Shortcomings of SIF and the mixed signals we’re sending to successor generations

Stephen Dempster did a handy piece of reportage on the Social Investment Fund. The figure at the heart of the piece, Robin Newton was quick (9.01) to anticipate the Nolan firestorm that followed this morning:

“I reject the allegations in the Spotlight programme. I did not mislead the NI Assembly. I have never been appointed to any position with Charter NI. I am not responsible for how others refer to me in their correspondence.

I will not be a candidate for Speaker in any new Assembly. At the next NI Assembly sitting, I will chair the election of a new Speaker as the first matter of business.”

All of which made the subsequent calls for him to resign the office of Speaker a little bit beside the point.

The policy itself in terms of its poor governance structure was little more than a death trap. There was, as the programme highlighted, a conflict of interest in that some influential members of the steering committee were able to bid for very large pots of money.

Implementation was rushed after a prolonged period of intra-OFMdFM wrangling over the primary funding formula and may be part of the reason why bigger players (with larger capacity) like Charter NI and the Ashton Centre were able to scoop a lion’s share.

It would help if we’d been able to have sight of the minutes of several of the Steering Groups to see how broad an issue this has been.

The question of whether this close play with those of a paramilitary or ex-paramilitary background is actually helpful in getting them to leave their old ways was adeptly handled by Claire Mitchell a few weeks ago.

Even performance checks (and no one, as yet has complained that these organisations have not done what they were contracted to do), don’t address the inevitable hygiene problems which arise from the state getting too close to such organisations.

The truth is this is a problem that dates back a long way, not least to the time when some of the advice centres set up by Sinn Fein during 1975 IRA ceasefire were given state support. The DUP has been working a compensating flanker since long before 2010.

Charter NI is the product of a long policy of “building capacity” to match that more commonly found on the Republican side. But it relies on levels of unaccountability and a consensus model that would not be fit for purpose anywhere else.

The problem is that SIF, at its very best, is using old paramilitary power brokers to set up a new set of gatekeepers.

As I’ve noted before, in its ongoing failure to discriminate between matters of identity and criminal behaviour the state is sending dangerously mixed signals not least to successor generations who we otherwise expect to help build a lasting peace.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

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