Mid and East Antrim Borough Council has defended its decision to send a delegation of councillors on a promotional visit to the USA.
As part of a major tourism drive focused on the upcoming opening of the Gobbins cliff path, the local authority is dispatching five councillors and a member of staff to the Milwaukee Irish Festival, the largest celebration of Irish culture and heritage in the States.
But East Antrim MLA Oliver McMullan has blasted the visit as a “ridiculous waste of ratepayers’ money”, claiming there was “no need for such a large delegation”.
He added: “We have everything we need to promote the Gobbins here in Northern Ireland. Organisations such as Tourism Ireland and the Ni Tourist Board do a great job of selling our products to people countries across the world.
“In fact, the NI Tourist Board has a person dedicated to the Mid and East Antrim area.
“So sending a squad of elected members and council staff thousands of miles at the expense of ratepayers seems totally unnecessary.”
While the Sinn Fein man said he did not object to the idea of Mid and East Antrim Council having a representative at the festival, he felt a smaller delegation would have been sufficient.
“This smacks of the gravy train culture, and I believe councils need to step back and take a look at themselves,” he added.
But the local authority claimed the visit was focused on “maximising the Irish American tourism market”.
A spokesperson added: “This festival has been visited before by the legacy Larne Borough Council in order to promote the Gobbins. It provides an opportunity to further build and promote the tourism product of Mid and East Antrim Borough. Outcomes from the visit will be fully evaluated.”
Delegate will be Ald Maureen Morrow, Cllr Audrey Wales, Cllr Jim Brown, Cllr Mark McKinty and Ald Gregg McKeen, accompanied by tourismn officer Ainsley McWilliams.