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Fermanagh and Omagh District Council sips and munches way through £7k of tea and biscuits

By David Dawson

Published 01/10/2016

A Northern Ireland council spent almost £7,000 of public money on refreshments for councillors, including tea and biscuits, in the last year
A Northern Ireland council spent almost £7,000 of public money on refreshments for councillors, including tea and biscuits, in the last year

A Northern Ireland council spent almost £7,000 of public money on refreshments for councillors, including tea and biscuits, in the last year.

The bill was run up by Fermanagh and Omagh District Council.

During various meetings at Enniskillen Town Hall and at The Grange in Omagh, councillors can enjoy a cup of tea brewed with Punjana teabags, or a stimulating coffee made from Nescafe's "carefully selected" beans.

For peckish politicians there are sandwiches available and a selection of biscuits from the Family Circle range, including digestives, milk chocolate digestives and chocolate fingers.

Following a Freedom of Information request by The Impartial Reporter, the council confirmed that the total cost of providing tea, coffee and food at meetings over the last financial year (April 1, 2015 to March 31, 2016) was £6,783.

SDLP councillor John Coyle defended the cost of the refreshments, telling this newspaper: "It's nice to have a warm cup of tea or coffee."

He added: "We have very long meetings, a heavy agenda, to get through all the reports. We do be away from home an excessive amount of time, and, really, for councillors travelling from the far end of Omagh or Derrylin, a cup of tea and a biscuit is probably not very excessive."

Ulster Unionist Victor Warrington did not want to comment immediately, preferring to "crunch the numbers" first.

He later said: "It's not a big issue.

"It works out at about £120 a week. I know other councils provide their councillors with hot food.

"You have to remember that a lot of our councillors have full-time jobs and are racing to the meetings without getting anything to eat.

"A cup of tea and a sandwich isn't going to break the bank. The council does not throw money around the place and does not spend it foolishly."

DUP councillor Keith Elliott said he was "shocked" at the price of refreshments.

"I am partial to a cup of tea. I am shocked that it's so much, to be honest. It will no doubt spark justifiable anger among many of our local ratepayers," added the Enniskillen representative.

"The logistics of a councillor's routine often leave us with no other choice but to consume refreshments within council premises and often to the expense of council.

"Despite this view, there can be no excuse for the current public expenditure on refreshments.

"As we are living in days when many are struggling to make ends meet, it is critical that council now take the lead and review their expenditure in view of prioritising the people we represent."

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