Belfast Telegraph

It's payback time - Call for SDLP's Conall McDevitt to return 14k in expenses row

By JOANNE FLEMING

Sinn Fein and the DUP have called for an Assembly investigation into the expenses row involving the SDLP's Conall McDevitt.

Mr McDevitt failed to declare he had claimed more than £14,000 for research work carried out by JM Consulting, his wife's firm, it emerged this week.

JM Consulting is Joanne Murphy Consulting.

Ms Murphy is a Queen's University academic and also Mr McDevitt's wife.

The South Belfast MLA has confirmed payments were made to his wife's company, but said she did not personally receive any of the money.

Mr McDevitt has now declared the payments on the members' register of interests.

As well as calling for an investigation, Sinn Fein's Raymond McCartney called for Mr McDevitt to "do the right thing" and pay the money back.

"No doubt Mr McDevitt will hide behind the line used by those in the SDLP's sister parties, Fianna Fail in the South and Labour in Westminster, that he wasn't technically in breach of any rules paying this money to his wife's company," said Mr Cartney.

"However, I'm quite sure hard-pressed taxpayers will be rightly annoyed at this sort of practice and the failure by Mr McDevitt to declare it in line with Assembly rules. Mr McDevitt should do the right thing and pay this money back to the Assembly.

"In addition the Assembly authorities need to investigate why these payments were not declared on the Register of Members Interests and take appropriate sanction against Mr McDevitt."

A DUP Party spokesman agreed there needed to be clarity around Mr McDevitt's expenses.

"Our chief whip Peter Weir has been in touch with the Assembly authorities and asked them to fully investigate the matter," he said.

The amended Register of Members Interests at Stormont now has the following inclusion from Mr McDevitt: "My wife has an interest in a company that has provided research services to me in my capacity as an MLA from March 2010 until November 2011."

Mr McDevitt has said his wife's role was to co-ordinate the research paid for through an independent research consultancy which trades as JM Consulting.

He said all payments were made to JM Consulting who then paid the researchers. The MLA said that by writing to the Assembly authorities he wanted to remove any question of doubt about payments to his wife's company.

He added that she did not benefit directly or indirectly from any payments made from his office.

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