Northern Ireland

Commission denies breaching rule on expenses

Parliament Buildings
Image caption The Assembly Commission denies it made unlawful payments to a research company

The Assembly Commission has said expenses of £150,000 were paid out on a contract which pre-dated a ban on such payments.

On Sunday, an assembly watchdog said the commission had paid the figure to Research Services Ireland for work carried out for Sinn Féin MLAs.

Pat McCartan, chair of the Independent Financial Review Panel, said these payments had been banned in April 2012.

However, the commission said this payment was for a pre-dated contract.

A spokesperson for the Assembly Commission said: "Media reports over the weekend have stated that the Assembly Commission unlawfully made payments of approximately £150,000. This is simply not the case.

"The Independent Financial Review Panel made a determination in 2012, that stated an MLA could not recover expenditure in relation to a contract for goods or services with a connected person entered into on or after 1 April 2012.

"The £150,000 in this case was for goods or services relating to contracts made before this time. The real issue in this case is when the contract was signed and not when the payments were made."

Image caption Pat McCartan was speaking on Sunday Politics

On Sunday, Pat McCartan, chair of Independent Financial Review Panel, said the commission was wrong to approve the expenses payments.

"We made a determination which started from 1 April 2012 and which outlawed payments made to companies like RSI," he told the BBC's Sunday Politics programme.

"Yet it appears from information I now have that payments have been made up to the end of December of that year."

Mr McCartan said there must be no misinterpretation of his panel's rulings on expenses.

The Assembly Commission, which runs Stormont, is chaired by the speaker and includes MLAs representing the five main parties.

Earlier on Monday, Speaker Mitchel McLaughlin said the commission had done nothing wrong.

Sinn Féin MLA Caitriona Ruane, who is on the Assembly Commission, asked the speaker to confirm that the assembly finances were audited internally and externally.

'Integrity'

Mr McLaughlin confirmed this was the case and said he had "double and triple checked it".

The DUP's chief whip, Peter Weir, told the chamber that the allegations which had been made were "erroneous and mischievous" and had "struck at the integrity of the assembly".

Mr Weir said the panel had "made a mistake in terms of drafting" in their March 2012 determination and said a fresh determination had been made in December 2012 to deal with the "apparent ambiguity" in the first determination.

However, Mr McCartan said the panel stood by its claims.

"I'm aware of the remarks and quite happy this matter is given a public airing," he added.

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