Northern Ireland

Newry big screen project 'had series of flaws', says auditor

Newry's big screen

A series of flaws related to a controversial large TV screen in Newry have been identified by the Local Government Auditor.

The auditor expressed concern about a "catalogue of serious governance and control failures".

Newry, Mourne and Down Council erected the screen in Hill Street near Newry Cathedral in December 2015.

But it was removed after the Catholic Church sought a judicial review, quashing planning approval.

The church said it was not consulted about the screen, which was intended to be used for films and major sporting events, and that it was a breach of planning rules.

It was also awarded "reasonable costs" to cover its legal fees.

Newry, Mourne and Down Council said an independent investigation had been carried out into matter and that lessons had been learned.

Image caption The TV screen when it was in place beside Newry Cathedral

Earlier this year, the Department for Communities demanded the council repay more than £23,000 in funding it had given the project after it described the original payment as "irregular".

False documentation

In a report published on Tuesday, the auditor highlighted a range of further flaws in the project.

These included:

  • The creation of false documentation to support processes that were expected to be followed. Some of these documents were then issued to the public through freedom of information requests.
  • Conflicts of interest between parties involved in the project.
  • The absence of evidence of a competitive procurement process.

Councillor Pete Byrne, who sits on the council's audit committee, said the debacle had eroded public trust.

He said: "We need to ensure that things like this do not happen again.

"It only puts the council in negative light with the public."

A spokesperson for Newry, Mourne and Down Council said: "[The] council has taken all necessary steps to address the lessons learned from this investigation."

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