Belfast Telegraph

Wilson calls for probe into SF after benefits fraud case

By Noel McAdam

Sammy Wilson has demanded an official probe into how many Sinn Fein elected representatives are receiving welfare benefits.

The former Finance Minister (inset) has written to Social Development Minister Mervyn Storey asking for an investigation into what he claims may be a widespread "scam".

There was no confirmation from Mr Storey that any inquiry will go ahead, but Mr Wilson believes it could be carried out by the social security commissioners.

"I think you could be looking at benefit fraud here," the East Antrim MP said. "And, if so, Sinn Fein should be forced to pay the money back."

His comments follow a court case against a Derry City and Strabane Sinn Fein councillor who was cleared last month of charges over an alleged £19,000 benefits fraud over more than three years.

Colin 'Colly' Kelly, who lives in Creggan, denied five charges of illegally receiving jobseekers allowance after failing to notify the Social Services Agency that he was an elected councillor.

In his decision, Deputy District Judge Brian Archer said he had a "lurking doubt" whether Mr Kelly had acted dishonestly, but concluded the prosecution had not proved its case to the "required standard".

But he added that "maybe the political party should refund the public purse" because it had received the benefits of Mr Kelly's earnings as a councillor.

Mr Kelly said it had been an "honest mistake" and as soon as he became aware of the situation he had taken steps to rectify it.

Mr Wilson, who this week stood down from the Assembly to concentrate on Westminster, said: "It was the case in Londonderry which led me to wonder whether other Sinn Fein representatives are receiving benefits. I suspect there are a whole lot more doing it.

"My fear is that Sinn Fein is taking the allowances they receive as councillors off them and putting that into party coffers, and then the individuals go to social security and say they have little or no income and get benefits. It would be interesting to see whether this is also happening with Sinn Fein MLAs, because the same system applies."

The DUP MP said he did not believe a direct appeal to Sinn Fein to "come clean" would produce results.

"They are so brazen about things there is no point in asking them to do the right thing - they will never do the right thing, because I believe they are sympathetic to the abuse of welfare," he claimed.

He admitted he believes the benefits commissioners will be loathe to take on the inquiry.

There was no detailed response from Sinn Fein yesterday to the allegations, but the party pointed to former DUP Moyle councillor Davy McAllister, who received allowances despite only attending four council meetings in 2008/9 following a conviction for benefit fraud in 2006, when he was ordered to repay £17,744 to the Social Security Agency.

"Mr Wilson should be asked about that," a spokesman said.

A spokesman for Mr Storey would only say: "The department has noted this recent case and is examining the implications of the ruling."

Belfast Telegraph


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