Housing campaigners praise pressure being brought to bear on Ulster Rugby over Kingspan sponsorship

A Tory minister has suggested to Ulster Rugby that its reputation could suffer if it does not jettison Kingspan as a sponsor – a move which has been praised by a housing campaign group.

Wednesday, 22nd December 2021, 5:00 pm
An Ulster Rugby top, bearing Kingspan’s name and logo

Secretary of State for Housing Michael Gove published an open letter to Ulster Rugby on Wednesday asking it to consider whether the Kingspan sponsorship deal reflects “the values of your club”.

A group called End Our Cladding Scandal, which campaigns for better fire safety standards, welcomed the minister’s intervention.

It said: “We welcome this pressure on Kingspan.

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“But we need concrete measures from government to address the building safety crisis and its own role in it .

“Thousands of leaseholders are facing financial uncertainty and years in unsafe properties. It’s time to end our cladding scandal.”

Ulster Rugby said: “The information contained within will be considered as part of an existing active review, and we won’t be making any further comment at this time.”

Its stadium in Ravenhill, south-east Belfast, has been known as the Kingspan stadium since 2014, and the firm appears on the players’ kits.

Kingspan is a construction firm which has a variety of wings dealing with insulation, timber, doors, and more – including a “water and energy” division based in Portadown.

Some of its cladding was installed on Grenfell tower at the time the 2017 blaze broke out, gutting the towerblock and killing 72 people.

However the firm has been keen to stress that its products were misused on the building “without our knowledge”, and that in any case, its products made up only 5%of all the “insulation boards” used in the building.

Kingspan is one of the firms currently involved in the Grenfell Inquiry, which is still trying to get to the bottom of all the safety issues surrounding the fatal inferno.

The inquiry recently heard about messages between technical staff at Kingspan, in which they had joked about their “s**t product”, spoke of telling “lies” about it, and said “LOL” when some of its insulation was only partially tested in an attempt to get it classed as fire safe.

In his letter, Michael Gove (seen as a one-time leadership contender for the Tory Party) said: “I would like you to consider the evidence that has been presented to the inquiry before deciding whether continuing with this arrangement is consistent with the values of your club.

“I do not believe that the public across these islands will feel that it is right that a community club should risk its reputation by partnering with a company whose practices have been so seriously called into question.”

The letter was copied to the Northern Ireland Office, Paul Givan, and Michelle O’Neill.

It all comes after Mercedes ditched its Kingspan as a sponsor earlier this month.

Kingspan itself has condemned what it calls “the wholly unacceptable historical conduct and emails” by staff, saying it in “no way reflects Kingspan’s culture or values”.

It has also said: “The Grenfell Tower fire was a tragedy that should never have happened, and Kingspan supports the vitally important work of the Inquiry to determine what went wrong and why.

“We extend our deepest sympathies to the relatives and survivors of the Grenfell Tower tragedy.”

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