Watchdog orders DUP MP Shannon to pay back almost £14k in Westminster expenses
Mileage expenses claimed by the DUP's Jim Shannon were five times greater than the second highest-claiming MP and 37 times greater than the House of Commons average, an investigation has found.
Westminster's expenses watchdog said £13,925.86 must be repaid by the Strangford MP - which he has agreed to do immediately.
The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) investigation into the expenses of the MP found staff members had claimed for over 115,000 miles in the 2012/13 and 2013/14 financial years totalling £30,000 in claims.
Mr Shannon's office accounted for just over a quarter of all staff constituency mileage claimed by the entire House of Commons.
However, the investigation concluded that there was nothing to suggest there was "dishonesty" in the claims or that they were "not genuine".
The investigator spent two days in the constituency office and noted that telephones rang incessantly and there was a constant flow of people, giving the impression of a "hospital casualty department".
Among the issues raised were staff carrying out deliveries from a food bank, travel outside constituency boundaries and working for people in areas outside Strangford.
As Mr Shannon had spent all his stationery allowance, staff would hand-deliver letters and leaflets.
Records were deemed to be "completely inadequate" and methods for the submission and collection of mileage claims were "woeful". In one instance staff recorded mileage travel on a scrap of paper.
A widely distributed DUP-branded leaflet was determined to be a "newsletter" and not allowed under expenses rules.
The investigating officer noted the hard work and dedication of the worker in his report and said Mr Shannon should refer work on to councillors and MLAs where appropriate and use electronic communication to reduce paperwork.
"Taken in their entirety, the travel and subsistence claims made by Mr Shannon in 2014-15 were £14,289 greater than any other MP," the investigator said.
In his response to the investigation, Mr Shannon said he could not "say no" to a constituent, no matter what issue they may have, whether it be for responsibilities which may rest with council or Assembly.
Community representatives also told the investigator that they would bypass the councillor or the MLA in favour of the MP.
He also said the "democratic deficit" between 1972 to 2007 under direct rule, the local MP was regarded as the main port of call for any issue of government.
Mr Shannon - and the DUP - also said there should be recognition of the political legacy in Northern Ireland and the "dark years" with a regional variation in the rules similar to the London allowance for the higher cost of living in the capital.
"Clearly, the fact that such an arrangement lasted for over 30 years has created a culture in Northern Ireland that regards the role of an MP as being much more extensive than would be the case in other parts of the UK," he said.
"Personally, I have known constituents to become very offended when it is suggested that their problem be referred to a local MLA or councillor as they feel the MP is the 'senior person' in the constituency and jolly well ought to be dealing with their problems, even if they are not related to parliament."