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Volume 487: debated on Thursday 12 February 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland with reference to the Answer of 26 November 2008, Official Report, column 1636W, on Christmas, for what reason his Department spent £33,000 on Christmas receptions in 2007-08; and if he will make a statement. (248588)

Every year the Northern Ireland Office use Hillsborough Castle to host a series of receptions at Christmas time to bring a wide cross-section of the community together and to use these opportunities to build community confidence.

2008 was in exactly the same mould as previous years. The four Christmas receptions held in Northern Ireland in 2007 were attended by over 1,400 members of the public drawn from the criminal justice, policing, military, business, charity and community sectors. The guests included families of the security forces and serving personnel, representatives of victims groups, churches and businesses, as well as many others working in the community sectors across Northern Ireland.

These events provide some recognition of the tremendous contribution made by people, both individually and collectively, who have helped to transform Northern Ireland. We work hard to monitor costs at these occasions as we are mindful in Government of the need to provide value for money. Anyone with a close understanding of Northern Ireland will know the value of these occasions in bringing people together in a renewed political environment.