“Sinn Féin were not in court today. Councillor Kelly was, and he was acquitted of all charges.”

Entirely unrelated to Sinn Féin’s opposition to welfare reform… Last week a Deputy District Magistrate in Londonderry acquitted Sinn Féin Councillor Colin Kelly on charges of fraudulently claiming over £19,000 in Housing Benefit and Job Seekers Allowance between November 2010 and March 2014 – when he was a member of Derry City Council.  He is currently a councillor on the new Derry City and Strabane District Council for which the basic allowance is £14,200 p.a. – up from the previous allowance of £9,835 a year.  His defence makes for interesting reading.

From a 16 July Belfast Live report

At a contested hearing today at Derry Magistrate’s Court defence counsel Mr Stephen Mooney said the facts were not in dispute but the issue was whether there was any element of dishonesty in Cllr Kelly’s actions.

Giving evidence on his own behalf Cllr Kelly said he had been claiming Job Seekers Allowance since 2008.

He said he was co-opted onto Derry City Council in 2010 and received an allowance which went straight into a bank account to which he had no access whatsoever.

In answer to Mr Mooney the councillor said that he had no ‘card, no cheque book no access at all’ to this particular account and that all his allowance went straight to Sinn Fein.

He told the court he had been re-elected to the council in 2011 and 2014 and received expenses from the party for his travel and his telephone.

Which is odd for a number of reasons.  [No Average Industrial Wage?! – Ed]  Apparently not…  And Local District Councillors are entitled to claim, from the Council, expenses for travel and other costs.  Derry City Council appear to have been reticent about publishing the details of councillor expenses, but the figures for Strabane District Council are available.

In 2013/14 Strabane councillors claimed between £246.35 and £6,200.82 in travel expenses [pdf file], a total of £36,488.52, at an average of £2,280.53 per councillor.  If Councillor Kelly claimed travel expenses from Derry City Council, it may have gone straight to that Sinn Féin account too.

Even without additional expenses, the basic councillors allowance for 3.5 years amounts to roughly £34,400.  [That’s a nice profit for the party! – Ed]  Indeed.

Back to the report from the court,

The Sinn Fein councillor said that when he became aware of the situation that he might be doing something wrong he tried to rectify it and had been paying back £85 a month since the start of this year.

Which, in the case of £19,000, would take him 223.5 months, or over 18 years to repay…  His current basic allowance as a councillor is £14,200 a year.

The Belfast Live report again

In response to questions from prosecution counsel Mr Conor Gillespie the councillor said he had ‘made a mistake’ in not declaring he was doing unpaid work.

He added that as he was not receiving any money personally he did not believe there had been a change in circumstances.

Except that the work wasn’t ‘unpaid’.  He had chosen to donate his ‘pay’ to Sinn Féin.  And continued to claim benefits to supplement that decision.

In summing up Mr Mooney for the Sinn Fein councillor said that 95% of the Crown case had been proved but ‘there has to be dishonesty’.

He told the judge: “If your worship entertains any reasonable doubt about that the defendant is entitled to the credit for that.”

Deputy District Judge Brian Archer said Kelly had been in receipt of money that had not been declared.

He said if the money had been paid directly to Kelly he would have convicted but added that he had ‘a lurking doubt’ and the prosecution had not proved their case.

Acquitting the councillor of the offences the judge said that in light of the fact that the money was paid to Sinn Fein the party should consider repaying the outstanding debt.

The Belfast Live report ends with a quote about that point from a Sinn Féin spokesperson

When asked about the judge’s remarks about the party repaying the money Cllr Kelly said that was a matter for the party.

A Sinn Féin spokesperson told Belfast Live: “Sinn Féin were not in court today. Councillor Kelly was, and he was acquitted of all charges.”

, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

  • Robin Keogh

    The key sentence in all the above is …. ‘the prosecution have not proved their case’ Next.

  • barnshee

    “Deputy District Judge Brian Archer said Kelly had been in receipt of money that had not been declared.

    He said if the money had been paid directly to Kelly he would have convicted but added that he had ‘a lurking doubt’ and the prosecution had not proved their case.”

    Shinners funded by UK taxpayer -no change there then

  • It’s not the prosecution case that’s the point of interest here, Robin. It’s the defence.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    Since this is an “allowance” rather than a salary, I trust that the local councils pay these stipends gross of tax and national insurance. Are such allowances taxable; and given that the amount appears to be in excess of the annual tax-free allowance has the councillor submitted a tax return to HMRC ?

  • Slater

    Hard to believe any of this unless it is standard practice that all salaries paid to Sinn Fein’s elected representatives go straight to the Bank of the Springfield Road: that is everything paid (councillors pay is taxable – not an allowance – so it would be the net amount).
    Why then would the ‘bank’ not pay the supposed industrial wage back to the councillor unless continuing benefit claims are regarded as reasonable?
    If true, it means that the party knows it can make off with the whole amount since the state will cough up the same or more from the welfare budget.
    Makes it difficult for those DSD officials who risk a prosecution only to find a judge listens more to mitigation of the weakest kind.

  • james

    I’m no lawyer, but I would have thought that whilst on this day Sinn Fein weren’t in the dock perhaps they should have been. It seems clear enough that Kelly was receiving money to which he was not entitled, and that Sinn Fein were the beneficiary of that. Wouldn’t that make them vicariously liable? Or at least endow upon them a duty to educate Kelly as to how the (fairly simple) system works, given that he apparently lacks the sophistication to understand the regulations ( which we must assume in the absence of proven dishonesty). It also raises the question as to how much Sinn Fein know about how their own invincible money-making fund raising machine actually works – and from where it draws revenue. If they were ignorant as to how Kelly was finding his tributes, might they also be unknowingly receiving funds from fuel-laundering and all sorts of border shenanigans? Surely they should be concerned about this, given their feelings on austerity. After all, the costs of all such scams ultimately get passed on to the voters.

  • james

    “all his allowance went straight to Sinn Fein”

    I’d say that is the key takeaway. Why, in these times of austerity, are Sinn Fein apparently sucking money, to which they are not entitled, out of the public purse?

    Nothing to see here? Really, Robin…

  • Robin Keogh

    I would have thought that in court case the most important part is the conclusion? And the conclusion of the court seems to be, no case to answer? Or do we suspend such realities when it comes to Shinners?

  • chrisjones2

    So how many other Shinners are having their whole salary or expenses from the assembly or parliament or Europe remitted direct to the party and then get a separate allowance from the party

    Is tax is being evaded on this way ie is this structured as donations to charitable bodies for which tax relief can be claimed?

    How many others are then claiming benefits from the state or tax credits because of their ‘low income’ when that income is being siphoned off to SF?

    One can now see why they oppose welfare reform

  • chrisjones2

    Are you proud to be a member of a party that does this?

  • james

    Nope. The entire process in arriving at the conclusion to each unique case is important. That is how case law is made. It is not at all ‘no case to answer’, what saved Kelly was the difficulty of proving his ‘intention’ to be dishonest. Equally, Sinn Fein could hide behind a defence of ignorance, but the interesting question here is are they entitled to be ignorant about the origin of their funding when such has been shown to be obtained illegally?

  • Would the money not have had to be paid ‘directly’ to Kelly in the first instance (perhaps resting in his account) before being paid to SF, or are benefits being paid directly to SF account? If Kelly then choses to pay that money to SF that is up to him. But he was still ‘paid’ at some point. Not sure what wasn’t proven here. Wonder if this will be appealed?

  • chrisjones2

    Are they doing this in Ireland as well. Do SF members donate all their salaries then sponge on the state?

  • chrisjones2

    As this situation exists we now know that SF as a party have a direct corporate interest in the continuance of the current welfare regime. So how many SF MLAs have declared an interest? Do they not have to resile fromnvoting on something in which they have a direct pecuniary interest?

  • james

    Sorta like Robin Hood, but in reverse. Appropriating public funds for the private ’cause’. And justifying it by calling him Robin Og Hood.

  • james

    Exactly. And if it was paid directly to SF, perhaps they should have been in the dock. I’m sure the DPP will be all over this.

  • ranger1640

    So let me get this straight, I can sign on and continue to sign on while giving a group the fruits of my labour or let’s call it represent an organization. And as long as I get my remuneration paid into the account of this organization and take expenses then according to the court I am not breaking the law??? And the other organization is not required to pay the monies back less the expenses???

    Where do I sign on.

  • ranger1640

    I would have thought that thedissenter, I thought there were money laundering laws that would prevent the processes above.

  • james

    Tiocfeadh ar money.

  • ranger1640

    If it is this easy to take money out of of the system to prop up political parties then I am now all for welfare reform. I think I will send the link to this thread to the DWP, as an example to why we need welfare reform.

  • Dan

    …and pigs will fly

  • Surveyor

    Welfare reform and this incident aren’t really related are they? And sending this to the DWP won’t make much difference either I’d suspect.

  • ranger1640

    Obviously there is a loophole in the system that needs closed.
    The E-mail, with links to this thread and the media reports are with the DWP, its the lawful thing to do.

  • ranger1640

    Obviously there is a loophole in the system that needs closed.
    The E-mail, with links to this thread and the media reports are with the DWP, its the lawful thing to do after all the shinners support the rule of law including benefit laws.

  • chrisjones2

    Did SF give evidence in support of the Councillor ?

  • Robin Keogh

    I dunno Chris, i wasnt there. Phone the judge and ask him

  • Catcher in the Rye

    Hmm, no.

    It is the business of a councillor, like any other individual, to donate money which is lawfully is to whom he wishes. This does not allow said individual to evade tax or to claim benefits to which he/she is not entitled.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    There isn’t a loophole in the system. The litigant failed to establish that there was any wrongdoing.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    Money laundering is the process of disguising the proceeds of crime as legitimate cash. What proceeds of crime are you referring to here ?

  • ranger1640

    I see he was claiming travel and a phone i have a few questions…..
    When I claim my travel expenses I have to fill in a form and make a declaration it is then counter signed by 2 managers, did he have to fill in a form and make a declaration???
    And who does the auditing of these claims????

    He is unemployed yet he claimed travel??? Was that for a car or bus journeys???? Not forgetting the fact that he is on job seekers allowance and housing benefit.

    As for the phone does he get paid for the calls he made at home or on a mobile??? Why could he not use the phone at his and the shinners well equipped office???
    Did the taxpayer put in a phone at his house maybe with broadband??? Did the taxpayer supply him a mobile phone???

    So many questions.

  • Surveyor

    So many potentially libellous questions as he was acquitted by the Judge in court.

  • chrisjones2

    I notice you haven’t answered Robin. Has Connolly House not agreed a line yet?

  • chrisjones2

    If he donates all his allowances / pay to his party and then claims benefits from the state then perhaps we should all set up similar arrangements nd do the same

  • Janos Bingham

    Scam Fein:

    ‘……But will anyone here object if, with a ballot paper in this hand and a stuffed brown paper envelope in the other, we take power in Ireland?’

  • Granni Trixie

    Whilst “welfare reform” to some is a euphemism for Tory cuts,many do think that the system requires reforms to counteract abuses. So even though the judge found the case not proven in a common sense way it is still legit to say that this incident illustrates abuse and the need for reform. Geddit?

  • Jag

    Isn’t it strange that any governmental organisation would pay the salary of an employee, not to the employee themselves, but to a political organisation. I’ve never come across that in the private sector, and indeed I would have thought there was some employment or tax or money laundering law provision which would stop it. As an employer I need show payment to the employee, not their representative.

    If the salary/allowance had been paid to the employee in the above case, there would not have been any defence to the charges, because they could hardly claim they hadn’t received the money.

    I know the context to this is that SF ensures that party members aren’t paid more than the average wage (so as to ensure the members remain grounded in the living conditions of their core constituents, they would say) and by paying salaries into a central account, SF can ensure that members are paid the correct policy amount. But the policy wouldn’t prevent the requirement that members have their own accounts to directly receive salary payments, and the member then needing to transfer the entire balance to the party.

  • Surveyor

    No I don’t “geddit” and I don’t care for your tone either.

  • Robin Keogh

    Awaiting instructions here….baaaa

  • Lorcs1

    Those who vote for SF in NI are also UK taxpayers. Are you saying that the party shouldn’t be funded due to their (and their 1000’s voters) political beliefs?

  • Granni Trixie

    Don’t worry, it’s not a biggie.

  • Lorcs1

    In this instance, it sounds to me like the Councillor has been doing the double and the two questions that need answered are: Did he benefit from his actions? and where his actions an intentional effort to defraud the benefits system?

    From the court ruling, it seems as though he did not benefit, nor could it be proved that he had intentionally tried to defraud the system.

    From any anecdotal reports in the media, Sinn Fein are awash with money, including donations from the Irish-American community in the US. Why would they risk opening themselves up to potential scrutiny/scandal like this over a few 000’s to be gained by getting their members to do the double?

    The issue with bringing in something like their Average Industrial Wage policy, they are putting themselves on a pedestal for people to take pop-shots at. When something like this happens, political opponents (and by the looks of it, most Slugger Commenters) jump all over it with cries of corruption and accusations of Sinn Fein being a huge money making behemoth, out to try and bring down the British state bit-by-bit, including getting their Councillors to claim housing benefits.

    In my opinion it sounds like the Councillor in question, has made a mistake, although whether he acted in full or partial ignorance of the financial rules/regulations, only he will know.

  • barnshee

    If the rest of the parties are funded by the state then -OK

  • barnshee

    I presume his “claims” have been withdrawn/reduced now that he has disclosed his ” paid employment “

  • Reader

    I am not sure a question can be libellous.
    But if I’m ever up before the judge on a fraudulent claims case, I must remember to try the “thick as champ” defence; though it might only work for a Councillor.

  • ranger1640

    Dear, dear me the case is in the public domain and when you ask questions all of a sudden the shinners go on the attack.

    Maybe if people had asked more questions the poor might have an extra £20K to help child poverty, but as long as the shinners, their prisoners and their research groups are well funded who cares about the 46% child poverty in west Belfast.

  • Robin Keogh

    Mate, they would blame us Shinners on the cricifixtion of our Lord if they thought it might stick

  • Lorcs1

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a shinner. I am a republican, a nationalist, and previously a Sinn Fein voter. I also agree with a lot of their policies etc. and as such I have voted Sinn Fein in the past, and may do in the future.

    I also disagree with some of their policies and stances. E.g. constantly saying the “North of Ireland” instead of Northern Ireland. The Deputy First Minister of the country should at very least be able to say the name of the country.

    That said Robin, I do get the point that some unionists will always consider anything that SF do or say will always be wrong. It really gets in the way of reasoned debate. I also think that some of more conservative values (e.g. Gay Marriage/Welfare reform) proferred by the unionist parties and their members, are given extra impoteus primarily because Sinn Fein hold an opposite viewpoint.

  • “In my opinion it sounds like the Councillor in question, has made a mistake, although whether he acted in full or partial ignorance of the financial rules/regulations, only he will know.”

    Oh, he made a mistake all right.

    He didn’t declare what he considered to be his ‘unpaid’ work as a representative of the public because he was donating all of his pay to his party.

    Then he continued to claim from the welfare system on the basis that he was still looking for work.

    Let’s hope that, in his ‘unpaid’ work, he wasn’t advising too many people about their own positions in relation to welfare claims.

    The question remains, however, as to why, as an elected representative, he didn’t qualify for his party’s average industrial wage…

  • james

    Is it the case that Sinn Fein are operating as a kind of business whose staff work primarily in a ‘volunteer’ capacity to gain publically paid positions as a means of generating revenue for the party, or business entity, in the form of state salaries? How very odd. It would indeed be interesting to hear exactly what kind of advice Mr Kelly was giving/would give to constituents who were confused about how best to ‘optimize’ the system.

  • It is not money laundering, but if payment is direct to Kelly then this is benefit fraud. If paid direct to SF it would be highly irregular – bit like gangmasters being paid benefits direct and paying workers only essentials.