Belfast Telegraph

Stormont expenses scandal is still what is uppermost in the public mind

By Samuel Morrison

2014 ended with something of a sense of déjà vu.

Yet another expenses scandal. Yet more discussions about the possible collapse of Stormont.

Yet another round of late night negotiations going right up to the 11th hour in an attempt to prolong its life.

Yet more wearisomeness from the general public.  The very fact that Stormont required ANOTHER set of make or break talks has done nothing to increase confidence in a system which people are increasingly coming to realize is fatally flawed.

It should be obvious to even the most enthusiastic cheerleaders for devolution, that a system which always seems to require another round of talks late into the night in order to survive it is fundamentally dysfunctional or, as Peter Robinson put it, “not fit for purpose”.

The sad truth is that nothing in the Stormont House Agreement does anything to address the basic flaw in our system of government – the fact that unlike anywhere else in the world parties don’t have to be agreed about anything before they go into government together.

That being the case we can expect another Stormont crisis before too long.

But as important as the issues discussed in the lead up to Christmas undoubtedly are, when people outside of the political bubble talk about Stormont rarely, if ever, do they mention welfare reform, the mismanagement of the Executive’s finances or the new quangos proposed in the Stormont House Agreement to look into the Troubles and flags.

The expenses scandal is still what is uppermost in the public mind.

Stormont remains tarnished by BBC Spotlight revelations about Sinn Fein offices rented from “cultural societies” and a research company paid tens of thousands in public money.

It’s probably safe to assume that while people don’t know all the details about the proposed Historical Investigations Unit (HIU), they more than likely can recall the obscene amount of rent claimed for a constituency office paid to an advice center company whose director knows “flip all about it” and the tens of thousands of stamps - bought not from a Post Office but from a garage - for use by an MLA’s “paperless office”.

They are also well aware that in all the talks in the run up to Christmas there was no suggestion that any of that money would be returned to the public purse.

It remains the case that TUV is the only political party which ensure that the Assembly devoted any time to discussing the expenses scandal. Additionally, anyone who checks the Assembly website will see that Jim Allister is the only MLA who has tabled questions on the issue.

While the public may be interested in the expenses scandal the simple facts of the matter are that the powers that be at Stormont want the issue to die.

TUV – and it seems only TUV – will do what we can to ensure that is not permitted to happen.

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