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How the saga of Ulster’s partnership with Kingspan unfolded

Products made by the Irish building materials company were found by a public inquiry to have contributed to the spread of a fire at Grenfell Tower in London in June 2017

Wednesday’s announcement that Ulster and Kingspan are parting ways, after a sponsorship arrangement dating back two decades, brings to an end a years-long saga linked to the tragic Grenfell Tower fire of June 2017.

Ulster aren’t saying an immediate goodbye to the naming partner of their stadium and main shirt sponsor. The Cavan-based building materials company is sticking with the province until June 2025, to “allow for a seamless transition to a new sponsor”, according to Ulster chief executive Jonny Petrie.

Questions surrounding Kingspan first surfaced in 2017, but it wasn’t until 2021 that significant public and political pressure mounted on sporting organisations associated with the company. After the Grenfell fire in London led to the death of 72 people, survivors and bereaved families accused Kingspan of providing insulation material that contributed to the spread of the blaze.

A public inquiry was set up two months after the tragedy. The mention of Kingspan’s name in proceedings prompted questions of their business partnerships, but the biggest outcry came in 2021 when Mercedes Formula 1 entered the fray.


After announcing a sponsorship deal with Kingspan, Mercedes faced a public backlash led by Grenfell United, a group representing survivors and bereaved families of the fire. Michael Gove, a member of the UK cabinet, wrote to Mercedes asking them to reconsider. Lewis Hamilton distanced himself from the deal. After Grenfell United met with Toto Wolff, Mercedes pulled out.

The incident prompted questions of Ulster and Cavan GAA, also sponsored by Kingspan. Gove later wrote to Ulster asking them to consider their relationship with the company.

Before Mercedes or Gove got involved, Grenfell United asked to meet with Petrie. In correspondence seen by The Irish Times, Petrie replied saying it was not appropriate to meet at that time and that he was keeping a “close eye” on the inquiry and awaiting its conclusion.

According to Grenfell United, they did ultimately meet with Petrie “a year later” and presented what they claim was a document from the inquiry “evidencing how Kingspan manipulated fire tests and lied about the combustibility of their products, threatening to ‘sue the arse off’ anyone who raised concerns.”

In a statement on its website, Kingspan said the following: “During the Inquiry, certain process shortcomings were identified and some correspondence emerged involving a small number of employees in our UK Insulation business, containing wholly unacceptable sentiments about fire safety that in no way reflect our culture. We have apologised unreservedly and taken comprehensive measures to prevent recurrence. None of these shortcomings were however in any way causative of the Grenfell Tower fire.”

A phase one report of the inquiry was published in October 2019. It said that Kingspan’s K15 phenolic insulation product was used “in very limited quantities ... depending on the location” and that it was one of a number of products at Grenfell that “had contributed to the vertical flame spread”.

The fact that these products are exceptionally good insulators made matters much worse for the combustible rainscreen that was used

Kingspan said that they had “no role in the design of the cladding system on Grenfell Tower, where our K15 product was used without our knowledge and comprised approximately five per cent of the insulation purchased for use”.

They added: “The Inquiry itself has stated that ‘the principal reason’ for rapid fire spread on Grenfell was the PE (Polyethylene cored) ACM cladding used on the exterior of the building. Our K15 insulation board was mis-used in this unsafe and non-compliant system.”

Referring to testimony given during phase two of the inquiry, Kingspan says that “even had non-combustible insulation been used, this would not have changed the speed or spread of the fire.” Speaking at the inquiry in June 2022, Professor Luke Bisby said in relation to insulation products made by Kingspan and others: “The fact that these products are exceptionally good insulators made matters much worse for the combustible rainscreen that was used.” The rainscreen was not made by Kingspan.

In January 2023, graffiti expressing support for the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire appeared on the Kingspan Stadium. Six months later, Ulster renewed their partnership with Kingspan until the end of this season. It will now run until June 2025 and no further.

In a statement, Grenfell United said the end of the sponsorship was a “calculated move”, adding “this partnership has sickened us for the past 6.5 years.”

Ulster declined to respond to questions on whether the decision to end the relationship was linked to the Grenfell fire. Kingspan’s Siobhán O’Dwyer said that the 20-year anniversary of their partnership with Ulster was “a natural stepping-off point”.

A Phase Two report of the inquiry findings is currently being compiled.

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Nathan Johns

Nathan Johns

Nathan Johns is an Irish Times journalist