The Education Authority has been heavily criticised for “gas-lighting” a south Armagh youth group it rejected for funding after 50 years supporting the community.
St Oliver Plunkett Youth Club in Crossmaglen which was unsuccessful in its funding application will close its doors at the end of March.
Newry, Mourne and Down District Council (NMDDC) held a special meeting with the EA this week with a local rep expressing his frustration at the club’s treatment by the authority.
Slieve Gullion councillor and trustee of St Oliver Plunkett Youth Club, Pete Byrne (SDLP) said: “This whole process from the beginning has been diabolical, it has been nothing short of a disgrace.
“I have never witnessed a process as appalling as what this group has been put through.
“We asked EA for help when making the applications and we were met with a wall of silence for six weeks and then just to be told we were unsuccessful.
“We were told that we could only apply for funding down £33k from what we would normally get due to cuts and then in the end we got zero funding.
“We now have no choice, but for the club to close at the end of March, we have no funding, there will be no centre and no staff.
“So even if there is another funding application we won’t be able to apply, because there will be no one there.
“I am sick of the gas-lighting on this of hearing there are no cuts and there is no budget from Stormont.
“Nobody at the club’s committee understands what is happening here.
“There is a clear determination that the EA should support the voluntary sector, but that is not the case.
“Crossmaglen is one of the highest places of deprivation in the north, mostly due to incomes and the club is now not eligible for funding.
“There are groups who are similar to us in terms of applications and they have been successful and will be able to apply again for more funding, we won’t.
“There are no plans from what I can see to help the unsuccessful groups.
“There needs to be drastic change in the application and evaluation process.
“I don’t know where we go from here, we need a solution urgently.”
Support for the youth group was heard across chambers with Chairperson Michael Savage (SDLP) asking the EA to organise a crisis meeting to address “genuine concerns and fears”.
The EA explained that youth group funding had expanded to 14 groups from a previous seven across the council district, which was compounded by an uncertain future due to a lack of a Stormont budget.
The EA’s deputy head of local youth services, Esther Millar responded: “We are looking at a number of unsuccessful groups and are happy to meet with the club’s committee, though we don’t have a time-frame at this moment.
“We are happy to sit down with the group and see what support we can provide.”