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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Weir (Local Democracy Reporter)

Mid & East Antrim Council turns down £100k funding to support refugees

Mid and East Antrim Borough Council sign at The Braid council HQ.

Mid and East Antrim Borough Council has turned down almost £100k funding for asylum seekers and refugees.

The offer of £96,836 to the local authority was made through the Executive Office Programme for Asylum Seekers and Refugees.

The Executive Office has been the lead department supporting Ukrainian refugees who have arrived in Northern Ireland, working in partnership with the UK Government, other Executive departments, councils and the voluntary and community sector to co-ordinate the response at a local level.

There have been 229 visa applications to sponsor addresses in Mid and East Antrim with 191 issued and 98 arrivals.

The offer was discussed behind closed doors at the March meeting of the borough council.

According to last week’s statistics from the UK Government’s Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, there were 2,807 visa applications to the Homes for Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme for Northern Ireland, of which 2,165 have been issued.

The Executive Office says that over £1m has been paid out in ‘thank you’ payments to hosts who have offered accommodation in Northern Ireland to those forced to flee from the conflict.

Minutes of the council meeting say members were advised should the proposed allocation of money not be accepted by council, it would “most likely be split among the other ten councils to enhance services that were currently provided”.

Coast Road Alliance Alderman Gerardine Mulvenna proposed, seconded by Ballymena SDLP Cllr Eugene Reid, to accept the council officer’s recommendation to accept the funding offer and “sign off on the Memorandum of Understanding when received”.

In a recorded vote, this proposal was supported by Alliance colleagues and Independent Cllrs James Henry, a Ballymena representative and Bobby Hadden, Knockagh; Ulster Unionist Cllr Andrew Wilson, also a Knockagh representative and Sinn Fein Cllrs James McKeown, Coast Road and Ian Friary, Bannside.

It was defeated after 12 votes in favour and 25 against.

The minutes note: “Several members expressed concern regarding availability of housing stock and current pressures on services.”

DUP group leader Cllr Gregg McKeen told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that information received from the Executive Office had been “vague”.

“We wanted some more information and some more clarity,” he said.

He also spoke of concerns around housing stock in the borough. “We are not saying never but let us know if you have more information.”

Ald Mulvenna said: “The whole scheme is designed to help asylum seekers and refugees, some of the most traumatised people in our society.

“We need to send out a really strong message about how welcoming Mid and East Antrim and Northern Ireland are. Decisions like this do the opposite.”

Commenting on social media,  Patrick Corrigan, programme director, Amnesty NI, said:

“These funds could have supported the integration and support of asylum seekers in the area, including language lessons, via local community and church networks.”

A spokesperson for Mid and East Antrim Borough Council said: “Council can confirm it did not accept money from TEO Programme for Asylum Seekers and Refugees.”

The Ukraine Assistance Centre operates at The Braid in Ballymena and will be available next on Wednesday May 3rd.


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