Jack McGrath of Ulster whose ground and shirts are sponsored by Kingspan
Credit: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images
Michael Gove has urged Ulster Rugby to follow the Mercedes Formula One team in ending their partnership with Kingspan due to the firm’s role in the Grenfell Tower disaster.
Ulster’s home ground has been known as the Kingspan Stadium since 2014, while the Irish building materials company is also the team’s primary shirt sponsor.
Earlier this month, Sir Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes team scrapped their £3 million-a-year sponsorship deal with Kingspan just a week after announcing it and putting the company’s logo on Hamilton’s car. Gove, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, has now written to Ulster urging them to do likewise.
“You will have seen that the Mercedes-AMG F1 team has recently decided to end a commercial partnership with Kingspan, having met with survivors of the fire and the families of those who lost their lives and been aware of the grave hurt and distress caused by the sponsorship deal,” wrote Gove in a letter to Ulster chief executive Jonny Petrie.
“I would ask 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 and the sport more broadly.
“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 survivors’ group Grenfell United wrote to Ulster earlier this year asking the club to reconsider their deal with Kingspan.
The ongoing public inquiry into the disaster has heard that prior to the 2017 tragedy, in which 72 people died, Kingspan changed the composition of its plastic foam boards, some of which were used in the tower. The inquiry heard tests showed the new boards burned “like a raging inferno”.
Plastic-filled aluminium cladding panels made by a different company, Arconic, were the main cause of the rapid spread of the Grenfell Tower fire but the inquiry heard the Kingspan boards “contributed to the rate and extent” of the flames.
A spokesman for Kingspan said the disaster “should never have happened”.
He added: "Kingspan played no role in the design of the cladding system used on Grenfell Tower, where its K15 product constituted approximately five per cent of the insulation purchased for use. It was used as a substitute product without Kingspan’s knowledge in a system that was not compliant with the building’s regulations."
An Ulster Rugby spokesperson said: “The information contained within [Gove’s letter] will be considered as part of an existing active review, and we won’t be making any further comment at this time.”
Announcing the severance of their deal with Kingspan, Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff apologised to Grenfell survivors and bereaved relatives for any distress caused.