MEP in call for action on FAIR funding

VICTIMS’ group FAIR is being subjected to months of “trial by media”, according to MEP Jim Nicholson.

The Special EU Projects Body (SEUPB) withdrew funding from the Markethill-based group in July 2010, publicly alleging “major failures in the organisation’s ability to adhere to the conditions associated with its funding allocation”.

Since 2010, Stormont minister Danny Kennedy has been pressing SEUPB, a funding body under the department of finance, to put specific allegations in writing to FAIR so that it can defend itself.

On Tuesday, he said that SEUPB had now offered FAIR a report on its alleged wrongdoings but that the report would only be released subject to “strict legal conditions”.

Yesterday, Conservative and Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson said: “I have been seriously concerned about how FAIR has been treated throughout this prolonged investigation. Given that the PSNI and PPS have concluded that FAIR has no case to answer I fail to understand why SEUPB and OFMDFM continue to call the conduct of FAIR into question in the media.

“The essential work of FAIR for the victims of south Armagh is a matter of public record and there are real questions to answer as to how this group has been treated since mid-2010.

“Given the seriousness of this matter FAIR are entitled to a proper hearing that includes being able to have any accusations presented to them in writing so that they can provide their side of the story and have an opportunity to contest any allegations.

“What we have had up to this point has amounted to trial by media with months of Chinese whispers and I question why SEUPB has been allowed to do this.”

Ulster Unionist victims’ spokesperson Mike Nesbitt yesterday challenged OFMDFM to be transparent on the case against the victims’ group.

“If OFMDFM has uncovered something, then it is only right and proper FAIR are told,” he said.

“Openness and transparency are values we say we put at the heart of the way we do government. Having talked the talk, it’s time to walk the walk and tell us what’s wrong.”

A decision by SEUPB to try and claw back £350,000 from FAIR could mean the end of the group, he added.

The DUP and FAIR worked closely together for many years on issues relating to IRA victims. However the relationship has become increasingly strained, with FAIR openly criticising DUP deals with Sinn Fein.

Neither SEUPB nor OFMDFM had made any comment at the time of going to press.