Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 31 July 2014

The only bill this row lacks is the Old Bill

Lindy McDowell, Belfast Telegraph

Why haven’t the cops been called in at Westminster?

If you or I had been involved in the sort of greed and corruption we’ve seen reported in the papers in recent days we’d be down the local holding centre faster than you could say ‘second home allowance’.

In London, a woman who was accused of giving a false address so that her child would stand a chance of getting into her preferred choice of school (an indication of the educational future in Northern Ireland?) was due to appear before the courts this week.

She says she’d given her mother’s address as her own, but insists that she’d been staying there at the time she’d submitted the application.

So how come she’s been nicked? When all those MPs with their dubious claims for ‘second homes’ are not in the dock beside her?

We’re told that MPs have been acting ‘within the rules.’

Surely the form-filling mother could have claimed the same thing?

Her defence is now being tested in the courts. With MPs we’re just going to have to take their word for it that it was all honest and above board.

But when you read about the second home claims, of the payouts for everything from televisions to Tampax, of the taxpayer picking up the tab for Pampers and plasma and food and furniture and plumbing repairs beneath the tennis courts and burglar alarms for millionaires — come on, is this truly what anyone actually believes?

Fair interpretation of the rules ...

In fairness not every single MP has been at it.

Just most of them.

For there does not appear to be a party untouched by the feeding frenzy. At a time when the country is being run (supposedly) by a (supposedly) socialist government, taxpayers’ money — cash that could go to hospitals and schools and the poor and the vulnerable — is being mopped up for ‘honourable’ members’ mortgage payments. On second homes that will be sold on at considerable profit.

Labour MPs splash out on luxury leather armchairs while the parents of disabled children have to fight for proper wheelchairs for their kids.

A Tory MP gets money to fix up the pipes under his tennis courts while schools in inner city areas battle for funding for adequate play facilities.

Sinn Fein MPs who won’t even take their seats at Westminster claim the cost of luxury rate rentals for London accommodation while local workers made redundant battle to keep a roof over their families’ heads ...

There is a link between all these things.

The money being siphoned off by MPs isn’t coming from some distant and bottomless source. It’s coming from the pockets of the working man and woman.

It is money which many can ill afford, but which most accept has to be contributed to provide the services we all depend upon — and a safety net and support for the needy.

Next time you hear of some elderly couple who are being split up in a care home because the money is no longer available to provide for one of them, remember the grasping greed of our elected elite and their well-appointed second homes.

We’re told the situation is being addressed by the setting up of a new independent audit body. But actually we don’t need one. There is already an audit body in operation which should right now be leafing through all those expenses chits and asking real, searching questions.

The police.

True, it might cost considerable money to investigate the details of all those past claims. It might even be that many of those claims are entirely legitimate.

So would it be worth it?

We the taxpayers will be picking up the tab whatever happens.

For once, let’s send Westminster The Bill.

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