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Outrage as Northern Ireland council throws Christmas party at £5,000 expense to ratepayers

By Deborah McAleese

Published 04/12/2015

The council has defended its right to have a party, saying it’s recognised as good practice for morale. Picture posed
The council has defended its right to have a party, saying it’s recognised as good practice for morale. Picture posed

Ratepayers are furious over a decision by a Northern Ireland council to treat employees to a £5,000 Christmas party.

Newry, Mourne and Down District Council has set aside the sum to entertain staff at a bar and restaurant next Friday.

It is understood that some workers have refused to attend the event at Bellini's in Newry because they believe that it is a waste of money.

Councillors have also been contacted by ratepayers raising concerns over "extravagance".

One angry constituent said: "Why should ratepayers have to pay for this? If they're so keen to treat their employees, let officials and councillors pay for it."

SDLP councillor Colin McGrath said: "I have raised my misgivings about this with the chief executive. I can understand why members of the public have raised complaints."

TUV councillor Henry Reilly added: "If it is an excuse for a drinking session, then the council shouldn't be paying with ratepayers' money."

But the DUP's Billy Walker insisted council staff worked hard and deserved a treat.

"We are talking about £5,000 for a few hundred staff," he said. "It's not exactly excessive. I don't have a problem with it. Our staff work very hard and this is a way of showing our appreciation.

"I have received complaints from the public about it, but I have told them they should maybe be complaining about the councillors who don't turn up for meetings and still get paid."

The council's chairwoman, Sinn Fein's Naomi Bailie, declined to comment.

A spokeswoman for the council confirmed it was holding a "staff recognition event" to "acknowledge the many excellent achievements by the new council since its creation on April 1".

"Elected members unanimously agreed to this event to express their deep appreciation for the staff who played a vital role in the creation of the new council, ensuring that everyday services and operations ran smoothly and seamlessly for all of the citizens of the new district of Newry, Mourne and Down," she said.

"The event will recognise the commitments and endeavours of individuals and teams who have displayed high levels of commitment set against a background of change."

She added that in the first six months of the new council's existence, it has hosted several "global" events, including the Irish Open in Newcastle, the Gran Fondo, the Annual Famine Commemoration in Newry and the country's first major economic conference debating a Brexit.

"Employee relations is high on the council's agenda and it is seen as good practice in both the private sector and local government to organise activities which improve staff attitude to work and the organisation they work in," the spokeswoman said.

But Newry, Mourne and Down is not the only council planning to treat staff using ratepayers' money. Fermanagh and Omagh District Council has set aside a £2,000 budget for two receptions for staff.

The council said its chairman would host one in The Grange, Omagh, and another one in Enniskillen town hall.

Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council said it intended to host a reception for staff in a town hall, but the cost is currently unknown.

A spokeswoman added: "Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council is not funding or subsidising a staff Christmas party. However, the mayor, councillor Michelle Knight-McQuillan, is hosting a reception which staff have been invited to attend in Ballymoney town hall. At this stage, costs are not confirmed as these will be dependent on numbers attending."

Derry City and Strabane District Council is organising a staff party, but employees are funding it themselves. The council chairman is paying for a bus to transport staff living in Strabane to the event in Derry.

Antrim and Newtownabbey, Ards and North Down, Belfast City and Mid and East Antrim councils will also not be funding a staff party. The Armagh Banbridge Craigavon Council failed to respond, and Lisburn and Castlereagh, and Mid Ulster councils could not be contacted for comment yesterday.

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