Adams accuses British government minister of ‘repackaging’ funds for nationalist areas ahead of massive cash injection for loyalist districts
The Department for Social Development (DSD) has been accused of “repackaging” funding commitments for nationalist parts of Belfast.
Sinn Féin president and West Belfast MP Gerry Adams last night criticised the DSD’s approach ahead of an imminent announcement that massive public funds will be skewed towards unionist and loyalist areas.
DSD minister David Hanson visited west Belfast yesterday where he said £737,000 (€1.07 million) would be given to the Colin area as part of his department’s neighbourhood renewal policy.
Despite the announcement, over 30 jobs in the west Belfast community sector are set to be lost.
“Efforts to regenerate deprived neighbourhoods must be based on real partnerships. An integrated approach is also essential,” Mr Hanson said.
“This involves new ways of thinking and working but is necessary to ensure that the significant resources which government makes available have a lasting impact,” the minister added.
Mr Hanson insisted that DSD funding under neighbourhood renewal will be targeted using objective indicators of social deprivation.
However, Mr Adams accused the DSD of “repackaging commitments made by the minister almost two months ago”.
Mr Adams said the west Belfast community sector “is being systematically eroded with each decision by government ministers and their appointed agencies”.
“There is little that is new within it. On the contrary this package of measures falls far short of what is necessary to tackle real disadvantage in the Colin area or in west Belfast generally,” Mr Adams said.
“The approach of the DSD and the Belfast Regeneration Office in recent times has been characterised by job cuts and a significant reduction in resources into west Belfast. The Lenadoon Community Forum, the West Belfast Féile and others have been badly affected by decisions taken by DSD and BRO, and groups like the Sally Garden project in Poleglass are now under serious threat.”
Mr Adams’ party colleague, assembly member Michael Ferguson, confronted David Hanson during yesterday’s visit. Mr Ferguson challenged yesterday’s DSD announcement as “yet another example of New Labour spin”.
“Any real money invested is of course welcome but when this allocation is looked at under the microscope it is minimal given the local need, it had to be campaigned for and those who campaigned for it are now losing their jobs,” Mr Ferguson said.
Sean Paul O’Hare, director of Féile an Phobail, revealed that five members of staff will be made redundant on Friday after the DSD refused funding. The losses put major aspects of the internationally renowned festival under threat, including the West Belfast Talks Back evening and the Féile carnival.
“David Hanson has told us that, although he supports the work of Feile, his department are unwilling to resource or fund the work of Feile, despite previous assurance to the contrary.”
In a written answer to the House of Commons yesterday, Mr Hanson revealed that a major funding announcement focused on unionist areas is imminent.
“I am currently working closely with the senior civil service officials to finalise a positive agenda for action on tackling disadvantage, with a particular emphasis on Protestant working class communities.
“A government announcement on this issue will take place in early April.
“A delivery team, lead by Nigel Hamilton, head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, has been appointed to drive forward this important work,” Mr Hanson said.
SDLP assembly member Alban Maginness accused unionists of deliberately distorting social deprivation figures.
"The truth is that on every social indicator Catholics as a group are worse off than Protestants," he said.
"Two-thirds of the top 20 most deprived areas in the north are Catholic.
According to the last census a Catholic is 1.7 times more likely than a Protestant to be unemployed."
Mr Maginess said the number of Catholics leaving school without any educational qualification was 20 per cent higher than for Protestants."
Warning the government against rewarding loyalism, Mr Maginness said: "This deliberate cultivation of victimhood on the basis of falsehood is appalling and it is even more appalling if the government goes along with it.
"We need effective programmes to help all poor areas, not a sectarian agenda to tackle one community's problems only."
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