Belfast Telegraph

Stormont expenses: Taxpayers should have the money which was fraudulently claimed by MLAs reimbursed

The scale of Sinn Fein abuse of the Stormont expenses system exposed by BBC Spotlight was simply staggering.

Almost £700,000 of public money was paid to Research Services Ireland yet they (a) could not produce any research, (b) could not or would not do research for anyone other than Sinn Fein and (c) were run by two Sinn Fein finance managers.

In December 2009 the PSNI were alerted to suspicions that Research Services Ireland was a bogus company. Shamefully they received assurances from the Northern Ireland Assembly that an internal investigation had been carried out and no evidence of criminality had been discovered. It was alleged by Spotlight that this verdict was reached on the basis of audits in which the integrity of MLAs was not questioned and they were simply taken at their word.

Spotlight also exposed how Sinn Fein were accused of paying thousands of pounds in rent to cultural nd historical societies which could not be shown to exist.

What the BBC revealed amounted to the systematic abuse of the expenses system on an industrial scale .

The fact that it was left to the BBC to expose this abuse is an indictment of all the executive parties as they all have seats on the Assembly Commission which oversees the system.

Furthermore, the reaction of Stormont to the broadcasts shows that there is little prospect of change.

When the Westminster expenses story broke it dominated the news and business in the Commons.

When Stormont faced accusations which were worse the reaction was muted. It was left to TUV leader Jim Allister to ensure that the matter was raised at all by way of an urgent oral question to the Assembly Commission.

Across Northern Ireland the two Spotlight documentaries are the one topic certain to come up if local politics is discussed.

Stormont deemed the issue worthy of a mere 15 minutes of Assembly time.

And some of that 15 minute discussion was taken up with Gregory Campbell complaining about the BBC’s lack of openness about their expenses.

So much for the DUP leading the charge against Sinn Fein.

Their reticence to tackle Republicans on this issue can probably be explained by the fact that some in their own party had claimed for enough iPads to stock a small Apple store, tens of thousands of stamps - not from a Post Office but from a garage – and an obscene amount of rent for a constituency office, paid to an advice centre company whose director knows “flip all about it”.

Just when everyone thought the standing of local politicians couldn't get any lower, along came the BBC and showed us that Stormont is more corrupt than even the most ardent TUV supporter imagined.

Taxpayers should have the money which was fraudulently claimed by MLAs reimbursed. However, there seems little prospect of that happening.

Rather, it appears that far from returning their “ill-gotten gains” - as the DUP once demanded as a precondition for Sinn Fein entering government - the expenses system has become a source of ill-gotten gains which have no prospect of being returned.

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