03 June 2018
Lagan Valley MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has praised the 2016 community halls scheme and called for it to be continued. Mr Donaldson also said republican opposition to the scheme exposed a dangerous sectarian attitude.
Parliamentary Chief Whip; Spokesman on Defence and business in the House of Commons
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said,
“The Community Halls Programme launched by my colleague Paul Givan in October 2016 proved extremely popular with over 850 applicants. Sinn Fein and SDLP politicians launched an aggressive narrow-minded campaign against the scheme. Such narrow attitudes are dangerous.
After a robust, transparent and accountable assessment process, the scheme transformed almost 100 halls across Northern Ireland. These were halls used by Orange Lodges, churches, GAA clubs, Ancient Order of Hibernians and a wide range of other groups. Thousands of people, engaged in community activity, have benefited from the improvements made through this scheme.
It is a sad reflection on nationalist and republican politicians that rather than look at the positive impact of the scheme, they instead chose to smear my colleague, the Department for Communities and the Programme with innuendo and a range of wildly erroneous accusations.
The SDLP claimed that GAA clubs were excluded, yet GAA clubs were successful in drawing down funding. SF alleged corruption and that the scheme was discriminatory. Yet the Equality Commission found no such discrimination and no ground has ever been found for the contemptible accusation of corruption.
One newspaper even tried to discredit the scheme by claiming that a hall was funded that didn’t exist. This was proved to be a ludicrous and inaccurate article.
The reality of course is that the biggest problem SF and others had with the scheme was that the Loyal Orders were amongst the beneficiaries.
Many Orange Halls were proved to be the most in need by the assessment process. Sinn Fein’s reaction to the scheme was the epitome of bigotry and sectarianism.
The sectarian response to this scheme demonstrated the distance some republican and nationalist politicians have to travel. Partnership government can only work if such bigoted attitudes towards the Loyal Orders are dealt with.
In light of the conclusion of the Equality Commission investigation, the Department should move forward with the scheme. Over 700 applications, already assessed, rest with the Department. The positive contribution the scheme has made should act as a spur to the Department to continue the good work started by my party colleague.”