MLAs come out fighting in Stormont travel expenses row

TWO Fermanagh MLAs have defended their decision to obtain travel allowances of over £6,000 each solely for travel to Stormont – the highest figures claimed by any Assembly representatives
The travel allowance was paid to MLAs for travelling to Stormont between the last election in March 2017 and June 2018 despite the North being without a functioning government since January 2017.
Fermanagh and South Tyrone representatives UUP’s Rosemary Barton and Sinn Fein’s Jemma Dolan are among those who claimed the highest amount this year, while Sinn Fein’s Sean Lynch and Colm Gildernew also claimed travel expenses. The costs are based on “existing mileage allowances for an estimated 72 return journeys per annum from constituency offices to Parliament Buildings.”
Dylan Quinn, founder of the We Deserve Better Campaign expressed his frustration at the expenses, saying:  “I think the MLAs are failing to understand the damage this is doing to the division of politics. They are not appreciating the frustration of people who are seeing MLAs receiving a full salary for a job that they are not doing to its full capacity. 
“Claiming full expenses is demonstrating to the public that they just do not care which might not be the reality but I think this is the perception of abuse of the system, and how they are caring for public money and their mandate. I think it is undermining the values people have in political representatives.”
MLA Rosemary Barton explained that she travels to Stormont to ‘continue to be briefed with charities, lobbyists, constituents and individuals.’
“I wish to make clear that I believe the Assembly should be in place and operational. As MLAs we need to discuss matters with Department officials – some aspects they don’t have the power to progress given that there hasn’t been any previous Ministerial direction given on them, and would therefore require a policy decision.”
Sinn Fein MLA Jemma Dolan also defended the cost of the expenses saying that ‘Stormont is not lying empty as people believe.’
“I am in Stormont two or three days a week meeting stakeholders, charities and a variety of organisations. Party meetings are going on, and I am the spokesman on united Ireland and the border poll and other things that require me to be up there. 
“It is 112 miles from my front door at home to Stormont one way.”
All MLAs claimed a constituency allowance, which varies from £250 to £1,250 depending on location, five MLAs did not submit any claims for travel to the assembly in the 2017/18 financial year including Fermanagh woman and DUP leader Arlene Foster.

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