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.

  • SDLP supporter

    I’ve said it many times on this site: this grubby, sordid, sleazy little corner of the world is a kleptocracy, as corrupt as Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi or elsewhere in the Deep South in the twentieth century.
    The DUP and Sinn Fein were happy to work hand in glove with each other, dividing up the spoils of power-division. Sinn Fein provided cover for Robin Newton when the opposition parties tabled a censure motion.
    Mick is right to mention the case of the SF advice centres stretching back to 1975. Actually, they were ‘incident centres’ set up and funded by the British allegedly to monitor ceasefire breaches. In time SF were gifted the title deeds.
    The difference now is that the bribery money has run out, British financial disengagement has been accelerated by Brexit and Bombardier will be the most prominent casualty.

  • Mister_Joe

    The Social Investment Fund was/is Danegeld by another name.

  • wild turkey

    T’was ever thus?

    Some American political history of no relevance to the current 21st century situation

    Tammany Hall

    “ Although its name was synonymous with corruption to many, Tammany Hall’s popularity and endurance resulted from its willingness to help the city’s poor and immigrant populations. Irish immigrants forced Tammany Hall to admit them as members in 1817, and the Irish thereafter never lost their tie with it. Because in the 1820s Tammany successfully fought to extend the franchise to all propertyless white males, it was popular with the working class. A close association with the Democratic party was also forged in the Jacksonian era.

    Tammany’s decentralized organization enabled ward leaders to act as advocates for individuals when they had difficulties with the law. A criminal judge, for example, appointed or kept in office by Tammany Hall would have to listen carefully to a local ward leader asking for a suspended sentence in a particular case. Later, the hundreds receiving Tammany Hall assistance with problems or baskets of food on holidays would show their gratitude at the polls “.

    “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

    ― William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun

  • Zorin001

    “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.”

    I’ve sat in on enough meetings to know that sometimes the minutes bare little relation to what was actually discussed.

  • Skibo

    Are you now going to put the possible collapse of Bombardier on SF?

  • aquifer

    SIF ignored the previous successful ‘Action Team’ model of civil servants being sent into areas with a wide brief to ensure that public services worked for all and that small groups businesses and individuals were helped financially. Buying votes and building bigotry with public money is something else.

  • wild turkey

    Mr Z

    Like you, i have been to some of those “steering group” meetings, AKA the circle jerk, where the minutes SHOULD have been written by Phillip K Dick. we then might have the genesis, the hope, of accountability.

    & folks, of absolutely no relevance to this post. See Blade Runner 2049. Ahem, that’s “See” in the non-confrontational sense.

    Check it out folks.

  • wild turkey

    SDLP S. not to get personal, but… you want to talk about kleptocracy ( a good word that sums the nickel and dime game played here) AND my people, my people, from Louisiana?

    I grew up and lived in the parishes. And i have lived and worked in ,ahem, a major “city” on the Donegal border within the current six counties. (minimizing the blowback here Mick). well the, my observed comparison is this.

    it is said of any in situ politician, in Louisiana, the only way they could lose an election is to be found in bed with a dead woman, or a live boy. gross & offensive? i totally agree

    here? in some instances it is even grosser, you, or others, may care to disagree.


  • SDLP supporter

    Paranoia, much? I am simply making the point that the days of UK Treasury sending over ‘hush money’ to buy off paramilitaries on either side are gone. London simply does not have the money any more.
    Are you denying the factuality of my comment about the origins of some of the Sinn Fein advice centres?
    I take no pleasure in the acceleration of the de-industrialisation of NI and particularly the catastrophic economic consequences for East Belfast and wider.
    Mind you, Skibo, Gerry Adams said on many occasions that Sinn Fein’s paramilitary wing, the Provisional IRA was waging an economic war and would ensure that there would be no economic normality. The Provos were pretty good at blowing up infrastructure, putting many enterprises out of business and murdering industrialists like Thomas Niedermayer and Jeffrey Agate.
    In Gaelic, Skibo, there is a sean-fhocal (proverb): Ma feilionn an chaipin, caith e/If the cap fits, wear it.

  • Skibo

    SDLP S have you been reading James’s posts again. I was hoping we could move the discussion forward post GFA but seems some are loathed to do so.
    Are you talking about two different censure motions against Robin Newton? Sinn Fein lodged one and the DUP defeated it with a POC.

  • james

    Indeed. The desire by some of the worst elements of Loyalism to ‘catch up’ to the massive money-making efforts of Sinn Fein and the Republican movement is contemptible.

  • james

    Thanks for bringing me in, Skibo.

    As mentioned above, in case you missed it, the desire by some of the worst elements of Loyalism to ‘catch up’ to the massive money-making efforts of Sinn Fein and the Republican movement is contemptible. The fact that said elements of Loyalism are, as yet, nowhere near as good at this game as the unbeatable money-grubbing operation of the Republican movement in no mitigates their sordid endeavours.

  • T.E.Lawrence


    It is always a temptation to an armed and agile nation
    To call upon a neighbour and to say –
    “We invaded you last night — we are quite prepared to fight
    Unless you pay us cash to go away”

    And that is called asking for Dane-geld
    And the people who ask it explain
    That you’ve only to pay ’em the Dane-geld
    And then you’ll get rid of the Dane !

    It is always a temptation for a reach and lazy nation
    To puff and look important and to say –
    “Though we know we should defeat you,
    we have not the time to meet you”
    We will therefore pay you cash to go away

    And that is called paying the Dane-geld
    But we’ve proved it again and again
    That if once you have paid him the Dane-geld
    You never get rid of the Dane

    It is wrong to put temptation in the path of any nation
    For fear they should succumb and go astray
    So when you are requested to pay up or be molested
    You will find it better policy to say –

    We never pay anyone Dane-geld
    No matter how trifling the cost
    For the end of that game is oppression and shame
    And the nation that plays it is lost !

    Rudyard Kipling

  • Zorin001

    Saw it at weekend, loved it, I won’t see a better film this year

  • SeaanUiNeill

    In the film world the interested parties at meetings each took their own notes, had anything ambiguous clarified with exact language at the meeting (and initialled) and then exchanged versions of the minutes which were collated and agreed. These minutes were used as source material when contracts were drawn up.

    As you say, where the minutes are taken by only one party and these become the official record the possibility of distortion is there.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    I have found this abuse of Minutes of Meetings to be also a trait in the NI Civil Service Agencies. They minute their interpretation of a meeting without allowing another challenge opinion as to the true record of that meeting ! I have challenged such records on numerous occassions even going as far as to state I do not reconise such MOMs as a true record of such a meeting. Your first paragraph on the subject is the correct way to record true MOMs this is the way I have also been taught and administered also in my line of business also when drawing up contracts or discussing on going projects and programmes.

  • Granni Trixie

    This case illustrates bad practices which the voluntary and other sectors have largely been educated out of. For example I think RN said that an element in what he contributed to Charter Ni was to headhunt new board members. In the past the friends of friends or tap on the shoulder method of recruitment resulted in boards or management committees lacking diversity and necessary range of skill sets. An open and fair process of selection pays off.

    I would guess that the 7 Nolan Principles has been influential everywhere except on their prime targets (think Trust, Openness, integrity, selflessness, leadership, objectivity).

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I’d imagined it to be normal business practice in other fields. And yes, the single source minutes are a tool of manipulation by definition, where the interest group taking the minutes controls the “ truth”.

    I habitually make my own notes even when I have had access to a secretary. Small issues or a use of words in the course of a meeting can so easily twist the trajectory of meaning away from the common good to bolster the concerns of a particular interest. It is this particular experience of the fragility of “ truths”” which I feed into my historical analysis.

  • Skibo

    James I don’t think your money-grubbing operation comment was found during the investigation of the programme but sure where would a story on Loyalism be without some mud slinging on the Nationalist community by Mr James!
    The access to the funds by the office of OFMDFM was being blocked because there was some concern at Nationalists getting more of their share of the money than Unionist areas even though the funds should have been divided according to need not political views.
    In the end, the only people with control in areas of Loyalist deprivation are the paramilitaries and Unionist political parties are afraid to go against them.
    There are those within the Nationalist community who would say there was no problem approaching them as there has always been covert connections there.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Kipling knew where to place exclamation marks. Why did you reproduce the text and erroneously place the punctuation?

  • ChequerChesireCat

    While Robin Newton did clearly breach the rules, I am worried about him being used as a scapegoat by everyone over the SIF. They knew where that money was going to, and they approved it.

    A small group of old people (not ageist, just some) have Northern Ireland by the balls and won’t let go. Northern Ireland is effectively under a racketeering scam.
    Now I whole heartily approve of rehabilitation but given that some still haven’t given up their old ways are still operating and threatening people, this unspoken policy of give a bit a money and don’t rock the boat is clearly not working.
    Crackdown so the rest of us can go about like a normal society.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Get up out of the wrong side of the bed today Ben ? In answer to your question I just like my way of English Written Punctuation !

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    The Voluntary Sector was subject to a degree of infiltration by Loyalist paramilitaries back in the early 1990s. It was part of Loyalism’s response to the successes of SF advice centres: being seen as ‘Community Activists’, increasing their popularity and getting things done on the ground etc.

    There was a good bit of resistance to this from within the Voluntary Sector and those who spoke up found that their premises and the property of employees came under attack. I recall a meeting where a colleague mentioned that the charity where I worked could claim from an NIO fund set up to pay the ‘protection money’. In short, the Gov’t could indirectly fund the paramilitaries; if this were the case. But all was ‘fair in love and war and moral relativism’ back then.

    That we are still seeing such corrupting of a sector that is there to address identified needs is evidence that the same casuistic practices and mentality have become embedded here as far up as the Office of the Exec. And who cares as long as it’s seen as balanced across the ghettoised carve up?
    Wild Turkey’s point about Tammany Hall reveals our politicians’ disregard for the arm’s length principle of state funding of charities. While the essence of the principle is not being abused in its most apparent sense, the mutually traded tribal indebtedness, clientelism, criminal influence, harvesting of votes and exculpation of villainous gangs is an exploitation of those whose needs the organisations were created for in the first place as well as abuse of the perception of charities.

    It looks like sectarian quid pro quo, no matter how nefarious, equates with justice these days.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    You mean desecration of the language, a lot like SIF’s adulteration of the charitable sector.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Just to brighten your day up Lots of Love ! Tell Naomi I was asking about her ?

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Who’s Naomi? Your “way of English” shows you in a light that is counterproductive to your intention.

  • SDLP supporter

    I’m no defender of Robin Newton, as he was clearly caught out being ‘economical with the verite’ in this whole matter, but head-hunting board members for a voluntary board in a ‘difficult’ area may have been an entirely innocent, indeed praiseworthy, activity on his part. As the awful seventies wore into the eighties and government was trying genuinely to engage with the underlying socio-economic issues (think Belfast Action Teams, Making Belfast Work (wags said ‘Worse’), there were desperate searches to bring professionals on board with business, engineering, training, legal, financial and marketing expertise. In relation to nationalist West Belfast most, if not all of these ‘middle class do-gooders’ and ‘lackeys of the Catholic Church’, as their critics called them, never received, nor looked for, a penny for their efforts. All they got was abuse in many cases.

    Also, incredible as it seems, the Inland Revenue (now HMRC) allowed protection money paid to paramilitaries as an allowable business expense for taxation purposes. Maybe they still do.

  • Granni Trixie

    On ‘Headhunting’ we disagree.
    A reason – but not the only reason – being that inevitably there can be a gender aspect to that practice. I can see that in the case of a scarcity of volunteers with say financial knowledge/experience it may be necessary.

    But that wee nugget concerning HMRC is fascinating.
    Couldn’t make it up.

  • Stephen Kelly

    Alas poor ….. is no more for me and not missed, after Mick pointed out a great wee thing you can do with posts that are spoiling your reading pleasure on Slugger. (This user is blocked) To my mind the posts were just to repetitive and negative and held out no hope for ever coming together.

  • Reader

    SDLP Supporter: Also, incredible as it seems, the Inland Revenue (now HMRC) allowed protection money paid to paramilitaries as an allowable business expense for taxation purposes. Maybe they still do.
    Did you need to get a receipt?

  • Nap McCourt

    As I mentioned in a previous thread some time ago. All that the DUP/Sinn Fein government has delivered is On The Run letters and the Social Investment Fund.
    Why do we kid ourselves that these parties are working for us.

  • SDLP supporter

    Firms are obliged to keep adequate records. What happened in some cases I know of is that money was paid to people providing bogus ‘security’ services. There was a limited company on the Shankill Road that did a roaring trade.

  • SDLP supporter

    Granni, I made no comment on gender. I can’t understand why you seek to ‘disagree’ with me. Happily, there are far more women in professional roles than thirty years ago and I wholeheartedly welcome that.

  • Hugh Davison

    As one who doesn’t live in NI but am anxious to understand, can you provide me with details of the ” massive money-making efforts of Sinn Fein and the Republican movement” and the “unbeatable money-grubbing operation of the Republican movement”?
    I am assuming you’re talking about public spending here. It might be helpful to the rest of the readers to get a feel for the amounts involved.

  • mickfealty

    Not a chance. Look up Research Services Ireland, Cultural organisations and Spotlight. SF managed to find 500k in a year they reported a turnover of a million. They are by far the richest party on the island by some considerable distance. There’s no way anyone’s can reliably quantify what they are worth, no least because the party funding laws in NI are cast so loosely that it’s impossible to track officially.

  • mickfealty

    Sorry, but SF is not yet contiguous with the Nationalist community Skib.

    Don’t tempt me!

  • Skibo

    Contiguous! Sinn Fein represent 70% of the Nationalist electorate! How much more contiguous can you get?
    Just what does the Sinn Fein vote have to go to before you realise they are not representing the Nationalist community, they ARE the Nationalist community.

  • Granni Trixie

    Can you explain to me the thinking behind an apparent strategy to recognise “Republicans” nowadays. It’s like there’s been a diktat from above saying “all Nationalists now”.

  • Skibo

    Republicans are Nationalists also but not so sure Nationalists are Republicans.

  • Granni Trixie

    Sounds accurate.

  • Hugh Davison

    Again, I don’t see the connection between Sinn Fein’s alleged wealth and the issue of accountability in the spending of public money. We know how much their public reps get paid, north and south, and how much of that goes into party funds. We may not know the full extent of private donations. But the implication I’m getting from posters on here is that they’re creaming off project money as well. Is there any evidence for this, or is it just the usual ‘let’s dump on the Shinners again’?

  • Neil

    It’s the usual ‘ach sure aren’t they all as bad as each other’ schtick. No one is going to suggest that the community organisation in the New Lodge is up to no good. So SF took a slice of the SIF money and saw it awarded to a community organisation in a working class area – some would say exactly what the fund was designed for.

    This is presented with a nudge, nudge, wink, wink, on a Spotlight about a still active UDA, recruiting kids so young they have to tell them not to show up for UDA meetings in school uniform, up to their necks in crime and linked several times over to the DUP. But that SF, eh? They got money too you know… It went to a organisation in a Republican area. *Gasp* Whole lotta nothing.

  • Nevin

    “Stephen Dempster did a handy piece of reportage on the Social Investment Fund.”

    Jim Allister might take a different view in light of his exchanges with the PSNI’s ACC Steve Martin:

    The PSNI says that public interest allowed it to openly link a community group to the UDA – but that it would not be appropriate to say whether a list of other groups might be linked to PIRA. ..

    But after the PSNI comments, TUV leader Jim Allister provided the News Letter with a list of five other organisations which he felt could have similarly strong links to active PIRA members, as well as the UVF and UDA. ..

    “It beggars belief that the PSNI would claim that they cannot comment on the status of individuals associated with groups receiving such large sums of public funding,” he [Jim Allister] said. “The police were able to comment unambiguously when it came to Charter NI so why not in these cases? “I think PSNI was right to point the finger at the UDA, but it must not be selective.” .. News-Letter

    Selective story telling? Who provides guidelines on the public interest?

  • mickfealty

    Excitable boy.

  • Skibo

    Not excitable, just pragmatic. Was surprised just how high the percentage was. Presently Sinn Fein represent 70% of those voting for Nationalist parties.
    Is there any issue with saying the Sinn Fein represent the majority of the Nationalist electorate?