N. Ireland Politics

Costing a mint to keep MLAs sweet

Image caption Jim Allister is concerned about the cost of assembly members' sweet consumption

It seems our MLAs have a bit of sweet tooth - and it hasn't gone unnoticed.

The TUV leader Jim Allister, the self-styled opposition, has observed that MLAs often make a bee-line for the bowls of complimentary mints on the Speaker's desk.

And he's been asking questions.

The assembly, in a written answer, has informed him that MLAs have munched their way through almost £1,000 worth of mints since 2009.

"One could say it costs a mint to keep MLAs sweet," Mr Allister said.

In 2009/10, the cost of the mints was around £288. The following year, it was around £244 and rose to £271 in 2011/12. Between April 2012 and January 2013, a further £176 was spent.

That's a grand total of about £980.

Mr Allister said it undermined Stormont's dignity to have the mints supplied on the Speaker's table, adding that members should bring their own mints as they were well-paid.

"In my time I've uncovered more important things but I think it is intriguing the assembly thinks it is appropriate to supply mints to MLAs. Some of them seem to gravitate towards the mint tray," he added.

But is this a case of a mountain out of a minthill?

The independent unionist Basil McCrea said Mr Allister was right to ask questions - but the matter was rather trivial.

"This is not the sort of thing we should be looking at," said Mr McCrea.

"The sum of money are so small. It really isn't an issue. It is right to hold the assembly to account."

But there are much more serious issues we have to deal with.

"Well some people would say I'm a bit of a sourpuss over many things and I suppose one of my purposes of being at Stormont is to shine a light in places where some people wouldn't like it shone," Mr Allister said.

At least if MLAs do discuss the issue again - they'll have minty fresh breath.