DSD squandered £3m on irrelevant projects: Allister

Jim Allister called on DSD minister Mervyn Storey to investigate the 'rampant waste'
Jim Allister called on DSD minister Mervyn Storey to investigate the 'rampant waste'

TUV leader Jim Allister has claimed that almost £3 million has been “squandered on many undeserving projects” by the Department of Social Development (DSD).

Mr Allister made the claim as he published the response to a series of Assembly Questions he had posed to the department, asking for details of spending from the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund under DUP ministers since 2011.

It cites six-figure sums going to groups including one Strabane-based gay organisation, and the Carrick Hill Residents Association – a vocal objector to Orange marches in north Belfast.

The DSD hit back, saying Mr Allister’s views on which groups were “undeserving” appeared to be based solely on the recipients’ identities.

In a question submitted on November 27, Mr Allister asked the DSD minister “to list all the projects assisted, and the extent of assistance, from the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund”.

His question was answered on December 22.

And in another question tabled on December 3 and answered on December 19, he asked the DSD minister to detail “how much funding has been supplied by his department to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) groups since May 2011”.

The answers received revealed that amongst the spend: £1,064,546.17 was spent on GAA clubs, with £273,000 spent on one club alone in Strabane, Strabane Sigerson’s Club; £1,134,100.33 was spent on Irish language groups; £138,997.78 was spent on a republican ex-prisoners group, Tar Anall; £83,176.18 was spent on the Bloody Sunday Trust; £259,087.93 was spent on Carrick Hill Residents Association; and £231,681.00 was spent on LGBT projects, including £170,000 to support the Strabane & Lifford LGBT group alone, and annual subventions to Belfast Pride.

Mr Allister said: “With so many areas needing real help to tackle deprivation, I am angered to find so much money, supposedly for tackling disadvantage, is being squandered on such irrelevant projects.

“This extravagant feting of GAA clubs, Irish language groups, ex-prisoners’ groups and LGBT campaigners is all the more surprising considering it is happening under DUP ministers at DSD.

“It seems the Sinn Fein wish list is not as disdained as some would like to pretend.

“Perhaps, Mr Gregory Campbell should have a word with his ministerial colleagues.”

Mr Allister called on DSD Minister Mervyn Storey “to call a halt to this squander and establish an investigative inquiry inside DSD into how for years, under his party’s watch, such waste has been rampant”.

A spokesman for the DSD rejected “the allegation that Neighbourhood Renewal funding has been ‘squandered on undeserving projects’”.

“Every project which applies for funding is subjected to a thorough assessment and appraisal process,” he said.

“Funding is not awarded to any project unless there is a clear link to the needs of the relevant Neighbourhood Renewal Area.

“Political considerations do not form any part of the assessment and the minister does not have, and does not wish to have, any role in funding decisions.

“Details of every project funded by the department’s Neighbourhood Renewal Fund are published in annual reports and this will allow people to judge whether the funding is addressing social and economic deprivation.”

The spokesman added: “Mr Allister’s assessment that some projects are irrelevant or undeserving seems to be based on nothing more than the identity of the organisations that have received the funding.

“The department has an obligation to assess all applications for funding fairly and impartially, regardless of the background of the applicant.

“We will continue to consider all applications objectively on the basis of need and the effectiveness of the project.”