Fury at £40k spend for Rory Best Freedom of Borough party

Rory Best pictured at the Archbishop's Palace in Armagh
Rory Best pictured at the Archbishop's Palace in Armagh

Fury followed reports that Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council forked out almost £40k to confer the Freedom of the Borough on rugby legend Rory Best.

The massive sum follows news last week that the same council spent £15.5k on confering the same honour on former Portadown FC manager Ronnie McFall.

Rory Best and Lord Mayor, Cllr Julie Flaherty with the scroll at the Palace in Armagh''Rory Best and Lord Mayor, Cllr Julie Flaherty with members of Council at the Palace in Armagh

Rory Best and Lord Mayor, Cllr Julie Flaherty with the scroll at the Palace in Armagh''Rory Best and Lord Mayor, Cllr Julie Flaherty with members of Council at the Palace in Armagh

Mr Best’s event included large expenses including £14,221.50 for catering alone

The Ulster, Ireland and Lions rugby star was conferred the honour at a ceremony in the Palace Demense, Armagh last year by the Lord Mayor, Aldermen and Councillors of the Borough.

According to the council’s response to the FoI, the venue and equipment hire was £14,442.50 - even though the venue is owned by Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council.

The FOI response, requested by Save Craigavon Park and Lakes campaign group, showed that the ceremony costs totalled £39,759.56. This included Catering £14,221.50; 3 x A3 signs (public park notices) £37; Freedom Scroll & Book of Burgess £2,835; Entertainments Licence (portion) £66.66; Videography & supply to local and national media outlets £750; Musical Entertainment £1,745; Security Services £92.40; Venue and equipment hire costs £14,442.50; Photography Services & supply to local and national media outlets £835; Design, Printing, Stationery & Venue Dressing £4,131.50; Photo Wall Backdrop £243 and flowers £360.

A spokesperson for Save Craigavon Park and Lakes said: “We totally support Rory Best being conferred the Freedom of the Borough but we think the level of spending was extortionate.

“There are people in this borough using food banks and many struggling to pay their rates - and the council goes and throws a big party?”

“The level of deprivation in this area is very high and people are struggling.

“I am sure Rory Best would be embarrassed at this spending. I am sure he would have been just as happy to be given the honour from the mayor rather than paying a celebrity to do it.”

A spokeswoman for ABC Council said: “The award of Freedom of the Borough acknowledges the contribution of organisations or people to the life of our area which is rarely assigned and represents the highest civic honour that can be bestowed.

“Councillors representing every area of the borough unanimously agreed that Rory Best deserved this important recognition for the contribution he has made locally, nationally and internationally. Captain of Ireland and Ulster as well as a British and Irish Lion, Rory brings great pride and honour to our area throughout a long and distinguished career and in acknowledgement of this, a fitting tribute was supported by all councillors.

“A great ambassador for the local community, Rory is Patron for the Portadown Panthers, a non-contact Tag Rugby Club for people with learning disabilities, members of which came together to participate in a Festival of Rugby organised by City Of Armagh Rugby Club on the morning of the event and which featured teams from right across the borough.

“The Council was also delighted to work closely with BBC Northern Ireland as part of a planned documentary which incorporated the event and which showcased highlights of Rory’s stellar career and the place he proudly calls home.

“Specific details relating to this event were requested by a local organisation and published on 13 April 2019.”