Public cash for CoI lobbyists

ONE of the main groups in the Church of Ireland’s debate about whether it should accept clergy in same-sex partnerships has received thousand of pounds of public funds.

Documents released to the News Letter under the Freedom of Information Act show that money went from the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) and Belfast City Council to the lobby group Changing Attitude Ireland.

Changing Attitude describes itself as “a Church of Ireland group with ecumenical friends, campaigning for the full acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and intersex people in the church”.

It has played a prominent role in the ongoing debate within Irish anglicanism over same-sex partnerships. On Tuesday Archbishop Alan Harper asked for both sides in the debate to “curtail” discussions on the topic until bishops discuss it in coming weeks.

OFMDFM said initially that it held no information about funding Changing Attitude. However, when the News Letter pointed out that the group’s website thanks OFMDFM — and the Irish government — for its funding, a Stormont Castle official replied: “We have reviewed our records and spoken with officers of Changing Attitude Ireland.

“We can confirm that Changing Attitude Ireland received a grant of £1,000 in 2008 from the Short-term LGB fund awarded by the last direct rule administration to the Coalition on Sexual Orientation.”

Lord Bannside, who as Ian Paisley was first minister until June 2008, has always maintained that any funds to gay groups during his time in Stormont Castle had been approved by the previous administration.

Belfast City Council documents released under FoI show that it gave the group up to £2,365 in 2008 for a conference entitled ‘Churches and intolerance’ including £290 for a display panel at the function, £300 in “consultancy fees” for three speakers and £400 for printing of presentations for “up to 90 participants”.

Canon Charles Kenny, secretary of Changing Attitude, said that he did not know anything about the grants from public funds in 2008.

Asked why taxpayers should fund either side in a church debate, the Rev Kenny told the News Letter: “This is a small amount of money which we have got and we are grateful for it. It is not for a specifically religious purpose but to help improve community relations and social attitudes here which are sadly out of kilter with those in the rest of the UK and modern Europe.”