The Ulster Unionist Party’s Justice Spokesperson, Doug Beattie MC MLA, has called on the Justice Minister to clarify comments made by the Finance Minister on Tuesday, regarding millions of pounds of UK Government funding to help tackle paramilitarism and which appear to contradict information given to the Justice Committee last Thursday.
Speaking at today’s meeting of the Assembly Justice Committee, Doug Beattie said;
“I am genuinely concerned that we as a committee, may have been misled and that what has happened may well have the effect of undermining the ability of the Justice Committee to scrutinise the Action Plan.
“At last week’s meeting of the Justice Committee (20 October 2016), when asked about the £25m from the UK Government for ending paramilitary activity, officials stated “that money has not yet been released because we knew we couldn’t spend any of it within the first year. It will be released and profiled over the following four years.”
“This was contradicted by the Finance Minister in the Assembly on Tuesday (25 October), when he said – “Of that, the Executive contributed £5 million, with £5 million to be accessed from the British Government, the latter being subject to the Executive agreeing a strategy to address continued paramilitary activity. The Secretary of State has advised that UK Government funding will not be released until the Executive agree a more detailed action plan.”
“Clearly the Finance Minister’s comments are at odds with what the departmental officials told the committee last week. On the face of it, either the Finance Minister has misinterpreted the position, or the committee was misled. Either way it seems there is chaos in the Executive with one department not know what another is doing.
“A number of questions arise - has the Executive asked for the money from Westminster? Has any such request been refused? What projects will lose out because the £5 million could not be accessed? We have been told the money can be carried over to the next financial year, but we need certainty as to whether or not this is the case because there are genuine fears that lack of detail in the Action Plan has cost Northern Ireland money. Clarity is need and only the Justice Minister can provide it.
“We need the Justice Minister to appear before the committee; we need clarification from the Finance Minister as to his remarks; we need the Communities Minister to tell us if any projects could not be started due to lack of funding; and we also need to hear from the Executive.”