£120 hotel subsidy for MLAs who sit late 'waste of cash'
A £120-a-night hotel allowance for MLAs has been branded a waste of money - by an MLA.
Assembly Members are entitled to overnight accommodation paid for by the taxpayer if they have to work "late".
The subsidy is available to MLAs even though many of the 108 representatives live within an hour's drive of Parliament Buildings.
It has drawn criticism from within Stormont. Ukip MLA David McNarry said the allowance was "ridiculous".
"The system is daft. After a late-night stint I could book into a hotel in east Belfast outside my Strangford constituency - even though it only takes 20 minutes to get home," he said.
The allowance was flagged up in a memo, written by the Assembly's head of finance Paula McClintock, and circulated to MLAs last week.
It says: "Following the recent late plenary sittings, it is perhaps timely to remind Members of the existing provisions within the financial support framework in respect of the use of hotels for overnight accommodation.
"Payments in respect of overnight accommodation (typically in a local hotel) can be made when the need to avail of that overnight accommodation is necessary for a Member to carry out his or her Assembly duties.
"By way of an example, this most commonly occurs when a Member's Assembly duties requires attendance at Parliament Buildings late into the evening, with further Assembly duties planned at an early time on the following day."
The Assembly has had several late sittings in recent weeks linked to the Welfare Reform Bill.
MLAs were told the hotel allowance can only be claimed where the cost arises as a result of the Member carrying out his or her Assembly duties.
The memo states attendance at a late plenary session meets this criterion - but an Assembly spokesperson was unable to define exactly how late the session had to run.
It is understood MLAs are restricted to using the Stormont Hotel, located across the road from Parliament Buildings.
The four-star hotel has 105 bedrooms, which its website states are all "tastefully decorated and furnished to the highest standards".
The cost of an hotel cannot be met from Assembly funds if it is located within an MLA's constituency.
However, Mr McNarry pointed out that many MLAs lived within easy reach of Stormont.
He said members of the general public had to cope with late-night shifts, adding that the hotel allowance would "sicken" disillusioned voters.
"People may conclude that some MLAs are milking the situation," he said. "We don't need this - £120 for B&B is over the top.
"We are paid enough to afford our own B&B. I bet if that were the case we would all be tucked up in our own beds by midnight."
An Assembly source said very few MLAs claimed the allowance.
"Most live no more than an hour or so away and prefer to go home to their own beds at night," they said.