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DUP MP's office landlord returns £10k Covid support grant

Paul Girvan

The landlord of a DUP office who received £10,000 in emergency Covid funding in error has now repaid the money.

It emerged over the weekend that the grant was paid out to Cinq Properties, which owns South Antrim DUP MP Paul Girvan’s office in Ballyclare.

Mr Girvan told the Belfast Telegraph the money was repaid on Friday and that he had contacted the company last week as news of the overpayments emerged.

It’s estimated that around £4.5m was paid out in error earlier this year as part of the Small Business Grant Support Scheme.

This included £30,000 to Sinn Fein offices which were not paid until last week.

Former MP Elisha McCallion, West Tyrone MLA Catherine Kelly and two party officials have since stepped down over the scandal.

Mr Girvan said he had contacted his landlord by email when the news first emerged.

"We didn’t even know that our landlord received the payment because it was quite clear from the outset that political offices shouldn’t benefit,” he said.

“I’ve never met the landlord and only spoken to the company once in all the time I’ve had the office.

“He came back to confirm they had received a payment for our office at 1.25pm on Thursday and that they would repay, which they have.”

He added: “I do think that if you’re receiving payments into your account you should know where they’re coming from.

“If it’s not meant to be there it should be paid back immediately.”

Mr Girvan said he was not optimistic that all of the payments made in error would be returned.

“I would say it I don’t think all of it will be recouped. There will be some difficulty in getting all that money back," he said.

“Many people might have it spent by now, so getting it back is going to be a long process.”

He said the grant scheme was “a blunt instrument” which relied on businesses being open and transparent.

“We understand that quite a few did return overpayments that they received, around 70 in all.

“I don’t know if they had to be pursued or came forward.

“Everyone knows now, there’s a clear indication. But this was a quick way of getting money to businesses affected by the Covid lockdown.

“Some of whom were affected to a lesser degree. Certain sectors of retail were able to operate without any impact upon their sales.

“Larger stores like Tesco and Asda had a bumper time for example.”

He added: "I'm very grateful that I have no relationship with the landlord. Some people on Twitter have been talking about me getting this payment but I've received not one penny."

In a statement, the landlord firm said: “Cinq Properties Ltd like many other businesses in Northern Ireland did receive an unsolicited £10,000 small business grant earlier this year.

"However, it has now transpired that the company was not entitled to this grant.

"Several attempts were made to repay the funds and the £10,000 was repaid to an account of the Department of Finance on Friday."

Speaking to BBC Good Morning Ulster, First Minister Arlene Foster said it was clear that the money should be returned but tenants were not responsible for the actions of landlords.

She also supported DUP MLA Gary Middleton's decision to refer the overpayments for Sinn Fein to the PSNI.

"It’s not the fact that people received the money in error, it’s the fact that the money hasn’t been returned after seven months," she said.

“It’s up to the police of course whether they decide to instigate a criminal investigation, but I absolutely support my party colleague in the complaint that he has made.”

Belfast Telegraph