SOCIAL Development Minister Nelson McCausland wrote in May that his Department has no role in the recruitment of staff to community groups and that it has no method of establishing how many Sinn Féin activists are involved in Department of Social Development (DSD) funded groups in Londonderry.
He made the claim in reply to a letter from Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) MLA Jim Allister, which has been seen by the Sentinel.
Mr Allister wrote to the Minister on April 19 and asked him to “investigate the number of Sinn Féin activists, including councillors, who are employed through DSD supported ‘community organisations’ in Londonderry, with a view to establishing that fair employment practices operate and that there is no abuse of DSD funding.”
He asked the Minister to investigate a number of named community organisations across Londonderry and to provide details of how much DSD money was diverted to these groups.
Mr McCausland replied: “As my Department is not the employing body in any instance and has no role in the recruitment process it has no method of establishing how many Sinn Féin or indeed other political activists, are involved in DSD funded groups in Londonderry.”
But he went on to say that it was expected that groups in receipt of Neighbourhood Renewal funding should not use that money to promote any political or religious cause.
“However, the legally binding Contract for funding entered with groups funded by my Department stipulates that the organisation must not use funding for purposes in any way connected with the promotion of a political or religious view point.
“Furthermore, the governance of Neighbourhood Renewal funding is undertaken in line with established Departmental guidance to ensure value for money and safeguard public funds,” he stated.
During the summer the Sentinel reported how one Londonderry community group’s failure to publically advertise a job temporarily given to Sinn Féin Councillor Elisha McCallion back in 2008 was deemed unacceptable by DSD.
Her appointment as a temporary financial administrator at the Galliagh Development Trust (GDT) in 2008 was “obviously” not “subject to an open and fair recruitment process,” according to a DSD letter obtained by the Sentinel.
Monica McIntyre, of DSD’s Local Neighbourhood Renewal Unit, wrote to the community group on June 28, 2010, to advise the group that all posts needed to be ‘advertised publically in future
The paper also reported how 44 per cent of politicians employed within the last five years by community groups financed through the DSD Neighbourhood Renewal fund were Londonderry Sinn Féin representatives.
Of nine councillors across Northern Ireland employed by community organisations in receipt of Neighbourhood Renewal funding, four were republicans from Londonderry.
Mr McCausland was asked to provide details of councillors that have been employed in each of the last five years, by Foyle SDLP MLA Colum Eastwood.
He revealed four Sinn Féin councillors from Londonderry were amongst nine across Northern Ireland employed as community workers during the period in question, including the current Mayor Kevin Campbell.
The Minister listed Mrs McCallion (nee McLaughlin), formerly of the Galliagh Development Trust (2008/2009 - 2010/2011); Maeve McLaughlin, formerly of the Glen Development Initiative (2008/2009 - 2012/2013), and now an MLA; former Sinn Féin councillor Gerry Maclochlainn (2008/2009 - 2012/2013) of Hillcrest House; and Kevin Campbell, of the Bogside and Brandywell Initiative (2008/2009 - 2012/2013) as former or current Sinn Féin councillors - entitled to a basic annual allowance of £9,738 - who were also employed as state-funded community workers.
Add DUP Alderman Drew Thompson, who works for the Waterside Area Partnership (2008/2009 - 2012/2013), and the quota of Londonderry councillors employed by groups in receipt of Neighbourhood Renewal cash is 56 per cent of the province-wide total.
The Sentinel has also reported on the handsome salaries enjoyed by some community workers.
For example, most Londonderry community workers paid out of the DSD Neighbourhood Renewal fund earned more than the average wage between 2009 and 2011 with one state funded employee taking home a handsome £41k-£44k.
The Sentinel revealed that hundreds of state-funded community workers were being paid more than what the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE) calculated to be the median gross annual income in the city in 2010 (£18,699).