Unionist anger as thousands of Celtic fans to attend Belfast Council-funded Fanzone for Linfield clash
Belfast City Council is spending £15,000 on a fanzone for Celtic supporters at a west Belfast pub,
In a move that has infuriated unionists, the money will be used to entertain Celtic fans who are unable to attend tomorrow night's Champions League clash with Linfield at Windsor Park.
Funding for the facility at the Devenish in Finaghy was proposed at last month's sitting of the West Belfast Police and Community Safety Partnership (PSCP) and unanimously voted through at a City Hall meeting.
The council's solicitor is understood to have attempted to overturn the decision, but a source told the Belfast Telegraph that the grant will be issued.
Celtic opted against taking its ticket allocation for the match which kicks off at 5pm, having been moved from July 11 after the PSNI voiced security concerns.
This prompted calls to provide a designated area in Belfast for supporters of Brendan Rodgers' Scottish champions to congregate in large numbers for a live screening of the first-ever meeting of the two clubs.
Sinn Fein councillor Matt Garrett, who tabled the proposal at the PSCP meeting, said the fanzone will be outside in the main car park of the Finaghy Road North establishment, where the first leg of the eagerly-awaited Champions League qualifier will be shown on huge screens.
"Celtic decided not to take tickets because they had concerns, but the reality is that supporters will travel from Glasgow and elsewhere in Northern Ireland for this and there will be home-grown fans who want to see it too," he said.
This proposal, which came from Feile an Phobail in conjunction with the Devenish, is about creating a secure environment for people to watch the match - for families, young people and everyone else.
"We're trying to limit the amount of people who would potentially travel to the ground to see it as there will be no tickets available for them."
Mr Garret said the fanzone idea had been welcomed by the PSNI, whose "resources are overstretched, so this will help alleviate the strain".
He also stressed that the £15,000 grant is supporting "the external part of the fanzone" and "not any of the commercial elements of the Devenish".
In a statement, Belfast City Council said: "Discussions in respect for funding for this event are ongoing."
The funding of the fanzone initiative has, however, sparked outrage among some unionist politicians who called for the decision to be urgently reviewed.
DUP councillor Frank McCoubrey, who sits on the West Belfast PCSP, said it was "a complete waste of money".
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He added: "I don't think it's a good way to spend our budget and I want them to rethink the allocation of this money as a matter of urgency. A lot of communities could do with £15,000."
Ulster Unionist Jim Rodgers said that "people are angry and have expressed amazement over the possibility of Belfast City Council providing financial assistance for this fanzone when applications for similar facilities have been denied in the past".
He said he will be referring the matter to the NI Audit Office.
"Public money can't be spent this way. I've nothing against fanzones but this is public money and we have to account for every penny spent. I can't see this going ahead," he added.
But Sinn Fein's Jim McVeigh welcomed the council's funding allocation, adding: "The idea is to get as many people off the street as possible, so instead of having lots of young men outside drinking they're in a controlled environment instead."
Independent unionist councillor Jolene Bunting, who will be at Windsor Park tomorrow, said it was money well spent.
"It's only fair that the fans have somewhere to watch the match," she said.
"It's a huge match; something we'll probably never see again and supporters deserve somewhere to watch it."