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One in four MLAs filed incorrect campaign expenses for 2016 poll

£90k unaccounted for, says investigative website

By Allan Preston

A quarter of MLAs elected to the Stormont Assembly last year failed to file their expenses correctly, it is claimed.

An article by investigative website The Detail said 29 candidates had incorrectly filed information on their campaign expenses and funding, meaning £90,000 was left unaccounted for. Candidates are required to complete electoral return forms to show how much money they spent on the campaign and where it came from.

This includes money given to candidates by their party and all money they have spent.

In total, £577,180 was spent by 108 successful MLAs on the campaign trail last year, with £90,000 incorrectly reported.

Eight of the DUP's candidates failed to account for a total of £30,000 worth of election expenses between them.

DUP MLA Carla Lockhart recorded the single biggest shortfall, spending £11,726 on her campaign but providing no details on where the money came from. The DUP said the party was aware of the issues and urged all of its election agents to ensure candidates were compliant with all regulations ahead of next month's election.

Three SDLP MLAs recorded expenses of almost £20,000 not accounted for. West Tyrone MLA Daniel McCrossan recorded spending £9,233, with Fermanagh/South Tyrone MLA Ritchie McPhillips recording £6,026.80. Neither provided evidence of making donations themselves. South Belfast MLA Claire Hanna recorded spending £6,160, but only reported donations of £2,100, leaving expenses of over £4,000 unexplained.

The SDLP said: "Many candidates mistakenly believe that self-funding or funding from within the constituency branch of the party is not considered a donation and so do not include it on the forms."

Eight elected Alliance Party MLAs collectively spent £21,000 on their campaigns, but all left the section on donations and self-funding blank. The party said that all election funding was managed centrally, and invoices for the full spending were attached to each electoral form.

Seven Ulster Unionist MLAs completed forms which together recorded £16,000 of expenditure unaccounted for. A party statement said the discrepancies were due to a "minor counting error" adding "all monies can be accounted for and there has been no attempt to conceal funding". People Before Profit had £4,197 of unaccounted spending for West Belfast MLA Gerry Carroll. He explained this was due to the high number of donations of £50 and under, which are not required to be recorded on the electoral return form.

The TUV's Jim Allister recorded a £3,099 spend on his electoral return form, but stated he hadn't donated to his own campaign or received donations. A party spokesperson confirmed all funds were paid by the local TUV association and forwarded copies of all original documents relating to the payment.

The Green Party had the lowest spend unaccounted for, with two candidates having just over £100 of funding unaccounted for. A party statement said it was certain the mistakes "were both minor and honest in nature".

Sinn Fein's 28 MLAs spent £138,304.92 on their campaign, but also recorded this exact amount in donations.

Two MLAs - Megan Fearon and Caoimhe Archibald - had failed to provide a breakdown of where their expenses came from. Sinn Fein acknowledged the mistakes as "minor errors" as forms designed for donation breakdowns should have stated that their donations came from Sinn Fein. Mid-Ulster MLA Linda Dillon stated she received £174 less from Sinn Fein than declared on her electoral form. This was explained as a typing error.

Ann Watt, head of the Electoral Commission in Northern Ireland, said the body needed powers of sanction and investigation for offences in candidate spending. She added: "We will be providing advice to candidates at the upcoming Assembly election to ensure that the potential errors identified from the last election are avoided."

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