Belfast Telegraph

Friday 18 April 2014

After years of campaigning we win expenses transparency fight

Today's release of a full breakdown of MLA expenses represents a victory for the Belfast Telegraph after years of campaigning.

It was back in 2006 that this newspaper started pressing the Assembly to follow the transparency path being blazed by the Scottish Parliament.

Stormont’s Edinburgh counterpart has been publishing online receipt level details of expenses for years.

This is not just about the public’s right to know how their tax money is being spent.

Openness is also the best defence against misuse of the system.

This newspaper first pushed the transparency case in 2006 when highlighting the fact that MLA mileage payment rates were higher than that available to MPs.

This was when the Assembly had been suspended for a number of years.

The disparity was ended.

We stepped up our efforts in 2007 after the return of devolution, launching an Open Stormont campaign.

The House of Commons was meanwhile learning the lesson the hard way.

It fought a long and unsuccessful campaign against Freedom of Information bids on MP expenses. That stance led ultimately to the damaging revelations that rocked Westminster earlier this year — and led Speaker Michael Martin to resign.

The Assembly finally decided in June to go for full disclosure.

The alternative was for the details to be picked off one by one through individual FoI requests.

Not all the demands of Open Stormont have been met so far.

Another key demand of the campaign was for transparency on private donations to Northern Ireland’s political parties.

That’s scheduled to end next year, finally bringing the province into line with the rest of the UK and the Republic.

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