Belfast Telegraph

Friday 26 December 2014

Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness Brazil trip cost us a mint - no austerity in Stormont

Pope Francis
Pope Francis

There's not a lot of the new Pope about Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness.

While Francis is known to prefer the bus before a limo, to favour a utilitarian flat before a bishop's palace and even (unusual in everyone from office manager up in this day and age) to make phone calls without employing a PA to do the tedious dialling bit for him, our pair are much more of the L'Oreal persuasion.

Because they're worth it.

Their recent jolly to Brazil and then Washington is costing us how much? Their November trip to China cost us how much?

Who knows?

Earlier this week the OFMDFM was robustly blocking requests for information, not just on the question of total cost, but on who went, where they stayed and how they travelled.

Why this lack of what a peace processor would call transparency?

Because, presumably, you and I, we're just not worth it.

Little old you and I are only expected to concentrate on the important issues. Like voting them into office.

We don't need to worry our heads about silly stuff like where our valuable taxpayers' money is being spent in a time of recession. Or how much of a return we're getting for it.

What we do know is that during this week's trip to Washington (via Rio – rooms reportedly £650 a night) the pair stayed in a five-star hotel where luxury suites cost over $4,000.

OK maybe they didn't go the full Jacuzzi. And nobody's expecting them to kip down on somebody's settee. But it's hardly a Premier Inn for our premier pair.

How many staff were with them? Why were they all there anyway?

As Jim Allister, Stormont's OMO (One Man Opposition) pointed out: "If it was a trade mission, why wasn't the Economy Minister with them?"

Mr Allister may not come across as the Assembly's sunny Jim but you have to admire his dogged pointing up of the expense and absurdity of much of what goes on up the hill (and on overseas jaunts).

Recently he's been rooting around in the Stormont sweetie jar and discovering that MLAs are literally costing us a mint – in mints.

Apparently there are bowls of free mints on the Speaker's desk and members have been digging in to the tune of almost a grand's worth of breath freshness since 2009.

The Stormont mint index peaked at £288 in 2009/10. In 2011/2012 it was £271.

A trivial sum overall you might argue. But equally you could also argue that MLAs should be well able to afford their own packs of Polos.

Especially after news of an upcoming pay hike of 11% which few appear to be rejecting. (Aside from the SDLP which is turning down the rise as a matter of party policy, one member who told this paper he doesn't think it acceptable is the UUP's Michael Copeland. Ironically, tellingly, Copeland is one of the hardest working MLAs and a man who hasn't lost touch with his working class constituency.)

Overall what's being created up on the hill is a portrait of Stormont Raj.

Way too big. Way too expensive. Entirely out of touch with the punters it supposedly serves.

Put in local perspective, that reported £650 per room per night in Rio for Stormont's travelling Wilburys equates to what many a pensioner gets to keep him or her for a month.

Without the Murray mints.

The new Pope in Rome comes across as a man of the people who understands the economic realities so many face in these straightened times.

A man who appears not to have lost the common touch, he also grasps the need to reflect such economic realities even at the top.

But up at Stormont?

We can safely say – no Pope here.

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