By Mohammed Samaana We were all shocked to hear the sad news that the Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities (Nicem) has filed for voluntary insolvency. According to executive director Patrick Yu, the painful decision was taken due to severe cashflow problems. He also said the move to wind up was the best way to protect the achievement, reputation and integrity of Nicem.
The organisation had come under financial pressure since it lost its contract to provide interpreting services to the Department of Justice in 2014. Nicem’s woes got worse after it failed to secure two Stormont grants worth a total of £90,000. The cost of a conference that Nicem hosted earlier this year at the Belfast Hilton was the final straw. Nicem was founded in 1994 as an umbrella group for different ethnic minority groups to achieve the ambitious target of the elimination of racial discrimination and the promotion of racial equality. It operated from three offices in Belfast, Derry and Lurgan, and before the announcement employed seven staff. A big question from this situation is how an organisation with such importance to ethnic minorities and migrant communities was allowed to fail? Many answers spring to mind. You start by wondering why Stormont did not award Nicem the grants it was hoping to get? Are austerity measures the only reason, or are more organisations competing for the same amount of funding? Whatever the answer to this, I’m not sure how £90,000 could have solved their financial problems, considering their payroll commitments alone, let alone their monthly and annual running costs. With no financial data available in Nicem’s annual reports, it’s hard to know what they were spending. And when it comes to spending, the most important question for me is why Nicem chose to go ahead with a costly conference when there was such uncertainty about its financial viability. The planning for this event should have been put on hold as soon as Nicem lost its translation contract with the NI Government and awaited the outcome of a number of additional funding applications. Other financing options, such as advertising for donations and membership subscription, should also have been considered, let alone consolidating premises to save on rent. Nicem was and is an important organisation for Northern Ireland’s ethnic minorities, and its closure will be an enormous loss. However, at this stage it is important to learn lessons for the future in order to prevent the same thing from happening again. One essential lesson is that funding for such organisations should be secured, not by relying on gambling on grants and competing for money that they may never get. The huge task at hand now is to find an alternative to Nicem in order to carry on with the great work that it has done and to provide the same services to Northern Ireland’s ethnic minority communities. Mohammed Samaana is a freelance writer based in Belfast