Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland Assembly Members eat £400 of mints in one year

BY NOEL MCADAM

Sweet-toothed MLAs have chewed their way through another £400 worth of mints in a year, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

And the total annual bill for keeping Assembly Members munching appears to be increasing.

While free to the elected politicians, the mints sucked just £288 out of the public purse in 2009/10 – a total which then went slightly down.

Now, however, the wraps are beginning to come off the mints mountain, with one MLA complaining another is taking too many.

A formal question was raised on the floor of the chamber about the number of Assembly mints the DUP's William Humphrey is getting through.

Hardboiled Jim Allister branded him a "pick and go" politician.

It comes after he claimed to have spotted the North Belfast MLA coming into the chamber, "loading up" with the mints on Speaker William Hay's desk, and leaving again.

The Traditional Unionist Voice leader has been on sweet alert since discovering last year that, overall, MLAs munched their way through almost £1,000 worth of mints since 2009.

"One could say it costs a mint to keep MLAs sweet," Mr Allister said.

In response to written questions, the costs of making a mint available to MLAs at all times was licked.

In 2009/10 the cost was around £288, which went down the following year to some £244 and £271 in 2011/12 before – between April 2012 and January 2013 – the bill went up another £176.

An updated statement from the Assembly said: "The cost of providing mints in the chamber, from beginning February 2013 through to February 2014, is £407."

This is the first time, however, the North Antrim MLA "named and shamed" a colleague.

"Is it in order to raise a concern about the dearth of mints in North Belfast?" he said.

"The member for North Belfast Mr Humphrey entered the chamber during the debate for the sole purpose of loading up with mints from your desk and then left the chamber."

Then, to general laughter, he added: "I have heard of pick and go, but this brings a new dimension to it."

Other colleagues quipped Mr Humphrey was in "mint condition".

But the man himself told the Belfast Telegraph: "I only took a single mint. And the bowls of mints on the Speaker's desk are for Members, not just for the Speaker.

"If this is all Jim Allister has to do with his time, that is up to him. I am sure I am not eating any more mints than anybody else."

NI21 leader Basil McCrea said: "This is not the sort of thing we should be looking at. The sums of money are so small. It isn't an issue.

"There are more serious issues we have to deal with."

Mr Allister later retorted: "In my time I've uncovered more important things but I think it is intriguing the Assembly thinks it is appropriate to supply mints to MLAs."

No chance of a breath of fresh air, then?

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