As the news broke this week that yet another huge slice of ratepayers money was being made available by Belfast City Council for a controversial bonfire diversion scheme; Saoradh ask how will this benefit our communities?
The scheme gives money to what establishment parties call “area-based festivals” and is supposedly aimed at drawing loyalist bonfires into a regulatory scheme, while eradicaring bonfires in Republican areas completely. This is ironic, as Féile provides little, if any, diversionary or festival activities in areas of West belfast that traditionally had bonfires, such as the Lower Falls areas of Divis and Grosvenor. How much of last year’s £100,000 awarded to Féile went directly to those areas, local residents will ask.
A similar funding tactic was used last year when £100,000 was allocated for Féile an Phobail and £100,000 to Twadell- Woodvale Residents Association. Both of these funding pots were used to run drug-fuelled raves. In Féile’s case, they employed ex-British soldiers and loyalists within their “security team”. At the Woodvale event, loyalist paramilitaries reportedly profited from the sale of illicit drugs. £80,000 also went to the Ulster-Scots Community Network to plan for a new festival.
Auditors subsequently deemed the funding allocation to be deeply flawed in a report that is publicly available. Despite this, we already have elected Sinn Féin representatives confidently stating that Féile will be awarded at least a further £100,000 this year – despite the funding application process not having opened to the public yet. This obviously calls into question transparency regarding the whole scheme.
For our part Saoradh condemn this sectarian carve up of ratepayers money. The DUP and Sinn Féin have increased rates for every applicable household in Belfast simply to fund two pet projects, one of which (Féile) is a limited company rather than a community organisation as it previously was.
Our position, as exemplified in Belfast and Derry last year, is that intra-community dialogue and engagement within local communities is the only viable ptocess to resolve outstanding issues with bonfires. At a time of ever-increasing austerity and homelessness in our city,£500,000 of ratepayers money should not be directed towards organisations that exist to feed the electoral egos of those directly responsible for that hardship.