There is no question that Jim Allister MLA is right to say that the Assembly Commission should not have cleared Sinn Fein over payments to a firm run by leading party figures.
Mr Allister’s verdict was shared by Pat McCartan, who is in charge of making rulings about MLAs’ allowances.
No action will be taken to recover the £150,0000 in expenses paid to Research Services Ireland (RSI) after rules were chanced to rule out explicitly these payments.
It is not good enough to be told that the system will be tightened and that this will not happen again. The money must be reclaimed on behalf of the taxpayer.
Stormont has long been cavalier with taxpayers’ money, spending on one populist scheme after another, including free prescriptions (which, as a school pupil could have told them, has increased demand for prescriptions). But this affair has shown specific laxness over spending on expenses.
Mr McCartan’s Independent Financial Review Panel, which was set up almost five years ago, is due to be wound up.
It makes the rules on expenses, and it supported an increase in pay for MLAs alongside a cut in expenses. This was the right approach to adopt. Stormont badly needs talented people from a range of different backgrounds and ages to help improve the quality of our political life.
However, many professionals are understandably reluctant to damage their careers by entering a line of work as volatile and unpredictable as elected office. Increased pay is legitimate in such circumstances, including perhaps unpopular small payments for those who suddenly lose office in an election, to help them until they find work again.
Northern Ireland does not need vast expenses for those MLAs to fund unnecessary researchers that they tend not to use or for parties to have multiple offices all over the Province or to be able to fund endless self-promoting literature.
The payments to RSI were a particularly egregious example of a wider problem that must now be ended.