MLA claimed rent expenses for office built on his farm

The David Gordon has been doing the legwork and has turned up a very interesting detail on UUP MLA Billy Armstrong, who “claimed rental expenses for a prefab constituency office owned by his wife and based on their farm.” One of those stories that ‘everybody knows about‘, but, once made public has a dynamic all of its own… It simply refuses to go away…As Gordon notes:

Assembly members can claim up to £70,000 of public money a year for office running costs, including rent, staffing, telephone bills, heating and electricity. The figure was raised from £48,000 last year following the restoration of devolution.

No one serious doubts the hard work of many constituency MLAs, but that is up to £70, 000 for which no account is made directly back to government.

  • DC

    Mooo, that’s one big fat cash cow for our greedy lot, aint it.

    Any wonder why the DUP grinned and beared it long enough for St Andrews to come into p(l)ay. So much at stake for the cronies and the ‘local economy’, which seems to favour a few, no names.

  • fair_deal

    “but that is up to £70, 000 for which no account is made directly back to government.”

    Are you sure about that claim? A breakdown of what allowances an MLA has claimed is made available to the public
    Also the emphasis is on the word ‘claim’. They do not get it automatically receive it. As guidance makes clear:
    “OCA cannot be claimed without valid proof of the actual expenses that have been incurred.”

  • Buggerhed

    I have a feeling that Unionism Beween Castledawson and Coalisland has for been shortchanged.

    First Willie,
    now Ian & Billy.
    Unionist leaders here are awfully silly

  • rural dweller

    Well done Mr Gordon but you have missed the best part of the story.I believe that Mr Armstrong bought the “office” when he was first elected nearly 10 years ago at a cost of £5k. If he has been paying his wife since then,then at approx £10k a year then the Armstrongs would have raked in approx £100k in rent.This added to his farm income,salaies for his wife and daughter means a very tidy sum coming into their household.It would be interesting to know if his wife and daughter had to apply for their jobs.I am also lead to believe that Mr Armstrong never produced accounts to his association(at least that was the case up to a few years ago when I was a member).This will never happen as the chair of the association is a councillor from Magherafelt who worked in his office,his daughter is secretary and Billy is the treasurer.Well Reg hows that for keeping it in the family.

  • honey bee

    Tut Tut Billy, claiming all that money for yourself. If you have so much, send me some.

    Maybe Mr Armstrong, will now confirm who actually works in his office, and were interviews undertaken.

  • interested

    Its terrible….. [civil engagement please – mods]

  • pith

    This beats them all, it really does. A farmyard constituency office and claiming rent back on it. Breathe out Junior.

    “What’s that you want? You’re tortured wi’ gangs and the plice’ll do nothin’ for you is it? Right, let me lift these eggs and I’ll be with ye. Now hold on and we’ll try n fix this before the lambin sterts.”

  • harry

    Its terrible….. and made all the worse by the fact that he can’t even string a sentence together.

    There is some competition for the post of most intellectually challenged Assembly Member, but Billy takes that prize by a country mile.


    you must not have met SF’s MLA for Newry/Armagh; Cathal Boylan.

    so dont be giving out that prize yet.

  • joeCanuck

    All right. Fess up. Who’s hiding the ball?

  • pith

    I’ve got to see this place. Do constituents have to cross a couple of rottweilers on ropes to get to the office? Are there meal bags on the chairs in the waiting room? Is there milk in a jug? Is the office manager there tapping away at Windows XP or whatever when joe public polls up or does she just dash across from the nearest farmhouse in an apron from peeling the spuds when the dogs start barking?

  • shankly’s socialism

    What a load of balls…

    This Billy Armstrong story is a bit funny but not really that much of an issue, his party expenses are paying for something…a constituency office, all the parties own buildings outright which MLAs then rent from their parties using their party allowances…Billy Armstrong only difference is the money is going to him rather then the UUP…its in bad taste I think but not untoward….our taxes are at least paying for something and getting it…there is an office there and its open.

    On the other hand Paisley employing and paying his son who clearly cannot do the work he is contracted to do is what we should all be screaming about, what jouranlists should be hammering on about, instead they give the Paisley’s an easy ride so as not to rock the boat…pathetic

    Billy Armstrong is a numpty who takes rent money but at least provides the building and service he is supposed to the tax payer gets what they have paid for.

    Paisley senior takes his £30,000 and gives it to Junior and the tax payer does not get what has been paid for because he physically cannot do the work…he has at least 2 other full time jobs.

  • pith

    Oh dear. Party spin appears to be epidemic.

  • Buggerhed

    Critising Billy Armstrong and the Paisley dynasty are not mutually exclusive passtimes

  • iluvni

    I suppose when you are talking about scamming massive expenses, Gerry Adams creaming off £130000 in 06/07 for being an MP who wont do his job takes some beating, right enough.

    Must be a pretty impressive total over 20 years too.

  • The UUP defence is… sure, we’re all at it! The sad thing is, the public do think we’re all at it. No-one benefits when crap like this comes out.

    And are you sure Billy is the most intellectually challenged member of the Assembly? Ahead of George Savage, George Robinson or Allan Bresland?

  • kensei

    Actually, I’ll cut Mr Armstrong some slack. This is really no different from a self employed business man claiming his car, his computer and his office space against tax. And more, from some of the things I’ve heard. If the office were not available, he would have to rent one and the tax payer would be no worse off. And running the office will incur electricity and heating costs.

    I am assuming of course he isn’t ripping the arse. I suspect however, he may well be.

  • Rapunsel

    Not sure about the actual detail on this one. But if an actual cost rule were implemented as applies to much european funding then problem solved. Billy wouldn’t be able to claim rent for something he already owned but just the actual running costs

  • pia lugum

    You have to give Portacabin Billy credit for taking the biscuit and of course, the lolly. Its a pity for him that he forgot about the Freedom of Information regulations which will now start to unfold the exact details.

    Armstrong did sign a paper from the UUP that if elected he would provide a proper high street office for his constituents. He has patently reneged from honouring this basic pledge except for the year or so that he had a wee back-street office in Magherafelt run by Councillor George Shiels (now also deposed!).

    Its high time Empey took our Armstrong in hand and demanded that he start providing a proper comprehensive up-front service for the unionists of Cookstown and Magherafelt. Then we might be able to better appreciate the thousands of pounds a year that we working taxpayers are presently pumping into a comercially written-off old portacabin – up until just recently that is.

    Of course if Billy and Reg still insist on not bringing the wagon into town then we can always go to the SDLP or SF who are not frightened of having their offices in a public place.

    Perhaps Mr Armstrong or even Forallofus will submit a reply to clarify their situation?

  • E eye E eye yo

    Billy would also be able to claim tax on his office,phone,car etc. The difference with this one is the moneys going straight into his pocket.His feeble excuse that his office is a credit to the party leaves one to ask what Reggie thinks of it.This office is miles from Cookstown and Magherafelt so is not accessable unless you have a car.
    Billy’s wife owns the office so he pays her rent.It is funny he stopped paying the rent from December 2007 which was about the time it was first muted on this web site.
    Also last year wasn’t the Bold Billy caught out over not having planning permission for his daughter’s business which by chance is situated in the farm house close by his office in the farmyard.

  • Rory

    When I become an MLA I won’t be renting out any of Herself’s prefabs for office space, oh no. Not me boy.

    I will be an active, on the move type of MLA. My constituents may find me readily available on the High Street, in the local taverns and betting shops or (male voters only)in Mlles. Fifi and Trixibelle’s Massage Emporium for the Discerning Older Gent.

    I will always carry a notebook and pen in my inner pocket which I will rent to myself for £25,000 pa, but mostly I will keep most sensitive information on my constituents locked up inside my head as they would prefer for security reasons. I will rent my head out to myself for £50,000 pa.

    Mlles. Fifi and Trixibelle have agreed to act as my personal private secretaries where their knowledge of French will no doubt be invaluable. It will be necessary for them to accompany me on fact finding tours to Bangkok, Las Vegas, Cannes and other places invaluable to my researches into pig-rearing.

    Vote for Rory! No.1 !

  • Danny O’Connor

    Look and see whom built an extension/sunroom/conservatory on their house to provide a constituecy office.

  • joeCanuck

    Mr Paisley Jnr added: “We are committed to ……. promote tolerance, inclusion,

    China is like Iran then – no gays there?

  • John Junkin

    It is a bit unfair to make fun of Billy Armstrong and his perceived craving for all the trappings of MLA’dom.

    He, himself is a just hapless victim of the UUP who needed someone in 1998 who would unquestiongly toe the line at a critical time for their inner sanctum. Billy successfully sold the idea that the Good Friday Agreement was magic, the RUC needed a reformation and that he was a better UUP representative that those who slogged away during the tough times.

    So what, if he also managed to get rid of over 100 of the main core of UUP dissidents in Mid-Ulster. It is just fantastic that there is only his own loyal family members and a couple of dozen others left to run the once excellent Mid-Ulster UUP constituency association.

    The next step for the dynasty is the family’s developing nepotic aspirations regarding future local government seats.

    George Shiels of Magherafelt is now in line for the chop in this regard as he has served his purpose well in 2005. GS won’t even be selected again according to my sources and will have to be content with his 30 pieces of silver – hope he hasn’t spent it! But Cllr Trevor Wilson of Cookstown is a much more serious contender. Of all the UUP councillors, only Wilson has the proven ability and a long record of attainment to his credit to close Billy Armstrong up inside his Stewartstown bunker.

    Cllr Wilson is astute and well enough organised to open a proper public unionist office in a town centre without having to have his family doing a continous round of guard duty! Wilson is also the only person capable of breathing new life into the almost defunct Mid-Ulster Constituency Association without abusing the system.

    My question is as always – Will Reg Empey keep on supporting no-hopers or will he grab the opportunity to finally make his mind up and dump the present political bad-taste in Mid-Ulster for something more respectable.

  • NoChiponMyShoulder


    chip on shoulder lasting a long time there…
    This blog has run its course, it’s starting to go over old ground now!

  • Liam

    In responce to JoeCanuck’s remark, I would like to point out that Cathal Boylan is a very articulate and able elected representative. He should refrain from making comments like that when he has no evidence to back it up.

  • darth rumsfeld

    I have seen the sign for Billy’s portacabin, and i can confirm it is more visible than if it were simply part of an urban streetscape, though I fear that is outweighed somewhat by it being in the arse-end of nowhere well away from Cookstown and Magherafelt and hence rather difficult to reach if the needy constituent is bereft of transport. But it is handy if you’re leaving the wife off for a beauty session at the nearby parlour…
    I would also refrain from challenging Billy’s intellectual capabilities. He at least has the nous not to pretend he’s a great thinker, unlike say, Martina Anderson…

  • Liam

    My apologies to JoeCanuck. The remark I was refering to was made by ‘Harry’.


    “Look and see whom built an extension/sunroom/conservatory on their house to provide a constituecy office.” – Danny O’Connor

    Come on Danny – don’t be shy. Give us a clue at least.

  • joeCanuck

    You had me scratching my head for a bit there, Liam. :o)

  • rural dweller

    Cllr Wilson would not be a good choice to lead the UUP in Mid Ulster as he is to far right for the liberal minded folk in the Mid Ulster Association. This association must be the riches in the country with all the extra money that Portacabin Billy has pumped into it from his expensives. Might be an idea for the electoral commission to investigate this and the use of his office to run his elections.
    His claim to having a sign to his office is laughable as he has not obtained planning permission for it. Come on Reggie is this office and the scandal behind it really what the UUP want.

  • John Junkin

    rural dweller – I have no doubt that Cllr Trevor Wilson is the most experienced, most fluent, and best clued-in person left in the UUP in the Mid-Ulster constituency – absolutely streets ahead of the sitting MLA.

    I totally disagree with the idea that he is too far right as you state. He only appears to be ‘right’ because of the namby pamby types that currently occupy valuable spaces in his association.

    And it clear to most that these namby pambys have reduced the UUP performance to continuously playing a poor second fiddle to Paisley’s equally pathetic local outfit.

    But that is where the comfort zone is and who would blame PortaCabin Billy for wanting to loiter there?

    After all there is no sweat and no risk – right up his casey!

  • rural dweller

    Now that Portaloo Billy has been outed others will surely follow.The Paisleys,Robinsons and of course the McCreas all need investigated.
    At least we should be able to sleep in our beds at night knowing that Portaloo Billy has stopped paying rent to his wife since he was outed.He will now probably pay his daughter instead.
    Reggie has been very quiet on his Deputy Whip’s situation probably. Any ideas why?

  • willis

    It would seem to me that the fault lies not with nest-feathering MLAs, but with a monitoring process which seems to consist solely of the newspapers.

  • pia lugum

    And Slugger of course!

  • pia lugum

    It was nauseating to see and hear (on BBC last evening) the latest bumble from Danny Kennedy of the UUP actually condoning Portacabin Billy’s blatant use of tax-payers money for the self-renting of his farm shack as a remote public office.

    One would have expected the UUP to wise-up and distance themselves from this odious 8-year-old practice of the Mid Ulster MLA!

    Perhaps Empey will eventually bite the bullet and remove the whip from this particular MLA rather than seek to quietly condone. It would be at a very minimal cost to the party (what does Billy actually do anyway other than stay at home milking cows?) but it would tighten up any other more useful party MLAs who could also be vulnerable……………

  • Butterknife

    I dare say The Freedom of Information Act will be used more often when it comes to our MLAs.
    Mind you if Paisley Junior was forced to stand down simply because of this immoral use of public money then how much more serious is Finance Minister Robinson MLA, MP etc! I would love to see a time study of his day.