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MLA claimed expenses for rent paid to UUP colleague

Senior Ulster Unionist politician Danny Kinahan, who is now MP for South Antrim
Brendan Hughes

A SENIOR Ulster Unionist claimed thousands of pounds in expenses from Stormont to pay rent on a property owned by a party colleague.

MP Danny Kinahan received almost £23,000 in expenses to cover rent and rates for one of his constituency offices while an MLA.

But it has emerged that the property in Antrim is owned by his UUP colleague, Adrian Cochrane-Watson.

Mr Cochrane-Watson was a councillor at the time and last year became an MLA after being co-opted to Stormont.

He and his wife have owned the premises on Fountain Street since 2002 and Mr Cochrane-Watson used it alongside Mr Kinahan for constituency work.

Mr Kinahan became an assembly member for South Antrim in 2009.

Between 2009 and June 2012 he claimed more than £22,700 for rent and rates at his Fountain Street office.

Assembly expense details online only refer to the recipient of payments as 'US Properties/Balloo'.

Mr Kinahan's predecessor David Burnside also used the Fountain Street address for several years.

Between 2005 and 2009 he claimed £18,600 for rent, paid to a similarly named group called 'Ulster Scots Trust Balloo'.

There is nothing in the rules on expenses that prevents MLAs claiming rent for properties owned by party colleagues.

However, the Independent Financial Review Panel said in its March 2012 report that the "ultimate financial beneficiary of rent paid for premises must be visible".

And from April last year party colleagues have been considered 'associated persons' and must be declared.

In June 2012 Mr Kinahan moved out of the office to a new premises on High Street, 500 yards away.

The High Street property was rented from Antrim Towns Development Company, of which Mr Cochrane-Watson is a director.

More than £19,000 in rent and rates was claimed for the High Street premises between 2012 and May last year when Mr Kinahan was elected MP.

Mr Cochrane-Watson, who replaced Mr Kinahan as MLA, has recently purchased another Fountain Street property for his new constituency office.

Mr Kinahan recently moved to the same constituency office and now neither claim rental expenses from Stormont or Westminster.

Mr Cochrane-Watson said he could not explain why he was not disclosed in Stormont expense records as owner of the original constituency office.

"If Danny didn't declare that I can't comment on that," the UUP South Antrim MLA said.

But he defended the arrangements over the years and pointed out that both politicians currently do not claim expenses for rent.

"How many MLAs can say they don't claim rent for their office? How many MPs can say they don't claim rent for their office? Since I became an MLA I'm showing absolute transparency," he said.

Mr Cochrane-Watson said that 'Balloo' referred to his wife "acting as a sole trader". He said he could not recall if rent was also claimed during Mr Burnside's tenure.

He added that Antrim Towns Development Company is a non-profit "council-led initiative", and its voluntary directors are unremunerated.

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