The Assembly authorities have cleared Sinn Fein over claims of almost £700,000 in expenses for research by a company run by the party’s finance managers.
The decision – which only emerged after TUV leader Jim Allister asked questions about what was going on – follows an investigation set up in response to a BBC Spotlight programme in 2014.
The programme revealed that 36 Sinn Féin MLAs claimed almost £700,000 in total from public funds to pay Research Services Ireland (RSI) over a decade.
Spotlight said at the time that it was unable to find any evidence of research that had been carried out by RSI, while a Sinn Féin MLA was reported to have said they had never heard of the company until they saw it on their annual expenses.
Mr Allister said: “It is remarkable that the Assembly would take such an attitude with taxpayers’ money without explaining how they reached the view that the expenditure was ‘admissible’.
“The BBC programme demonstrated large sums of public money was claimed in dubious circumstances, yet nothing has been done about it. Little wonder Stormont is now a byword for not just failure, but squander.”
In response to Mr Allister’s questions, the Assembly Commission – the cross-party body of MLAs which runs Parliament Buildings – said that it had investigated the issues and that “confirmed that payments for research services, as reported in the programme, were made for admissible expenditure up to and including the 2012/13 financial year. As such, no recovery has been sought.
“No payments to Research Services Ireland for work undertaken after 31 December 2012 have been made as a result of changes to the system of financial support for Members that were introduced by the Independent Financial Review Panel from 1 January 2013.”