The Times newspaper has raised questions over the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust's decision to fund two charities, prompting renewed scrutiny by the Charity Commission.
The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust (JRCT) has been asked by the Charity Commission for England and Wales to explain its decision to fund a charity with alleged links to a terrorist organisation in Northern Ireland and a Yorkshire charity that has accused an MP of racism.
On Saturday the Times reported that JRCT had given £275,000 to Teach na Fáilte, which was founded by the Irish National Liberation Army’s political wing, the Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP).
The Times alleges that the two organisations share an office, and that in April Teach na Fáilte’s offices were among several raided by the Paramilitary Crime Task Force, an elite unit of the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
JRCT’s most recent grant to Teach na Fáilte, which means House of Welcomes in Gaelic, was made last year. Teach na Fáilte is recognised as a charity by HMRC.
In a statement, JRCT said it stood by its funding decision, and had funded both loyalist and republican groups that are carrying out peacebuilding work.
JRCT said: “Teach na Fáilte has been a key player in the INLA ceasefire and decommissioning process. It has been recognised for its positive contribution to peacebuilding and the re-integration of former prisoners in Northern Ireland. INLA declared their armed struggle over in October 2009 and publicly confirmed they had decommissioned their weapons in February 2010.”
It awarded two grants to the charity for the ‘Transitional Initiative’ to support peacebuilding in November 2014 and March 2017.
“We are content with the progress being made by the project which is subject to strict monitoring processes by the trust,” it added.
In response, the Charity Commission for England and Wales said it has asked JRCT to explain its decision.
Meanwhile, the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland said it could not confirm whether or not it is investigating Teach Na Fáilte.
It said: “This is because the Commission is an effective and fair regulator of Northern Ireland charities, and as such, would not wish to discourage any parties from coming forward with confidential concerns or information about a charity, or prejudice any current or potential investigation.”
The Times has also raised concern about JRCT awarding a total fo £550,000 to JUST Yorkshire, which publicly accused a Labour MP of “industrial-scale racism”.
Sarah Champion wrote an article about the sexual abuse of girls by gangs of British Pakistani men for the Sun in August 2017 which was published with the headline "British Pakistani men are raping and exploiting white girls… and it’s time we faced up to it."
This prompted JUST Yorkshire to accuse her of “industrial-scale racism”, which, according to the Times, contributed to Champion having to increase her police security.
In a statement JRCT said that as a Quaker trust, its “mission is to support people tackling the root causes of conflict and injustice”, and that “we condemn and work to end all forms of violence and threats of violence”.
It added: “We do not necessarily agree with every action or statement of those that we have funded. JRCT supported the early development of JUST Yorkshire, a regional charity set up to promote human rights and racial justice, working for the benefit of all communities. JUST Yorkshire has worked on the issues of education and employment for young people, and domestic violence. More recently, JRCT has supported JUST Yorkshire in its efforts to tackle Islamophobia.”
The Charity Commission for England and Wales said it has an ongoing operational compliance case into JUST Yorkshire. It recently met with trustees and is considering its next steps.
It has also asked JRCT to explain its funding decisions.
Michelle Russell, director of investigations and enforcement, at the Charity Commission said: “Our guidance makes clear that charities need to take steps to carry out appropriate due diligence on organisations applying for grants, must ensure grants are only for activities and outcomes that further the charity’s purposes and decisions made are in charity’s best interests.
Charities should be able to explain and justify their funding decisions. We have asked the charity to do this.
“If we need to take action in either case we will not hesitate to do so.”
In 2015 the Charity Commission opened a case into JRCT and another foundation over concerns relating to funding they had given Cage, a campaign group accused of having links to terrorism.
It published the case report in 2016 and said it had identified improvements to JRCT’s processes.
The Commission also published new guidance for foundations about making grants to non-charities.