Spiralling costs of Somme events concern

Keeping warm with goatskin jackets at the Somme in the1st World War.

Keeping warm with goatskin jackets at the Somme in the1st World War.

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Rising costs of the Somme commemoration have caused concern among members of Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council.

It has a budget estimate of £100,000 including £10k for commemorative benches to be positioned in various parts of the borough plus an event to dedicate the benches.

SDLP Cllr Thomas O’Hanlon said that while everyone agreed to commemorate the Somme in a dignified and respectful manner, he raised concerns around costs. He referred to the cost of £10k for a Commemorative Service and a further £10k for a National Vigil which he felt was excessive. He also was concerned at a proposal to spend £15k to send a delegation of 14 people on a civic visit to France.

SF’s Gareth Keating said a lot of people would view it as exuberant. He said that apart from the benches and educational aspect, he felt that the other elements had been very loosely costed. He stressed he was supportive of commemorating the anniversary, but urged against marginalising the Council on the size of the expenditure on the event.

The DUP’s Robert Smith agreed that some of the costs had probably been over-estimated. SDLP Cllr Seamus Doyle said he certainly had a problem with a £100k budget and felt the public would also have a big problem with it.

Cllr O’Hanlon asked if the £100k budget for the Programme had been budgeted as part of the recent estimates process. The Chief Executive said no provision had been made for the programme in the recent budget so it would come out of Council reserves.

Cllr Doug Beattie agreed there was no need to send 14 people to France and felt strongly that the overall expenditure could be significantly reduced. Cllr Brendan Curran said any underspend of the £100k should be returned to the reserves.

SF Cllr Gemma McKenna said she hoped when they came to look at other commemorations, that they were approached as respectfully. She said they were a diverse Borough.

Council agreed to buy commemorative benches and approved in principle the proposed programme but that costs are reviewed.