Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

McAteer calls for cap on expenses as local MLA figures top £3.5 million

A local Independent councillor has called for changes to the expenses system for Stormont MLAs after recent figures revealed that Newry and Armagh MLAs alone have claimed over £3.5 million in expenses between them in the last 5 years.

Since 2011, the MLAs in question – the SDLP’s Dominic Bradley and Karen McKevitt,  Sinn Fein’s Mickey Brady, Conor Murphy, Cathal Boylan and Megan Fearon, UUP’s Danny Kennedy and DUP MLA William Irwin – have claimed the whopping total of £3,572,886.77 in addition to the basic annual MLA salary of £48,000.

The issue of politicians’ expenses claims has long been the subject of much debate and it came under the spotlight again in February when the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) voiced concerns over Stormont MLA’s expenses , in particular about the way some MLAs were successfully overturning refusal of their claims.

Newry Independent councillor Kevin McAteer, who donates his expenses as a councillor to local charities, says ordinary working people will be shocked at the figures for local MLAs, which he describes as “scandalous amounts of money.”

Speaking to The Examiner about the issue of expenses claims in all levels of government, Mr McAteer said that it adds to the general “apathy” among voters towards Stormont and their own local MLAs.

“I’ve spoken to many people who are opting out of voting this year because they are sick and tired of Stormont and our MLAs and the scandal of expenses claims only compounds that attitude,” he said.

“A lot of people view Stormont as a money box, with MLAs arguing over petty sectarian and divisive issues and claiming a fortune while doing so. It’s leading to a total lack of confidence and belief in Stormont and that’s a major cause for concern.”

Calling for the introduction of a cap on expenses claims among MLAs,  councillor McAteer added,

“The whole system of claiming expenses needs reviewed.  There is a definite need for tighter regulations and some sort of cap or limit on expenses claims.  What sort of message do these extortionate figures send out to ordinary working people and families, many of whom are surviving on half of an MLA’s salary alone?

“Look at all the money MLAs are receiving and while services are being stripped from our local hospitals.  Our roads are in a terrible state, public services are being cut, people are struggling to make ends meet, and all the while our MLAs are lining their pockets.  It’s not right and people deserve better than this from their political representatives.”