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MLA 'disappointed' council paid for bonfire pallets

The Audit Office is investigating after £6,300 of council funding was spent in two years on pallets in the Antrim area
Brendan Hughes

ADRIAN Cochrane-Watson said he was "disappointed" to learn that council funding was used to buy pallets burnt on loyalist bonfires – despite being on the group that endorsed the spending.

The Audit Office is investigating after The Irish News last month revealed that more than £6,300 was spent on wooden pallets over two years in the Antrim area.

Funding rules say bonfire groups should only receive money for related 'family fun events', but not for the building of Eleventh Night pyres.

Bonfire groups submitted invoices and receipts to the old Antrim council and payments were approved by a sub-group.

UUP MLA Mr Cochrane-Watson, who sat on the committee when he was a councillor, said they did not inspect individual invoices, and that it was the responsibility of council officers.

He expressed regret over the pallet payments, but insisted the funding scheme had improved community relations and environmental concerns over bonfires.

"I'm disappointed that it's come to light that they were buying pallets," he said.

"But our main challenge was to try and engage with controversial issues, and get them on board on to a programme that would help the community.

"The situation is a hundred times better than it was."

His position is at odds with fellow UUP representative Drew Ritchie, who sat on the same bonfire funding group.

He defended the spending when it emerged last month, saying it was "money well spent" on "a traditional part of any bonfire".

The new Antrim and Newtownabbey council said pallet payments were "authorised in error" and it is reviewing the bonfire management programme to produce a new policy for future years.

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