Belfast Telegraph

South Belfast MLA challenged to pay back £14k

Dave Whelan

The SDLP's south Belfast MLA Conall NcDevitt is accused of misusing over £14,000 of tax payers' money.

Sinn Fein MLA Raymond McCartney made the allegation  and asked Mr McDevitt to pay back expenses he claimed from the Assembly.

Mr McCartney was commenting after it emerged that the south Belfast MLA had initially failed to declare more than £14,000 in expenses that had been paid to a company set up by his wife.

JM Consulting - Joanne Murphy Consulting - was paid the money for 'research and secretarial' work between 2010 and 2011 but Mr McDevitt failed to register if any family member had benefited from office expenses for both years.

The issue was raised after Mr McDevitt wrote to the assembly authorities and amended his register of interests for reasons of clarity. He has denied that his wife personally received any money.

Payments of £8,000, £4,900, £800 and £600 were paid to four researchers between June 2010 and August 2011 through the independent research consultancy which trades as JM Consulting.

That statement has now been amended and the register now states: "My wife has an interest in a company that has provided research services to me in my capacity as an MLA from March 2010 until November 2011".

Mr McDevitt was not available for comment but a statement from the SDLP said: "Conall McDevitt paid for research services from his Office Cost Allowance through his wife's company, JM Consulting.

"Conall's wife voluntarily co-ordinated the work completed by academics but did not receive any money for doing so personally or through JM Consulting and therefore did not benefit directly or indirectly.

"JM Consulting has not provided or coordinated research services for any other MLA. For reasons of clarity Conall has now added this to his register of interests."

Sinn Fein's Raymond McCartney said that Mr McDevitt should "do the right thing" and pay the money back to the Assembly and also called for an investigation and appropriate sanctions by the Assembly authorities as to why payments were not declared on the Register of Members Interests.

"For years Conall McDevitt has made a political career out of lecturing others on their behaviour.

"Now it has emerged that Mr McDevitt paid £14,000 of taxpayers' money to his wife's company, Joanne Murphy Consulting in 2010 and 2011," he said.

"To compound this further Mr McDevitt did not declare this on the members' interest log in Stormont for any of these years as is required.

"No doubt Mr McDevitt will hide behind the line that he wasn't technically in breach of any rules paying this money to his wife's company.

"However I'm quite sure hard pressed tax payers will be rightly annoyed at this sort of practice and the failure by Mr McDevitt to declare it in line with Assembly rules."

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