16 March 2006 Edition

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Political bias surrounds loyalist museum

The loyalist Fernhill House museum was used in October 1994 to announce the loyalist ceasefires

The loyalist Fernhill House museum was used in October 1994 to announce the loyalist ceasefires

The 'irregular payments' made to a loyalist museum are clear evidence of, "political bais" by British government departments, says Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams.

Adams says civil servants cleared the funding because they feared a refusal would provoke, "significant political fallout".

The West Belfast MP said he will be raising these questions with Direct Rule minister David Hanson at the earliest opportunity.

According to Adams the Department of Social Development (DSD) in the Six Counties and the Belfast Regeneration Office (BRO), made payments of almost £100,000 to the Fernhill House museum, based in the loyalist Glencairn area of West Belfast.

"Both the DSD and BRO have acted with clear political bias when they funded Fernhill to the tune of almost £100,000 without a proper funding application or economic appraisal", said Adams.

News of the grant emerged in a report by the Northern Ireland Audit Office which highlighted the 'irregular payments' made to the Fernhill in December 2004.

The audit report says that in October 2004 Tommy Kirkham, the museum manager and councillor for the UDA aligned Ulster Political Research Group, wrote to the DSD requesting a rescue package, claiming the museum was about to close.

The DSD approved £98,000 of funding within three days, despite no proper application or economic appraisal being submitted.

The auditor General John Dowdall said the Audit Office was concerned that as Fernhill was not subject to the usual application process, it might be perceived to have had more favourable treatment than other applications for funding.

The Audit Office also had concerns about a previous grant of £67,000 which was also made to Fernhill by the DSD without a proper investment appraisal.

"We find it difficult to reconcile the emphasis on sustainability with the department's short term funding package for a project for which there was no prospect of viability", added the Audit report.

Adams went on to say that, "the audit office report raised serious questions about the structured political bias by DSD and BRO. There has been a litany of highly controversial and dubious decisions by BRO in relation to the allocation of resources and funding from groups working within the nationalist community.

"Despite these damning criticisms DSD has defended its actions. This cannot be dismissed as a system failure on the part of BRO and DSD, or simply bureaucratic ineptitude. This was a highly political decision taken by DSD to drive a coach and horses through the regulations".

The loyalist Fernhill House museum was used in October 1994 to announce the loyalist ceasefires and in 1996 it was reopened with funding of £800,000 in an effort to attract visitors to the greater Shankill area but failed to be a magnet for visitors or investors.

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