PSNI probes Pride festival allegations after council withholds funding

Festival organisers say the council has failed to provide detail of any concerns over the past five weeks
Festival organisers say the council has failed to provide detail of any concerns over the past five weeks
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The PSNI is “considering” a report which relates to the suspension of a £125,000 grant to a Newry Pride festival over “governance-related concerns”.

A Newry Mourne and Down District Council (NMDDC) official told councillors this week that no further funding would be released to organisers of the event.

However, festival organisers say they have been pressing the council to specify its concerns for five weeks without clarification.

The 10-day event in Newry’s Albert Basin, planned to start on August 22, is expecting 50,000 visitors, including revellers from Australia, Canada, Austria and New York.

Artists booked to perform include Steps’ lead singer Claire Richards, M People’s Heather Small and B*Witched.

But an NMDDC spokesman said that during a closed session this week, councillors agreed to freeze outstanding funding for the event, understood to be £65,000.

“Councillors were briefed regarding the funding for Newry Pride Event and were advised that due to a number of governance-related concerns the matter remains under investigation and that the council would not be in a position to release any further funding and no further information can be provided at this time,” he said. “A further update will be brought to committee when available.”

The PSNI confirmed that it is now involved. “Police have received a report in relation to an organisation based in Newry and this report is being further considered,” it said,

However, the ‘Pride In Newry – International UK & Ireland Pride committee’ responded that NMDDC is using the allegations to withhold promised funds and that it is taking legal advice. Organisers also confirmed that the festival is “proceeding as planned”.

Upon learning of NMDDC’s “unsubstantiated” claims, the committee said it wrote “in robust terms and invited facts and evidence” but that NMDDC has not yet provided “any evidence or facts on its claims to allow us to understand, to take advice and to respond with our position”.

Once NMDDC provides the evidence the committee will provide its full response, it added.

“The committee emphatically denies any unsubstantiated governance issues as alleged and notes that NMDDC has made no effort at all to engage with the committee for several months.”

It added: “In the meantime and for the avoidance of doubt, the international festival is going ahead.”

Asked to address claims that it has yet to clarify its allegations to the organisers, NMDDC said it awarded £125,000 to the group to fund ‘the UK and Ireland Pride Event’.

A total of £60,000 has been paid but, regrettably, the council is not in a position to release any more funds at this time due to governance related concerns, it said.

“The matter remains under investigation and further information will be released once it becomes available.”

In June the local government auditor identified “serious governance and control failures” in how NMDDC installed a large TV in the city centre in 2015. These included the creation of false documentation to support processes that were expected to be followed; conflicts of interest and the absence of evidence of a competitive procurement process. NMDDC said it had learned all the lessons from the report.