Belfast Telegraph

'Northern Ireland must have an opposition to hold the powers to account'

By Samuel Morrison

How government spends public money is an issue which concerns the voter probably more than any other.

Understandably so as it isn’t the politicians’ money, it’s ours. Since gaining a foothold in Stormont, TUV has sought to highlight the extravagance of government in Northern Ireland.

Does the Northern Ireland Executive really need to employ 161 spin doctors at an expense of the public purse of almost £5 million a year?

One department, the Office of the co-First Ministers, spent £788,217 in 2010/11 on its information unit while another (the Department of Social Development) employed 20 staff.

Since coming to power in 2007 until last year the Executive ran up a £4.5 million bill on hospitality. That’s not including the additional £9.3 million spent by arms-length bodies over the same period.

Just what do the multiple North/South bodies do for any of us? We deserve to know. Over the lifetime of an Assembly they cost us £150 million. Included in that figure is around £2 million a year to the Food Safety Promotion Board, an organisation based in Co Cork which does not employ a single person in Northern Ireland.

In March 2012, Stormont awarded a £400,000 contract for the “provision of photographic services”. Similarly, last year TUV uncovered that for the three years from 2009/10 to 2012, £349,740 was spent by departments on photographs.

Figures were “not available” for the years 2007/8 and 2008/09, which brings me to an answer to an Assembly question which Jim Allister received a fortnight ago.

Since May 2007, £33,656.51 has been spent on photography provision outside Northern Ireland to the Executive. That may not even be the entire figure as, in the case of the departments of Employment and Learning and Social Development, “figures (if any) are not available for the entire period.”

Almost as interesting as the answer about the spend on photographers used outside Northern Ireland are the dates on which the question was tabled and answered. It was asked of Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness’s office on March 21, 2012 and answered almost one year and seven months later on October 17, 2013.

TUV has consistently argued that in order for Northern Ireland to be a proper democracy it must have an opposition to hold the powers that be to account for, among other things, how they spend the public’s money.

The Belfast Agreement’s denial of the twin pillars of any proper democracy – the right to vote a party out of government and the right to have an opposition – have led to bad government, arrogance among those who believe they can never be removed from office and created a cavalier attitude when it comes to the spending of tax payers’ money.

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