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Sinn Fein expenses row firm shuts down

Research Services Ireland was paid over £700,000 by MLAs including Michelle O'Neill.

By Tony Allen

The controversial west Belfast firm which was paid £700,000 by Sinn Fein MLAs has shut down, Sunday Life can reveal.

Research Services Ireland — which was at the centre of a major expenses row at Stormont — hit the headlines in 2014 following a BBC NI Spotlight investigation.

Dozens of Sinn Fein MLAs paid the firm for work — including the party’s new northern chief Michelle O’Neill, who claimed £14,500 expenses.

But now two years after the TV probe, RSI has shut its doors and will be officially dissolved next week.

Documents filed at Companies House reveal that RSI applied for a ‘voluntary strike off’ last November and will be formally dissolved as a company on Tuesday.

Its last filed accounts as an active company, dated January 7, 2015, showed the company had two charges, one each held by Seamus Drumm, son of murdered republican Maire Drumm, and Sinead Walsh, wife of former IRA prisoner Seanna Walsh, at £1 each.

Based at 148-152 Springfield Road in west Belfast, RSI billed Sinn Fein for £700,000 in work it is said to have carried out over a 10-year period.

Spotlight said it was not able to find any evidence of research that had been carried out, but Sinn Fein said that RSI provided a centralised service for work that was “too sensitive” to be done elsewhere.

One Sinn Fein MLA told the programme they had never heard of the company until they saw it on their annual expenses.

In 2009, Spotlight said police were alerted to concerns about expenses claims made by Sinn Fein and a meeting was held with two assembly officials.

TUV leader Jim Allister called for an investigation which was carried out by the Assembly Commission.

In February 2016, the Commission responded by saying its review “confirmed that payments for research services, as reported in the programme, were made for admissible expenditure up to and including the 2012/13 financial year”.

“As such, no recovery has been sought,” it added.

“No payments to Research Services Ireland for work undertaken after 31 December 2012 have been made as a result of changes to the system of financial support for members that were introduced by the Independent Financial Review Panel from 1 January 2013.”

Research Services Ireland Ltd was based at an upstairs premises, in 148-152 Springfield Roadwhere the Clonard Residents Assocation, headed by Sean ‘Spike’ Murray, a convicted IRA terrorist, was also based.

Checks revealed CRA then sub-let a room in the upper floor to RSI.

In 1998, the Department of Social Development paid out £280,000 to build its premises on the Springfield Road.

In 2014, following the Spotlight revelations, TUV leader Jim Allister questioned the relationship between RSI and CRA.

He said: “Public money, which in fact was PEACE money, was used to enrich this residents’ association and provide them with control and finance from the entire first floor of the building.

“I have never encountered such generosity towards a residents’ association.”

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