‘Sectarian’ £250,000 boost for Tyrone and Mid Ulster community halls

<KENOX S1050  / Samsung S1050>
<KENOX S1050 / Samsung S1050>

A total of 11 community halls in Tyrone and Mid Ulster have benefited to the tune of £254,000 from a controversial grant scheme administered by the Department of Communities.

Only one local GAA club appears to have received a cash boost, while three local orange halls and one AOH lodge were recipients.

Across Mid Ulster, the funding went to St Tida’s Church of Ireland Parish Hall Bellaghy (£30,840); Sixmilecross Orange Order (£25,080); Glasmullagh LOL Hall (£7,248); Aughnacloy Masonic Hall House (£24,800); Erin’s Own GAC Cargin (£30,600); First Stewartstown Presbyterian (£25,000); Coagh Masonic Hall (£25,000); Mulnahorn LOL (£24,768); Brocagh & District Regeneration (£19,200); Cookstown AOH (£25,000) and St Marks Parish Church, Augher (£17,436).

Many of the community halls to benefit from the controversial community hall funding scheme have suffered vandalism and criminal damage, including the eleven in the Tyrone and Mid Ulster areas.

Sixmilecross Orange Hall, which is to receive £25,080, suffered scorch damage in an attack in July 2000

A hole was cut in the roof of the building and flammable liquid was poured in. The fire caused smoke damage to walls and floors.

Aughnacloy Masonic Hall has also been the victim of ‘hate crimes’ in the past.

In addition, the funding has helped rescue some of Mid Ulster’s most historic church halls, which were in severe danger of falling into ruin.

Three years ago, St Tida’s Church of Ireland in Bellagy, which serves just 65 families, launched an ambitious restoration project to save its historic church. Extensive repairs were required not only to the roof and windows but to the ancient spire which is a local landmark.

Its parish hall was awarded the highest cash boost in Mid Ulster - £30,840.

The funding for the Department of Communities scheme was originally £500,000, but that figure has nearly quadrupled to £1.9m since the autumn.

While nationalists have branded the handout sectarian, Minister Paul Givan issued a statement defending his distribution of the money.

“This scheme was open to all and made no distinction based on the community identity of the organisation,” he said.

“The Community Halls Scheme was established to address the need that exists to improve these important facilities in our communities and the successful organisations come from all sections of our society.”

Mr Givan added that he had not been involved in the assessment process and was only advised of the successful organisations after they had been notified.

“The disgraceful attempts by political opponents to assassinate my character will be seen for the narrow-minded sectarianism that it is,” he continued.

“Is all the investment into our roads, hospitals and schools now going to be viewed through the sectarian prism of green, white and gold politics, rather than on the basis of need?

The SDLP has also expressed concerns over the scheme, with party leader Colm Eastwood claiming that the criteria for the scheme appeared to exclude GAA clubs from applying when it was first opened.

Sinn Fein MLA Alex Maskey accused Minister Givan of “yet another example of blatant discrimination and the DUP’s contempt for the wider public”.

He said there was “mounting concern about why Paul Givan’s community hall grants scheme had soared from half a million pounds to almost two million pounds”.

“Clearly these public funds have been significantly directed at one section of the community. This is a flagrant abuse of public money and this minister’s contempt for the public knows no bounds,” the West Belfast MLA added.