Council takeover of city triathlon criticised

June 23, 2014

Newry and Mourne District Council has come under heavy criticism for its decision to solely host the Newry City Triathlon/Festival of Water event this year after it declined a licence application from last year’s host company, Abbey Event Management.

According to Abbey Event Management, the canal-based race was the brainchild of the local PR company, who say they conceived the idea to use the “fantastic resource” of the canal right in the heart of the city to host the inaugural event last September.

The first ever Newry City Triathlon was hailed a resounding success which had capitalised on the growth of the sport to become another key tourism event for the district.  Abbey Event Management were congratulated on staging a top class, professional event which had drummed up massive interest and support, attracting triathlon clubs from all over Ireland who vowed to return.

This year’s event however has been launched by Newry and Mourne District Council under some controversy amid claims made by Abbey Event Management that its application for a licence was rejected by the Council without a valid reason.

Director of Abbey Event Management, Paul McCann, expressed his disappointment at the Council’s decision to decline the licence application and says he is “flabbergasted” at learning the Council now intends to run the event itself.

Abbey Event Management published a statement on the NewryCity Triathlon Facebook page, which attracted many comments of support.

“Over several years of involvement in triathlon events at home and abroad and the experiences gained both as a competitor and supporter enabled the recognition of the elements that make a first class event.  With this in hand Abbey Event Management went about and conceived the idea to utilise the Newry Canal and give Newry its first Triathlon. In conjunction with our sponsors we invested and managed the inaugural event in 2013. The 2013 was hailed as an event to be proud of for the whole city by competitors, supporters, local traders, Newry & Mourne District Council, the PSNI alike,” the statement read.

Mr McCann revealed that, on the back of last year’s success, Abbey Event Management had commenced planning for this year’s triathlon and had procured major sponsors as well as invested in race paraphernalia such as medals, t-shirts, and trophies.

The company director claimed to have also secured support from local traders, Road Service, PSNI Traffic Branch and liaised with partnership bodies in arranging the much anticipated event.

“In January this year, we approached the council to obtain a licence to use the canal for the day of the event” Mr McCann said.

“After much prevarication, we were dismayed and more than a little shocked to learn on 28th May 2014 that the council had decided not to grant a licence for the event. Was there a reason given for this? No.

“We have now learned and are left flabbergasted by the news that the council intend to run the event by themselves, freezing Abbey Event Management out of the event that we thought of, brought to fruition and successfully ran last year. Is this how the council reward businesses who wish to run local events for local people, with local people?

“What confidence can anyone have that the council will simply refuse to grant licences and then take the idea for themselves? Is this the council’s idea of fair play?” he asked.

“On a final note can I thank our sponsors old and new and the people for all their support and expressions of interest for this year. It is with the deepest of regret that we won’t be involved this year which we had been fully committed to developing as a annual signature event for Newry City, but sadly, due to the unexplained actions of the council, we cannot.”

Local participants of last year’s triathlon were quick to show their support for Abbey Event Management with Several potential competitors and triathlon clubs revealing  they would not attend this year’s event under the Council’s planning. One commenter described the Council as “shortsighted penpushers” while another suggested that Abbey Event Management relocate the event to Warrenpoint or Camlough Lake.

In response, Newry & Mourne District Council said the application from Abbey Events to host the event was refused on legal advice and refuted the allegations as “inaccurate”.

In a statement, the Council said: “In the first instance, the Newry City Triathlon and Festival of Water/ City Day held in 2013 was a joint initiative between Newry & Mourne District Council and Abbey Events.  It is true to state that an approach was made to Newry & Mourne District Council in January 2014 by Abbey Events for the Council to once again host a joint venture with regard to the organisation of a Festival of Water/City Triathlon. This request was brought to the attention of the Council and it was agreed to consider this request and carry out the necessary background checks as per Council policy before agreeing to this request.”

The Council said that, after a protracted time span, requested information in relation to the event was received in April and was subsequently put before a full Council meeting.

“After numerous requests and much prevarication by Abbey Events, a copy of the required information was received in mid April 2014 by the Council. This information was passed to our legal advisors for their advices.  The matter was therefore discussed at a Newry City Councillors meeting on 20th April 2014 and the Councillors after considering the legal advices agreed to refuse with regret the request.

“The report of the Newry City Councillors meeting of 28th April 2014 was considered by the Full Council Monthly meeting on Tuesday 6th May 2014 and it was agreed to adopt the recommendation of the Newry City Councillors meeting on 28th April 2014.  A letter was forwarded to Abbey Events Management on 14th May 2014 conveying the Councils decision and not on 29th May as detailed by Abbey Events on their Newry City Triathlon Facebook page.  The Council’s files are available for any member of the public who wants to view to ascertain the correct information at any time,” the statement added.

The Examiner contacted Newry and Mourne District Council for clarification of the legal implications cited in its statement but were told that, due to the fact that the legal issues were still outstanding and in the hands of legal advisors,  the council could not comment on the situation.