EU to give more cash to Belfast company exposed by Exaro over failure to file accounts
By Fiona O’Cleirigh | 9 May 2013
“The £5.25 million should not be handed over until an investigation is carried out into how Coiste and its network are being run” – Lord Laird, Ulster Unionist peer
Ex-IRA prisoners who received European Union funding through an organisation exposed by Exaro for failing to comply with company law have been granted more money.
The Northern Irish and Irish governments backed the decision by the EU to give the additional funding to Coiste Na N-Iarchimi, a UK-registered company based in Belfast whose name means “committee of ex-prisoners”.
Exaro revealed last month that the EU gave £1.3 million to support ex-IRA prisoners through Coiste, even though the organisation was in breach of company law by failing to file accounts.
But Exaro has established that the EU is to give Coiste and its network of 12 ex-prisoner organisations an additional £5,250,300 for peace-keeping projects.
Lord Laird, an Ulster Unionist peer, who called for an inquiry into the initial funding, branded the decision to provide further cash a “disgrace”.
“The £5.25 million should not be handed over until an investigation is carried out into how Coiste and its network are being run,” he said.
The additional funding was agreed in principle at a time when Coiste did not even exist officially as a company. A cursory check by the agencies awarding the money would have revealed that Coiste had been struck off after failing to file accounts.
Of the total £5.25 million, the EU will pay more than £3.5 million, Ireland nearly £870,000, and the UK just over £835,000. Coiste alone will receive just under £700,000.
Coiste continued to breach company law for four years by failing to file accounts until Exaro contacted it in December 2011.
Michael Culbert, Coiste’s spokesman and company secretary since March last year initially claimed that the company did not have to file accounts to Companies House.
Within three days of Culbert’s claim to Exaro, Companies House received an application from Coiste to be restored as a company, including the missing accounts and returns.
The Special European Union Programmes Body (SEUPB) awarded the money to Coiste.
The SEUPB gave the responsibility of ensuring that the money went to a suitable organisation to the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland (CFNI), a registered charity. The CFNI acted as the Coiste network’s “lead partner” during the application process.
CFNI said in a statement that “based on reviews to date” it was “satisfied with the financial arrangements”.
Asked why it promoted funding of Coiste when the company was struck off, CFNI said in a statement: “We are satisfied that our verification processes remain robust.”
In its further funding application, Coiste and its network was initially seeking a total of just under £10.6 million.
The SEUPB described the project as “bringing together the partnership of groups affiliated to the Coiste Na N-Iarchimi network working across the regional area on issues of peace building, reconciliation, reintegration of political ex-prisoners and social development.”
The EU funding body organised a steering committee, which included representatives from the Northern Irish and Irish governments and which agreed to the funding in principle.
The application then went to the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister in Northern Ireland and the Irish government.
The SEUPB said in a statement that the steering committee’s decision was “in principle only” and needed further appraisal from the Northern Irish government. It added that when the letter of offer was issued at the end of 2012, Coiste’s status as a company had been restored.
A spokesman for the Irish government’s Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government said that it approved the funding. A letter of offer was sent to Coiste and its network last December.
However, the SEUPB decided on the reduced sum of £5.25 million in the past few weeks.
Coiste was incorporated in 1999, and describes itself as “the umbrella organisation” for a network of Republican ex-prisoners’ groups. Several leading figures of the company have terrorism convictions or are former IRA hunger-strikers.
Coiste receives EU funding on condition that it is not used for political purposes. Nonetheless, it openly offers a “political tour” of the Falls Road, a Republican stronghold in Belfast.