Anger as councillors wrack up £2k expenses bill for 5 star hotel stay

October 19, 2015

Unite the Union Newry have demanded an explanation from Newry, Mourne and Down District Council about a council “junket” in the Slieve Donard Hotel in Newcastle earlier this month, which wracked up an expenses bill of £2,200.

The two day event, which took place on the 2nd and 3rd of October, included a tour of the new council area, aimed at familiarising councillors with the new Super Council district.

According to Unite, 12 local councillors enjoyed an overnight stay in the luxurious five star hotel at a cost of over two thousand pounds to ratepayers.  The group’s spokesperson also claimed to have a full list of all the councillor’s names and the political parties involved in the event.

The latest expenses scandal comes in the wake of startling revelations that the former Newry and Mourne District Council spent almost £45,000 on so-called “farewell events” before it merged into the new Super Council in April last year.

Figures revealed by the Detail Data website show that, while the majority of outgoing councils spent less than £15,000 on initiatives which included publicly funded receptions for councillors and staff, exhibitions, commemorative books, concerts and community carnivals, Newry and Mourne council spent a whopping £44,460.  That amount was trumped by Down District Council who spent £48,858.

The scale of the costs has infuriated constituents along with community groups, many of whom were turned down for council funding this year.

The Examiner has learned that a freedom of information request has been submitted to the council by a member of the public requesting a full run down of costs incurred at the Slieve Donard junket.

In an exclusive statement to The Examiner, Unite the Union Newry Chairman, Chris Morley, said:

“Unite calls on Newry, Mourne and Down Council to give a full breakdown of costs that were incurred by the ratepayer/taxpayer following 12 councillors’ stay at the luxurious five star Slieve Donard Hotel in Newcastle.

“Unite has a full list of all the councillor’s names and political parties who were involved. Some of these councillors live less than 20 miles from the Slieve Donard Hotel.

“As big as our super council is, one can still easily drive from one end of our district to the other in under 60 minutes.

“Most days working men in this area commute to Dublin and Derry for a day’s work and have to make the arduous journey home every night.  Why should our elected representatives be afforded this luxury where £2200 was incurred out of the public purse?

“Surely a taxi bus shuttle service would have been a much more cost effective way of doing things?

“We need answers and we want them now. How anyone can justify this expense is beyond reasoning, while we are seeing cuts in disability, welfare and our infrastructure on a weekly basis.

“Working class people are struggling to make ends meet yet these councillors, who say they are being closer to their constituents, lapped it up in splendid grandeur in the Slieve Donard Hotel.  “This has all the hallmarks of a junket.  It is totally unethical and the constituents of Newry, Armagh and Down need a full explanation.”

Mr Morley confirmed the statement had been submitted to the council who indicated they would reply within 28 days.