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News

Belfast councillors' alcohol bill after meetings runs into hundreds of pounds a year

Belfast City Hall
Brendan Hughes

BELFAST City Council is spending hundreds of pounds a year on alcohol for councillors after monthly meetings.

Alcohol is made available to elected representatives and other invitees in the lord mayor's parlour at city hall after meetings of full council.

The free booze has cost more than £2,000 in ratepayers' cash over the past seven years.

Councils in the north usually provide various refreshments to councillors, but only a few would supply alcohol.

The costs since 2011 were disclosed by Belfast City Council in a Freedom of Information response to The Irish News.

The largest amount spent during a mayoral tenure was £507.77 from April 2015 to May 2016 when Sinn Féin's Arder Carson was lord mayor.

This was followed by the £310.41 spent when the DUP's Brian Kingston was mayor from June 2016 to May 2017.

So far £262.23 has been spent during the term in office of the current lord mayor, Alliance's Nuala McAllister.

People Before Profit councillor Matt Collins hit out at the spending.

"This is yet another example of wasted money from Belfast City Council, at a time when they are raising the rates and asking ordinary people to pay more," he said.

"People will likely be taken aback to hear that councillors have availed of thousands of pounds of free alcohol at the expense of the ratepayer.

"Ordinary workers don't get this kind of treatment in their jobs, so I don't see why elected representatives should.

"I have never departed to the mayor's parlour for a drink after a council meeting, and I don't intend to."

However PUP leader Billy Hutchinson, a lifelong teetotaller, said he had no problem with the current level of spending on alcohol after meetings.

The city councillor said he doesn't attend the mayor's parlour but believes they should have some finances available for hospitality.

"For me if it's only that amount I don't have a problem with it. I don't go back to it so I don't know what goes on, but from my point of view council meetings go on long enough," he said.

"I wouldn't be objecting to it. I do think the mayor's position is different than others and I would want them to have a small amount of hospitality, but I wouldn't want them to be spending larger amounts of money."

A Belfast City Council spokesman said: "It has been custom and practice for decades for the lord mayor to open the parlour for refreshments for a small number of councillors following the evening monthly meeting of council.

"Generally, this lasts no longer than half an hour. The cost is linked to the lord mayor's annual hospitality allowance. No alcohol is served before or after any other meeting."

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:: Amount spent on alcohol after council meetings during each Belfast lord mayor's tenure

Niall Ó Donnghaile, Sinn Féin (2011-12) – £208.93

Gavin Robinson, DUP (2012-13) – £283.64

Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, Sinn Féin (2013-14) – £209.51

Nichola Mallon, SDLP (2014-15) – £258.80

Arder Carson, Sinn Féin (2015-16) – £507.77

Brian Kingston, DUP (2016-17) – £310.41

Nuala McAllister, Alliance (2017-) – £262.23

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