Belfast Telegraph

Friday 29 August 2014

Ulster-Scots Agency and the £2,500 for Santa hats

The Ulster-Scots Agency has come under fire after spending more than £2,500 distributing Santa hats at a rugby game.

The headwear highlighting its website was given out at Ulster’s clash with Glasgow at Ravenhill last Friday.

The agency also took out a full-page colour advertisement in the match programme and feature article in the Ulster rugby team newsletter as part of a magazine launch.

Members of the governing board of the agency were not informed, Culture Minister Nelson McCausland told the Assembly.

“At a time of scarce resources when there is significant pressure on the budget this is hardly setting the right example in terms of the effective use of public funds and I am very certain any right-minded person would share that concern,” he said.

A total of £2,542 was spent on Santa hats, part of an overall total of £5,060 plus VAT.

When Gregory Campbell was Culture Minister he ordered a senior civil servant to work with the organisation to help address problems.

Mr McCausland added: “It is clear that there are ongoing issues regarding the strategic direction of the agency and also issues around governance and administrative purposes.”

A recent meeting of the North South Ministerial Council agreed to designate an interim chief executive to the agency.

The Belfast-based agency was established following the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. It is charged with promoting greater awareness of Ulster-Scots and developing it as a living language.

Ulster Unionist peer Lord Laird was former chairman of the agency and was criticised for claiming for taxi trips to Derry and Dublin from Belfast. DUP MLA Jonathan Craig expressed concern about the latest spending revelations.

“That is a bit of a Christmas cracker,” he said.

A spokesman for the agency said: “The agency used the platform of the Ulster V Glasgow rugby match at Ravenhill on Friday 4th December with an attendance of 12,500 spectators plus as the official launch of the second edition of its ‘Oot an Aboot' magazine.

“The total expenditure on the launch was £5,060 (plus VAT). Santa hats were distributed marketing the agency's recently launched website.”

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