Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Council responds to Slieve Donard ‘junket’ claims

Newry Mourne and Down District Council have released a statement relating to a recent council “junket” to the Slieve Donard Hotel in Newcastle which saw seven councillors wrack up a hefty expenses bill and prompted public outcry at taxpayers’ money being used for what was seen as a frivolous event.

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 councils with the new Super Council district and its councillors.  The Council originally confirmed the cost of the trip as £2,200 – 75% of which was paid for the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMdFM), but has since revealed that it does not in fact  hold the information as to the cost of the tour as no invoices had been received.

In a statement provided to The Examiner by the Council, the tour – referred to as an “Elected Members Study Visit” – is hailed as one of numerous initiatives aimed at generating discussion and interaction between elected members and community projects under the Good Relations Action Plan which encourages and supports “community participation, civic leadership, co-operation and understanding and partnership working across the religious, political and cultural divide.”

The Council insist that a “value for money assessment was undertaken by obtaining quotes from two suppliers.”

“A total of fifteen elected members registered to attend the event, with ten indicating they would avail of overnight accommodation,” the statement continues,

“Three elected members were subsequently unable to avail of the overnight accommodation booked for them and cancellation of these rooms was not possible due to insufficient notice.

“This is just one of numerous initiatives aimed at generating discussion and interaction between elected members and community projects which have good relations focus.  It is important for Council and the community to develop and maintain relationships, especially in this transition period of the new Council, given the geographical scope of the area to be engaged.

“It is important to note that Newry, Mourne and Down District Council has a statutory duty to have regard to the desirability of promoting good relations between people of different religious belief , political opinion and racial group, and projects such as this are vital in fulfilling this duty.

“All participants including those elected members who were unable to attend the study visit, have endorsed the positive outcomes of the project, particularly for the community projects.”