Lisburn City Council funds Unionist Forum meeting using Good Relations money

Lisburn City Council has used ratepayers money to pay for a meeting of the Unionist Forum in the Lagan Valley Island centre, cynically using the Council’s Good Relations programme as cover to enable them to finance an organisation established with the specific objectives of maximising the unionist vote, devising a joint PUL parades and flag-flying strategy and address issues relating to socio-economic deprivation, but only in protestant communities. The story is the front page lead in today’s Irish News.

The meeting was jointly requested by the UDA-aligned UPRG and the Unionist Forum and was introduced by UDA Leader, Jim McDonald, and addressed by the DUP’s Jeffrey Donaldson, UUP Leader, Mike Nesbitt, TUV Leader, Jim Allister and PUP Leader, Billy Hutchinson.

Lisburn Council has admitted in a reply to a Freedom of Information query by myself that they covered the full cost of the meeting, using their Good Relations budget. The Director of Leisure Services, James Rose, provided the following reason for agreeing to pay the costs of the meeting:

“The cost of the event was met through the Council’s Good Relations budget on the basis that the event encouraged sections of the local Unionist community to engage in facilitated discussion on a number of issues relevant to improving Good Relations, including with democratically elected representatives.”

The Council has confirmed that no equality impact assessment was carried out in regard to the decision to pay for the event.

This is not the first time Lisburn City Council has been in the spotlight for the actions of its elected representatives and council officers. The unionist-dominated council has steadfastly refused to introduce an inclusive power-sharing arrangement, with Sinn Fein yet to hold the office of Mayor in spite of being the largest nationalist party on council since 1997. Lisburn’s unionist majority also voted in recent years to donate land in the centre of the town so that a UDR memorial could be erected.

In 2008, the UUP Mayor of Lisburn, Ronnie Crawford, and senior council officials helped the then loyalist leader (and since convicted paedophile) Mark Harbinson fill in an application form for money for the controversial 11th Night beacon gathering in the centre of Stoneyford, securing £2,400 in a funding commitment from the Community Relations Council- money that was never released after it emerged that the Mayor lit the beacon with a poster of Sinn Fein MLA, Paul Butler atop the fire.

In an earlier thread, Mick cited a statement released outlining the rationale of the Unionist Forum, which clearly identifies it as a political body striving to advance a unionist cause and exclusively lobby on behalf of the protestant and unionist communities.

I have pasted the statement below:

 

The Unionist Forum will be convened by the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party and the leader of Ulster Unionist Party. For the first meeting, invitations will be extended to other unionist political parties, representatives and interested groups. The participants in the forum will be discussed at the first meeting.

The purpose of the Forum will be to seek to engage with the entire unionist community and seek to address issues of concern. It will seek to channel unionist efforts through political means. While participants in the forum will be limited, working groups may be established to provide a more extensive reach across the wider unionist community.

The forum will be a body through which unionists could meet to consider matters of interest and concern to the unionist community.

All participants will share the core values of support for the maintenance of the Union between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, commitment to exclusively peaceful and democratic means, non-sectarianism, commitment to a shared future and commitment to the successful operation of devolution in Northern Ireland.

The forum would not be a decision-making body but would act as a body within which a consensus might be built and implementation of any actions left to individual organisations. It would seek to engage positively with representatives from all sections of the Northern Ireland community.

The Forum will hold its initial meeting as soon as is practicable at Parliament Buildings, Stormont.

The agenda items, in no particular order, for the first meeting may include matters such as;

·       A strategy for addressing the Flags issue,

·       Measures to increase voter registration and turnout in unionist areas,

·       Strengthening British cultural identity in Northern Ireland,

·       Proposals to address problems surrounding parading,

·       Proposals to tackle deprivation and educational underachievement in the unionist community,

·       Broader political and economic matters,

·       Steps to increase capacity building in unionist areas.

Given the transparently political and sectarian agenda being pursued by the Unionist Forum, ratepayers are entitled to ask why a council would use their money, under the cynical guise of good relations, to cover the cost of the meeting?

 

  • Morpheus

    It just goes to show that the old way of doing things is still going on in politics today.

    The same for for ‘The Socio-economic Impact of the Traditional Protestant Parading Sector in Northern Ireland’ report highted in the press. This was funded by the Department of Social Development (remind me, who runs that again?) yet a simple Google search shows that the client was The Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland:
    http://www.grandorangelodge.co.uk/docs/may13-report.pdf

    So the taxpayers paid for a report to help glorify the parades which open up Northern Ireland’s wounds year after year not allowing it to heal.

    Sorry if that is a bit off topic.

  • Reader

    Morpheus: Sorry if that is a bit off topic.
    It was though – much of the function of DSD is to hose money around the usual suspects. It would be a pity to distract from the serious issue raised by Chris by linking it to post-GFA Business as Usual.

  • Morpheus

    @Reader

    “It would be a pity to distract from the serious issue raised by Chris by linking it to post-GFA Business as Usual.”

    Right there is the problem with Slugger sometimes – I have read that four times now and still can’t see what point you are making. I don’t know if you are telling me off or being ironic in some way

  • Granni Trixie

    There is a tension in resourcing or facilitating “single identity work”which I believe can lead to better comm rel for all and funding sectarian, politically inspired strategies and actions.
    Lisburn Council ought to be held to account for how they resolve this problem and in this case for the rationale for funding this non inclusive and sectarian event.

  • Paul Clissold

    Chris Donnelly has misunderstood and misrepresented (not for the first time) the event. It was requested by South Belfast UPRG alone. Whilst we have representation on the Unionist Forum we decided that it would be conducive to enabling a better understanding of the core issues involved in the “Flags Protest” to put on events such as these. This was a follow on from the John McMichael Debate and a similar event held in Tanvally orange Hall ( just outside Banbridge). Both were deemed successful enough to hold another event in Lisburn.

    There have been numerous other events/discussions held in Belfast under the theme of Unionist Engagement. This is a series of events that we have put together to enable members of the community to engage with our political representatives. Whilst not a prerequisite or order of the Unionist Forum it has certainly helped broaden out the discussion to a larger target base. This was fully explained to Lisburn City Council, hence the promotion of it through the Good Relations Team . Their statement is self explanatory and we can only add that the event itself was a remarkable success with over 300 attending.

    I have no idea as to the religious background of the audience (it was an open event) although I assume they were predominantly from the PUL community.

    There is no “Jim McDonald”, an apparent “UDA leader”. I think you have become confused. Jackie McDonald, a Senior South Belfast UPRG spokesperson opened the event. He was tasked to do this by our Executive Committee.

    The panelists also included a UKIP spokesperson and a local community representative. A video of the discussion has been released on youtube under our (South Belfast UPRG) banner.

    This all happened many weeks ago and I am not sure why Chris has posted this but we can confirm that events such as these will continue if only to listen to as many strands of opinion as possible. Audio recordings and videos of all the events are readily available via the net (youtube, our Facebook page,etc) so this is hardly an earth shattering exclusive from Chris but we thank him for his interest.

  • PrincipleOfTheThing

    At least they’re finally making a pretence of tackling good relations issues. Tables on pages 32 and 34 of this SEUPB report demonstrates their track record of failing to do anything when it comes to CR: http://www.seupb.eu/Libraries/PEACE_III_Reports_Pubs/Review_of_the_Implementation_of_PEACE_III_Theme_1_1_Report_-_Building_Positive_Relations_at_the_Local_Level.sflb.ashx

  • grandimarkey

    @Paul Clissold

    So is this video on the UPRG youtube page the event in question?

    If it is the event in question, it is labelled as a Unionist Forum Debate, can you confirm whether this is the Unionist Forum highlighted in Chris’ post?

  • Two thoughts.

    (1) “Community relations” and “good relations” are commonly used to refer to cross-community activities. Some aspect of intra-community relationship building must also be necessary in parallel with the wider bridge-building.

    Using council money to support the event by means of making the hall available is not an instantly bad idea – though I’d worry whether the branding, advertising, access and public perception would be lead to people believing that a majority unionist council was supporting single-identity events. But the council could achieve balance through the encouragement of a range of events.

    (2) The manner in which the item went through the Leisure Services Committee deserves investigation. Even better if a member of the public or local press had attended the meeting and remembered what had happened. If does seem reasonable that Alliance and nationalist councillors on the committee would have questioned the event if they had been more fully aware of the details.

    The mature approach for a politician with good working relations with her/his peers would be open about the event and convince their colleagues of the value of the event in the context of the other good relations work. A less mature and sleekit approach would be to slip it in without full details to avoid questions.

  • grandimarkey

    At 15 seconds into this video of what, I take it, is the meeting highlighted in Chris’ post, the people speaking on the panel are introduced as “Members of the Unionist Forum”.

    So what you are trying to say, Paul Clissold, is that while this meeting consisted of ‘Members of the Unionist Forum’ it wasn’t in fact a meeting of the Unionist Forum?

    That does beg the question, what exactly constitutes a meeting of the Unionist Forum?

  • h/t to grandimarkey – You can watch the event

  • Paul Clissold

    I have clearly stated my position. The video itself states “Hosted by South Belfast UPRG”. It was.

    Not all the panelists were members of the Unionist Forum. The Unionist Forum itself all agreed to speak at events such as these to gauge opinion (should they be invited and should they be available). This type of event is being conducted throughout the country and is dependent on local people(whether it be PUL groups, UPRG, Residents Groups) organising them. It stands to reason that they would invite party leaders/members of the Unionist Forum if available as well as local representatives. And the events themselves can vary in subject. It is not just to discuss the “Flags protests” but all areas of concern.

    It is patently obvious that this falls into the category of “Good Relations”. The Lisburn event is a perfect example. Before the event there were many local protests and calls for dialogue. Subsequent to the event we have seen a reduction in both protests and calls. Therefore the event provided a worthwhile platform for dialogue and communication between politicians/representatives and members of the public and must be considered a “Good Relations” success.

    What constitutes a meeting of the Unionist Forum is when they meet at Stormont. Individual members of said forum are perfectly entitled to either organise their own event, attend an event organised by others or nominate others to attend.

  • Granni Trixie

    Anyone with responsibility for handing out public monies needs to be accountable. Lisburn Council surely have rules or criteria for awarding money or resources to groups. Did this group meet or breach these standards?
    No women visible what of RCs? Does the council not operate diversity,inclusivity values and antisectarian policies?

    As I said above I do believe that single identity comm rfel work is valid in its own terms.

  • Morpheus

    @ Paul Clissold

    With respect Paul I don’t think anyone has an issue with the need for such a meeting. If the UPRG, Unionist Forum, Sinn Fein, Alliance, DUP or UKIP wish to hold such an event then that’s their right. The issue is if this should be funded by the taxpayer.

    From Lisburn’s website


    “GOOD RELATIONS

    Working in association with the Community Relations Unit of the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM), the Community Relations function within the Council is committed to building effective relationships among citizens by taking a lead role in designing, co-ordinating and contributing to the delivery of a local Community Relations Programme which:
    –> actively encourages the appropriate involvement of elected members, officers, citizens and relevant agencies
    –>corresponds with local needs and is underpinned by the principles of equitable treatment of all, respect for diversity and acceptance of our interdependence.”

    Can you explain how you feel this event meets that criteria? If this even were not funded by the taxpayer would it have been held at the Lagan Valley Island Centre?

  • Paul Clissold

    Morpheus,

    I think it can be justified under the admittedly open to interpretation wording/criteria.

    There was a “local need” to fully understand the protests (in Lisburn to use this example), to try and bring people together to discuss the relevant issues and to attempt to ease tensions. I am not from Lisburn but I understand that there were protests held there that had the potential to cause unrest. Whilst policed effectively and proportionately there was still a feeling that something had to be done to answer the questions that these protestors (and others who had not protested) posed, along with a general need to query whether such concerns amounted to “equitable treatment”.

    By proactively encouraging debate the Good Relations Team could be said to be attempting to enhance understanding and respect in a period of instability.

    The meeting was widely advertised and open to all. As I have said previously I am unaware of the makeup of the audience but, from the questions form the floor, and subsequent conversations that I have held with people, it appears that there was a decent cross section of the community that attended. And some came away happy with things and some came away convinced that more needed to be done.

    I do not work in a “Good Relations” team but I have over the years met with many across the South Belfast region. I have found that all of them are open to discussion when it comes to looking at ways to enhance community relations, whether it be through single identity work that subsequently gives confidence to progress to cross community projects or instigating a radical approach to dealing with local issues. All are designed in some way to promote a deeper understanding of the respect for diversity even if on the surface they do not always appear so. But underpinning all of the work is the desire to promote a harmonious relationship within the community, between communities and between a specific District Council and the members of the public that live within the area.

    Far be it for me to explain the rationale of any Council Good Relations Team but I do think that they deserve praise as opposed to constant interrogation when dealing with these complex issues.

  • Dec

    ‘The meeting was widely advertised and open to all. ‘

    So Catholics weren’t turned away at the door? Well there’s my concerns about the suitability of Good Relations funding for this event, which discussed the promotion of PUL interests, immediately eased.

  • Morpheus

    @Paul Clissold

    You were there and I wasn’t so how would it have been received that night if I stood up and stated my considered opinion that the changing of the flag policy at Belfast City Hall to bring it into line with the rest of the UK should have been nothing more than a simple housekeeping exercise? And that it was the DUP/UUP who blew the thing out of all proportion in order to win seats/salaries/pension?

  • Reader

    Morpheus: Right there is the problem with Slugger sometimes – I have read that four times now and still can’t see what point you are making. I don’t know if you are telling me off or being ironic in some way
    Neither really. Maybe the second option, a bit. My point is that DSD throws money alternately to one tribe or the other to keep both sides sweet. That is one of its roles and no-one should be surprised to see a wodge of cash go one way or another so long as it balances out in the end.
    Whereas a council accessing targeted funds needs to be much more careful every time. I see that much of the discussion above is concentrating on whether the allocation of funds is consistent with the terms, which is the way this discussion ought to go.

  • Paul Clissold

    Dec, You are merely showing your ignorance in believing that Catholics are somehow against the concerns (not “promotion”) of the PUL community. Try and keep up with the new dispensation that we find ourselves in. Why even Gerry Adams has declared that he wants to hug a Loyalist (or at least engage and attempt to understand them).

    Morpheus,

    I daresay your comments would have been received well and some of the audience would have agreed with you.I have been surprised (but not disappointed) at how some of the discussions have turned to other topics and the audience have been more than canny in deciding that some politicians play their little games. The PUL community ( such a diverse grouping that I am loathe to use the term) consists of many opinions, many strands of thought. So these meetings/discussions are important to evaluate where there is a consensus and where there is too far a gap to bridge.

  • ayeYerMa

    Given that

    1.:poll after poll has shown majority support for unionism (actual inclusive definition of the word, not some new narrow definition that “liberals” have created to sneer at the UUP/DUP) within both Protestant and Catholic sections of the community, and overall support for unionism being overwhelmingly dominant

    and 2. that the basis of all agreements is that the constitutional issue is settled based on said overwhelming support, and that Northern Ireland is therefore constitutionally unionist by definition.

    Shouldn’t therefore the outcome of any “good relations” in Northern Ireland always be expected to be based around the acceptance of unionism?

  • Morpheus

    @AYM

    You really, really need to actually read the GFA. It acknowledged that the majority of the people of Northern Ireland wished to remain a part of the United Kingdom – so you are 100% correct there – but it also acknowledged that a “substantial section” of the people of Northern Ireland, and the majority of the people of the island of Ireland, wished to bring about a united Ireland. Both of these views were acknowledged as being legitimate.

    The agreement reached was that Northern Ireland would remain part of the United Kingdom until a majority of the people of Northern Ireland and of the Republic of Ireland wished otherwise. Should that happen, then the British and Irish governments are under “a binding obligation” to implement that choice.

    So in answer to your question, no, the outcome of any “good relations” in Northern Ireland should not be expected to be based around the acceptance of unionism. The future of Northern Ireland will be democratically decided by the people be that:
    1. as part of the Union
    2. Northern Ireland going it alone
    3. as part of a UI

    All those options are available. Ensuring that option 1 is the preferred option of the electorate is within the hands of Unionism by ensuring that Nationalists feel like joint owners of Northern Ireland and not unwanted tenants. ‘Conform or ship out’ is not an option.

  • GEF

    Chris, Surely you must agree Lisburn City Council has to sink much further down the ladder of acting inappropriately with rate payers money as Newry City Council did here?

    “Playground named after IRA gunman Raymond McCreesh”

    http://www.google.co.uk/url?q=http://www.newsletter.co.uk/news/regional/playground-named-after-ira-gunman-raymond-mccreesh-1-4516659&sa=U&ei=-3meUYP9FcnFPeO7gJAD&ved=0CBsQFjAA&usg=AFQjCNEI6QCZUHntBE-kr81HwnvcYccMUA

  • Comrade Stalin

    Paul,

    Given that Northern Ireland is now pretty much evenly split between the two largest self-identifying communities, the only way loyalist “concerns” are ever going to be addressed is through all-party talks. Unionists talking among each other will accomplish nothing except wasting public money.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Of course, Lisburn City Council was one of the two places where unionists (not Alliance or nationalists) voted to fly the union flag on designated days. I wonder how many of those attending the meeting chose to raise this “concern” with the other attendees, some of whom would may have been present for that decision.