Stormont’s unenlightened attitude to expenses and the oversight of public money…

It’s hard to say that when we are talking about expenses, that the figures concerned are hugely significant when it comes to overall fiscal spend in government.

Spotlight’s well researched part two on MLA’s misadventures in claiming expenses showed that each of our political parties have fallen into the ‘free money’ well of the Assembly’s under regulated expenses regime.

We’re not talking about massive overruns on a £30 million public contract for instance. Nevertheless, as David Ford put it this morning:

“What last night did was raise a number of questions which need to be subjected to a proper inquiry,” he said.

“The system may be dysfunctional, but that doesn’t justify people pushing the boundaries to the edge of the system or possibly, as seemed to be alleged last night, beyond what is reasonable.”

Almost every case was a question of either putting the interest of party, or more often the individual MLA ahead of the public interest. In the case of the UUP it was handled incompetently, the DUP the intriguing question of wider relationships re-emerged, the SDLP just plain odd and with Sinn Fein the problem appears to be comprehensive and corporate.

The name of Research Services Ireland came up:

Over the past 10 years, 36 different Sinn Féin MLAs claimed about £700,000 in total through Stormont expenses to pay Research Services Ireland.

Martin McGuinness alone claimed £42,000 over 10 years for the expertise of the company.

The company is run by Seamus Drumm and Sinead Walsh, who are in charge of running Sinn Féin’s finance department in Northern Ireland.

That name will be familiar from the McDevitt ‘scandal’, where we pointed out there was only one serious issue in this regard.

Was there work done for that £700,000, or not? If not, then that money was claimed under false pretences. Likewise the fuel claims for Davy Hyland’s non existent use of fuel from Newry to Belfast.

No evidence we’ve seen suggests that Mr McDevitt did not have work done. Nevertheless, under extreme political pressure he resigned his seat and has now left politics.

What next? Well Sir Alistair Graham has already called for an inquiry into renting arrangements after last week’s programme. The sheer scale of this problem suggests that there’s need for a quick but thoroughly independent paper check inquiry into the legitimacy of expenses claimed.

That then should lead on to a comprehensive overhaul in the expenses regime.

What’s concerning is where the political will lies on this. With the exception of the Alliance and some of the smaller parties, everyone has some dirty washing here, though none on the Mumbai lunchbox scale that Sinn Fein have been practicing.

What’s frustrating here is that these are merely the foothills of the problem. If MLAs are so handily putting their own interests ahead of the public’s, what are the chances of them catching serious (ie, multi million pound) corruption within the system?

All across Europe (not just Northern Ireland) democracy is under siege, and public trust is falling… It’s important that the problem is not only recognised, corrected and then fixed but seen by the public to be so done.

All of this runs the risk that we get threatened with the ‘if you make us do the right thing we’ll all fall apart you won’t be able to fix us routine. That is a danger, and more than that neither Dublin nor London has the bandwidth they did a generation ago to broker a new fix.

Open government must start at home. That means raising expectations of government, not lowering them. And not treating Sinn Fein as though as a piece of a little bit weee and a little bit wooo style entertainment.

Genuine equality (ie, not the trojan horse type) means equality under the law first and foremost. If not, it’s not only not a trojan horse, it isn’t equality either.

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  • Dan

    Let your granny wait in agony for her hip to be replaced, or have her cataract removed whilst convicted thieves and murderers…alongside born again Christians…. loot the public purse.
    Shame the police are too invested in the ‘peace process’…. Let’s rename it the ‘fleece process’….to hold these people to account.

  • Metro

    I think the corporate and highly organised nature of this approach to claiming expenses is horrific and just shows how MLAs in Sinn Fein are expected to fit into what is a massive income generating activity for the party. I think it is legitimate to ask for evidence of what research was undertaken, but that will never get to the truth. What is the money being spent on? Is it legal? Who benefits? Are there risks – i.e. is it being stockpiled for other uses in the event Republicans are unable to answer the question “What is the point?” and could be used for illegal purposes? Direct rule please, now, for as long as possible. I think the whole current political class has collectively “jumped the shark” and teacher has to come back in to restore order.

  • Joe_Hoggs

    How much have the Civil Service who aid the running of each department contributed towards this problem?

  • Neil

    Some job they have, for their skillset. A decent wage and all the money you can spend. At least half of them wouldn’t survive the private sector. It must be very annoying for the Brits to have so comrehensively bribed the lot of them and yet they still can’t agree on the colour of sh**e. We need a cull on the hill for sure, how many people does it take to not agree on anything that doesn’t involve free money or good news photocalls?

  • barnshee

    Its very easy to unpick these process a good staring point is – ahem- TAX

    In no particular order

    The expense of travel to and from you place of work ( say Stormont) is not a deductible expense for Tax purposes . Any “monies” received for such “expenses” are taxable and also subject Nation Insurance payment (NICS) I am sure (ahahahahah) that the parties have all accounted for the appropriate tax charges.

    Research Services Ireland. have received £700,000 -comfortably placing them into the Value Added Tax (VAT) net. I am sure that the appropriate VAT has been paid to HMRC again along with any appropriate Corporation Tax,Income tax and NIC via the PAYE system (forgive another ahahahahahah)

    At a crude estimate (without access to the records hard to be exact ) Research Services will have paid/be liable for some £100,000 in VAT and (at SF av industrial wage levels) £160000-£170000 in Tax and NICS-= plus an unknown amount of Corporation tax (surely the company made a profit)

    The penalties for tax evasion are draconian- 100% of the tax avoided plus interest for the period involved Could a proper investigation recover millions for the taxpayer?

    Being knowingly concerned in tax evasion is a criminal offence What actions were undertaken by the officials in Stormont who processed and approved these payments? Could they also have their collar felt by the Taxman?

  • Morpheus

    I thought it was an excellent piece of investigative journalism. What they need to do now is have a deep independent audit to follow the money and see if rules/laws were broken. If laws were broken then the details should on to the PSNI for prosecution.

    However, on that front Julian O’Neil threw an interesting spanner in the works:

    https://twitter.com/julianoneill/status/537520546020610048?lang=en-gb

    If no rules were broken then they obviously need strengthening

  • Morpheus

    I don’t know about you but when I see shows on MLAs and hear some of the names I realise that I haven’t even heard of most of them! Would they be missed? I don’t think so

  • barnshee

    “wouldn’t survive the private sector”

    Bless you –with their skill set, struggling under the joint burdens of academic achievement and vast experience – they can now remove themselves from their (relatively) poorly paid posts- struggling on behalf of ungrateful constituents and move to highly remunerated posts elsewhere. Its the naughty step for you –at the very least –for suggesting otherwise

  • Practically_Family

    What we need is a good war. Or at least the potential for a good war. Somebody REALLY scary for all the people of the country to be afraid of. Because, let’s face it, no matter how much it’s hyped up, the interminable casualty trading with a bunch of loud, beardy fellows who are principally interested in Allah & goats just isn’t putting the willies up the population.

    Givvus a good war/threat of war and folks only concern with politicians will be whether or not they can deliver victory or, in the event it’s only the threat, prevent it all getting kinetic.

    Take away war and the people start to question what the rulers do for them. Not good for rulers, not good at all.

    To bring a swift end to all these problems… Find an imminent, believable, threat to the nation.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    “Find an imminent, believable, threat to the nation.”

    Stormont…..?

  • barnshee

    Don`t worry -I know a couple of retired Tax inspectors/Accountants who will do it for free

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

  • Morpheus

    It worked in the film “Independence Day”

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Barnshee, I don’t know about you, but I find myself looking forward with some relish to the day that that international statesman Peader Mac Spideog (Ir” Peter Son of a Robin”) is finally able to offer the wealth of experience on the open market that he has garnered while leading a significant nation. I look forward to the race to snap up such talent for those unique skills he may bring to the boards of important international concerns. All well wishers must long for the moment when finally he recieves proper recompense for his true value, and for all those years of selfless service that he has given to us all. The same must apply to his loyal deputy, also!

  • Sergiogiorgio

    Its interesting that Slugger and the politicians (no less) seem to be trying to talk this down. Do you remember the number of days the expenses scandal on the mainland played out on the front of then news sheets – duck houses et al. I’m absolutely seething that these useless idiots who don’t do their job are now also shown to be quite happily embezzling tax payer funds. We need a revolution folks….anything to get these scumbags out of power.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Hey Morph, they needed a useless old drunk waster to make that one work! Where would we find one of those?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Just a little communitarian anarchy, perhaps! The “revolution” is what we just had, if you are to believe all our Armani suited Chés. That’s what got us into this mess, Ollie!

  • Neil

    A Rupert Stanley alumni I believe. I recall his normally tempered response to some impertinent questions some time back, he could walk into a much better paid position tomorrow.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Some people miss Stalin, some Hitler, some Dev and Sir Basil, there’s no accounting for nostalgia……..

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Pity he restrained himself!

  • Gopher

    I believe now is the time for a no confidence referendum to be brought before the electorate. I also expect to see several MLA’s from the full political spectrum prosecuted. They won’t agree on anything ever the experiment has been tested to destruction and has failed. Direct rule with referendums on gay marriage, abortion and frackig etc please

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Don’t stop at that Gopher! Referendums on every significant item of legislation and the yearly appointment of ministers by lottery from the entire population to prevent any assured continuence in office and the consequent temptation to pilfer the public purse. This could be re-inforced with serious policing of public finances, and that way only the civil service would be in any position to draw on dangerious political patronage situations!

  • streetlegal

    The problem runs deeper – the Senior Civil Service has been complicit in the culture of corruption which underpins the whole Stormont system.

  • Sergiogiorgio

    A popular uprising then, without the armalites. A plaid revolution.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Please, no, streetlegal! I’m seriously shocked! It will take me some time to get my head around that one.

  • Nevin

    “Open government must start at home.”

    Perhaps more effort could be directed at opening up government. Part of this story is Bushmills Advice Centre for slow-learners: Episode 1 and Episode 2. Ironically, the current name on the premises is ‘Be Unique’.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    A while back I posted on Slugger something on P.J. O’Shea’s book “Eoghan Paor” where the hero becomes the richest man in the world and buys up all the land in Ireland over 600 foot. His fellow Irish speakers join him and simply ignore the world below for all practiacl purposes. The current withdrawal from voting of my more mature fellow citizens suggests to me that this real solutionto the problem is at last in process…….

  • Dan

    Add in the referendums on education….11+, end of segregated schooling…

  • barnshee

    Our only hope is that the annoying little Bxxxtxrd “Sunny” Jim will ferret out the details

  • kalista63

    Is that Latin for, down with this sort of thing?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Kind of….

  • Gopher

    Yes those would be easy enough to arrange and cheaper than having MLA’s who can’t get anything done but lining their own pockets. If these new super councils misbehave we can get rid of them as well

  • Niall Chapman

    haha

  • chrisjones2

    Spotlight alleged that SF were given a ‘no tax’ sweetheart deal by Hain

  • chrisjones2

    Thats why we need the National Crime Agency and why SF dont want it here

  • chrisjones2

    This money doesn’t seem to appear in SFs published accounts. So where does it go? South?

    If so are the Irish People happy that Brit funded SF is trying to take over their polity?

  • NMS

    Here is one who will happily assist!

  • Morpheus

    No, they have rejected the NCA so far because they don’t want a secret police force running the streets of Northern ireland which is not held to the same high standards of accountability and transparency as the PSNI. That hasn’t worked too well in the past.

    David Ford has recently put forward revised proposals to the parties which include ensuring that the NCA is accountable to the policy board so hopefully that will ease a few worries

  • barnshee

    ” loud, beardy fellows who are principally interested in Allah & goats just isn’t putting the willies up the population”

    Phew -Than goodness you clarified with “goats”—I thought for a moment you were talking about Saint Gerry

  • barnshee

    I volunteer

  • Barneyt

    Claim early and claim often….

  • Joe_Hoggs

    Is that appropriate language to be using when describing an elected representative who as of yet does not seem to have been embroiled in this controversy?

  • babyface finlayson

    Their corporation tax and VAT payments are listed as zero for the past 7 years. No profit and loss figures seem to be available.
    So Chris may be right that they have some kind of exemption

  • chrisjones2

    Thiunk of it ias a financial equivalent of OTRs

  • chrisjones2

    Nonsense…they have been offered all sorts of options and their clients don’t want any investigation of certain key organisations

  • Dan

    ‘If’?

    Surely you mean ‘when’?

  • Dan

    …amongst other things….

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Drat! And I was about to start the application form when I’d got to the end of my second bottle of Talisker! But hey, I was taught to fly in the combined cadet force, perhaps that might……

  • Morpheus

    *yawn*

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Ah, the “Get out of jail” free card in Monopoly. Were the OTR letters not substituted in the Belfast version of the game?

  • NMS

    Denis McShane did a spell in a Category A jail (Belmarsh) for far less than the type of money being discussed here. Ivor Callely did a spell in jail in Ireland for even less again. The allegations around Mr. Hyland’s expenses suggest organised fraud,

    As the BBC put it,

    Mr Hyland told the programme that shortly after he was deselected by the party and became an independent MLA, he received a phone call from the assembly finance team asking him to verify this mileage claim, of almost £5,000, which was about to be paid into Sinn Féin’s bank account in west Belfast.

    He told them he knew nothing about most of the mileage claimed.

    Mr Hyland claimed the form had been signed without his knowledge. He also claimed a senior member of Sinn Féin’s finance team then rang him and asked him to agree the expenses.

    He said he refused, the claim was never processed, and the money was never transferred into the Sinn Féin bank account

    The assembly told Spotlight the claim was never paid out and the assembly’s bribery and fraud response plan was initiated.

    Sinn Féin said they had no record of such an expenses application, and their records show no monies were drawn down on any such claim.

    Mr Hyland was in the assembly for four years. In that time £19,000 was claimed in his name for mileage.

    Mr Hyland said he did not use the bulk of the £19,000 of mileage claimed and he would not have knowingly signed off that amount.

    Maybe this is the type of equality Gerry wants – equality under the law, with good long sentences in Category A prisons.

  • aor26

    ”Was there work done for that £700,000, or not? If not, then that money was claimed under false pretences. ” Most likely there was work done. the real question is whether that work was value for money for the tax payer. Clearly more transparency is needed because more transparency would help quell the fears that people seem to have (possibly because they haven’t arrived in 2014 yet) that Sinn Fein are using public money to buy semtex

  • Metro

    PWC are sitting with a world renowned forensic accounting team in Belfast, but presume with the ban on hiring consultants this poor lonely accountant in PSNI will have to organise his table for one for the Christmas dinner..

  • barnshee

    “Their corporation tax and VAT payments are listed as zero for the past 7 years. No profit and loss figures seem to be available.”

    Then they need to be the subject of a tax audit ASAP

  • barnshee

    ” an elected representative who as of yet does not seem to have been embroiled in this controversy?”

    Precisely why I recommend the gentleman (even if he is an annoying little Bxxxtxrd)

  • barnshee
  • chrisjones2

    Yawn away. While you are sleeping you are bheing fleeced

  • Ulick

    “No evidence we’ve seen suggests that Mr McDevitt did not have work done. Nevertheless, under extreme political pressure he resigned his seat and has now left politics.”

    Nice bit of revisionism there Mick. However Mr McDevitt “came under extreme pressure” not because of the ‘expenses’ paid to his wife but because of unregistered payments of £thousands made to him by a PR company (for whom I think he is now officially working).

    As for the £700k over 10 years. That amounts to about £2k per MLA per year on average. I guesstimate that to pay two researchers about 35 hours each to research and compile a 30 page report. But then giving a one year research costing doesn’t sound quite so sensational.

  • chrisjones2

    We all owe a big vote of thanks to Arlene for the word ‘parasites’ in this context

    It seems so apt now

    “Parasite”

    noun

    1.

    an organism that lives on or in an organism of another species, knownas the host, from the body of which it obtains nutriment.

    2.

    a person who receives support, advantage, or the like, from another orothers without giving any useful or proper return, as one who lives onthe hospitality of others.

  • Dixie Elliott

    Away from the Spotlight….

  • Zeno3

    £700k for research and £350k to Lurgan Golf Club. Just those two things alone would have been enough for us to have bulbs in the street lights in Northern Ireland. The £13 million spent installing Water Meters which are never going to be use (wink*) would have allowed us to keep all the lights on all the time.

  • Dixie Elliott

    Meanwhile in Louth….

    Sinn Fein deputy Gerry Adams tops the TDs’ expenses and allowance payments for Louth deputies since the last general election.

    On top of the €87,258-a-year basic salary , the party president received €191,547 since the last general election in February 2011.

    Next is Peter Fitzpatrick, Fine Gael, on €187,357.

    Seamus Kirk, Fianna Fail, claimed €163,054.

    Labour deputy and junior minister at the Department for Jobs Enterprise and Employment, Ged Nash, claimed €172,324.

    Fergus O’Dowd, Fine Gael, claimed just €71,158.

    http://www.dundalkdemocrat.ie/news/local-news/adams-tops-the-expenses-chart-for-louth-tds-1-6437666

  • ted hagan

    Well done Spotlight for an excellent investigation. Great to see some real journalism. What a racket

  • puffen

    It would appear that through its subvention of SF,now the richest party on the Island, the British Government is destabilising a friendly state,

  • Thomas Girvan

    Unfortunately, there are no reports, and there is no evidence that any research was actually done.
    £700,000 is a lot of money, and don’t forget, it is our money, and it should be spent on public services.
    There are plenty of researchers at Stormont and plenty of SPADS, getting £80.000 p.a. so why do Sinn Fein need hypothetical researchers to produce non existent research at the cost of 100s of thousands of pounds from the hard pressed public funds?
    I’m no Lieutenant Colombo, but it stinks.
    The police should round them all up and have a mass trial as they do with the Mafia in Sicily.
    They need to be publically humiliated!
    (I have a dream…..!)

  • Thomas Girvan

    Unus est et qui custos est Jim Allister!

  • Dixie Elliott

    Our pay will come….

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Egomet mihi non credo eo, timeo praeterita!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Easier said than done…….

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Perhaps Cerberus Capital management LP, now that they have bought up most of the Wee Six will look into this privately, in order to ensure that their investments are going to be sound. After all, the pensions of numerious state and federal employees across the U.S. will depend on the success of this investment, and it’s in no ones interest for then to have to work through financially undependable middle management at the local end (Stormont!)

    http://www.cerberuscapital.com/news/nama_announces_sale_of_northern_ireland_loan_portfolio

  • chrisjones2

    …and the British Government which stuck a big money pipe into Sinn Fein and bought its allegiance to the system

    That’s the delicious irony. They have bought SF and now SF is using that money to fuind its expansion in the Republic

  • NMS

    @ Barnshee, Public reps place of employment is normally deemed to be their constituency, not the Parliament building. Some continental countries get over this issue by giving each elected person a free public travel pass.

    UKNI is such a small place, I can’t imagine that many assembly members live that far from the bus or train.