Sinn Fein accused of abuse of public funds by supplying its official drivers
Sinn Fein has been accused of abuse of public funds after it emerged the party is supplying its own official drivers for ministerial cars.
The attack came as it emerged drivers for Executive ministers are being paid up to £34,000 a year.
Finance Minister Mairtin O Muilleoir revealed his department is invoiced £2,807 a month for drivers - who are supplied by his party, Sinn Fein.
That amounts to an annual total of £33,684, although part of it goes towards holiday cover.
Jim Allister MLA has said he wants to table a series of Assembly questions to "flush out" the issue further.
"It looks as if Sinn Fein is in pocket with taxpayers' money," the TUV leader said.
Mr O Muilleoir, however, also made clear the provision of drivers is a matter for each individual government department.
Mr Allister added, though: "There is a pool of civil service drivers, but Sinn Fein refuses to use them.
"So, instead, they get the taxpayer to fund the employment of their own drivers. This is but another example of the political and financial abuse at Stormont.
"At £34,000 per annum this is above the average industrial wage which Sinn Fein claims to pay its workers. So, where does the surplus go? Into Sinn Fein's coffers, it seems.
"This disgraceful situation should never have been allowed to arise. Sinn Fein should have been told there are cars and drivers available and if you don't take them, you can make your own arrangements. But instead, previous DUP finance ministers consented to this Sinn Fein enriching arrangement.
"I am pursuing this matter through further questions and seeking publication of the rates and terms and conditions which apply to these Sinn Fein drivers."
Mr O Muilleoir said: "The provision of official cars to ministers is the responsibility of each individual department and the information requested is not held centrally. I am therefore replying in relation to the Department of Finance only.
"The Department of Finance provides an official car for my use and Sinn Fein provide the driver.
"The department receives an invoice in respect of services in line with agreed rates. The current rate is £2,807 per month, part of which is allocated for holiday cover in addition to the monthly payment to the driver."