Northern Ireland news

Heated exchanges at Stormont committee over covid grants

Sinn Féin MLA Maolíosa McHugh

A DUP MLA has said he is “surprised” that Sinn Féin's Maolíosa McHugh is still a member of Stormont's finance committee after he was caught up in a recent Covid cash payment controversy.

Mr Wells made the remarks during a heated exchange today over the payment of small business grants to Sinn Féin offices.

One of the controversial payments was made to Mr McHugh's office.

Four members of his party have so far resigned from their posts, including West Tyrone MLA Catherine Kelly and former Foyle MP Elisha McCallion, after it emerged that three £10,000 payments were made to the party from Stormonts Covid-19 emergency funds.

While the cash was not immediately repaid it has since been reimbursed.

During the committee meeting Mr Wells said there was "a dark shadow which hangs over the funding of certain constituency offices" and there needed to be "an investigation into where public money was being spent".

He said the committee needs to “dig deep into what is going on here”.

He also expressed surprise that Mr McHugh continues to serve on the Stormont committee.

“I believe that Mr McHugh has not been frank with this committee, and frankly I'm surprised that he is still on the committee,” he said.

"I thought he would have done the decent thing and resigned."

During the debate Mr McHugh challenged members to repeat allegations outside the meeting.

Sinn Féin has said that Mr McHugh is not a signatory to the account the money was paid into, did not have access to the account and had no oversight of it.

His party colleague Philip McGuigan said that it was not the committee's place to interrogate or investigate any member.

Sinn Féin president Mary-Lou McDonald apologised for her party's "failures" in its handling of cash received under the grant support scheme.

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