THE DUP and Sinn Fein are under the spotlight again this time over its party MLAs claims for rental expenses.
It follows a lengthy investigation by award winning BBC Spotlight investigative journalist Mandy McAuley.
Sinn Fein were accused of paying money to non-existent republican historical societies instead of landlords of the buildings.
The DUP had also questions to answer about its constituency office in Ballymena home to the sitting MP Ian Paisley jnr and two MLAs.
The programme’s revelations has prompted the former chairman of a Westminster standards watchdog to call for an investigation into societies that receive public money in rent from MLAs for their constituency offices.
The Spotlight probe examined the way MLAs use public money to rent their offices.
It revealed that Sinn Féin paid office rent to three different cultural societies, including rent for Deputy First Minister and former IRA chief of staff Martin McGuinness.
However, it was not clear what the societies were or who was behind them. Or if they ever really existed at all.
According to the programme, the rent claimed from public funds should have been paid to the trustees.
The South Derry Cultural and Historical Society had six trustees listed on land registry.
One trustee, Mickey McGonagle said he had never received rent from Sinn Fein in all the years he has been a trustee.
And he had never heard of the South Derry Republican Cultural and Historical Society until informed by Spotlight.
The former chairman of a Westminster standards watchdog, Sir Alistair Graham, said the rental system needed to be investigated.
“It sounds to me that there is a real danger that these so-called cultural bodies are rather bogus organisations which is a way of channelling public money to political parties and there clearly should be some detail investigation,” he said.
The Spotlight investigation said there were also questions about why the DUP’s Arlene Foster used an office rent free from a top Co Fermanagh businessman and leading Orange man, she also bought property from.
The DUP didn’t take issue with Spotlight’s investigation but said no rules were broken.
Justice Minister David Ford said it was “all about transparency”.
“What last night did was raise a number of questions which need to be subjected to a proper inquiry,” he said.
“The system may be dysfunctional, but that doesn’t justify people pushing the boundaries to the edge of the system or possibly, as seemed to be alleged last night, beyond what is reasonable.”
Former RUC Special Branch informer turned Sinn Fein MP Francie Molloy described Tuesday night’s BBC Spotlight NI as “a rubbish of a programme”.
However, he failed to give any details about these so-called socieities where Sinn Fein was allegedly paying its rent money too.
“I think it’s a very good use of public money, because what has happened here is that Sinn Féin are renting accommodation for offices within a building that also serves the local community, provides resources for the local community and it’s a not for profit organisation that the money’s going to,” he said.
“The money’s used to actually deliver services.”
But what services he never said.
However, as Mickey McGonagle told the programme, he had never heard of the society Sinn Fein claimed it was paying the rent too in south Derry.
In fact, he later had a visit from Sinn Fein asking him to sign his name to a document purporting to come from four members of the society in south Derry. He refused.
When the letter arrived at BBC Spotlight yesterday, the letter had only three names at the bottom. His name had been taken off as he refused to sign the document from a bogus society.
The DUP’s Peter Weir said the expenses system was “dysfunctional”.
“There will be widespread concern, I think we need to restore public confidence, we need to actually look at a system in terms of funding similar to what we have at Westminster,” he said.
“We have followed the rules, what we’re saying it that the rules as provided I think will not satisfy public confidence and we need an Ipsa [Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority] type system.”
The Spotlight investigation continues with a second part next week on Tuesday, November 25 at 10.35 pm.