The Assembly Commission will consider how to recoup some of the heating oil expenses “irregularly” claimed at the Londonderry DUP office once an ongoing judicial process has concluded.
The Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) MLA Jim Allister asked the Commission, Chaired by the Speaker, Mitchel McLaughlin, what action had been taken after it was “discovered that an MLA’s office had claimed more than £4,000 for heating oil expenses in one year.”
The former Londonderry MLA, the current Lord Hay of Ballyore confirmed in a statement in September 2014 that he had contacted the PSNI over an “irregular trend in payments” within his Ebrington Terrace office cost expenditure claims. A member of his office staff was subsequently suspended pending the outcome of an investigation, which is ongoing.
Mr Allister asked if the taxpayer would be reimbursed.
The Commission confirmed that the member in question, Mr Hay, had alerted the Commission prior to the broadcast of two investigations by the state broadcaster in late 2014.
“Prior to the broadcast of the Spotlight programmes, a Member became aware of an irregular trend in heating oil payments and referred the matter to the PSNI for investigation,” the Commission confirmed.
“The Member also informed the Accounting Officer who initiated an Internal Audit investigation under the Commission’s Bribery and Fraud Response Plan. As a result of that investigation, the Accounting Officer also referred the matter to the PSNI.
“The Commission reviewed the content of the two BBC Spotlight programmes. In response to that review, further enhancements to the controls in place for MLAs’ expenses were made.
“I am advised that the judicial process is on-going. Once this process is complete, the Assembly Commission will consider what further action is necessary in regard to recovery of costs in line with the requirements of Managing Public Money.”
In a statement when he first learned of the irregular expenditure in 2014, Mr Hay said: “There is no doubt that systems and procedures will have to be examined to consider how what I have fallen victim to can be prevented in future.”
He added: “However, I have to take personal responsibility for the fact that my management of affairs in my constituency office did not uncover what was happening at an earlier point.
“No one will be more critical of that than me.”