The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust has defended making grants of more than £388,000 to a Northern Irish charity with alleged links to Irish republican terrorist activity and which is the subject of a regulatory inquiry.
A story in The Times newspaper said today that the JRCT had provided funding to Conflict Resolution Services Ireland, which the newspaper claimed had previously employed staff with alleged links to the terrorist organisation Óglaigh na hÉireann and had twice been raided by counter-terrorism police.
The Charity Commission for Northern Ireland has also been investigating CRSI since April last year.
But the JRCT said today that CRSI provided mediation services to people under the threat of paramilitary punishment attacks by armed groups and it had received support from a number of other funders.
The JRCT said in a statement that it had either paid or agreed to pay four grants to the charity worth a total of £388,741.
A grant worth £120,621 for 2018 had not yet been paid to the charity, the statement said, and all the grants were paid in quarterly instalments.
The statement said that in the past two years CRSI had helped 704 people who felt they were under threat of paramilitary violence.
"The ongoing peace process in Northern Ireland has required engaging with those previously involved in conflict and now committed to peace, in order to facilitate a transition to a purely democratic and peaceful society," the JRCT statement said.
"Such work has been supported by many funders. To criticise the principle of this work is to criticise the foundations on which the peace process has been built."
Frances McCandless, chief executive of the CCNI, said: "Although we cannot comment on an open inquiry, we can make it clear that a charity’s trustees must act in the best interests of the charity and only within the purposes of the charity, regardless of any external affiliations."
This is the second time in the past two months that the JRCT has been criticised for funding a Northern Irish charity with alleged links to a terrorist group. An older story in The Times criticised the trust for handing out grants worth a total of £275,000 to the charity Teach Na Fáilte in 2014 and 2017.
Teach Na Fáilte was allegedly founded by the Irish Republican Socialist Party, which The Times described as the political wing of the Irish National Liberation Army.
The JCRT has also faced criticism for its funding of Cage, an advocacy group that became mired in controversy for its involvement with the late Mohammed Emwazi, the Islamic State militant and British citizen nicknamed Jihadi John.
A spokeswoman for the Charity Commission said today that it was in ongoing "regulatory engagement" with the JRCT, including about whether the charity had addressed issues identified by the commission between 2013 and 2016.
"At that time, we identified that improvements to the charity’s processes and procedures were needed to ensure robust scrutiny and control of funds, particularly when giving grants to non-charitable bodies," the spokeswoman said.
"The charity showed a willingness at that time to improve aspects of its processes, and indeed our report recognised steps the charity had taken to do so.
"As part of our current regulatory engagement with the JRCT, we will pick up any residual matters about the charity’s monitoring of existing grant arrangements and decisions."
The spokeswoman said that the commission would expect the JRCT to be able to explain and justify the funding decisions it had taken, and charities had a duty to carry out due diligence on grant recipients.
CRSI did not respond to a request for comment from Third Sector before publication of this story.