Northern Ireland news

Bar bill for Orange lodge event at Belfast City Hall covered by ratepayers

Govan Protestant Boys marching inside Belfast City Hall
Brendan Hughes

THE drinks bill for a Belfast City Hall event where a loyalist flute band paraded inside the building was paid for by the public purse.

Ratepayers covered the cost of a £500 drinks reception at the centenary dinner for the George Telford Memorial Orange Lodge, it has emerged.

The event last October caused controversy after footage emerged online of Govan Protestant Boys parading through the building.

Uniformed members of the Glasgow-based band were seen marching through the reception and corridors, and the band was accused of playing sectarian tunes.

The George Telford lodge, which is based at Clifton Street Orange Hall, later apologised for the scenes.

It said the band played outside the function room "without the approval or prior knowledge of any lodge officer, County Grand Lodge officer or elected representative present".

Last month a council committee banned the Orange lodge and flute band from booking city hall for future events following an investigation into the incident.

Belfast City Council confirmed the drinks reception cost in response to a Freedom of Information request.

A spokeswoman said: "The council granted permission for George Telford Memorial Orange Lodge to host their 100th anniversary dinner event in city hall.

"Permission was granted via the current application process and criteria for all external functions; committee to approve the event and the provision of hospitality of £500 drinks reception on arrival.

"The council did not contribute to the cost of hosting the event except for operational costs associated with delivering all functions at city hall such as function staff, electricity and heating."

Alliance councillor Emmet McDonough-Brown said it was "galling to think that citizens subsidised the bar bill" for the Orange lodge event given the "disgraceful behaviour in city hall".

"People will be further disappointed to learn of the complete disdain with which attendees of this event have treated the ratepayers of this city," he added.

In a statement following the committee's decision last month, the council said it regretted the incident and had "reaffirmed its commitment to promoting equality and good relations".

"As a result of the investigation into breaches of city hall's terms and conditions of use, members have agreed to the recommendation to review the existing terms of conditions to ensure they are in line with council's equality obligations," it added.

Last year, the council reviewed its city hall function rooms offering and agreed to reduce its spend on drinks receptions.

Councillors agreed to discontinue paying for drinks receptions worth up to £500 for Visit Belfast and Tourism NI-backed conferences, making an estimated saving in both drinks and staffing costs of up to £25,000 a year.

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