NIO still to choose supplier for NI Centenary trees - Ex-mayor claims explanation is ‘runaround’ after blaming NI Protocol
The Northern Ireland Office has revealed that thousands of trees to be offered to schools to mark NI’s centenary have yet to be grown - and the supplier has not yet been chosen.
The information has emerged after desperate former mayor of Larne, Tom Robinson, questioned whether the delivery of the trees was being delayed by the NI Protocol; EU customs restrictions have already prevented at least 100,000 trees coming to NI from GB this year.
Despite extensive efforts, the school governor had been unable to get any delivery dates for his schools.
The News Letter reported last week that the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) clarified that delivery is still “on schedule”, that planting will take place in October and that an offer letter will be sent to schools in September.
But this week the News Letter asked why schools had been unable to secure delivery dates until now - and whether the draconian restrictions on importing trees would be lifted in time to bring the trees in for October?
At this point the NIO revealed that the NI Protocol was irrelevant - because the trees will come from NI. It then revealed it had approached specialist nurseries “throughout Northern Ireland” to invite bids for the trees - only last month - and that bidding would close at the end of May.
“The nursery supplying the trees will be announced next month and planting will begin in October, based on horticultural advice,” it said.
The News Letter asked if that many trees - one for every school in NI - can realistically be grown in that time and if such procurement was normal without public tendering?
The NIO repeated that the project “remains on schedule” and that the successful supplier(s) will be announced next month, with planting to begin in October - the optimum time to do so, based on horticultural advice.
It added: “Specialist nurseries throughout Northern Ireland were invited to bid. Bids close on 30 May. The contract will be published as part of the NIO transparency returns.”
But Mr Robinson felt bewildered by all the new information he had been unable to secure for himself.
“Personally I feel the News Letter is asking all the right questions - and that the NIO is dodging them,” he said.
If bidding ends at the end of May, how big can the trees be by Autumn? They have to look like real trees - not spring onions. I think the NIO is giving us the runaround.”
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