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Expenses watchdog’s only hearing outside London due to be in Belfast

By David Gordon

The ethics watchdog investigating MP expenses is to hold a hearing in Belfast as part of its high-profile UK-wide inquiry.

The planned hearing of the Committee on Standards in Public Life is the only evidence session currently scheduled for outside London.

It will take place in Belfast on July 1, with a venue still to be finalised.

The Committee investigation has been launched against a backdrop of unprecedented criticism of MP expenses, centring on claims made under the second home |allowance.

Leaked details of payments |issued to senior Labour and Conservative MPs have been reported in the Daily Telegraph in recent days triggering widespread condemnation.

The Committee will be expected to table major reform proposals for the second home allowance, which was designed to cover |accommodation and other living expenses for MPs while they are away from their main homes.

The watchdog has confirmed publicly that double-jobbing by Northern Ireland MPs is also within its remit.

Also expected to be covered are the employment of family members by politicians and the entitlement of Sinn Fein MPs to London living allowances while not taking their Commons seats.

That issue hit the headlines again at the weekend due to leaked information on taxpayer-

funded rent claims made by the party’s five MPs.

Sinn Fein MP and Stormont minister Conor Murphy revealed that he has visited a townhouse rented for him in London just once in the past year.

According to the Daily Telegraph, the property is co-rented with party colleagues Pat Doherty and Michelle Gildernew, with the Commons picking up the bill of £5,400 a month.

Mr Murphy told the Stephen Nolan Show on BBC Radio Five Live: “I have been in that house once in the last year.”

Party president Gerry Adams and Stormont's deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness claimed expenses of £3,600 a month to rent a shared two-bedroom flat in north London, according to the newspaper.

It also claimed that the rental costs for the two properties were well above market rates.

However Sinn Fein strongly disputed this, saying the bills also included parking, utility costs and housekeeping.

The Committee on Standards in Public Life stated last month that the holding of dual mandates by Northern Ireland politicians will be among the issues it will be |

examining. Sixteen of the province’s 18 MPs are Assembly members.

The Belfast Telegraph revealed last month that the 16 double-jobbers received some £4.7m |between them in pay and expenses in the financial year 2007/08 through their Westminster and Assembly jobs.

The Committee inquiry, which is due to be completed by the end of the year, is also seeking written comments from members of the public on MP expenses |issues.

The deadline for these submissions is June 5.

The Committee on Standards in Public Life was established in 1994 in response to sleaze allegations at Westminster.

Belfast Telegraph


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