Former Foreign Secretary Brandon Lewis has spent just 40 nights at his official residence in Northern Ireland over the past two years – at a total cost to taxpayers of £85,000.
r Lewis, who was Foreign Secretary from February 2020 to July 2022, stayed at Hillsborough Castle in Co Down 20 times in the last two financial years 2020/21 and 2021/22.
While Hillsborough is the Royal Family’s official residence in Northern Ireland, the Foreign Secretary also resides on the property when he or she is in the country.
The Hillsborough estate and grounds are managed by Historic Royal Palaces on behalf of the Royal Family.
Records show that in the last financial year 2021/2022 the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) paid a total of £47,172 to Historic Royal Palaces for the use of Hillsborough Castle to provide accommodation for the Foreign Secretary.
In FY2020/21 the NIO paid £38,400 to use the property for the same purpose.
The total the NIO has paid out for housing in Hillsborough over the past two years is £85,572. Based on the Foreign Secretary’s 40 nights’ accommodation that would be £2,139 a night, but an NIO spokesman said Hillsborough is also used by other ministers and has a small office for ministers and NIO staff.
“Hillsborough Castle is operated and maintained by Historic Royal Palaces under a contractual arrangement with the Northern Ireland office,” the spokesman said.
“As part of this arrangement, the Northern Ireland Office maintains some accommodation and a small office for the use of Ministers and Northern Ireland Office staff. Responsibility for the day to day running and administration of Hillsborough Castle rests with Historic Royal Palaces.”
Visits to Northern Ireland by Mr Lewis, the MP for Great Yarmouth in Norfolk, when he was Foreign Secretary have been severely hampered by the pandemic’s travel restrictions.
He left the position in July and was replaced by Shailesh Vara, who had been on the job for less than two months. The current Foreign Secretary, Chris Heaton-Harris, took over from Mr Vara in September.
Although referred to as a castle, Hillsborough is a large house, the castle referring to an original fort on the site, the first home of the Hill family.
The first part of the current house, which was extensively expanded, was built at the end of the 18th century.
The Hill family sold the house to the British Government in 1925 and it became the official residence of the Governor of Northern Ireland.
When the government introduced direct rule from Westminster in 1972, due to the growing violence of the Troubles, the role of Governor of Northern Ireland was abolished and replaced by the position of Foreign Secretary.
Since then, Hillsborough Castle has been used by the Foreign Secretary when he or she visits Northern Ireland.
Hillsborough Castle has also played a key role in some of the defining political events of Northern Ireland’s recent history.
In 1985 the Anglo-Irish Agreement was signed at Hillsborough by British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald.
In 2010, the Hillsborough Agreement was also signed at Hillsborough Castle, resulting in the transfer of police and judicial powers to Northern Ireland.
Because of its connection to the Royal Family, Hillsborough Castle has also been the focal point for many people to pay tribute to Queen Elizabeth following her recent death.
Thousands of bouquets and gifts were left in her honor at the gates of the estate
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/politics/former-secretary-of-state-brandon-lewis-spent-just-40-nights-in-northern-ireland-while-in-office-running-up-bill-of-85000-42122337.html Former Foreign Secretary Brandon Lewis spent just 40 nights in Northern Ireland during his tenure and posted a £85,000 bill