Sinn Féin challenge over council funding decision has ‘no merit’

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Sinn Féin has failed in a bid to overturn a decision by Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council not to award funding for local events to commemorate the centenary of the Easter Rising.

The party lodged a number of ‘call ins’ or complaints regarding decisions taken by council members at a meeting on February 29, claiming the local authority was failing to deliver services in an equal and unbiased way.

Sinn Féin councillor Annemarie Logue announced that the party would be challenging the decisions last week.

Cllr Logue said: “The council decided to offer £10,000 to groups celebrating the Easter Rising and £50,000 to groups marking the anniversary of the Battle of the Somme.

“We have decided to challenge the decision by the council under Local Government Act 2014 in that the decision taken will disproportionately affect those people from a nationalist community background who live within the borough and have a legitimate expectation that the council will deliver services in an equal and unbiased way.

“In the Equality Scheme for Antrim and Newtownabbey District Council, it states that ‘we are committed to the fulfilment of our Section 75 obligations in all parts of our work.’ The decision taken on February 29 is in direct conflict with this statement.

“We believe that, in keeping with its earlier decision to fund Somme anniversary events, council should have agreed to the £40,000 funding proposal for both council led and community led Easter Rising commemorative programmes.”

An email from a council official, obtained by the Times, details how after the council sought legal opinion on the challenges lodged by Sinn Féin, the decisions made at the monthly meeting on Monday, February 29, will stand.

It said: “Three ‘call-in’ requests were received in relation to decisions of the council meeting held on Monday, February 29. These related to the draft bonfire management programme, funding for the Easter Rising commemorative programme and funding for the Somme commemorative programme.

“In accordance with the council’s standing orders and the Local Government Act (Northern Ireland) 2014, I have sought a legal opinion as to the merits of these call-ins. The legal opinion has stated that all three call-ins do not have merit. Therefore the decisions made by the council on February 29 will remain unchanged and will be implemented.”

The Easter Rising funding issue was raised at the local authority’s monthly meeting, as the minutes from the Easter Rising Commemorative Programme Working Group’s February 22 meeting were presented to members for approval.

Sinn Féin representatives called for £40,000 to be allocated, while a figure of £10,000 was put forward by members of the working group - a figure to which a number of parties, including Sinn Féin and the DUP, said they were opposed. Following a vote on the issue of funding for the programme, no agreement was able to be reached and funding was not able to be secured.