Irony-free Sinn Féin MLA to repay £900 postage bill

The BBC reports that Sinn Féin MLA Barry McElduff has agreed to repay nearly £900 in postage costs claimed from Northern Ireland Assembly allowances.  The cost relates to a circular letter sent in June to over 1000 households in the Drumragh electoral ward in Omagh, County Tyrone, complaining that “the Tories are robbing the assembly and every government department of a workable and sustainable budget”.  For which the Sinn Féin MLA subsequently claimed the costs back from charged the costs to public funds… [Update It looks like pre-paid NI Assembly envelopes may have been used]

From the BBC report

He had sent some of his constituents letters urging them to “stand united together against Tory cuts”.

The rules say Stormont allowances must not be used to purchase or post items of a political or personal nature.

They also prohibit charging the assembly for identical circulars sent to a number of addresses.

Mr McElduff posted his letters in June to hundreds of households in the Drumragh electoral ward in Omagh, County Tyrone.

The letters highlighted the lack of maintenance for street lights and potholes.

The Sinn Féin MLA claimed “the Tories are robbing the assembly and every government department of a workable and sustainable budget”.

The BBC report notes that, following a complaint from UUP MLA Ross Hussey, the NI Assembly Standards Commissioner Douglas Bain “found that the letters were circulars, so should not have been charged to the assembly”.

The NI Assembly Committee on Standards and Privileges’ report on the complaint notes

  • The total cost to the taxpayer of sending the letters, inclusive of VAT but exclusive of staff and other costs, was between £876.77 and £899.91.
  • Mr McElduff is willing to repay the cost of sending the letters if it is found that his actions were in breach of the Code of Conduct.

5.         Mr McElduff told the Commissioner that when he decided to send the letters he did not consider them to be circulars.  Mr McElduff said that they were an attempt to engage with the constituents of the Drumragh Ward on issues that were of importance to them.  However, when the Commissioner referred to the definition of a circular in paragraph 28.12 of the Handbook (set out above) Mr McElduff  said that he would ‘want to reflect’ on whether the letters were within that definition.    He said he had taken a conscious decision to use first-class envelopes for all the letters because it ‘was a better message to the receiving party than to send a second-class envelope’.  Mr McElduff stated that if he was found to have breached the rules he would regret that and that he would be willing to repay any improper expenditure.

6.         The Commissioner has told the Committee that he has no doubt that the letters issued by Mr McElduff were circulars as defined in paragraph 28.12 of the handbook.  As stationery supplied by the Assembly Office Resources team must not be used to issue circulars the Commissioner is satisfied that Mr McElduff contravened the provisions of the Handbook and so breached the Code of Conduct. [added emphasis throughout]

The committee report ends by reminding MLAs of the rules

The Committee takes this opportunity to remind Members that stationery supplied by the Assembly Office Resources team must not be used to issue circulars.  The cost of purchasing and posting items of a political or personal nature must not be claimed from OCE under any circumstances.  In fact, all expenditure from OCE must be wholly, exclusively and necessarily incurred by Members in relation to their role as a Member of the Legislative Assembly, as opposed to any personal capacity or in a party political role, or in any other official role. [added emphasis]

As for standing “united together against Tory cuts”…

“The recent deal between the parties ties the hands of the Northern Ireland Executive in the face of further and deeper Tory austerity cuts in the future” [Unite the union]

[Keep her lit, Barry! – Ed]  After all, someone else is paying the fuel bill…