Belfast Telegraph

Political parties show no shame after Stormont expenses probe

By Mark Brotherston

When the scandal about expenses at Westminster broke, there were profuse apologies from all the main parties and most of the MPs.

When the scandal about expenses at Westminster broke, there were profuse apologies from all the main parties and most of the MPs.  Last week, when BBC Northern Ireland broadcast a documentary investigating MLAs’ claims for office rent, there was little contrition from parties at Stormont.  In fact they went immediately on the attack.

Sinn Féin, which stands accused of paying money to bogus ‘cultural societies’, ranted and railed against the broadcaster, employing its full gamut of ‘doublespeak’. 

The DUP’s Arlene Foster, whose ‘rent free’ office arrangements were also investigated, stretched irony to its limits by describing the BBC as ‘parasitical’, for making the programme. 

When it comes to milking expenses, the parties at Stormont are shameless.

And woe betide any journalist who has the temerity to investigate the DUP and Sinn Féin.  They are accused of being negative about Northern Ireland or ‘attacking the peace process’.

Both parties deny they have broken any rules.  There needs to be a robust investigation, independent of Northern Ireland Assembly, to establish whether that is the case. 

However, we ought to expect more from public representatives than simply abiding by the letter of the law.  This is our money they are grabbing, at a time when public services are being cut because budgets are tight.

At Stormont it is far too easy to use the expenses system, which is intended to benefit constituents, to build up the parties’ political machines and reinforce their dominance at elections.  That’s bad for the democratic process, because it stifles competition and restricts the options available to voters. 

There’s a desperate need to overhaul expenses, to make sure that taxpayers’ get value for money. 

When questions were asked about Westminster expenses, at least MPs had the decency to be sorry.  

After last week’s revelations, what will really stick in the public’s craw is the complete lack of repentance from Stormont parties and the ferocity with which they attack any journalist who has the audacity to ask inconvenient questions

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