MLA under fire over bouncy castle bonfire funding
AN ASSEMBLY member approved thousands of pounds in council bonfire funding for a bouncy castle enterprise to which he is closely linked.
Ulster Unionist Adrian Cochrane-Watson sat on a council sub-group that agreed payments to Antrim-based Bouncy King NI.
It received almost £11,000 of ratepayers' cash in the past two years to provide bouncy castles for groups holding events at Eleventh Night pyres.
But Mr Cochrane-Watson did not declare an interest or absent himself from the committee despite his involvement in the "social economy enterprise".
He has strongly defended his actions, insisting he was not involved in bidding for money and has never financially benefited from Bouncy King NI.
Payments endorsed by the Bonfire Sub-Group of the former Antrim Borough Council are already under investigation after The Irish News revealed funds were used to buy pallets burnt on bonfires.
More than £6,300 was spent on wooden pallets during 2013 and 2014 in the Antrim area, prompting the Audit Office probe.
Funding rules say bonfire groups should only receive money for related 'family fun events' – but not for the building of Eleventh Night pyres.
Antrim-area groups submitted invoices and receipts to the council and payments were approved by a committee that includes councillors and community representatives.
Sinn Féin's Anne Marie Logue expressed shock over Mr Cochrane-Watson endorsing payments without declaring an interest.
The Antrim councillor said she believed he should have made clear his involvement in Bouncy King NI.
"Every single year we are prompted as councillors to express any interest as part of good governance," she said.
"Regardless of what their involvement is, if it may influence payments then they should declare an interest."
However, Mr Cochrane-Watson, who is no longer a councillor after being co-opted to replace South Antrim MP Danny Kinahan at Stormont, rejected suggestions that he should have declared an interest.
He said he does not own Bouncy King but is a committee member.
Describing it as a "social enterprise", the former mayor praised the service it provides to community groups.
"I know they were providing a good service at an affordable price. I am actually delighted that the service was out there in the community that I represent instead of the private sector," he said.
"I am championing a social economy enterprise which has delivered."