Belfast Telegraph

DUP's Sammy cuts through 'farcical' new Stormont rules with some red tape of his own

By Noel McAdam

A senior MP has admitted a 'cover-up' - using red tape to expose the 'red tape' of new office regulations.

The DUP's Sammy Wilson placed the tape across part of a sign at a constituency office to hide his mobile phone number.

And as a result, he told the Belfast Telegraph, around £4,000 of taxpayers' money was released to finance the office he shares with MLA Gordon Lyons.

His actions were the result of rulings and advice by the Independent Finance Review Panel, which the former Executive Minister slammed as the "daftest diktat ever devised".

"Even EU bureaucrats have not managed to produce such contorted controls and they are masters of twisted regulations," he said.

"It's the first time red tape has ever been used because of red tape."

The former Finance and Environment Minister said he was forced to remove his mobile number from the sign above the office door as a result of "nonsensical" rules.

Regulations governing financing of offices insist MLAs cannot have their telephone number or e-mail address on the sign above the office door.

Mr Wilson said: "It would seem that the people who drew up the rules don't want the public getting near their public representatives.

"If an MLA is sharing with an MP, the MP can have the telephone number on his sign provided that sign is separate - though no definition of what makes a sign separate has been given. However, if the MP has the party logo on his sign, then the MLA cannot claim expenses for the shared office.

"However, if the party logo is moved from the MP's sign to the MLA's sign, then expenses can be claimed."

And the East Antrim MP added: "If this sounds confusing and nonsensical, it gets even worse. Amazingly, these contorted rules were not the result of a mistake, but lengthy consideration of the matter."

But Mr Wilson went on: "After hours of discussions involving senior Assembly staff, the situation was resolved by putting some red tape over my telephone number.

"It seems the price of keeping an office open under the new expenses regime of the NI Assembly is to ensure that it is made more difficult for constituents to know how they can contact you."

However, panel member Alan McQuillan said: "There are two issues here. First, under the old regime it was possible for MPs and MLAs to share offices and because the expenses were paid from two different bodies, very large amounts of expenses could be claimed for rent.

"Sometimes these were far in excess of any normal commercial rent for premises and sometimes they were paid into the party or organisations associated with the party.

"The new rules are designed to stop that. MLAs are allowed to share offices with MPs, but it does restrict the amount of rent the MLA can claim.

"The amount the MP can claim is a matter between them and the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority.

"Secondly, the signs which were going up on offices were branding the premises as party offices and the DUP in particular was advertising the party as providing the biggest network of party offices in Northern Ireland.

"In fact, these are Assembly-funded offices for MLAs. It is possible to put the party logo onto the office, but it must have the Assembly logo as well.

"MLAs and MPs can play all the silly games they want, as long as they stick to the rules."

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph