First Minister Peter Robinson has accused the Conservative Party “sleaze department” of engineering media attacks on the expenses he and his politician wife claim from Westminster and Stormont.
The DUP leader rejected “Swish Family Robinson” jibes made in London newspapers over combined salary and expenses bills totalling more than £500,000.
As the Belfast Telegraph revealed last week, Mr Robinson received £274,906 in salary and expenses from his political posts in 2007/08. His current total figure — reflecting his First Minister’s pay — is believed to be in the region of £300,000.
His wife Iris, who holds MP, MLA and council seats, received £257,640 in the financial year 2007/08. That included some £10,000 for chairing the Stormont Health Committee.
Their allowances cover such areas as travel, staffing, office-running expenses and the costs of staying in London.
The two Robinsons employ their three children and a daughter-in-law on their staff teams.
They are also entitled to claim separate London living expenses from the Commons for the same flat in the city.
In 2007/08, their combined totals for London living costs came to £40,342.
In a press conference yesterday, Mr Robinson hit out at recent coverage in the News of the World and Daily Mail — including a headline about the “Swish Family Robinson”.
He said: “It is intended to be offensive, it is an Ulster Unionist phrase that they have used consistently. I think we need to be clear, the News of the World and the Daily Mail did not come across this story. This is the Conservative sleaze department that is putting it out. It is very deliberately being put out by the Tories on behalf of the Ulster Unionists.
“We know where it comes from and the kind of people that propagate it, like David McNarry and Danny Kennedy.”
Mr McNarry is a UUP Assembly member in the same Strangford constituency as Mrs Robinson and Mr Kennedy is the deputy leader of the UUP.
The UUP and Conservatives are planning to field joint candidates in Northern Ireland at the next general election.
Mr Robinson said he and his wife could easily cut their expenses by slashing the service they provided in their constituencies.
Speaking at Stormont, he said: “I could reduce expenses tomorrow if the people of East Belfast wanted me to. I could close advice centres, I could reduce the service that I have.
“I don't believe that is in the interests of East Belfast nor does my wife believe it is in the interests of the people of Strangford.
“We have built up advice centres and I think it’s right that politicians should be available to constituents — that is what I will continue to do.”
Mr Robinson said his “crime” was to be married to someone who was also in politics. He said their expenses were first published by the Belfast Telegraph “very accurately and properly” and their individual totals were the lowest of the MPs from the province. He said people seemed to want to add them together.
In a later press statement, the DUP leader added: “The Ulster Unionist Party, having been reduced to one Member of Parliament at the last General Election, has now taken an interest in the issue of dual mandates.
“While they seem content to have their MLAs remaining as councillors, they oppose our MPs also being MLAs.
“This is clearly only of academic interest to the UUP as they have been all but wiped out at Westminster, but the DUP publicly indicated months ago that with long term political stability in Northern Ireland we will phase out dual mandates.”