Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Councillors on Slieve Donard junket named

The councillors who wracked up an expenses bill of £2,200 on a council “junket” in the Slieve Donard Hotel in Newcastle earlier this month, have been named by Newry, Mourne and Down District Council.

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.

Unite the Union released a statement to The Examiner last week demanding an explanation from Newry, Mourne and Down District Council about the latest expenses debacle which came hot on the heels 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.  The scale of the costs has infuriated constituents along with community groups, many of whom who were turned down for council funding this year.

It has now been revealed that seven local councillors enjoyed an overnight stay in the luxurious five star Slieve Donard Hotel at a cost of over two thousand pounds to ratepayers, with a further three councillors who had signed up to stay in the hotel, withdrawing at short notice resulting in the Council footing the bill for the pre-booked rooms. All of the councillors who took part live within a 40 minute drive of the seaside town.

Sinn Fein Councillors Charlie Casey, Sinead Ennis, Valerie Harte and Roisin Mulgrew along with DUP elected representatives Gareth Craig and Harry Harvey and Alliance Councillor Patrick Brown all stayed in the lavish hotel as part of the two day district tour.

In total, twelve councillors, five of whom did not stay at the hotel, availed of a hired bus to visit various community projects as part of the tour in Newry, Slieve Gullion Forest Park, Warrenpoint, Newcastle, Castlewellan, Killyleagh and Downpatrick.

The £2200 bill is understood to have included transport, catering, room hire and overnight accommodation in one of Northern Ireland’s most prestigious hotels where single room prices start at around £130 per night. The Council have confirmed that OFMDFM provided 75% of the overall cost of the tour with Council paying the remaining 25%..

Some of the councillors involved in the junket have defended their attendance at the junket with a Sinn Fein spokesperson outlining the nature of the event as an exercise to familiarise councillors with the new super council area and the benefit of meeting numerous community groups and projects that they will be working closely with in the future.