About 1,000 guests were invited to join the Princess Royal in the grounds of historic building in July
Almost £26,000 was spent by the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) on catering at a royal garden party at Hillsborough Castle. The party on July 5 was attended by the Princess Royal and was the first such event held at Hillsborough, the royal family’s official residence in Northern Ireland, since the outbreak of the Covid pandemic.
The total cost of providing the catering at the party was £25,958.62.
It has also emerged the NIO has paid about £85,000 over the last two years to use Hillsborough Castle as accommodation for the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
The costs are contained in figures released by the NIO in relation to spending of over £25,000 made by the Government department.
The annual royal garden party at Hillsborough is regarded as one of the highlights of Northern Ireland’s social calendar.
Guests are usually from across the North who have been invited to meet a member of the royal family in the castle’s grounds.
About 1,000 guests attended the July event in recognition of their contribution to their communities.
The event did not take place in 2020 and 2021 as a result of the pandemic.
The latest party was hosted by then Secretary of State Brandon Lewis, who was replaced by Chris Heaton-Harris earlier this month after Liz Truss took over as Prime Minister.
As well as meeting guests during the party, the Princess Royal also planted an oak tree in the castle’s walled garden.
The catering for the event was provided by Yellow Door, based in Portadown.
The property and grounds of the Hillsborough estate are managed on behalf of the royal family by Historic Royal Palaces, which also looks after several other royal residences in the UK.
While Hillsborough is the official residence of the royal family in Northern Ireland, the Secretary of State also stays in the property when he is in the country.
Records show that in the last financial year, 2021/2022, the NIO paid a total of £47,172 to Historic Royal Palaces for the use of Hillsborough Castle to provide accommodation for the Secretary of State.
In the 2020/21 financial year, the NIO paid £38,400 to use the property for the same purpose.
The Sunday Independent asked the NIO how many nights the Secretary of State had stayed at Hillsborough in the last two financial years. However, the information was not provided and an NIO spokesperson said the query was more appropriate as a Freedom of Information request.
Although described as a castle, Hillsborough is a large house, with the castle referring to an original fort on the site, the first home of the Hill family. 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 Secretary of State position.
Since then, Hillsborough Castle has been used by the Secretary of State when visiting Northern Ireland.
Hillsborough Castle has also played a key role in some of the pivotal political events in Northern Ireland’s recent history.
In 1985, the Anglo-Irish Agreement was signed at Hillsborough by British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and the Taoiseach Garret Fitzgerald.
In 2010, the Hillsborough Agreement was signed there, resulting in the devolution of policing and justice powers to Northern Ireland.
Given its connection to the royal family, Hillsborough Castle was also the focus for many people looking to pay tribute to the Queen following her recent death. Thousands of bunches of flowers and gifts were left at the gates of the Hillsborough estate in honour of the Queen.
Meanwhile, the NIO financial figures also reveal some of the costs of hosting a special concert last year to celebrate a host of Northern Ireland’s best-known performers.
The Live at the Waterfront! event took place at Belfast’s Waterfront Hall on October 22.
Among those who performed on the night were Ash, Cara Dillon, Foy Vance and Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody. More than 70pc of the concert tickets were given free to key workers in health and social care, food retail and charities in honour of the work they did during the pandemic.
The concert was funded by the NIO through its centenary programme budget.
The Live at the Waterfront! event was shown on the Sky Arts channel in December and the concert was produced for television by Green Inc Film and Television Ltd, which is based in Holywood, Co Down.
The NIO paid Green Inc Film and Television a total of £235,887.55 for its work. The money was paid in three separate payments in November and December last year.
Another company, Snow Water Productions, which helped produce the Belfast concert, was paid £31,496.70 by the NIO last December.