Assembly rental expenses claimed for a DUP constituency office would be prohibited if House of Commons rules applied, the Belfast Telegraph can today reveal.
The £57,200-a-year rent for the Ballymena office was described as “significantly” above the normal market rate in an official report last week.
It also concluded that the taxpayer-funded payments, while not breaking Stormont rules, were being used to create a “property asset” for the DUP.
This arrangement would not be permitted under Commons regulations. Its rulebook for MPs includes a market rate stipulation and states that allowances must not “provide a benefit to a party political organisation”.
The Ballymena DUP premises are jointly run by ex-First Minister Ian Paisley and his son Ian Paisley jnr.
Their combined £57,200-a-year rental total is paid from the Assembly’s Office Cost Allowance system for MLAs. A report last week by Stormont Standards Commissioner Tom Frawley stated: “Effectively the Office Cost Allowance is being used to create a property asset for a political party.”
The official MP expenses rulebook states: “Claims cannot relate to party political activity of any sort, nor must any claim provide a benefit to a party political organisation.”
The Ballymena office — at 9-11 Church Street in the town — is owned by a company called Sarcon 250. It has links to both the party and Mr Paisley jnr's family. Its sole director is Ballymena DUP councillor Sam Hanna. His predecessor was Mr Paisley jnr's father-in-law James Currie.
Mr Frawley's report noted that Mr Currie is listed at Companies Registry as “sole shareholder and therefore the legal owner” of Sarcon 250.
The Standards Commissioner also stated that “in the absence of any information to the contrary it must also be assumed that Mr Currie is the beneficial shareholder of the company from which Mr Paisley jnr is renting constituency accommodation”.
MLAs are permitted to receive rental expenses for offices owned by family members. MPs were barred from making such claims several years ago.
The Commons permits MPs to rent premises owned by their parties. But they must have it assessed to “ensure that it is being rented at no more than the market rate”. Mr Frawley stated that the rental expenses for the Ballymena office are “significantly in excess of what might be regarded as a normal market rent”.
No rental claim for the property is made to Westminster, the report said.