Members unhappy as ‘vital resource’ closes

‘Save our social’ plea to Church

By Paul Ainsworth

MEMBERS of a South Belfast social club are at loggerheads with the local Catholic Church over a controversial plan to bring the curtain down on the 33-year-old institution “behind their backs”.

St Malachy’s Social Club, described by members as a “vital resource” for the local community, has been officially closed by the parish church, after it “ignored” pleas by members to work out a financial plan to save it.

However, the row deepened when a church notice claimed the move to close the facility was taken by the club itself – a claim described by outraged members as “simply not true”. Members have also accused parish representatives of “ignoring” all correspondence on the issue.

The club, based close to the iconic St Malachy’s church itself, is used by over 110 members and their families, with local pensioners regularly using the club as a social outlet. Yet the wider Market community was left “fuming”, say club members, after reading the parish notice which claimed the decision had been taken by members themselves and not parish bosses.

Club member Peter Scullion told the South Belfast News: “We are aware that the club is facing financial difficulty in the current climate, but we wanted breathing space to see if a recue plan could be put together. However, we were furious when we saw this was being denied to us, and to rub salt in the wounds the church is saying we took the decision. This just simply isn’t true and we’re amazed they are claiming this.

“We aren’t oblivious to the financial reality, and if we were able to carry out a financial plan and saw that the club just wasn’t viable anymore, then we’d be the first to admit it and close it reluctantly. Yet we were denied this, and a claim was made that makes us out to be the ones wielding the axe.

“We haven’t even heard from the parish, and our letters to them about this just went unanswered. It’s like they are closing the club behind our backs when we were prepared to pull out all the stops and save it for the community. But no, they won’t let us have a fair crack at rescuing it.”

In a statement to the South Belfast news, a spokesman for Down and Connor Diocese repeated the claim that the closure decision was taken by the club itself.

“We know that it is a decision that the club management has not taken lightly,” a spokesman said. “The parish over the years has always encouraged the club to review its financial situation, especially during the current recession.  The parish has also taken various initiatives to financially assist the club, including the negotiation of a substantial rates rebate, a rent-free period of two years and a significant rent reduction for the current financial year. Despite these initiatives, it is our understanding that the club was unable to generate sufficient funds to keep it solvent. Therefore, the officers of the club advised the parish of their decision to close.”

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