£156m in benefits paid to migrants on Northern Ireland over last three years
Migrants have added more than £156m to Northern Ireland's growing benefits bill in the last three years, it has been revealed.
Almost £160,000 a day in state handouts is being drawn by people from outside the UK and Ireland.
The bill has jumped by 25% in the space of three years, leading to claims that "benefit tourists" are taking advantage of our "soft" system.
Ukip MLA David McNarry, who unearthed the figures, said the ballooning bill was unjustifiable.
"We just cannot live with these costs," he told the Belfast Telegraph.
But his comments were slammed by an Alliance MLA, who said the vast majority of migrants were contributing greatly to society.
Earlier this month this newspaper reported how almost 11,000 citizens from outside the UK and Ireland were drawing benefits.
Details of the costs have now been disclosed.
Social Development Minister Mervyn Storey revealed a total of £57,769,000 was paid to non-UK and Irish nationals in the last year.
That is equivalent to £158,271 every day.
The biggest costs are for Employment Support Allowance (£15.4m), Jobseeker's Allowance (£12.7m) and Disability Living Allowance (£12m).
The bill has risen by more than £10m on the 2012/13 total of £46,002,000.
In total, migrants added £156,708,000 to our benefits bill between April 2012 and April 2015.
Unusually for an Assembly question, Mr Storey's answer includes information additional to that which was requested.
In an apparent attempt to set the figures in context, he included the costs for each of the last three years when UK and Irish nationals were included, and the percentage of payments to migrants.
Last year, non-UK and Irish citizens accounted for less than 2% of our overall benefits bill.
But Mr McNarry hit out at the spiralling cost, claiming we could not afford it.
"We are seeing the rise of economic benefit tourists coming to Northern Ireland," he added.
"That correlates with the astonishing sum of nearly £60m a year being paid out, as far as I'm concerned, unnecessarily and unjustifiably.
"We are not in the business of keeping other countries' unemployed in a lifestyle costing us so much money.
"We simply cannot afford it."
And he warned the bill is likely to keep on rising, adding: "We have seen a 25% increase, and unless we do something about it, that will reach 40% or 50%, and that just cannot be tolerated. I keep asking who are the vulnerable people?
"I do not believe that a country like ours, struggling to make ends meet and battling with its budget, can identify the vulnerable from foreign lands.
"Many of these people are identified as Europeans, but we're not getting anything out of Europe for them.
"It's coming out of our own pockets, and it could be put to better use. The UK is a soft touch for implementing rotten EU rules, and that's why everyone wants to come here."
Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson rejected Mr McNarry's claims of economic tourism.
"That is simply not true," he said. "The vast majority of migrants come to Northern Ireland to work and provide a valuable service to our economy.
"Ukip need to tell us what exactly their complaint is. A few weeks ago it was people taking our jobs, now it is people taking our benefits. You can't have both.
"The vast majority of migrants contribute to our economy, and provide a great and vibrant mix to our society."
The Department for Social Development previously pointed out that, as of July 2015, there were 145,050 non-UK nationals living in Northern Ireland and registered with a National Insurance number.
It means just 10.1% of all migrants were in receipt of a benefit from the Social Security Agency or Housing Executive.
Mr Storey also accused Mr McNarry of seeking to demonise vulnerable people.
But Mr McNarry said he intended to table more questions on the matter.
"The one thing I will not take from this Minister, or anyone else, is pointed remarks as if Ukip should not be asking these questions," he added.
"I will not bury the truth, nor will I allow the truth to be buried.
"People need to know what is going on, and the effect it is having on our economy."