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Why is the Taxpayer Funding Sinn Fein Minister to Canvass for McGuinness?

28 September 2011

Statement by TUV leader Jim Allister:

“Last Wednesday the Irish News published a photograph of Martin McGuinness campaigning at the National Ploughing Championship in Co Kildare. In the background one can clearly see a Sinn Fein/IRA party stand and want looks very like a posse of party supporters – including Agriculture Minister for Northern Ireland, Michelle O’Neill.

“After seeing the photo and TV coverage of her canvassing with McGuinness I tabled a question to the Minister asking if she attended in her official capacity, whether the Department paid for the visit and to detail the cost. The Minister has replied saying that the visit “was official business, and the cost will be covered by the Department”.

“While the cost has not been finalised it will be in the region of £1,700.

“This is a gross misuse of public money. It is self-evident that while the hard pressed taxpayers of Northern Ireland covered the cost of the visit the Minister engaged in patently party political activity, assisting McGuinness in his presidential campaign. Where an official visit was being paid for by the taxpayer it was wrong for the Minister to use it for party political activity and to piggyback electioneering on the back of a publically funded venture. There, therefore, should be an apportionment of the costs with Sinn Fein paying their way, not sponging off the taxpayer.

“I will be asking Finance Minister Sammy Wilson to examine the matter with a view to recouping from Sinn Fein the cost of that part of the trip used for electioneering.”

Note to editors: Mr Allister's question and the reply are as follows:

To ask the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development (i) whether she attended the Irish Ploughing Championships on 20 September 2011 in her official capacity; (ii) whether her Department will pay the expenses of the visit; and (iii) to detail the cost of the visit.

(i) I attended the National Ploughing Championships on 20 and 21 September 2011 in my official capacity as Minister for Agriculture & Rural Development. This event provided me with a valuable opportunity to meet and network with counterparts and industry representatives from across the island and show my support for exhibitors and ploughing competitors from the north.
(ii) This visit was official business, and the costs will be covered by the Department.
(iii) The cost of the visit for the ministerial party has not been finalised but should be approximately £1,700 for accommodation and meals.

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