Fionola Meredith: Why should the public have to pay through the nose for refurbishment of royal home?
If Harry and Meghan want a new place to live, they should cover the cost themselves, says Fionola Meredith
Let's get one thing clear right at the start. Frogmore Cottage - the Duke and Duchess of Sussex's new home, which you and I, as taxpayers, have just spent £2.4m refurbishing - is not, by any halfway normal understanding of the word, a cottage.
Far from it. Cottages are cosy, humble little houses, maybe with a thatched roof, if you're lucky. Think of the tiny, turf-scented dwellings at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, with soda-bread cooking on an open fire.
Frogmore Cottage, by contrast, is a 19th century Grade II-listed property on the Windsor estate. It's so substantial that it previously contained five separate homes, before the gargantuan revamp to make it fit for the Sussexes.
Calling it a cottage only makes sense if your idea of a normal-sized family home is Buckingham Palace.
The excuses given for this lavish spending of public money are that the renovation of the 'cottage' was already planned and that "substantially all fixtures and fittings were paid for by their royal highnesses".
Damned decent of the pair, don't you agree, to cough up for the hemp curtains, or the solar-powered eco-pod, or the gender-neutral nursery, or whatever accoutrements are deemed necessary to this most socially woke branch of the royal family.
A royal source - no, I can't think who - told People, a US magazine, that Frogmore had a "much better energy" than Kensington Palace, where until recently the Sussexes used to live near the Cambridges - aka William, Kate and their children.
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I don't know about you, but the thought of Harry, Meghan and baby Archie being able to breathe in all that wonderfully improved karma makes the huge public contribution very much worthwhile, no?
If you detect a hint of sarcasm in that, you wouldn't be mistaken. It seems a bit rich, to me, not to mention a bit thick, that just because H & M may have decreed that they want a separate house of their own - far, far away from the rival court of the Cambridges - that the cash-strapped, austerity-weary public should be expected to indulge their whim.
Of course, making any kind of comment about the royal family takes on a particularly loaded quality in the overheated political climate of Northern Ireland.
To criticise the royals - or, conversely, to support them - automatically marks you out as a supporter of one side or the other.
Well, I'm not interested in playing the silly sectarian game of royalist-loyalist or republican. I'm simply pointing out that when a titled couple suddenly decide that they want to move palace, it's only reasonable to expect that they pay for the privilege.
It's not as if the couple are short of a bob or two themselves. Harry and Meghan are both immensely wealthy: multi-millionaires in their own right.
If the thought of living next door to William and Kate in a 21-room palace apartment was so unbearable, why didn't they finance the whole venture themselves?
It's been reported that taxpayers will pay an extra £750,000 for security at the cosy cottage, on top of the refurbishment, which itself is not yet completed and may rise to something more like £3m, after the builders have finally finished.
Groups opposed to the monarchy are rubbing their hands with glee - they've just been presented with an unmissable opportunity, on a £2.4m golden platter, to lay into royal largesse.
Republic, which campaigns for an elected head of state, has called for a parliamentary inquiry. Graham Smith, from Republic, said that "an MP spending taxpayers' money on a private home would probably not be an MP for much longer", so why should it be any different for the royals?
Smith added that "if even one school or hospital is facing cuts we cannot justify spending a penny on the royals. Yet with all public services under intense pressure we throw £2.4m at a new house for Harry".
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex like to style themselves as approachable, compassionate, down-to-earth kind of people who care about things like mental health, safe housing and the future of the planet.
But by larging it up so lavishly on their unnecessary new home, and expecting the bulk of it to be paid for by state funding, they demonstrate how disconnected and delusional they are.
Their blithe sense of entitlement completely cuts them off from the everyday lives and struggles of millions of people.
Whether they realise it or not, they are acting as recruiting agents for the anti-monarchy movement.
Who needs Republic, or republicans, when you've got Harry, Meghan and their karma-rich cottage?