Northern Ireland news

DUP MLAs claim expenses for printing firm run by Trevor Clarke's son

REVELATIONS: DUP MLA Trevor Clarke with his wife, party councillor Linda Clarke, and inset, how The Irish News revealed her involvement in awarding council funds to their sonâ??s business
Brendan Hughes

DUP MLAs claimed almost £2,000 in Stormont expenses for services provided by a printing firm run by party colleague Trevor Clarke's son.

It emerges amid several controversies surrounding assembly member Mr Clarke and his wife, DUP councillor Linda Clarke.

Since 2016 a total of £1,820 has been claimed for services carried out by AC Print, according to assembly expenses records.

The NI Assembly said the proper processes were followed in respect of the payments and how the expenses were claimed.

DUP East Belfast MLA Joanne Bunting claimed £1,400 for her office signage and £80 ink.

The party's North Belfast MLA Paula Bradley also claimed £220 for ink, while former South Antrim assembly member Paul Girvan – who has since become a DUP MP – claimed £120 for ink cartridges and toners.

Under the assembly rules, MLAs are entitled to recover expenses for payments to 'associated persons' such as an MLA's family member if an accurate declaration of the association is made.

Asked about the expenses, an NI Assembly spokeswoman said there are "established processes for assessing the admissibility of claims".

"Those processes were followed in respect of payments made to this 'associated person' by the relevant members. That is, for each of these claims for payment to AC Print a declaration was made and submitted prior to payment," she added.

The DUP did not respond to requests for a comment in relation to the expenses claims.

Mr Clarke lost his seat in March 2017's assembly election but was selected by the DUP in June that year to replace Mr Girvan after he became an MP.

The Clarkes have come under pressure since July when an Irish News investigation exposed their sideline planning consultancy business.

Mr Clarke has rejected concerns that Versatile Consultancy breaches assembly rules which prohibit paid advocacy.

Both have insisted they "made all the relevant declarations and adhered to all rules".

A council watchdog has also opened investigations into alleged conflicts of interest involving Mrs Clarke's role on Antrim and Newtownabbey council.

It emerged Mrs Clarke participated in council votes for planning applications Mr Clarke lobbied on in 2017 during a period when he was not an MLA.

Mrs Clarke was also involved in awarding more than £4,500 in council contracts to their son's printing firm AC Print, which is run from the family home outside Randalstown.

AC Print is also embroiled in a police probe into claims of "dirty tricks" during May's council elections.

A TUV man complained that a DUP mock ballot paper described him as an Alliance candidate. The DUP said it was a "printing error".

Meanwhile, the Clarkes are facing a planning probe over a triple garage built at their home without permission. The DUP said Mr Clarke believes planning permission is not required.

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