DUP defends funding for ex-paramilitary groups

Maghaberry Prison
Maghaberry Prison

A leading DUP figure last night defended a decision to provide a public funding to a string of groups which offer support to former republican and loyalist terrorists.

Belfast councillor Gavin Robinson proposed an arrangement whereby five organisations representing ex-convicts would receive the leftover council money.

According to the Alliance Party, the DUP position was supported by Sinn Fein and the PUP — two parties with links to terror groups.

It comes just a day after the DUP vowed that its planned scheme to provide pensions for those severely injured in the Troubles would never include anybody with a paramilitary conviction.

Cllr Robinson, a former Lord Mayor who is aiming to unseat Alliance’s Naomi Long in East Belfast in May’s General Election, said he did not see “any contradiction” between the DUP’s stances on the two matters.

He said that initially, the plan had been to fund the five groups for a year – a commitment which would have run into six figures — but his compromise solution was to fund them for three months.

But Alliance’s Michael Long — a fellow Belfast councillor and the husband of the East Belfast MP — raised concerns about the procedure by which the funding had been voted through.

Last night Sinn Fein could not be reached for comment.

The money is coming from an unspent pot of £800,000 which Belfast City Council is now dividing up.

The money has to be spent by the end of this financial year, said councillor Robinson.

The ex-prisoners’ groups in question are The Ex-Prisoners’ Interpretive Centre, Tar Isteach, Tar Anall, Coiste na Niarchimi, and the Prisoners’ Area Network.

Asked what distinction he draws between paramilitary convicts getting pensions and paramilitary convicts getting this type of funding, he said: “Our party’s position isn’t that people who have a past aren’t entitled to a future. But it is our position that you shouldn’t get recompense or support as a victim-maker.”

He said this reporter’s characterisation of the issue was too blunt, adding: “I don’t see any contradiction between the two positions.”

He added: “There is a huge difference in my view between the pension issue and supporting someone and compensating them, or recognising that someone’s current work today provides a positive role within our society. And whether people like it or not, whether people think its distasteful or not, there’s a positive role played.

“And I tell you, one of the worst things we can do in this society is to turn our backs on people who have shown a willingness to change and are showing that they have a positive contribution to make to wider society.”

It is understood that the initial bid for funding was for roughly £300,000 across all of the groups, over a year. The WAVE Trauma Centre, which works with victims of terrorism, also applied for funding to the council, and has received it.

The decision was taken at Belfast City Council’s Strategic Policy and Resources Committee yesterday, and will need to be ratified by the new council when takes over next month.

Cllr Long said the arrangement was supported by the DUP, PUP and Sinn Fein, but opposed by the Alliance, SDLP and UUP.

He objected to the way the allocation of the £800,000 in cash is being handled. The money has not been widely advertised as being available, and he said there is a lack of a “clear process” for deciding how it is spent – though the council itself said it does have a list of criteria against which applications must be assessed.