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Euro game trips for Stormont officials branded 'own goal'

By Noel McAdam

Published 26/08/2016

Northern Ireland's Gareth McAuley and Kyle Lafferty celebrate after the win over Ukraine in Lyon
Northern Ireland's Gareth McAuley and Kyle Lafferty celebrate after the win over Ukraine in Lyon

Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness have been accused of an "own goal" over costs attached to their trips to the European Football Championships.

It has been revealed that five senior public officials 'scored' when the First Minister and Deputy First Minister were invited to the football finals in France.

All five officials accompanied Mrs Foster and Mr McGuinness to both Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland matches - at a cost to the public purse of more than £5,000.

A special adviser and private secretary were with the DUP leader at the Northern Ireland versus Poland game on June 12 in Nice, and then against Wales on June 25 in Paris.

A special adviser, private secretary and press officer joined Mr McGuinness for the Northern Ireland versus Germany game on June 21 in Paris, and the Republic against Italy game on June 22.

In a written Assembly answer to Ulster Unionist Andy Allen, the Executive Office said that the cost for Mrs Foster's officials was £2,047.74 for the game in Nice, and another £1,251.04 for the game in Paris.

For the Deputy First Minister, meanwhile, the total travel cost for the two games was £1,943.13.

Mr Allen said that the £5,241 total cost for the trips for civil servants and officials - amounting to more than £1,000 a head - could not be justified.

The East Belfast MLA argued that many fans had been able to cover the price of an entire 10-day trip for the three group games for the cost of sending a single Stormont special adviser. They were also "in stark contrast" to the tens of thousands of fans left raiding their bank balances to pay for the trip.

"I would certainly question what special advisers were required to provide in the south of France and in Paris," UUP MLA Mr Allen said.

"These travel costs, some of which were over £1,000 per head for travel to a single match, appear to be extremely high.

"Their privileged access and no-expense-spared transport stands in stark contrast to the tens of thousands of Northern Ireland fans who had to save and pay their own way in order to support their team.

"In terms of costs, many fans were able to manage an entire trip for the three group games for the cost of sending a special adviser to a single match."

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