Empey calls for public release of FAIR report

Sir Reg Empey
Sir Reg Empey

A FORMER leader of the UUP has said it is unfair of Stormont to have publicly accused victims group FAIR of financial irregularities – and then “bottle up” the outcome of an investigation.

Lord Empey told the News Letter that after the “gossip” surrounding the south Armagh organisation, “it is only natural justice that the results of this investigation are published”.

In July 2010, the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB) – a Stormont quango – withdrew funding from FAIR, alleging it had failed to adhere to funding conditions for procurement and tendering.

SEUPB passed a file to the PSNI Serious Organised Crime Branch, resulting in a probe lasting some 12 months. Afterwards, a PSNI spokesman confirmed the investigation had been wound up, adding that the prosecution service “directed that there was insufficient evidence to show a criminal offence, therefore there will be no prosecution”.

Danny Kennedy MLA pressed SEUPB to put its charges in writing to FAIR, which it declined to do until more than a year after cutting funds to the group.

In November 2011, SEUPB released its report to FAIR director Willie Frazer with a letter warning it was released “strictly on condition” that the contents were for his use only.

It added: “As you will appreciate, the contents of the report are highly sensitive and confidential and are not to be published to any third party. The unauthorised use, disclosure, copying or alteration of the report is strictly prohibited.”

SEUPB, a cross-border body, said it is “currently awaiting instruction from the relevant Government departments – Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) in Northern Ireland and the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government in the Republic – as to the recovery of funds provided to FAIR under this programme”.

A SEUPB spokesman said that OFMDFM and the Department of Environment in Dublin “have agreed that the SEUPB may now release the audit report to FAIR, as a directly interested party, on a strictly privileged and confidential basis” – and SEUPB further confirmed it has instructed its lawyers to release the report on this basis.

But Lord Empey demanded that the conclusions about FAIR’s finances be released into the public domain.

“There was no bottling up of the allegations against FAIR which were all very public,” he said.

“So there should be no bottling up of the outcome of investigations into the group. There has been a lot of gossip going around about FAIR, so I think it is only natural justice that the results of this investigation are published.

“There are many publicly-funded groups, such as ex-prisoner groups, who are very critical of government. But there are no clauses attached to such public funding which say ‘thou shalt not criticise the hand that feeds you’.”

Mr Frazer said his legal team is now taking legal action in order to publish the report’s findings.

The News Letter invited the OFMDFM to comment a number of times in December, January and February. However, it had yet to do so at the time of going to press.