Department criticised over Sinn Féin benefits probe silence

West Belfast Sinn Fein councillor Ciaran Beattie
Brendan Hughes

A STORMONT department has been criticised for its silence over a housing benefits probe involving a Sinn Féin councillor.

The Irish News revealed west Belfast councillor Ciaran Beattie's living arrangements have been examined as part of a housing benefit investigation.

It is understood that Mr Beattie had tenants at a property he owned in Belfast who received housing benefits to go towards rent.

But questions were raised when it was suggested the tenants receiving support were his long-term partner and their children.

A solicitor for Mr Beattie said the councillor strongly denies the "outrageous" allegations. Sinn Féin said it was unaware of any investigation.

The Housing Executive launched an investigation before referring the matter to the Social Security Agency (SSA) in June last year.

However, it is unclear what has happened with the investigation in the seven months since then.

The SSA spent several days considering detailed information supplied by The Irish News before declining to comment.

It refused to say if the case is still being examined.

"The Social Security Agency cannot comment on individuals or their personal circumstances," a spokeswoman said.

TUV leader and North Antrim MLA Jim Allister expressed concern and said he would be submitting questions to the minister on the matter.

"It is disturbing that the Social Security Agency has had this case since June last year and took days before finally saying that they would not comment," he said.

"This is a matter which I will be pursing with the minister for social development by way of questions."

The probe is revealed just months after another Sinn Féin councillor was brought to court accused of benefit fraud.

Derry representative Colin Kelly claimed around £19,000 worth of unemployment benefits despite receiving a wage as an elected councillor.

However, he was acquitted in July after a court heard how his salary was paid straight to a Sinn Féin account to which he had no access.

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