Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 24 May 2016

Foster in call for new expenses procedure for Northern Ireland Assembly

By Noel McAdam

Published 20/02/2016

Arlene Foster's letter will include a proposal for 'a new system to deal
with all financial matters for Assembly Members'
Arlene Foster's letter will include a proposal for 'a new system to deal with all financial matters for Assembly Members'

First Minister Arlene Foster is planning action to end the growing crisis over MLAs' expenses by agreeing a new system for Stormont finances from the start of the next Assembly.

The DUP leader revealed that on Monday she will send a letter to all party leaders, DUP Assembly candidates and Assembly chief executive Trevor Reaney insisting that, from day one of the next mandate, there should be "a new system to deal with all financial matters for Assembly Members".

Speaking at a party meeting in Cookstown last night, Mrs Foster said the row threatened to destabilise the Assembly's programme in the run-up to the election on May 5

"If people are going to vote for us they need to have confidence in us. They need to be confident that we're one of them, fighting for them and not for ourselves," she said.

Mrs Foster added she wanted to make NI "a better place... (but) at the minute no one can hear about my vision because the administration of expenses is the main issue".

"We need a completely independent system, just as there is in Westminster, where expenses are taken entirely out of the hands of MLAs and of staff working for the Northern Ireland Assembly."

Her plan emerged as it was confirmed the two Stormont bodies at loggerheads over MLAs' expenses are to meet next week in an attempt to defuse the row.

Their dispute is intensifying with both the Independent Financial Review Panel (IFRP), which sets the rules on expenses, and the Assembly Commission, which implements them, refusing to back down.

In an increasingly tangled controversy, the IFRP, chaired by Pat McCartan, has strongly rejected claims that it made a mistake in a ruling in 2012.

The Commission, made up of MLAs and chaired by Speaker Mitchel McLaughlin, has insisted it has applied the ruling correctly.

A joint statement yesterday from the commission and panel tried to lower the political temperature.

They insisted they both "share the aim of ensuring that the system of financial support for MLAs is transparent and robust and allows elected Members to work effectively on behalf of their constituents".

It also said both organisations recognised "the negative impact which recent publicity has had on public confidence in these arrangements".

Ahead of their meeting next week, they acknowledged differences of "interpretation and implementation" and added: "We are both committed to working together to address this within our separate and distinct responsibilities."

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