Northern Ireland

Stormont expenses: 'Assembly should move to Westminster system'

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Media captionFirst Minister Arlene Foster was responding to concerns from a parliamentary watchdog about Stormont expenses

Northern Ireland's First Minister Arlene Foster has said Stormont should move to an expenses system similar to that at Westminster.

Her comments came in the midst of a controversy surrounding MLAs' expenses.

Following a 2014 BBC Spotlight programme, police examined allegations Sinn Féin had claimed almost £700,000 for research by a company run by the party's finance managers.

The Assembly Commission said that the party had done nothing wrong.

'Integrity'

The commission is the body that runs Stormont and is responsible for the building, its staff and the services required for the assembly to carry out its functions.

It is chaired by Assembly Speaker Mitchel McLaughlin, from Sinn Féin, and consists of another five MLAs from each of the largest parties in Stormont.

Image caption The Westminster expenses watchdog has expressed concerns over the way some MLAs have been overturning refusals of their claims

Speaking in the Assembly on Tuesday, Mrs Foster said: "There is a necessity now to review what has occurred and to move forward from there, because we need to protect individual members as well as the integrity of the assembly."

Mrs Foster said the last time the expenses issue had been prominent, her Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) had suggested moving to a model like Westminster's Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority.

"At that time we didn't receive support in relation to that suggestion and perhaps the other parties might like to look at it again now," she added.

Earlier on Tuesday, details emerged of how the Westminster expenses watchdog had voiced concern about the way some Stormont MLAs have been overturning refusals of their claims.

Meeting

The Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said he was always open to "listening to advice and the example from other places".

He said that in his view it "clearly" wasn't the case that MLAs were "feathering their own nest".

However Mr McGuinness said: "To allay the concerns the public may have, let's look at how we can do things better."

The Assembly Speaker has called a meeting of the Assembly Commission on Wednesday to address concerns about the MLAs' expenses regime.

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