Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland council's £55k bill for Rory Best and Ronnie McFall ceremonies is condemned

Rory Best was made Freeman of Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council in September 2018
Rory Best was made Freeman of Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council in September 2018
Andrew Madden

By Andrew Madden

A Northern Ireland council has come under fire for forking out more than £55k to award two sporting figures Freedom of the Borough.

Last September, Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon (ABC) Borough Council paid almost £40k for a lavish ceremony granting the honour to Ireland rugby captain Rory Best.

In May 2017, the council spent £15,458 on conferring the same honour to former Portadown Football Club manager Ronnie McFall.

Held in the Palace Demense in Armagh, the catering bill for Rory Best's ceremony alone ran to £14,221, with venue and equipment hire also topping £14k.

The costs emerged following a freedom of information request by the campaign group Save Craigavon City Parks and Lakes, who said the money should be put to better use.

"We are fully supportive of the sentiment that these two men should be recognised for their massive contribution to their sport and this community," said spokesperson Kelly Laverty.

"What we don't agree with is the amount of money that ABC is lavishing on these and other red carpet events. Craigavon is an area of high social deprivation. People are struggling to pay their rates, some are depending on food banks just to feed themselves.  

Former Portadown manager Ronnie McFall was bestowed the honour in May 2017
Former Portadown manager Ronnie McFall was bestowed the honour in May 2017

"This style over substance spending is not what we pay our rates for. Local people are cutting grass verges, clearing pathways beside local schools, community clean ups that council supposedly can't afford to pay pay for. 

"Economic development is their top priority when the people who live here should be. This council is very out of touch with the people who live in the area and changes need to be made urgently."

In relation to the Rory Best event, a spokeswoman for ABC council said: “The award of Freedom of the Borough acknowledges the contribution of organisations or people to the life of our area which is rarely assigned and represents the highest civic honour that can be bestowed.

“Councillors representing every area of the borough unanimously agreed that Rory Best deserved this important recognition for the contribution he has made locally, nationally and internationally."

"Captain of Ireland and Ulster as well as a British and Irish Lion, Rory brings great pride and honour to our area throughout a long and distinguished career and in acknowledgement of this, a fitting tribute was supported by all councillors.

“A great ambassador for the local community, Rory is Patron for the Portadown Panthers, a non-contact Tag Rugby Club for people with learning disabilities, members of which came together to participate in a Festival of Rugby organised by City Of Armagh Rugby Club on the morning of the event and which featured teams from right across the borough.

“The Council was also delighted to work closely with BBC Northern Ireland as part of a planned documentary which incorporated the event and which showcased highlights of Rory’s stellar career and the place he proudly calls home."

In February, the Belfast Telegraph revealed that councils in Northern Ireland spent more than £600,000 on awards ceremonies in just three years.

ABC council had a bill of £162,118 - the second highest in the UK.

After the spending came to light, ABC councillor Arnold Hatch defended it, stating: "So what?"

He then clarified: "Yea, so what? I mean these are events that are well recognised. In the local media, the local press, I didn't see any negative comments about those awards ceremonies in the press."

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