Call-ins & carve-ups

When it looks like funding is being allocated on a ‘one for me, one for you’ basis, that’s a problem. It’s not always easy or popular to challenge these decisions, particularly if the area you represent is set to benefit – but it’s always the right thing to do. Ensuring openness and transparency should be an absolute baseline for any elected representative. So this week’s post is on the latest carve-up in City Hall – and for anyone interested – an explanation of the call-in process.

The ‘call-in’ exists so if you suspect a bad/shady decision has been taken at a Committee meeting Councillors can request that the decision be revisited. To do this you fill in a decision register (which we’re all emailed straight after the meetings), explaining clearly why you feel it should be called in – then you’ll need 8 other Councillors to sign it. This then goes to the Chief Executive and the Council will seek legal opinion. The legal opinion is circulated regardless of whether the solicitor or barrister think the call-in has merit, and full council will make a decision at the next meeting.

The email with the decision register is usually one of those emails you delete straight away. But not last week. Because last week interim funding for festivals was on the agenda once again – and in our opinion the decision that was taken was not a good one.

There is a pot of £320,000 to support festivals and events across the city for the next financial year and it was up to the City Growth & Regeneration Committee to allocate it. Last month Sinn Fein had tried to push through a £200,000 funding boost to Féile an Phobail (on top of funding they already get) which we voted against, not because of Féile – but because of process. Council hadn’t had a proper discussion and there hadn’t been an explanation as to why such a substantial sum of money should be allocated. So despite Sinn Fein’s protestations, it was voted that this go back to Committee for further discussion following briefings on the issue.

When it returned this month a last-minute proposal was put on the table from the DUP; they wanted to give rest of the money – £40,000 each – to Orangefest, the East Side Arts Festival and the CS Lewis Festival. The Greater Shankill Winter Festival was allocated £45,000. Again there was no particular reason why they should be allocated this sum of money. The attempt to just drive it through, last minute, was typically brazen. And highlighted how the festival funding process is a complete mess. All these festivals may do brilliant work, but this doesn’t negate the fact that there are many other arts organisations in our city in need of support too – and they don’t get a look in.

So back to the call-in – we had managed to get two other Councillors to sign our ‘call-in’ over the DUP and Sinn Féin financial carve-up, but we’ve since been forced to withdraw it after the Councillors, an independent and one UUP, decided to remove their names. With Sinn Fein and DUP (who may not be able to get a government together but when it comes to £££ in Council are the political party equivalent of #relationshipgoals) supporting the allocation of funding in this way it will almost definitely pass at full Council next week.

The next Council elections are in May, and as ever transparency will be top of the Alliance agenda. A long overdue Cultural Strategy (currently in development) will be brought to the new Council in April 2020 which should hopefully ensure a fair, open and transparent way of funding, which is vital if we’re to grow our arts sector. We’re also hopeful the new Council will see a bigger Alliance team returned, so we can at least call-in decisions when others lack the courage to.


p.s This week I am loving the Derry Girls & Amnesty NI collab-protest against our archaic abortion laws

Also loving the High Low Podcast (they’re super posh but give great book recommendations and talk about feminism/ best salt and vinegar crisps / MPs who instagram like they’re influencers etc) & Jack Blanchard’s Politico email which is one of the simplest ways to keep up with the chaos that is Brexit.

Not loving Sinn Fein’s manipulation of Colum Eastwood’s Fianna Fail’s Ard Fheis speech.

A letter to my grandmother

I was asked by the lovely people at to write a Galentine’s Day Letter to a person who had inspired me to become the woman I am today – here it is:   

The last time I saw you I sat and stroked your hand: fragile, grooved with veins and age. You didn’t know me anymore. Lost in the mist. But I knew you – my grandmother who sent airletters, gave awful presents and couldn’t cook. You loved stories, a gift you passed down the generations. Because of this my childhood was enchanted, where magic and wonderment still existed – and I grew up knowing I could become anything I imagined myself to be. When the walls of my childhood came crumbling down, it was your daughter – and my imagination – which kept me safe.

What’s strange is that when I think I of you, which is surprisingly often given how little I actually knew you, I think of the you I didn’t know; long before the mist, before even me. Your grandmother was in the Black Sash, my mother would tell me. A woman’s organisation which campaigned against the erosion of human rights in South Africa. You couldn’t hold public meetings, so you would protest against apartheid individually. Black sash draped around you mourning the death of democracy. I’d read about this later, how though you were largely protected by your racial privilege – you were still vilified by many. Once you stood silently protesting in Cape Town when a man spat at you, and then a passing woman came and wiped your face. Women can change the world as much as men.

You used to say “Do the next good thing”, mum would tell me. I wonder what you’d make of our world now, you who have seen the devastation that is borne from polarisation. In Northern Ireland we’ve had no government for two years and people still fight for rights: a raped woman cannot have an abortion the way women in the rest of the UK can, same sex couples here are the only ones on these islands who can’t get married. As Brexit looms we hurtle towards more division, more barriers – the threat of eradicating the important work of so many for so long… and I feel helpless.

You taught my mother and she taught me the ability to think beyond ourselves, to see “others” as people and to imagine a better world. I got involved in politics to be part of the solution, not the problem – and as I try to hold onto my hope, I think with gratitude and pride of you and all the women who came before us, making it that much easier to do the next good thing. And how our job now is to do the same for those who will follow us.