Belfast Telegraph

Under a spotlight: The Stormont expenses claims that are facing scrutiny

As police move in to investigate, Rebecca Black takes a look at the allegations made against some of our political parties in the two recent documentaries shown on BBC1 NI.

Sinn Fein

Sinn Fein politicians, whether they are Deputy First Minister earning £120,000, minister earning £86,000, junior minister earning £60,000 or MLA earning £48,000, take home a salary equivalent to the average industrial wage of around £26,000. The remainder of the money goes to Sinn Fein, which is estimated across Ireland at £2.2m.

Over the past 10 years, 36 different current and former Sinn Fein MLAs claimed about £700,000 in total through Stormont expenses to pay Research Services Ireland Ltd.

It also received money from Westminster expenses. Spotlight claimed that the company has no website and its phone number did not appear to be working. They sent someone to the address to attempt to commission research. This was unsuccessful.

The directors of the company are republicans Seamus Drumm and Sinead Walsh. Mr Drumm was once described as he gave evidence to the House of Commons committee as Sinn Fein's six counties manager for finance.

Gerry Adams said RSI provided a centralised research policy development service for Sinn Fein MLAs. He said the service was availed of by the Sinn Fein Assembly business committee on behalf of the Sinn Fein Assembly team as a whole. Sinn Fein stopped sending invoices to RSI earlier this year.

Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill claimed £18,000 rent a year for an office in Gulladuff near Maghera. According to her expenses, the rent was paid to the South Derry Cultural and Heritage Society.

One of the six trustees of the building Michael McGonagle has claimed that Sinn Fein raised the money to buy the building 30 years ago. He had not heard of the South Derry Cultural and Heritage Society and said he has never received any rent for the building. The society has charitable status and does not have to pay rates or tax. Sinn Fein has denied owning the building. Three of the trustees have also claimed that Sinn Fein does not own the building.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and Mid Ulster MP Francie Molloy pays rent to the Tyrone Cultural Society. Mr McGuinness has paid £96,000 in rent to political societies.

North Antrim MLA Daithi McKay had two offices on Main Street in Dunloy beside each other. He claimed rent for one of these and paid it to the North Antrim Historical Society until last year.

Former MLA David Hyland claimed for 11,500 miles at a cost of almost £5,000, despite not being able to drive. He said his wife had driven him, and also claimed that he knew nothing about mileage claimed in his name and that he had not signed the form. After he queried this, Sinn Fein asked him to authorise it, but he refused and it was not paid. Sinn Fein said it does not have a record of the incident.

DUP

The DUP advice centre in Ballymena holds the record for the most rent ever claimed for a single building. As first revealed by the Belfast Telegraph, Ian Paisley and his son Ian Paisley jnr claimed £57,000 for the building for two years in a row. Last year MLAs David McIlveen and Paul Frew claimed £20,504 for the same office while Ian Paisley claimed £14,095 from his Westminster expenses for it.

This rent has been paid to a business called Ballymena Advice Centre Ltd. Sole shareholder is DUP councillor and farmer Samuel Hanna. When asked about the matter by the Belfast Telegraph a number of years ago he said: "I haven't a clue, I know flip all about it... I know nothing about it, I'm only the landlord." However, he later told BBC Spotlight that the sole beneficiary of the rent "is the bank".

Enterprise, Trade and Investment Minister Arlene Foster is alleged to have been given the use of an office in Kesh, Co Fermanagh, by a businessman for several years rent-free. She paid rates for the office, but no rent. Mrs Foster no longer uses the office. The DUP has said that no rules were broken because the value of the donation was not over £1,000 in a year.

£4,355 was claimed in one year in the name of the former DUP MLA Willie Hay for his constituency office's heating oil - the cost of heating his offices increased from £265 over a 10-year period. This matter is being investigated by police and a staff member has been suspended.

North Antrim MLA David McIlveen claimed £6,956 on electrical equipment in two years, including three iPads, two laptops, a computer, a TV and two mobile phones. He said the investment was to adopt a paperless system for constituent data. Mr McIlveen also claimed £8,200 for stamps in two years. He said that this was to deliver information cards about the services he provides as an MLA.

UUP

UUP MLAs regularly claimed expenses for "support services" which were paid directly to the party. In one year this total amount was £84,000.

Fermanagh MLA Tom Elliott for six years regularly claimed money for "secretarial and research". This amounted to £45,000. It was paid to Lord Maginnis for someone who worked for him. Spotlight revealed this person was former electoral officer Alistair Patterson. Mr Patterson is now on Mr Elliott's staff.

West Tyrone MLA Ross Hussey claims the highest amount of rent, £20,000 a year for his office in Omagh. It is 2,000 sq ft over two floors, with a lift for disabled access, and open Monday to Saturday. Mr Hussey says he cannot run a good constituency service out of a smaller office.

SDLP

A number of SDLP MLAs claimed £10,000 each to fund their party's Press office. A SDLP spokesman said any money claimed for secretarial expenses or professional advisors was spent to enhance the service given to the party's constituents.

List of MLAs who employ their own family members

Alliance

Stephen Farry employs his wife as a senior researcher.

Anna Lo said her husband’s company supplies her on occasions with office stationery, equipment and furniture.

Kieran McCarthy employs his son on a part-time basis for general office duties.

DUP

Jonathan Bell employs his wife as a part-time secretary and researcher and Peter Robinson’s son as constituency manager plus his wife as a part-time secretary.

Paula Bradley employs her cousin part-time as office support.

Gregory Campbell, along with two other members, employs a nephew of George Robinson as a researcher.

Trevor Clarke employs his wife as a part-time clerical assistant.

Jonathan Craig employs his sister as a secretary and in the past has employed his son one day a week for research and administrative work and paid his brother-in-law consultancy fees for design, update and maintenance of website.

Sammy Douglas employs his son as a researcher.

Gordon Dunne employs his son as a researcher.

Alex Easton employs his wife part-time as a clerical officer with typing duties.

Paul Frew employs his wife as a personal assistant and researcher.

Paul Girvan employs his son as a part-time researcher.

Paul Givan employs his father part-time as a researcher.

Brenda Hale employed her brother-in-law to refurbish her constituency office.

William Hay employed his brother-in-law as an office manager in his constituency office.

William Irwin employs his daughter as a full-time office assistant.

Nelson McCausland employs his nephew as a constituency worker.

Ian McCrea employs his wife as a secretary, and brother-in-law as a researcher and personal assistant.

David McIlveen employs his father as a part-time researcher

Michelle McIlveen employs her brother as a researcher and office manager.

Adrian McQuillan employs his sister-in-law as a full-time researcher, aunt as a part-time assistant secretary, and jointly with two other members, employs a nephew of George Robinson as a researcher.

Stephen Moutray has employed his son during the summer period to cover holiday leave and additional office duties.

Robin Newton employs his wife as office manager and his son as a researcher/constituency worker. He has also in the past employed his daughter.

George Robinson employs his son as an office manager and personal assistant, and along with two other members, employs his nephew as a researcher.

Peter Robinson employs his daughter as his office manager

Alastair Ross employs his sister-in-law as a constituency case worker.

Jimmy Spratt employs his wife as a part-time office manager.

Mervyn Storey employs his wife as an office assistant and has employed his daughter as a part-time office assistant for three summers.

Peter Weir employed the son of Gordon Dunne as a researcher for one month in 2011.

Sinn Fein

Fra McCann employs a niece of Paul and Alex Maskey as a personal assistant.

TUV

Jim Allister, leader, employs his daughter part-time as a secretary and office manager

SDLP

Alex Attwood employs his brother as a constituency assistant.

Joe Byrne employs his wife on a part-time basis for driving duties and secretarial work.

John Dallat employs his wife as an office administrator.

Dolores Kelly employs her husband as a part-time temporary constituency assistant.

Karen McKevitt employs her daughter as a political assistant.

Pat Ramsay employs his wife as a driver and his wife’s nephew as a parliamentary assistant.

UUP

Roy Beggs employs his wife as a part-time secretary.

Leslie Cree employs his wife as a part-time researcher.

Jo-Anne Dobson employs her sister one day per week as a clerical officer.

Michael McGimpsey rents his office from a company in which his brother is the majority shareholder.

Sandra Overend employs her father on an ad-hoc basis to undertake advisory and constituency issues work.

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