals were also slammed by Dolores Kelly MLA who claimed that since her SDLP colleague Alex Attwood, when Minister for Social Development, had decided to move the Commission from Belfast to Lurgan there had been ‘considerable opposition from senior management’.

She described plans to move the Commission following the alleged threat as ‘opportunistic’.

A NIPSA spokesperson said: “This is not the first time Management have sought to move. In 2015/16, Management carried out a significant campaign with the then Minister for Social Development, Lord Morrow, to relocate to Belfast. However, the Minister was unconvinced and approved a further 5-year lease for the current site.

“Also NIPSA has long argued for more public sector jobs to be located outside Belfast and not to add to the significant numbers of public servants travelling to Belfast each day.”

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Dooley Harte, NIPSA Official, said: “We consider Senior Management are using the lack of a Minister to push through its longstanding desire to relocate to Belfast. NIPSA has requested copies of Equality Impact Assessments, option papers and risk assessments but none have yet been provided. Any decision to relocate to Belfast must be justified and to date, this has not happened. Our members are greatly concerned by this decision as many left jobs in Belfast to relocate nearer to home. We consider this decision to relocate to be unjustified and unreasonable and flies in the face of the previous Minister’s decision.

“NIPSA has written to local political representatives seeking meetings and has sought a meeting with the Permanent Secretary of the Department for Communities to discuss these plans. The closure of the Lurgan office is planned within the next 6 months.”

Mr O’ Dowd said: “The Charities Commission was originally located in Lurgan as part of a wider government and public agencies decentralisation scheme of jobs and services out of Belfast.

‘Whilst I understand that a threat against a member of staff may have brought about the latest review such a despicable threat should not be used as cover for a broader policy decision.

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“An attempt was made several years to relocate the Commission to Belfast but this was successfully resisted and I hope a similar outcome is achieved this time as well.

“I will be meeting Trade Union representatives and making representations to the Charities Commission and relevant department about this proposed move.”

Mrs Kelly said Mr Attwood faced ‘considerable opposition from senior management’ when plans arose to move the Commission initially to Lurgan.

“While I am very concerned about the alleged threat, I am very suspicious of the motives for moving and regard it as opportunistic.”

A spokesperson for the Charities Commission said: “There will be no comment at this stage.”