A Cannes property conference which members of Belfast City Council will attend next year has been branded “little more than a party”.
Green Party councillor Áine Groogan made the comment during a debate over who should attend the MIPIM event in the South of France in 2023.
It was agreed that council reps will go to the 2023 event, at ratepayers’ expense, despite Green Party and People Before Profit councillors urging City Hall to boycott the event.
Details on the scale of any City Hall delegation will be decided at a later date.
Government representatives, property groups, investors, construction firms and architects head to the South of France for MIPIM, billed as “the world’s leading property market” every year. But in 2018 the event became mired in controversy, with allegations of sexism, drunken behaviour and even of prostitutes being at the event.
Organisers at the time rejected the claim, saying: “Under no circumstances does MIPIM register prostitutes.”
The event, considered by many to be male-dominated, has been the subject of several complaints by women who say they were the victims of sexist abuse, misogyny and discrimination.
In 2018, Tamsie Thomson, director of the London Festival of Architecture, launched the Elephant Campaign, to confront exploitation in the property and construction industries.
That year Belfast City Council spent £60,000 sending seven officials to the four-day event in March.
Ms Groogan told the chamber this week: “It is disappointing, as it seems to be business as usual after Covid. I thought we might have taken stock about how we do business and how we move forward as a society, but it doesn’t really seem to have gotten there.
“Sustainable development and growth cannot just be buzzwords to us. I have yet to be convinced on the merits of MIPIM and what it delivers to the city, because so far what I have seen it delivering is not an awful lot. And what it has delivered is not very positive.”
She added that MIPIM appeared “a very male-dominated, wealth-driven jaunt in the South of France, and the behaviour at it is not something this city or this council should be associated with.”
She called it “little more than a party”.
Her proposal that the council have no involvement with the MIPIM conference next year fell, with eight votes in support from the Greens and People Before Profit, 25 against, and 18 Sinn Fein votes abstaining.
Sinn Fein councillor Ryan Murphy said: “Our party put forward a proposal that we wouldn’t attend MIPIM in the political sense, where there would be no party representatives, but where the council would be corporately represented by staff.
“People will know we have raised reservations about MIPIM and the council’s attendance at it and what value and benefit that it brings to the city. From then, over the past couple of years, we have had reports coming back to the committee from council officers about the need for the council to be represented there.
“We heard that again at committee, represented to us by the Renewed Ambition Programme partnership. The report outlines there are other council areas interested in going, and for that reason it is why we suggested we would be happy for council officers to attend and for them to report back exactly the engagements they had out there and what value they felt it could bring to the city going forward.”
His proposal for officers and not elected representatives to attend the conference fell, with 19 votes in support and 32 against.
People Before Profit councillor Fiona Ferguson said: “I think this is totally out of step with the type of attitude this council claims to adopt on issues like the cost of living, or whatever else. It’s all the right words then it’s little junkets to France — and it makes no sense.”
She suggested no more association with MIPIM unless there was a political decision to do so. She said the proposal to send council officers rather than elected representatives was “laughable”.
UUP councillor Carole Howard said: “MIPIM is hugely successful and has brought a lot to this city.”
SDLP councillor Carl Whyte said: “My goodness, it sounds like Mordor, or somewhere where really bad things happen, somewhere where no one would ever wish to go in their entire lives. I’ve been to the South of France quite a few times and I don’t remember seeing this hellhole that is being talked about tonight.”
He added: “What I have heard tonight absolutely flabbergasts me. We are not sitting here in this building with hundreds of cranes as you walk out. We are in dire need of institutional investment — from the type of people that go to MIPIM.”