Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Pay it all back, no expense spared

Several of Northern Ireland’s leading politicians have hardly covered themselves in glory over the expenses scandal.

Between them they have been forced to pay back more than £20,000 in expenses claims from the House of Commons. Covering everything from bedroom furniture — former MP Iris Robinson claimed for a £1,644 luxury bed — to mortgage interest payments, food and even television licences, the claims were evidently paid out with only the minimum of checks.

Apart from Mrs Robinson’s bed charges — another embarrassing revelation for her to cope with — former Ulster Unionist leader, Lord Trimble, was ordered to pay back the £805 annual fee for membership of the prestigious Athenaeum Club in London. Some of the most influential people in the UK are members and Lord Trimble obviously felt it was an advantage to become one. Quite rightly, Sir Thomas Legg, the man who reviewed MPs’ expenses, felt the public purse should not bear the cost.

Sir Thomas’ report said the expenses system was deeply flawed, with vague rules and a lack of transparency. MPs could make substantial claims, especially for mortgage interest, without producing proper evidence to back them up. Little wonder Sir Thomas found that MPs had been overpaid by £1.12m. It was a system ripe for exploitation and, it is clear, many MPs were advantaged by the lack of proper oversight.

However, some MPs are still resisting paying back what Sir Thomas feels is due. The public was appalled at the scale of expenses — and the range of goods and services covered — when the scandal first broke. They are now angry that MPs cannot accept the findings of the independent inquiry |into expenses. That has led to widespread disillusionment with politics in general. At a time when the public purse is under enormous pressure, it is only proper that MPs should set an example and rein in their excessive claims.

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