The implementation and operation of the controversial Social Investment Fund (SIF) has been characterised by secrecy and cronyism, the Assembly has heard.
The claim came as an Alliance motion calling for an independent review into the scheme was defeated in the Assembly chamber 53-38. Alliance Executive spokesperson Stewart Dickson MLA said it was disappointing "but no surprise" the motion didn't pass, but it didn't change the vast public concern around SIF.
"This motion was about SIF placing the control and power in communities in the hands of certain local, favoured groups of the DUP and Sinn Fein. Even some of the so-called independent members of the steering groups have clear links to the two parties. There therefore is a growing sense of frustration across the community and voluntary sector about resources being steered to these groups at the expense of others, and without open competition. Even more disturbingly, other groups feel they can't speak out or else they may lose what scarce resources they receive.
"The DUP has had a clear agenda of trying to direct funding to Charter NI over the past few years. That is of significant concern itself but the relationship between Charter NI and the UDA gives more cause for alarm.
"Alliance recognises and welcomes people with a paramilitary past playing a positive and constructive role in society. But when people with a paramilitary present are doing so, there is a problem.
"For the First Minister to allow herself to be associated with a current UDA commander and then describe the natural concern expressed as a 'distraction' sends out a terrible message to wider society. But if it is a distraction, it is only a distraction from the even deeper flaws in the entire SIF process."