Community workers hit by funding crisis

Hundreds of Belfast community workers have not been paid since the end of August because of a funding crisis, representatives said today.

People working in some of the most deprived areas in the city have been made redundant because of the shortfall.

Suicide prevention, promoting better educational attainment and drug addiction are among the services threatened, the Cliftonville Community Regeneration Forum added.

Chairman Gerry Robinson said: “Community groups are no longer in a position to fund salaries, there has been nobody paid since the end of August.

“It is extremely urgent, it is a crisis for those workers who need money to pay the bills.”

He said two workers had been made redundant from his organisation and Sinn Féin sources claimed up to 300 were affected across the city.

SDLP Social Development Minister Margaret Ritchie said there would be good news for the neighbourhood renewal groups within days.

However, Mr Robinson called for urgent clarification.

“The minister has to take a holistic approach because our local groups are just abandoned.

“The Department for Social Development and others need to be able to provide to those groups, to help them bring projects on.”

Work which the Cliftonville Forum carries out includes training applicants for job interviews, in an area known for chronic unemployment.

Mr Robinson added: “We are at the coalface addressing issues of deprivation, we are in the top ten wards of deprivation in the north.”

Sinn Féin MLA Caral Ní Chuilin raised the matter in the Assembly.

“What I would like to ask the minister is, as a result of her political interference and indeed political vetting into this project, all the economic appraisals for each of the partnerships have been conducted, the panels recommended that most of these projects be funded, what is the delay, because these services for areas that are most deprived in the north of Ireland are now at risk.”

The allegation was strenuously denied by Ms Ritchie and party colleagues who called on the Stormont Speaker to rule on the claim.

Ms Ritchie said: “I am deeply disappointed by the comments made by the member. I want to emphasise yet again that I have not ordered any review and those who have suggested that I have are the ones that are creating anxiety and uncertainty on the ground.

“I will again emphasise the point that I have asked for financial information about the current neighbourhood renewal process in Belfast and I want to satisfy myself that the best use is being made of available resources and also given the pressure on funds across my Department to make sure that sufficient funds are in place to complete the programme.

“I understand the difficulties faced by groups whose money has now run out and I hope to have some good news for them in the future.”


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