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Auditors find irregularities in Stormont accounts

By Adrian Rutherford

Auditors have highlighted irregularities in the accounts of Stormont's most senior department.

An investigation into the finances of the Office of First and Deputy First Minister has flagged up serious concerns, including the "poor" control of nearly £8m in grants during the last year.

The issues have emerged following a scrutiny of the department's accounts by the Audit Office, Northern Ireland's public spending watchdog, and are detailed in a confidential document seen by this newspaper.

The memo also highlights three areas of irregular expenditure, including £3m spent on the Maze/Long Kesh site.

It is a major embarrassment to Sinn Fein and the DUP, who jointly run the department.

The findings are due to be handed over today - a day when the Assembly is not sitting and enters a two-month recess.

The three separate incidents of irregular expenditure identified are:

  • Some £3m which has been pumped into a controversial project to regenerate the old Maze Prison site.
  • Payments made to victims groups via the Community Relations Council (CRC). The memo warns of "further revelations" on this.
  • And £100,000 to cover consultancy. A retrospective request was rejected by the Department of Finance (DFP).

OFMDFM is Stormont's top department, and has a staff greater than Downing Street.

The document, written ahead of the auditors' findings being published today, states that Kieran Donnelly (below), the Comptroller and Auditor General, indicates the department's sponsor control arrangements are "poor" and "lack consistency and regulation".

"These cover the department's disbursement of funds under application and the amount involved in the last financial year was £7.5m," it states.

The document notes the department is working closely and "co-operating fully" with the Audit Office to remedy the situation.

It warns Mr Donnelly will highlight three examples of expenditure deemed irregular.

"The first is a retrospective request for £100,000 to cover the cost of consultancy expenditure on a sustainable development project," it reports.

"The request was refused by DFP and thus the expenditure is deemed irregular."

Secondly, concerns are raised about payments to victims' groups through the CRC.

The third issue relates to the Maze project. "A tender for remediation work of £3.5m was put out, but no groups responded to the tender," it adds.

A spokesman for OFMDFM said: "The department takes this situation very seriously and immediate action has been taken to address the issues identified. It would be inappropriate to comment on the detail as the qualification on the OFMDFM accounts has not yet been laid in the Assembly."

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