UNIONISTS have called for the council to rework its tourism grant system after the Twelfth was cut out of it – twice.

Orange lodges in Bangor and Comber hoped to get festival funding totalling £17,500 for this year’s July 12 celebrations, but both failed tests for the grants run by Ards and North Down Council officials.

It’s the second time both have been rejected from the grant scheme, as in April the lodges were disqualified from applying on the grounds that Stormont rules block religious or political organisations from getting the money.

Ards and North Down unionists controversially voted to break with Stormont’s rules and assess the lodges anyway, only for both to fail.

The Bangor lodge wanted £12,000 to run a ‘Boyne anniversary’ event in the city’s Ward Park on July 12, while the Comber lodge sought £5,500 to hold a ‘celebration of Orange culture’ on the town’s Park Way playing fields from July 10-12.

To get festival funding, applicants have to score at least 55% on tests demonstrating that their event will bring in tourists who will spend money in the borough, as well as show that safety and clean-up measures are in place, and lay out ways in which the event can be developed.

Both lodges scored around 40%, meaning those tests were failed.

The results of the tests were revealed at a council meeting on Monday night, with Unionists registering their dismay that both lodges have been turned down while calling for local authority officials to review the festival grants policy.

Councillor Wesley Irvine said that as a result of the grant rejections, planned events around the Twelfth will now have to be scaled back or even cancelled.
“It’s disappointing that an event that means so much to many thousands across the borough will not receive this funding,” he said, adding that the Twelfth creates ‘economic and cultural impact’ as well as bringing visitors from England, Scotland and Canada.

He said: “There will be a feeling of disappointment within the loyal orders and band community throughout North Down and Ards that this hasn’t scored.

“I’d hope we could ask for a review of the events and tourism fund – just to ensure that organisations that don’t have the necessary expertise, that don’t have paid employees to look at the scoring matrix in a detailed manner [can qualify for cash].”

DUP alderman Stephen McIlveen suggested that the council’s grant application forms may be difficult for inexperienced people to successfully complete, adding that the Twelfth celebrations ‘are two absolutely fantastic events’.

“I don’t think anyone would disagree with that, especially in terms of the amount of people they bring into the borough,” he said. “I know that some of the things the Bangor district has lined up really are a draw for many families to come in.

“It’s very disappointing that unfortunately they failed to get the requisite pass mark.

“It is possible that lessons can be learned on behalf of the districts in terms of the applications they submit.

“Certainly, if there is going to be a review of what is a very new policy and how we make these assessments, I think it would be welcome for us to consider as a council in due course.”

Fellow DUP alderman Naomi Armstrong-Cotter expressed a similar view, stating that churches and similar organisations feel that it isn’t worth applying for council grants at all.

She suggested that the local authority needs to help smaller and inexperienced groups, especially those running charity events, complete the application forms.

And UUP alderman Philip Smith said that Twelfth is ‘a major event in the calendar’ in Comber, ‘the town ram-packed’ with people eager to celebrate.

“Unfortunately [the lodges] haven’t made it this time, but it is a learning curve and that might inform their ability in future,” he added.