The ethics watchdog investigating MPs expenses is to move its high-profile inquiry to a new phase — including a public hearing in Northern Ireland.
Today is the deadline for written submissions to the Committee on Standards in Public Life on reforming the discredited Commons expenses system.
The next stage of its inquiry will be a series of public hearings in June and July — with Belfast the only venue outside London.
Among the issues being examined by the committee is ‘double jobbing’ by Northern Ireland politicians.
The Belfast hearing will take place on July 1 in the city’s Hilton Hotel.
Nine other hearings are scheduled for London between June 16 and July 16, with some expected to be televised live.
The committee is an independent advisory body to the Government, chaired by former senior civil servant Sir Christopher Kelly.
It announced plans for an inquiry into MP expenses in March.
Since then, the Commons has suffered a series of embarrassing revelations about expenses claims, mostly involving the controversial second home allowance.
The scandal has led to the resignation of Speaker Michael Martin, while other MPs have announced they will not be standing at the next General Election.
The committee is expected to produce recommendations later this year on reforming or replacing the second home allowance.
Among the other issues on its agenda is the entitlement of Sinn Fein MPs to claim for accommodation in London, while boycotting Parliament. The party’s five MPs currently share two taxpayer-funded rented properties in the city.
The committee has publicly confirmed that the holding of dual mandates by Northern Ireland politicians will be examined as part of its investigation.
Sixteen of the province’s 18 MPs are also Assembly members, with a number of them also holding ministerial and committee chair posts at Stormont.
A consensus has been emerging among the parties here, suggesting double jobbing will end over the next few years. It remains to be seen how long dual mandates spanning Stormont and district councils will survive.
The Committee on Standards inquiry is unlikely to produce any direct recommendations for the Assembly and its counterparts in Cardiff and Edinburgh.
However, its conclusions may still have some impact on the expenses system for MLAs.
Speaking in Belfast last year about an anticipated MP expenses inquiry, Sir Christopher said: “Any principles that we might set out would clearly apply to here as well as to Scotland and Wales.”