Report is final all-clear for victims’ group FAIR, says Empey

Willie Frazer
Willie Frazer
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A Public Prosecution Service document about victims’ group FAIR “refutes” all allegations of financial mismanagement by the organisation, it is claimed.

Those were the views last night of former UUP leader Lord Empey, after new core funding, £68,000, was awarded to FAIR by the Victims and Survivors Service.

The grant has been made with the knowledge that controversial former director Willie Frazer was elected as spokesman by FAIR’s committee soon after he resigned as director last year. In 2010 the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB) – a Stormont quango – withdrew FAIR’s funding, saying the group was in breach of funding conditions in relation to tendering and procurement.

It commissioned auditors to compile a report on the claims which SEUPB has since declined to publish. As a result of SEUPB’s claims, the Community Relations Council (CRC) declined to renew FAIR’s core funding soon after.

However, Lord Empey said yesterday he had seen the Public Prosecution Service’s (PPS) assessment of the “secret” SEUPB report, and that he believes it refutes all allegations against FAIR. In the PPS decision document, also seen by the News Letter and dated October 2011, fraud investigators explained why they did not prosecute FAIR, saying:

l The SEUPB report did not suggest that FAIR used public money “for any other purpose than for what it was intended”.

l Police advised that “there may well be an innocent explanation” for an allegedly forged document found on a hard drive.

l That in terms of guideline breaches, FAIR “had not been adequately trained in accountancy procedures”.

l That inquiries suggested CRC “gave incorrect advice on procurement and tendering” to FAIR in 2009.

Lord Empey said yesterday that it was “perfectly in order” for FAIR to be audited and held accountable.

“But in my view there was innuendo and political intervention in this case. So I am calling for Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness to apologise, as victims and survivors money comes via their department.

“The fact that core funding has been reinstated to FAIR proves beyond reasonable doubt that the group’s name has been cleared.”

FAIR director Barrie Halliday said they had heard nothing in two years about stated intentions to claw back funding: “Our committee members, spokesman and aims remain the same as before.”

Last night, a spokesperson for the OFMdFM said the Victims Support Service does not comment on awards to specific organisations and that any award to FAIR by the VSS would be “entirely separate to any future position taken by the Department” in relation to any potential clawback of funds.

“An independent investigation has concluded there were a number of administrative, accounting and procurement irregularities in the administration by Fair of both Community Relations and European PEACE funds. This has led the Special European Union Programmes Body to determine all relevant expenditure as ineligible. The attached letters from the PSNI conclude that while the irregularities were not serious enough to constitute a criminal offence, there were clear breaches of EU guidelines.”

The SEUPB said the findings of its confidential report on FAIR “are independent of any decision made by other statutory agencies following their investigation of the matter” – including those of the PPS.

A spokeswoman said SEUPB had “uncovered major failures” in FAIR, specifically in relation to tendering and procurement.

The Peace III funding previously given is now a matter for the “accountable departments” [Office of First and Deputy First Minister and Irish Department of Environment] to consider in relation to “any potential action for recovery or write-off of these funds”.

It is understood the same two departments have still not authorised the publication of the SEUPB report into FAIR.

The spokeswoman added that SEUPB’s statutory role in the matter is now concluded.

A CRC spokesman said it took the PPS claims about it providing incorrect guidance to FAIR “very seriously” and that it would “caution against” reporting any such accusations.

The DUP, SDLP and Sinn Fein were invited to comment but had not done so.

l Police said yesterday that a 2010 probe into alleged fraud in Co Armagh victims group Saver/Naver is still continuing.