Slugger hears that Bairbre de Brun is preparing to disclose her European expenses for the last year (at the same time the Speaker of the House of Commons has asked the costs submitted over the last four at Westminster to see if they are ‘reasonable’ – ed) Right, for those of you who missed it, there was this little exchange on the News Letter’s web chat with Jim Allister this morning (I suspect the wily MEP had the measure of the person asking the question, but they may have ‘got’ him, just the same):
12:07 [Comment From Big Andy] The DUP have been asking who owns your constituency office, amongst other expesnes [sic] related matters. Why will you not answer that question to clear things up for the public? Will you answer it now?
12:08 Good afternoon Dundela! Answered long ago. It is no secret that I bought my office with my own money.
But, according to one reader, on Allister’s own blog it has him down for claiming £4895.80 in rent for his office;
This standard allowance is also meant to cover constituency travelling expenses, as MEPs, unlike MPs (who get 40p per mile), do not get a mileage allowance within their constituency. Finding that the allowance is insufficient to meet the full costs of his office operation, Jim Allister does not use any of it for travel. Unlike MPs, MEPs do not get free postage or free computers.
In 2008 Jim Allister received £26,407.07 into his office account from Europe. The main outlay of same was as follows:-
Telephone: £3254.59; Postage: £2650.82; Electricity: £1577.46; Water: £296.94; Rates: £4592.67; Rent: £4895.80; Office Equipment rental: £3900.00; Office supplies: £1512.10; Gas: £780.00; Computer repairs and upkeep: £1457.22; Cleaning: £400; Sundries: £600; Commercial bin collection: £245.62; additional office furnishings: £550; laptop purchase: £600.
That rent looks more than reasonable to me, even if he is ‘renting’ from himself. But there is an election on (as if hadn’t you noticed, so all these petty differences are likely to be seized up. Sinn Fein believes the issue of expenses is playing pretty well for them on the doorsteps, and may well then put pressure of the other sitting MPs to stump up with their actual costs (as opposed to the amounts the EU allows them to claim, regardless of actual expenditure.
Europe will have to remain a matter of self discipline for UK MEPs, since this is a very ‘British’ matter. The French and the Italians, I suspect, would never cede to the kind of reforms being put through Wesminster just now. But there are whispers that Stormont is next for the big journalistic blow out. Those MLAs with oversight of the European expenses system would be well advised to look to their laurels now and take pre-emptive action now, before they find themselves in the same unfortunate position of Michael Martin.
The paradigm has shifted; “All the conventions are now finished…”
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty