The hiatus between the Belfast Agreement talks ending and the new Northern Ireland Assembly getting off the ground posed some funding problems for Stormont politicians, not all of which were viewed with sympathy by the civil service.
In a Northern Ireland Office memo titled “Money, Money, Money” dated October 12th 1999, Tom Watson from the constitutional and political division reported: “when making the political parties aware of the arrangements for the Mitchell Review occurring later this week in London, their focus, predictably, was not on timing, venue and format, but on who was covering the travelling expenses!”
Wrangles over money persisted throughout 1999 as the proposed new institutions remained logjammed over IRA weapons decommissioning, trigging a review process by former US senator George Mitchell.
Sinn Féin, Alliance and the Women’s Coalition complained that expenses incurred during talks in London had not been paid. In June 1999, Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams wrote to complain: “Sinn Féin attended the talks at the request of the two governments and we believed the costs would be covered by the governments… the costs incurred are quite substantial. I would therefore be obliged if you would resolve this matter as quickly as possible.”
In July, the Northern Ireland minister Paul Murphy explained that previous funding for talks delegates had been discontinued in 1998 “on the clear expectation that the new political landscape would not require such a facility in the future and that the parties represented in the Assembly would have access to facilities, salaries and allowances not previously available to them”. Murphy proposed easing the politicians’ burden by “uplifting the party support premium by a one off contribution of £1,500 per party”.
Officials also expressed concern about a request for the provision of an official government credit card for the first and deputy first ministers and their senior advisers. In a note dated April 28th 1999, civil servant Jim McKeown wrote that in principle, the facility would be available for David Trimble and Seamus Mallon.
However, Mr McKeown raises concerns about the credit cards’ potential “misuse and loss of control”, asking how “departments might retrieve expenditure wrongly debited from a department’s account, for example, through some misunderstanding of hospitality rules?”