A Stormont proposal would see MLAs be allowed to claim for one family holiday a year under the Assembly’s expense rules, a leaked report has revealed.
The proposal – which has cross-party support – is contained within a report which argues that it is in the interests of good government for MLAs to be refreshed once a year and that a foreign trip would be particularly beneficial.
The report, which was carried out by management consultants Blu Sky Thinking, was commissioned by the cross-party Assembly Commission, but it was not published before the Assembly was dissolved on Tuesday. The cost of the report has not been disclosed but is understood to be a five-figure sum.
A source who leaked the report to the News Letter said that some politicians had been fearful of the issue emerging as a matter of public debate before next month’s election.
MLAs in the next Assembly – which is to be elected on May 5 – will have to decide on whether to approve the report’s recommendations.
But the report’s authors say in the document that all of the major parties expressed support for the idea.
But Green Party leader Steven Agnew objected to the idea. Mr Agnew said that using public money to fly MLAs and their families abroad was “nonsensical” at a time when the UK was meant to be contributing to cutting carbon emissions.
But the report’s authors said that the vast majority of MLAs had been clear that they could only escape the stresses of the job and the constant pressure of public attention if they were able to get away from the British Isles.
The report’s authors recommended that expenses should only be used to pay for a partner and two children to accompany each MLA, arguing that paying for the holidays of large numbers of children would be “prohibitive”.
However, although there is strong support for the proposal among Stormont politicians, one aspect of the proposal led to friction among unionists and nationalists.
The report’s authors said that an unnamed senior unionist MLA had suggested that as British taxpayers’ money was involved, any expense claims should be restricted to holidays booked within the Commonwealth or British Overseas Territories such as the Falkland Islands and Gibraltar.
But when nationalist MLAs were consulted about the idea, they said that such a move was “politically restrictive” and suggested that the claims should only apply to holidays booked on the island of Ireland.
However, in the end all sides were able to compromise on a proposal that holidays could be taken anywhere in the world.
Last night all of Stormont’s main parties declined to comment on the proposal.