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Payment of £150,000 in expenses to Sinn Fein 'wrong'

By Joanne Fleming

Published 15/02/2016

Payment claim: Pat McCartan
Payment claim: Pat McCartan

Pressure is growing on the Assembly Commission to explain why it approved disputed expenses payments of up to £150,000 to Sinn Fein.

Pat McCartan, the head of the watchdog body that oversees MLAs' pay and allowances, said the commission was wrong to approve the payments made in 2012 to a company that claimed to carry out research for republican MLAs.

He was speaking after the commission ruled last week that Sinn Fein MLAs who had claimed almost £700,000 for research by a company run by the party's finance managers had done nothing wrong.

The claims were made by the MLAs through Stormont expenses to pay Research Services Ireland (RSI) over a 10-year period.

The commission, which runs Stormont on a day-to-day basis, also cleared the party of wrongdoing in paying office rent to three cultural societies.

However, Mr McCartan, chairman of the Independent Financial Review Panel, claimed £150,000 was paid out after such payments were banned.

He told the BBC yesterday that there must be no misinterpretation of his panel's rulings on expenses.

"We made a determination which started from April 1, 2012 and which outlawed payments made to companies like RSI," he said.

"Yet it appears from information I now have that payments have been made up to the end of December of that year.

"That is contrary to the determination. And the commission, if it thinks these were OK, is quite wrong."

TUV leader Jim Allister said Mr McCartan's comments had raised "serious questions" and that he was tabling a priority question on the issue to the Assembly today.

"The confirmation from Pat McCartan that his panel recommended an end to payments to Research Services Ireland with effect from April 1, 2012, yet the Assembly paid out £150,000 thereafter, raises serious questions for the Assembly Commission and the financial operation on MLAs' expenses which it oversees," he said.

The commission was asked to comment on Mr McCartan's allegations but didn't reply.

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