Govt paid SDLP chiefs' expenses in 1970s

The Government paid SDLP chiefs top-class expenses and mileage during the 1970s, it was revealed today.

Confidential files uncover the unusual arrangement allowing senior party figures to claim payments from Dublin after the collapse of the North’s power-sharing executive in 1974.

The documents, just released into the National Archives under a 30-year secrecy rule, also show wary Government officials scrutinised and investigated every claim made by the then dominant Northern nationalist leaders.

In one letter between the Taoiseach’s office and the Department of Foreign Affairs, a top aide struck a prudent – if not suspicious – tone as he noted Austin Currie gave a list of SDLP figures “who were alleged to have attended certain meetings with Government members”.

Another official said details of the claims “do not tally” with records of meetings and advised further investigation to ensure “the SDLP aren’t claiming for something they aren’t entitled to”.

Former leader John Hume was top of the expenses list, claiming more than £350 on one occasion for several meetings, followed by Austin Currie and Seamus Mallon.

Other notable figures from the party’s past, including Hugh Logue, Frank Feely, Paddy O’Donoghue, Joe Hendron, Michael Canavan, Tom Daly, Gerry Fitt, Dan McAreavy and Brid Rodgers all made expenses claims, according to the files.

One memo raised concerns that the Department of Finance-sanctioned “civil service mileage rates” and “Class A” subsistence pay-outs for meals and overnight stays were being drawn from a fund capped at £9,000.

“I understand there is a possibility that this will be exceeded,” wrote a Government aide.

SDLP figures claimed for meetings with the Taoiseach, foreign affairs minister, agriculture minister, transport minister and tourism minister.

Back-room officials were tasked with checking with Government ministers if meetings actually occurred after confidential letters from the Taoiseach’s office chased up the expenses from the Department of Finance.

In one correspondence, an official said there was a delay in processing the payments because there “were one or two points I had hoped to confirm with the people involved”.

A number of SDLP figures claimed for meetings that the Department of Finance could find no record of at that time, but they asked for further inquiries to verify the expenses.

“I am sorry I can’t be more specific as to when the ’missing’ meetings might have taken place,” wrote an official.

Inquiries also revealed meetings where SDLP representatives were due expenses, under the arrangement, but they were not claimed.

According to the files, claims for expenses to attend official dinners in Dublin, where visiting dignitaries were looking to be updated on the situation in the North, were rejected.

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