Northern Ireland news

Council asked if it raised cash for Seamus Heaney HomePlace on US visit

Members of the Heaney family at the official opening of the new Seamus Heaney HomePlace in Bellaghy Co Derry in 2016
Connla Young

MID Ulster council has faced calls to explain if it raised any cash during a US trip to help support a loss making centre dedicated to the memory Seamus Heaney.

SDLP councillor Denise Mullen last night called on council officials to make a "full statement" about the Co Derry centre, which has lost £1m over the last three years.

The Irish News revealed last month that the £4m HomePlace centre - which is owned and managed by the council - has made a huge loss since it opened in Bellaghy in September 2016.

Details emerged as a high-profile delegation made a ‘cash dash’ to US in search of donations last month.

Those taking part in in the trip include Seamus Heaney's son Christopher, Sinn Féin council chairman Sean McPeake and DUP deputy chair Frances Burton.

Council chief executive Anthony Tohill and HomePlace manager Brian McCormick also made the trip.

Mr McPeake later denied the trip was made to raise cash and described the centre as a "jewel in the crown" as a tourist attraction.

The council last night refused to reveal if any money was raised during the transatlantic trip.

In a statement a spokeswoman said: "Any outcomes from the delegation's visit to the US will be reported to the council as appropriate."

Ms Mullen has urged her council to provide an explanation.

"The notion of a delegation going on a meaningless trip to beg money for a project that was financially unsound does not sit well with hard working ratepayers in Mid Ulster," she said.

She added that "serious questions" need to be asked of the council in relation the "financial losses at the Heaney Centre".

"The ratepayers of Mid Ulster welcomed the building of the Heaney centre but they not expect it to be mired in financial controversy so soon after it was opened," she said.

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