Document 6: Maolíosa McHugh MLA Interview Transcript

Annex B6


COMMISIONER - Commissioner for Standards at the Northern Ireland Assembly, Dr Melissa McCullough

MM - Mr Maolíosa McHugh MLA

JD - Mr John Devitt

SD - Mr Sean Doherty



So this interview is being tape recorded. I am Dr Melissa McCullough Assembly’s Standards Commissioner, the other person present is Mr John Devitt, he is the second interviewer who is assisting me in this investigation. We are in Room 106 Parliament Buildings at Stormont, the date is Monday 29th March 2021 and the time by clock is 12:03pm. I am interviewing Mr McHugh MLA and the other person is Sean Doherty. Mr McHugh I wish to remind you that your representative is here only as an observer and is not permitted to ask or answer any questions on your behalf. But if you need to speak with Mr Doherty I am happy to allow you to do that. We have a breakout room if you need to step away we can pause the interview and then re- group.

So I am now going to ask you to formally take the oath. I have just put it up there for ease. If you could say that for the purposes of the recording

MM 1:39

I do solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm that the evidence I shall give shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.


Thank you very much. Ok so for the purposes of clarity the matters that I am investigating relate to the complaint made by Dr Steve Aiken as chair of the Finance Committee and Mr Jim Allister MLA who is also a member of the Finance committee. You will have received full details of each of their complaints respectively as per my correspondence to you dated 13th November and further clarification from Dr Aiken and Mr Allister and you will see that Dr Aiken wrote to me on 2nd November 2020 where he outlined his complaint and then he further and more fully clarified his complaint in his letter of 22nd February 2021. And this is where he outlined in greater detail specific to his complaint his belief that you breached a number of rules within the code of conduct and that was important that I asked him to clarify that because I can’t consider a complaint unless the rules are there. So that is where and Mr Allister’s complaint is also contained with the correspondence that I have given you and again he further clarified his complaint on 6th February.

So both of these complaints focus on the issue of your alleged failure to declare a conflict of interest in relation to the small business grant issued to you from Land and Property Services and your failure to declare this conflict of interest on several occasions. For the record I wish to acknowledge that on Friday 26th March 2021 you corresponded with me by an email with your written response to these complaints. Also for the record I am now showing you that email letter which is unsigned and I am wondering if you would be happy enough to sign it for me here. This is it.

MM 3:39

My own letter.


Yes this is your own letter but I don’t know if you were aware that this was unsigned.

MM 3:43

No I wasn’t aware at all.


If you don’t mind signing that.

MM 3:47



Thank you so much. Ok, that’s now signed, that document. For the record I am going to read it into evidence.

Dear Dr McCullough, Complaint against me by Dr Steve Aiken. I refer to the above matter and your letter dated 23rd February 2021 in advance of my interview with you on 29th 1. please find below my response to the complaint made by Dr Aiken MLA. I hope this will assist your investigation.

2. At the outset I should say that the complaint of Dr Aiken and indeed the complaint of Mr Allister’s is premised upon an incorrect assumption of facts. I personally did not receive any Covid 19 small business grant. I am neither the owner of the building that it was paid in respect of nor do I pay the rates of that building.

I did not have access to the account the grant was paid into and neither did any member of staff employed by me. These basic facts of themselves demonstrate that the complaints are misconceived and that I had no interest to declare. I will however elaborate upon for you. In was co-opted onto the Assembly as a member of the West Tyrone on 28th May 2019. I replaced Michaela Boyle who stepped down from her position. When I replaced Mrs Boyle I took over her constituency office at Unit 31a Melvin Road Strabane BT82 9PP. that office which is provided to me by my party is located in a building owned by the party. Whilst I use the office as my constituency office the owners of the building Sinn Fein pay the rates on this office. I therefore neither the owner of the office nor the ratepayer. I understand that the name on the ratepayer account is Maoliosa McHugh MLA, Strabane Sinn Fein office. That was certainly the name on the remittance letter that was posted to the office that first led me to become aware of the grant payment. I will return to that letter below however as you can see the description is not me in a personal capacity. If it was it would simply say Maoliosa McHugh or Maoliosa McHugh MLA. I understand the description is one that is used by my party to distinguish the rates being paid on my office from the other properties that party is ratepayer for. The name on the ratepayer account is there for description of the property. This again shows I am not the ratepayer.

5. I understand that the rates on constituency office I use are paid by direct debit out of the Sinn Fein bank account that is named West Tyrone Development Fund. I have never paid any rates on the office nor have I had any role insetting up the direct debit. This again shows I am not the ratepayer.

6. In March 2020 the Department for the Economy announced that they would provide a grant of £10,000 to all small business rate payers who are eligible for the Small Business Rate relief scheme. Around 27,000 would have been eligible. The scheme was set up in response to the pressures facing small businesses as a result of the Covid 19 pandemic. Small Business ratepayers that paid their rates by direct debit had the payment paid automatically to them into the bank account that Land and Property Services had on record for them. This may well be the first time such automatic payments were made and as such this was a novel approach to grant payment as those payments were paid directly into the bank account of rate payers who had made no request or application for the grants.

7. the £10,000 that is the subject of the complaint was paid under that scheme directly into the bank account on record for the ratepayer of my office. That bank account was the West Tyrone Development fund account

8. I became aware of the payment as the remittance letter was sent my office addressed to Maoliosa McHugh MLA, Strabane Sinn Fein office. I was of the clear opinion that such a grant should not have been paid to the ratepayer for a MLA’s office. The money was not however under my control as it had been paid into the ratepayer’s account the West Tyrone Development Fund account. Neither I nor anybody employed by me had access to that account. Neither I nor anybody employed by me is a signatory to that account. It was therefore not within my power to return the grant. What I did do was to ask an employee of Sinn Fein to return the money in May 2020. I have no control over that employee as I am not their employer.

9. the Money has been repaid although it was clear there was a delay in repaying it. that delay however is not attributable to myself or to any of my staff. As soon as I became aware of the payment I asked the recipient to repay it. As such I clearly acted in the public interest. Given that I did not receive the grant I did not at anytime I had an interest that had to be declared or registered. I have always been careful about registering interests. I have registered my unpaid position as chairman of Clann na nGael.


Clann na nGael, I also ensured the prompt registering of an interest when a relative was temporarily employed by me as my office manager to cover a maternity leave. Had I suspected the grant payment required to be registered I would have had no difficulty in registering it. Even when studying the code in great detail to reply to you it is not clear to me that this is an interest that would need to be registered in light of the fact the grant was not paid to me and even if it were paid to me provisions of Chapter 2 Paragraph 7 of the guide to the Rules relating to the conduct of members would indicate to me the grant was not a declarable or registerable interest.

11 it is correct that since the payment of that grant into the West Tyrone Development Fund bank account LPS appeared before the Finance Committee. I do not however believe that I had any conflict to declare as I did not receive the grant. I also do not recall that particular grant scheme ever being discussed. I would imagine that any scrutiny of how the Department for Economy administered that scheme is a matter for the Economy Committee.

12 In summary therefore as I did not personally receive the grant nor did I or my staff have access to the account it was automatically paid into I had no interest to register or declare. By asking the recipient of the grant to repay it I adhered to my obligations to protect the public interest.

13 In light of the above I would make the following short response to allegations contained within your letter of 23 February 2021.A 4.1.1 Failure to adequately consider the public interest by not declaring the receipt of £10,000 from LPS when discussed at Committee and when LPS appeared before the Committee. Reply – I did not receive £10,000 from LPS and so I had no interest to declare. B 4.1.4 – Failing to register in the Assembly’s Register of Member’s Interests details of your receipt of a small business grant of £10,000 from LPS. Reply – I did not receive £10,000 from LPS and so I had no interest to register. C – 4.1.5 – Failing to declare in the Assembly Finance committee the £10,000 small business grant received from LPS into your account. Reply – I did not receive £10,000 from LPS and so I had no interest to declare.

D. 4.1.14 – Failing to declare the £10,000 small business grant from LPS deposited to an account in your name leaves any comments made in the committee or Assembly regarding any grant schemes open to the question of seeking to confer an advantage or preferential treatment for either yourself or any other person. Reply- I did not receive £10,000 from LPS. The grant was not as is wrongly alleged paid into an account in my name and so I had no interest to declare nor could any reasonable person think that I in any way ever sought to confer an advantage or preferential treatment for either yourself or any other person. In this regard I note the Complainant has not highlighted any comment made by me that they say constitutes a breach of the rules. E – 4.1.19 failing to take reasonable care to ensure that your staff when acting on your behalf to adequate steps to ensure the said £10,000 was returned. Reply – None of my staff had any role in returning the grant. None of my staff had access to the account the grant was paid into. I fail to see how I can be held responsible for the actions of anyone who is not employed by me.

14 Dr Aiken’s complaint is therefore without foundation as it is entirely predicated upon the incorrect assumption that I personally received the grant and that I or my staff had the power to return the grant. I trust that in due course you will agree with this assessment. I genuinely believe that I had no interest to declare or register. If you find that my understanding of my obligations in this regard are wrong then I shall be very annoyed at myself and will regret my failure to register the interest as I have always sought to act with integrity and in the public interest.

15 While I have not directly referenced Mr Allister’s most recent email of 6th February the complaint of Mr Allister is near identical in terms to that of Dr Aiken and cites the same provisions of the code. I trust therefore that the above response demonstrates that Mr Allister is also without merit. I trust the above is of assistance, yours faithfully Maoliosa McHugh MLA.

No I just want to.

Whilst that letter is very informative and does assist my investigations so thank you for it. There are some unanswered questions from within that. And whilst we only received it on Friday I just wanted to take you through some of those statements to examine your various responses within that. So if you look at Paragraph 2. Now in paragraph 2 it states I did not personally did not receive any Covid 19 small business grants. You did however receive by post a letter from LPS. Correct?

MM 13:49

Notification. Yep.


And it was addressed to you as you say to Maoliosa McHugh MLA, Sinn Fein offices.

MM 14:00



OK as you state. It says here on Paragraph 2 I did not have access to the account the grant was paid into and neither did any member of the staff employed by me. Who are your staff members and where do they work?

MM 14:17

The staff members who are employed by me?



MM 14:20

Ruairi McHugh and he worked in my office in Strabane. He is my office manager.


Rory McHugh.

MM 14:28

Ruairi McHugh.


Yeah Ruairi. Ok and that’s it? That’s the only staff member?

MM 14:33

That is the only staff member in my office in Strabane. Yeah.


OK. In that same paragraph you said you had no interest to declare. Now you sit as a member of the Finance Committee and as such you have a duty to ensure good governance of public funds. Is that right?

MM 14:49



In paragraph 3 it says that while the office, you talk about the office and I am asking you while the office is provided to you by your party you confirm that you use it as your constituency office.

MM 15:07



And you say I am therefore neither the owner of the office nor the rate payer.

MM 15:15



So how is it that your name has come to be held on the system by LPS with the account [sensitive information redacted] sort code [sensitive information redacted]?

MM 15:29

I think that was put on the name above the offices as such whenever I came into the position as MLA. I was co-opted as MLA and the person who was there prior to me being MLA was Michaela Boyle so my name went on the office account as such in terms of the constituency office and that would have been dealt with at that time by the person who was the office manager who was then on maternity leave and Ruairi McHugh had been appointed that position in the meantime. So whenever I came in there as an MLA because my name is going above the door in a sense, right, yep that the office manager at that time would have put it on the rates account. Just the same thing as it is with the electricity account. The electricity account could come into our office and it will be in my name but all of the payments for electricity are done by me and are claimed back from the Assembly.



MM 16:36

But that’s not the case with rates because we owned our own office, Sinn Fein rather than me. We owned our own offices. Sinn Fein do not claim rates. We don’t claim rates back from the Assembly. So any rates that are paid, are paid by Sinn Fein not by me and they are not claimed back as well.


Is that normal. Is that the way everybody operates?

MM 17:02

To the best of my knowledge that if you. Let’s say if I was renting offices and I was paying rates, I claim that back from the Assembly and that in fact would go into my own personal account that I would claim back from the Assembly as such. Right. But if you own your own offices then you don’t claim your rates back from the Assembly. So we don’t pay, we don’t claim rates back from the Assembly or anything. In a sense even the very fact that my name would have been above the door in a way it wasn’t even my mind because we weren’t claiming rates back from the Assembly.

JD 17:45

Sorry Mr McHugh can I just clarify for my understanding. Your only staff member is Ruairi McHugh. Is that right?

MM 17:53

At that point in time. Yes. My office manager.

JD 17:56

When you took over from Michaela Boyle?

MM 17:59

Yeah. But sorry when I took over from Michaela Boyle, the office manager was Grace McDermott but then she went on maternity leave and I think it was on 1st January that she went on maternity leave. So Ruairi McHugh was then appointed as the office manager to cover her maternity leave.

JD 18:21

OK so just bear with me for a second so I can clearly understand what you are saying. So Grace McDermott went on maternity leave, she was then replaced by Rory McHugh.

MM 18:34

Not Rory, Ruairi. RUAIRI.

JD 18:38

Yeah. So she was replaced by Ruairi who was your member of staff.

MM 18:43


JD 18:43

And he was responsible for the management of the office. Is that correct?

MM 18:47


JD 18:50

And in his role as management of the office, what exactly did his duties entail?

MM 18:57

As the office manager?

JD 18:59


MM 19:00

He would deal with all the correspondence and that that would come into the office in relation to the MLA and would oversee all of those affairs that basically are his duties in supporting the MLA in his role.

JD 19:18

So he would have known at that time and correct me if I have misunderstood this.

MM 19:22

Sure yeah.

JD 19:23

He would have known at time when you were in receipt of the correspondence that the Land and Property Services sent to you what the content of that letter was.

MM 19:31

Yes he sent it to me for my attention actually. He was the office manager so he would deal with my mail as well whenever it comes in and having received notification, he brought it to my attention.

JD 19:45

OK thank you.


So you received this letter as you say it was addressed to you as Maoliosa McHugh MLA 19:56 at 31a Melvin Road Strabane, Tyrone. And that’s the first you became aware of the grant payment.

MM 20:04

Yep the first I became aware of £10,000 being paid into an account in my name. First I became aware of that.


And what date was that roughly

MM 20:17

It was in the month of April, probably early April in around 13th, 14th in around that time yep.


And then what action did you take thereafter that letter?

MM 20:32

When it was brought to my attention in the first instance I had to establish where’s this money going or what’s it for or what account are they talking about here. Because I had no knowledge at all of the account that was actually dealing with rates for that building or for those office as such. And having checked that out with the constituency organiser who is not employed by me, it was confirmed that this money had been paid into the West Tyrone Development Fund and all of the details and records for that account was held in our Omagh office and the Western organiser was the person who was also responsible for dealing with the affairs that was in and out of that account as such. Now he hadn’t received the notification we had so when I say we, my office had received the notification and then checking out where the actually account was at we made him aware as well too that this money had been paid in, in my name, into the West Tyrone Development Fund account, the account that he was in charge of.


And so did you, how did you make him aware, did you call, email him, give a copy of it.

MM 21:51

Yeah and we actually, we talked to him on the phone and we actually had sent him a copy of the remittance and that as well too.



MM 22:06

And if I might just add as well that at that time when we talked to him about it, to find out, what is this essentially was the question we were asking at the outset because all of this was new to everyone in terms of even the grants and the likes too. And he confirmed that the reason why it appeared to have .. he checked he started to check this out. The reason why it appeared to have been paid into this account was because of the fact that they paid the rates and they paid them by direct debit and I think that his explanation at the time was because of people who paid rates by direct debit that was why this unsolicited payment came in to the account and I knew, I knew myself that we were not a business as such, we are a political party and that I knew too that it wasn’t anything that I was entitled to one way or the other even though it wasn’t going into an account in my name anyway. But I asked him to make sure, made arrangements to pay that back.


OK. So beyond that, I will come back to that actually.

JD 23:26

Can I just establish Mr McHugh what the name of that individual is in the Omagh office that you communicated with.

MM 23:33

The name of the person?

JD 23:34


MM 23:34

Barry McColgan.

JD 23:41

Barry McColgan.

MM 23:41


JD 23:44

And just so that I can recap to what you said is that you contacted him by phone and email I think you said.

MM 23:51

Yep we brought the communication of the letter to us immediately to his attention. First by phone enquiring what is this or where is it going to and we sent him on a copy of the actual letter from the Land Property Services as such showing the identification of the amount and the account that it had been paid into as such. Or not the account cause it was only numbers. We were actually checking with him what account is this or who actually deals with this and he was able to confirm then.


And was it at that stage you said to him to pay it back.

MM 24:31




MM 24:35



So that was about May.

MM 24:38

Probably May time yeah in May time because you know it’s the Easter holidays and the likes of it and normally Barry McColgan at that time would have maybe have been in our office once a month or something as a constituency organiser in the whole constituency dealing with different offices or dealing with different coms or whatever.


And did you ever check with him or find out if he paid this money beyond that first time when you asked him to pay it back.

MM 25:06

Yeah. I brought this to his attention in May and again in June and in fact in June and Ruairi McHugh as well was able to confirm with me he says I was even there too whenever you were talking to Barry McColgan about it.


In June.

MM 25:24

And that I remember asking him again in June has this been sorted. Yeah he says aye I am in the process of sorting it he says I am getting touch with LPS to see how I pay it back. But it is being sorted.


So beyond June then.

MM 25:40

Beyond June I wasn’t in contact with Barry about it then again. As I say I was lead to believe that it had been sorted.


Ok so June was the last it was discussed in terms of and is that because you assumed after the second time asking that it was done or.

MM 25:55

Do you know it might even have been more than two times over that period I had actually said that you know initially in the phone call and that at the very outset, then in May it had been raised with Barry and in June again it was raised with Barry whenever I said to him is this sorted you know and that was when he told me yes it is being sorted. I was surprised as everyone else to realise at the time that the news broke that we were still in the frame then. I didn’t even know.


OK. Now I realise that in your description in paragraph just to bring you back to your statement, paragraph 4 you say that the description is not you in a personal capacity, if it was it would say your name or your name with MLA. So I guess you are saying that you know it begs the question that if somebody, if I was one of your constituents and wrote to you as Maoliosa McHugh, Strabane Sinn Fein office or Maoliosa McHugh MLA Strabane Sinn Fein office that you wouldn’t deal with you in your personal capacity. Do you see what I am saying? It is almost as if this ratepayer name is being made part of this in a big way but this name I am not so sure. I guess I want to get your view on that. Do you understand what I am saying?

MM 27:20

Yeah I can understand entirely what you are saying yeah. That it was the offices and the offices themselves had the responsibility for the payment of the rates or for anything that was to be received. Let’s say we were entitled to the grant even it will be going to that account not to me. It wasn’t coming to me at any point in time and there is no confusion on that whatsoever even within my own party and they carried out a thorough investigation in this whole matter as well too. 27:54 yes very much so. In fact even to the point where the other mentioned person lost his job as the result of it because our party leader had assisted in dealing with public finance we have to maintain the highest standards throughout and having carried out a very thorough investigation on the whole matter I had no involvement in either the receipt of it. I didn’t even see the statements for that bank account. They actually went to our offices in Omagh and not our offices in Strabane so I had no involvement in that other account in any shape or form.

JD 28:38

Clarify for me this Mr McHugh if you can. How did your name come to be on the Rates Account?

MM  28:48

Whenever I came in as a MLA in 2019 and that was whenever the office manager at that time would have been arranging to have the names put onto the different accounts which just would have included the rates account as well too i.e. for identification.

JD 29:10

The reason I am asking the question is you now understand that I am trying to understand why LPS wrote to you but they wrote to you because your name was on the rates account.

MM 29:22

If my name wasn’t on that account it just would have went to the Strabane Office.

JD 29:25

I am glad you clarified that so it follows then that because they wrote to you, you were in you had knowledge immediately at the very outset.

MM 29:38

At the outset when it was brought to my attention.

JD 29:40

This money came to you because it was addressed, sorry the post, the letter from the land and Property Services came to you notifying you of this grant.

MM 29:49


JD 29:50

You then spoke to your then office manager Ruairi McHugh.

MM 29:55

Actually it was the other way round. He was actually the person who received the letters in dealing with my mail, he would have brought it to my attention that this has been paid into an account under my name and I “no account under my name” what is this`.

JD 30:13

And I just want to be fair to you and clarify that because it was addressed to you, you then took personal ownership of that problem?

MM 30:24

Whenever you say personal ownership and that.

JD 30:29

Well you have told us.

MM 30:31

Ownership of finding out exactly where this money was going to and who was in control of it, in what account. I took ownership of that part of the problem and I took ownership of it in as much as that I asked those people as well to make sure that this money was returned, so whenever you say ownership like I didn’t feel that I had received any money.

JD 30:58

No I am just trying to understand and be categorical about the sequence of events because your office manager brought it to your attention you then dealt with it in your capacity as an MLA.

MM 31:11

Exactly yeah.

JD 31:11

So you then effectively did take ownership to address the problem as you understood it to be at that time. Is that a fair analysis?

MM 31:20

The problem at that time was that as I would have seen it was that monies had been paid into an account that my name was in some way attached to and that I knew that I neither received the money or should I have received money and I acted in what I believe, still believe in a proper manner in bringing to the attention of the people who had control over the accounts that actually dealt with that and had asked them to make sure that this money was returned.

JD 32:02

OK I understand your response to that I am just trying to clarify that you are trying to distance yourself from the money itself, the grant, but your name was on the account.

MM 32:19

I accept that.

JD 32:20

So your name was on the account, that where the money came into the account that may well have been West Tyrone account but was actually your account at the same time.

MM 32:31

No. The West Tyrone was not my account at the same time. Whenever you are using the term account here that account in terms of I would see as definition by the Rates Department they see that as an account but the account is you know is that which is held and owned by Sinn Fein. So that the two are not the same and the one thing and I think we all understand that but I never would have seen that description of the rates, let’s just say as an example if it had been a number which rates used as well too in identifying who it is or where it is that they communicate with. That’s as much of an account that it was in that sense but I didn’t see it.

JD 33:30

We will maybe come back to it later because I just want to get clear in my head the sequence of events.



JD 33:35

Sorry to interrupt you, carry on.


Yeah because it is an important point I understand you’re saying that it is obvious the LPS account had your name attached to it but the bank account that was attached to the LPS account was not yours so there was. That account was with

MM 33:53

West Tyrone


West Tyrone so however in doing, in having your name attached to the LPS account therein lies the issue here because you then have taken with your name on it and you embark on figuring out why your name is on this, what bank account is this going to. And then ask them to pay it back.




Because your name is attached to the account for LPS, which is why we are here. So when I look at. I think we have nearly exhausted the West Tyrone Fund in my view with the account name Maoliosa McHugh but where I want to move to when you became aware of the payment you asked the recipient to pay it back and you did that based on the knowledge that your name is attached to the LPS account.




Yeah So I guess I move on in my head to understanding when you talk about in paragraph, I am jumping around a little bit I might have to go backwards but in paragraph 13 and 14 you go on to say you take no responsibility. I didn’t receive the £10,000, I didn’t receive it. You repeat that. In relation to the rules of the code of conduct 1, 4, 5.14 in particular and 19. Now I guess I wanted to get your view on a conflict of interest. What is your view. How do you see that because in here you say you have no conflict of interest and yet earlier in this interview you talked about your understanding about the funds and the public interest as a member of the Finance Committee, so I just wanted to get your opinion on that.

MM 36:03

At times I am being over simplistic this in that I think that the conflict of interest that where either I’m receiving a benefit or that anyone I am associated with say like a club, an association that I belong to that in some way that they are receiving a benefit and I have interest on that. I would see that of a conflict of interest.

JD 36:26

OK so on that basis then if I have understood what you said correctly you represent the party that you represent.



JD 36:38

From what you have said that then gives me the impression that the party was benefitting from this grant that they were not entitled to, you were aware of that and you as a party member were also benefitting from that grant at that time

MM 37:02

If I had been aware of that at that time I would have declared it and I wasn’t aware of it at that time. Whenever I say I wasn’t aware of it at that time I thought the matter had been dealt with. I thought the matter had been dealt with at that point in time and it wasn’t even in my head that and in terms of whenever we were having a meeting with Ian Snowden from LPS that there was still an outstanding issue or that my party was going to benefitting because I never expected my party to benefit from it at any point in time and that money was going back so therefore I never would have seen myself as having a conflict of interest in that I was hoping to benefit from funds that had been wrongly paid into a Sinn Fein account by LPS and you know that one would have to be aware of having had that conflict of interest in themselves to declare it because to do otherwise would mean that I was sitting there and I knew that this was all happening, that we had £10,000 in an account and I am not going to say anything about it you know then that. Well to me that would be completely and absolutely wrong you know.

JD 38:18

Well perhaps you can answer me this question. At what time. When did you understand the money had been paid back.

MM 38:29

Yeah when it broke on the news and on the radio station and that. That was when I first became aware of that and that was when, was it October, October.

JD 38:41

Right so just to be fair to you so that I have understood the analysis and the chronology of this event. You got your Ruairi McHugh, your manager to contact Barry McColgan at the Omagh office



JD 39:00

You asked him to pay it back, to make sure that it was paid back and you then checked on that again in June, possibly once or twice in June.

MM 39:14

Yeah, in May and June. I am sure of that yeah.

JD 39:17

So between May and June. Let’s say June . between June and October what action, efforts did you take to ensure that you were comfortable that the money had been paid back and that you were no further compromised.

MM 39:36

I hadn’t taken any other actions and I never even thought about me being compromised. I assumed that it had been dealt with. I accepted the word of the person that I was dealing with that he had dealt with it.

JD 39:56

I am using the word compromised because you actually sit on the Finance Committee.



JD 40:00

And you were privileged to sit on a number of meetings where LPS were giving oral evidence.

MM 40:08

And that was in September that the LPS meetings had actually taken place. And as I say it wasn’t even in my mind at that stage anymore. Wasn’t in my. It just wasn’t in my mind.


And that was because you believed that it was paid back is that correct.

MM 40:22

I thought it was gone back. I thought it had been dealt with at that time and you know that even, you don’t mind me saying this. Let’s say in the month of April if LPS had been in a week after I would have received that kind of notification I wouldn’t have thought it had been an issue that I would raise with Ian Snowden from LPS I would have thought it would be an issue that would have been dealt with by officials at other levels, officials within our party or whoever does that they pay back to or the likes of that. So that after having given that instruction and been led to believe that it had been dealt with it wasn’t in my head at all.


So can I just confirm you are saying that even had this been exactly after you received it you wouldn’t have seen this or identified as something that you should have declared at the finance Committee meeting.

MM 41:26

Well you know.


Yeah at that time, at the given time.

MM 41:28

At that point in time quite possibly I would have thought that is something that has been dealt with you and I would have made that assumption it has been dealt with and I would have thought it. If I had a problem and I knew it was a problem then I would maybe have alerted or put the question to a representative from LPS that would have been at the meeting but other than that being..

JD 41:55

Let me ask the following questions then. In relation to your engagement with your then office manager, your member of staff, Ruairi McHugh and his engagement with Barry McColgan did you at anytime ask Ruairi to make sure when that money was paid back by Barry that Barry notified you by email or Ruairi by telephone.

MM 41:18


JD 41:18

You didn’t?.



JD 42:21

So between June and October what meetings would you have had with your member of staff Ruairi who was also the office manager.

MM 42:33

I would have met Ruairi on a regular basis in fact at that stage very often I could have been in Stormont three or four days a week. And any days I am not in Stormont I am in the office and I would have been meeting with him regularly. Every week..

JD 42:48

And is that a meeting that would have been an agenda item meeting, a casual meeting.

MM 42:55

No it would have been just a casual meeting like you secretarial backup as such.

JD 42:58

OK and at any of those meetings did you not consider it necessary to ask Ruairi can you reassure me that that money that I asked Barry to pay back has been paid back.

MM 43:12

No I didn’t ask him. If I said I did I would only be lying. I didn’t ask him and just to say Ruairi was aware of it as I was and he believed just as I did too that this had been dealt with and I didn’t pursue it any further and I am sure that the last time was talking to Ruairi on that issue was in the month of June.

JD 43:33

But you have told us this afternoon that your party conducted their own investigation into this.

MM 43:45

This was after. This was after the whole thing broke out in the news about monies not being paid back.


Can you tell us about that. So you go from the June that is the last you speak to Ruairi or McColgan about this.

MM 44:01

I wouldn’t see Barry McColgan that much at all even in that respect because he is in a totally different office and he is not my employee, he is Snn Fein's.


But for all intents and purposes you thought you had put that to bed that it was paid back so from June until what point in time and what exactly happened at that point in time when you were alerted. Is it a call from the media, is it on the media, what exactly, could you talk us through that?.

MM 44:26

Call from the media. Yeah. That was in the Nolan show at that time and someone from the media rang me up and they asked me were you aware that your offices received this grant and I was. Were you also aware that it hadn’t been paid and knew at that stage it hadn’t been paid back and when is it being paid back and I knew that by this stage whenever I went back to Barry McColgan it was paid back on that day. And that was the first I knew of it.



MM 45:00

And his response at that time was that if I had “given it as much attention today if I had given this as much attention as the day whenever you raised it me Maoliosa it would have been dealt with long before now”.


I would have been sorry would you repeat that.

MM 45:18

“If I had given this as much attention at the time that you raised it with me as I did do today it would have been resolved long before now.” That what his comment to me was. Now and as I say he himself in fairness to him he himself came out and said totally his fault that I had instructed him or not instructed had asked him he is not my employee for me to be instructing him as such but had asked him to pay it back and that he didn’t do it at the time. He put it on the long finger. He put it on the long finger and it hadn’t been dealt with and as I say that was what left me in the situation of where 1. I thought it had been dealt with and 2. that where I never and then at that stage since September, October whenever LPS was in Finance Meeting that I had an interest to declare at that stage.

JD 46:21

I am trying to clarify Mr McHugh so that I understand it correctly between June and when you got the phone call from the media outlet there was no further discussion by anybody about this money.

MM 46:40

No not really no. I know. Not that I can recollect anyway.

JD 46:48

So enlighten me to this aspect of Ruairi McHugh’s role as your office manager. Does that entail any aspect of funds?

MM 47:02

He would make the returns, he would submit the returns to Stormont for any expenses that I incur in our office. In other words as an example, the electricity, he would send up those bills to Stormont and they would reimburse him but in terms of him handling finance or the like of that no. He has no involvement at all either in sanctioning expenses the likes of 41:19

JD 47:36

So does he have access to petty cash within your office or account.

MM 47:40

No effectively that, let’s say that we need materials for our office I have to go out and buy them. I go out physically and buy them myself and pay for them and that receipt is taken in and I give that to Ruairi McHugh who in turn then sends that into Stormont and then reimbursed.

JD 48:00

So he, what I am trying to establish I suppose, clarify is that his role then is albeit a member of staff who is also the office manager. Did he have any authority to sign cheques or make payments.

MM 48:14

But I don’t have any cheque book account in relation to that office.

JD 48:18

I am not saying you I am asking about Ruairi.

MM 48:21

But what I mean even in relation to the expenses for that office there is no chequebook account in relation to the expenses for that office. Any expenses in relation to that office they are either done directly you know with Stormont where they have a system set up for as I say they are paying the electricity about the only thing. Or let’s say if we were doing renovations within the office with the likes of it that was covered by Stormont then those bills are submitted and they pay them directly not us. We don’t pay them. So there is no cheque there to pay out any expenses in relation to the office and any of the other like what would essentially would be like petty cash type expenses it could include toiletries and things of that nature I actually go out physically and purchase them and I submit the receipts for that then as well too and they are paid directly into my account, my own bank account. It is paid into my own bank account. But there is no petty cash for that office or anything of that nature. And the only thing that you have then to is office supplies such as stationary and all that sort of stuff it is all ordered through Stormont. No cash involved. Ruairi McHugh signs no cheques.

JD 49:40

OK Thank you.


I suppose what this leads me to is that this six month gap which you felt by June was closed and paid off because it has your name against it in LPS terms it creates an issue or perception within that timeframe that the money wasn’t returned and that you did know about it. The perception. What you are explaining here, that you believe it to have been paid back, you then find out it wasn’t paid back in October from the media.

MM 50:20

Exactly yeah.


What was going through your head at that stage when you receive the call you realise this whole time, what is your main worry at that stage.

MM 50:35

I was shocked. I was shocked I thought Oh my God has this not been dealt with. Totally, absolutely shocked and that again I went back to the constituency organiser he says that it is sorted now. In other words there was no confusion about monies going back in a sense. In that he knew that had to be dealt with. But I was totally shocked. As much shocked as anyone else was.


Did you think at that point that it put you in a bad position?

MM 51:10

My own personal integrity, I hold it above and beyond everything else even beyond that of my party and I made them aware of that as well too. But in West Tyrone a lot of people who know me and they have known me for a long time and my personal integrity goes above that.


Thank you for that. But I suppose that explains why that would have been quite shocking to you.

MM 51:39

It was shocking to me. Not only does that impact on me and even the way it was being presented on the radio that you would have thought that in some way I had a personal gain out of it. They described it as Steve Aiken does here that it went into my account and all this sort of language and all. It is a reflection on only me but my family and I was hurt about it.


I understand.

MM 52:07

Extremely hurt about it and it is for the same reason that the head of our party Mary Lou McDonald was involved in the whole investigation into this as well and it was regarded at that level of seriousness in every respect and she was only too well aware of how I felt about that at the time.

JD 52:32

And in relation to the topic of your integrity which you clearly articulated is critically important to you.

MM 52:41

Above and beyond everything else.

JD 52:42

If that is correct then would it not have been more sensible and wiser of you to articulate that much earlier on and ensure that Barry McColgan had done what you had asked him to do to protect your integrity

MM 53:05

It’s all so easy after the fact. But at that point in time I never thought for one second that it was in danger. Not for one second. I thought that it had been dealt with completely absolutely and it wasn’t until this broke and it was being presented in such a way that where it was very much a personal attack on me. A personal attack on me in fact at the outset even whenever it first would have come to my attention and I had given that instruction I thought it was really straightforward to go and get this sorted out. I didn’t really. I never thought for one second that it was going to have the .. so that I wasn’t sitting thinking in the month of May or June that I had to go out to defend my personal integrity at that time. I never felt under attack at that time in terms of my own personal integrity.

JD 54:06

OK Thank you


I have drafted this sort of time line and the reason that I am bringing it up is to show you our understanding and to see if you understand the same. So on the 3rd April LPS sends the grant for 10 grand to that account which now established as the West Tyrone account. The LPS account is in your name but the money went into the Development Fund, the West Tyrone Development Fund. There is a remittance by mail sent to you in the post that you received. Now beyond the 3rd April there are five Finance Committee meetings. There is a check that we have sight of and there is a Nolan Show between the 5th, between the 14th, the committee of the 14th and then you have the 26th October. And I suppose what I was going to show you which I don’t have the access to now, we were having difficulties with the WiFi in this building no surprise. And I was just going to show you where at each of those events in green, each of those Finance Committee meetings Dr Aiken asks you and it is very clear in these clips that I was going to show you do you have any interest to declare and you have now explained to us if I am correct in recalling what you have said earlier that you would not have thought that there was an interest to declare because your view was that it was paid back in June.

MM 55:38



OK. Equally on the 7th and 21st and these are clips you can’t look at because I am not able to play them here. But there was a lot of discussion with LPS and my question to you is you have mentioned it already but I just want to be very clear for the record that at no time did that jog your memory just to double check with Barry McColgan that he paid it back. It just didn’t happen.

MM 56:04

No, never even came in to my head.


And do you wish it did

MM 56:07

I am sure I do yes. But it never even came into my head once that it was still an outstanding issue.

SD 56:18

Commissioner, I appreciate I am not allowed to give evidence, can I seek a point of clarification? Is it suggested that this particular grant scheme was discussed at any of the meetings?


The grant scheme is for small businesses were discussed at some of these meetings.

SD 56:31

This particular rate relief scheme.

JD 56:31



Yeah they went on in fact they were talking about the payments that had to go back because this is when the Nolan Show you know along those lines there was a lot of talk about money going back to wind turbines and whatever Nolan had uncovered and that it appeared to me that they were discussing it an awful lot in these Finance Committee Meetings, Mr Snowden and his colleagues were there at one stage. And so we, on 26th October I want to ask you about this. Do you know much about a contact that was made to LPS to ask them how to repay the grants?

MM 57:16

Initially whenever I queried this with Barry McColgan he told me that he was attempting to make contact with LPS to see how to repay this and took that. That was at the initial stages how to repay this. I was told that at that time.


But not on the 26th is that it when you were told.

MM 57:39

26th October ?


October time is that when McColgan.

MM 57:43

No No. This was at the outset. 26th October, contacting, asking.


Mr Snowden was contacted on 26th October by someone he..

MM 57:54

Alright well that would have been Barry McColgan again too. If they are saying that someone contacted them on 26th October about how to repay the grant that would have been Barry McColgan. Not me.


On that same day they received the money.

MM 58:12

That would have been Barry McColgan.


It went to the Newtownabbey Branch Cloughfern.



MM 58:17

But no that would have been Barry McColgan who would have dealt with that at that time. I knew nothing about that.


OK. I mean that cheque we have sight of that cheque and it actually has a date of 15th October. You wouldn’t know anything about the cheque.

MM 58:30

No No I knew nothing about that.


OK. These were the. This was some of the discussion I was going to show you if required and they are from the September 30th meeting, the October 7th meeting and they were just to show that yes it was brought up and yes in terms of does anybody have a conflict and yes some of these meetings actually had Mr Snowden from LPS and of course you are saying that none of them jogged your memory to perhaps ask. There was an October 21st Finance Committee meeting as well where it again it was asked. And then I just want to bring your attention to these things. It then broke on Nolan. And the outworkings of this were that this actual grant money was only paid back once it was found to have not been paid back by the media and I guess what I wanted to ask was and you could see it on all the media outlets. What I was hoping to ask was you know when would this have been caught, when would you or anybody have known that if it wasn’t for the media. Do you know?

MM 59:55

I couldn’t speculate about that. I couldn’t speculate about that but I know that if it hadn’t. I just couldn’t speculate about that. There is no good in me pretending otherwise. Had it been brought to my attention again that this still hadn’t been repaid then I would have dealt with it again. I would have taken it a stage further. In fact it was a question that was put to me within our party that had I not put this up the line. I said I thought I had done whenever I went to the constituency organiser that I had been up the line and said I need this dealt with, I need this done or you know pay this money. So that if that had of continued to be the case and I was aware of it. If I was aware of it I would have ensured then that it would have been paid back. So but you know.

JD 1:00:49

But that’s why I asked you earlier on the question as to what meetings, communication from June until October there was with your office manager with Barry with whoever else and you are telling us if I understand you correctly that at no time from when you were notified by correspondence by post by the LPS until October that you didn’t realise this money had not been paid back.

MM 1:1:21

I did not realise it had not been paid back. But I also told you too that on a number of different occasions I had actually raised this directly with Barry McColgan and we didn’t have minuted meetings on it but he would come to our office maybe again intermittently maybe once or twice a month or the likes of it and it was raided with him particularly in the month of May and in June.

JD 1:1:44

But did you not say to Barry, “Barry my reputation is on the line here would you please make sure that that is paid back and will you please notify me as soon as its paid back because I want a clear conscience"

MM 1:1:57

In retrospect that would be have been the right thing to do. But I never believed that to be the case at the time. That my reputation was on the line or anything else. I probably had more confidence in him as the constituency organiser and that he would carry out his duties.

JD 1:02:19

So getting back then to the media. When you were contacted and you then made the phone call presumably to Barry and said the press are hounding me, what’s going on? What did he tell you?

MM 1:02:35

He told me that it is being dealt with. I think maybe it was the day before or the same day I just can’t confirm exactly the dates but he says aye I have got it paid now.

JD 1:02:48

Can you tell me this. The Commissioner has alluded to the cheque that was made out on 15th October and has two signatures on it. Do you know Helen McErlain?

MM 1:03:01



That’s it there.



JD 1:03:04

I’m sorry I wasn’t sure if it was working.


There you go just in case you want to see it.

JD 1:03:09

Who are those signatures? Can you tell us?

MM 1:03:15

Helena. I know Helena she works in the Omagh office. And who is the other? Is that.


We can’t make it out ourselves.

MM 1:03:29

I’m sure that other one and I can’t make it out from that signature there. Is a..

JD 1:03:35

Well let me show you the hard copy that I have got that maybe is clearer. I don’t think it is maybe clearer.

MM 1:03:43

Yep. No its not any clearer.

JD 1:03:59

Well then perhaps you can answer me this question

MM 1:04:00

Yep sorry I can perhaps answer your question in another way. I think that is Catherine yep.

JD 1:04:15

You think that’s?

MM 1:04:16


JD 1:04:20

That is Catherine, I do have her details here.

MM 1:04:24

Catherine McColgan.

JD 1:04:28

That’s not Catherine Kelly?

MM 1:04:31

Oh Aye she was Kelly. Aye her married name is McColgan aye. Catherine Kelly yeah that is who it is. I call her. Sorry my mistake.

JD 1:04:37

So that is Catherine just so that I understand this correctly.

MM 1:04:41

Catherine Kelly aye.

JD 1:04:41

That signature on 15th October is Helena McIhain is that right?

MM 1:4:48

McElhone I think her second name is.

JD 1:04:51

And the signature of the West Tyrone MLA Catherine Kelly

MM 1:04:55


JD 1:04:58

Thank you.

MM 1:05:02

And I am sure that you are well aware too that Catherine Kelly was asked to stand down as well too as a MLA because of the very fact that she was a signatory to that account and would have seen as I say the statements to that account and whatever else there might have been. She lost her job as well.

JD 1:05:26

Well then just for clarification and I wasn’t aware of that so thank you. She was a MLA at the time when she signed that cheque.

MM 1:05:35


JD 1:05:37

Why were you as a MLA not authorised to sign cheques?

MM 1:05:41

Because I had nothing to do with the account. I am not authorised to sign cheques with say whatever accounts that Sinn Fein have I don’t know. Different accounts that they maybe have in different areas but there was no need for me to be authorised to sign any cheques anywhere because in my office I deal with all of my own financial affairs. Completely and I don’t. I am not signatory to any account in Sinn Fein.

JD 1:06:07

But the perception rightly or wrongly is that the correspondence from LPS was sent to you in your name into that account with your name attached to it.

SD 1:06:22

I think we clarified that point. It’s not. There is two accounts. There is a LPS account and a bank account. Mr McHugh’s name is not attached to the bank account.

JD 1:06:30

But I asked the question to Mr McHugh and I will ask you to respect the rules. For clarification Mr McHugh you were notified by the LPS in early April about the grant.

MM 1:06:46


JD 1:06:48

That was in the ratepayers account which the account was in your name at that time.



JD 1:06:51

OK. Now that cheque and you will see the cheque number on there [sensitive information redacted]



JD 1:07:05

And the sort code is exactly the same account number and sort code that LPS notified you about the grant going into.

MM 1:09:19


JD 1:07:19

So your name is attached to that account.

MM 1:07:23

No it’s not.

JD 1:07:25

Well tell me how it’s not.

MM 1:07:27

It’s not attached to that account in any physical way at all. You know I had no authority on that account. I don’t sign cheques to it, I don’t pay monies into it, I don’t see statements for it. I have absolutely no associations to that account.

JD 1:07:46

Well let’s just backtrack and you may wish to reflect on your answer when you say you have no association to that account. You do have an association to that account because LPS have your details there. You have further association because you got your office manager Ruairi to make the phone call to Barry to say that this needs to be repaid. That’s fair comment is it not?

MM 1:08:13


SD 1:08:14

I am going to ask for break to confer because I am not happy that evidence is being characterised in the correct fashion so I would like to confer with Mr McHugh.


Let me turn off the mic.

JD 1:08:23

Actually no problem. I am trying to be clear and clarify in my understanding of what your evidence actually is.

MM 1:08:27

Yeah and I think I have been very clear in what it is that I have stated. And I again re-emphasised I had no responsibility in that account in any shape or form.

JD 1:08:46

On the clock.



JD 1:08:53

Mr McHugh you have had time to consult with your friend. I just want to be clear that because I am confused that LPS sent you the letter telling you about the grant and that account on the ratepayers account is the same account as the West Tyrone account it appears as you can see. Because that cheque has come from West Tyrone. It tells you that on the cheque.

MM 1:09:24

I have an association with the LPS account but I have no association with that bank account. I have no authorisation on that bank account, my name doesn’t appear anywhere in that bank account or any of the affairs of that bank account. I do not receive any statements in relation to that bank account and I have absolutely no authority over that bank account.

JD 1:09:55

OK I accept that and am grateful for that clarification. In that respect then does your name still appear on the LPS Rates Account?

MM 1:10:05

Not now. At that point in time it did but not now.


What does it say now if you don’t mind?

MM 1:10:13

I couldn’t honestly tell you from the top of my head but I know straight away anyway that whenever all this happened I said no what’s my name doing on that account anyway. So in fact it’s Sinn Fein’s offices and my name is just the one that is taken off it in a sense. And it is still dealt with through that account there in terms of their payment of their rates and all the rest of it because it was nothing to do with me.


It might have been clearer had they just used the address of the office.

MM 1:10:38

Exactly. Do you see at the outset. If that had been the case there would be no confusion.

JD 1:10:46

But can I take you back to paragraph 14 of your letter. “Dr Aiken’s complaint is therefore without foundation as it is entirely predicated on the incorrect assumption that I personally received the grant and that I or myself had power to return it."

MM 1:11:06


JD 1:11:07

You can understand now us having understood the true position that he would have been entitled to make that assumption.

MM 1:11:20

Well in all fairness, in all fairness if I was putting Dr Aiken through maybe what you are putting me through at the minute I would actually be saying to him why did you make that assumption, did you just go on the basis of what you heard Nolan say on TV whenever Nolan started to broadcast that Maoliosa McHugh received this into his own personal account. Well I think that is where he made his assumption because some of the other complainants are also people who are constantly on the Nolan Show making that same statement. So the fact that he didn’t check out his facts I think it might have been a much more serious offence in many ways that when he went on to make all of those allegations without having established the facts. But sorry just one other point I would just like to add as well too. Whenever he made that allegation this was after it had been broadcasted on the Nolan Show on the Friday after on the Friday morning that to the questions that Nolan had forwarded to my solicitor that it was made clear that I had absolutely no association with any of the accounts that the monies had been paid into and that I hadn’t in any way received any personal gain or advantage of that from this payment so all the more reason why and I don’t know why it is that you ask me that I should be forgiving Steve Aiken for making a wrong assumption because he’s the guy making the allegation against me.

JD 1:12:52

No I am not asking you to make any, forgive anybody.

MM 1:12:57

No but you said you can understand why it is that he made the wrong assumption. No not really. I would have thought that at his level and as Chair of that committee as well too he should have checked out his facts before he starts to make these allegations against me

JD 1:13:10

But until this afternoon and our engagement with you we have only just understood the correct chronology of facts

MM 1:13:18


JD 1:13:22

So Dr Aiken would not have the benefit that we have just had this afternoon

MM 1:13:26

Well Dr Aiken I’m sure that in the time that Nolan was attempting to make news or attract an audience to his station he would have heard that response coming up from my solicitors at that time that I had no art nor part nor any involvement with the accounts that these monies had been paid into and yet and all he continues in his allegations to cite me and in fact if we went back through it. Secret of £10,000 wait to we see . Aye


So I could take you through that if you would like.

MM 1:14:03

I am just going down through it but again he implies that I was receiving this into a personal account somewhere along the lines. Totally untrue.


I mean just to bring you through Dr Aiken’s complaint and just to get on record your response directly to this complaint. So Rule 1 and this just to be clear he cites one further rule than Mr Allister’s complaint but they are very similar so we can cover off. Rule 1. You shall base your conduct on a consideration of the public interest avoid conflict between personal and public and resolve any conflict between the two at once and in the favour of the public interest. He said, given that Mr McHugh had a very personal interest in the shape of £10,000 from LPS in a bank account in his name he should have declared that on any occasion when small business grants were discussed when LPS official appeared before the committee. He did not do that and is therefore in reach of this rule.

MM 1:15:02

So just at that very first point – bank account in his name. Absolutely no bank account. Only bank account that is in my name is my own personal bank account that has nothing to do with Sinn Fein nor to do with the payment of rates or anything else like it and that there is no bank account in my name and never had been and that was made very clear on the radio station as well too. And that is the very point that I make to you that don’t tell me that he wasn’t listening to that programme at that point in time. I am sure he was well enough informed of that and yet and all he was still was challenging nearly that fact in some way by making this allegation into a bank account in may name and I think if you go one he probably repeats that as well does he not.


Well he says that Rule 4 registering interest he says that it is his contention that £10,000 small business grant from LPS deposited in a bank account in Mr McHugh’s name constitutes a registerable interest which should have been clearly declared in the Register of Member’s Interests. He did not do so and is therefore in breach of this rule.

MM 1:16:09

Again, the statement again which is totally and absolutely unfounded and you can imagine now that if I was sitting making that same statement you or you that you could feel really offended by that and that is exactly the kind of message that has been put out by Nolan and he continued on that same message and making his allegations against me here that has me here now today.


OK Rule 5. You shall declare whether an Assembly proceedings or any approach to a minister, public representative, public body or public official any relevant interest which might reasonably be thought to influence your approach to the matter under consideration. A relevant interest means an interest to which chapter 2 of the guide to the Rules applies and may include a registerable interest and it is my contention says Dr Aiken that the £10,000 small business grant received from LPS into a bank account in Mr McHugh’s name could reasonably be held to be something which might be thought to influence your approach to the matter under consideration not least if further schemes emerge with new payments. No such interest was declared and so Mr McHugh is in breach of this rule.

MM 1:17:21

And again into a bank account in my name, you know totally wrong. Totally wrong.


If you had if in other words my question I have asked you this earlier if you had any inkling or something sparked your mind to check with him and this would have been, maybe uncovered long before October 28th, 26th. In that respect would you have declared it.

MM 1:17:55

Of course I would. And there is no reason why I shouldn’t because at the end of the day it wasn’t any interest for me. In any respect and that if I knew this was happening and I had to address it directly to Ian Snowden in at the meeting for him to resolve it, you know for him to go along and actually do something about it. Of course I would have said to him. I would have no difficulty with that but it wasn’t even in my..


You thought it was fixed.

MM 1:18:20


JD 1:18:22

Do you accept Mr McHugh that from a public perception aspect that the LPS sent you the letter on the rates because your name was on the rates, they had the account number, it’s the same account number as it turns out now to be the West Tyrone Sinn Fein office account number that any ordinary member of the public would think that you were associated to that account because your name was on the rates bill.

MM 1:18:53

Yes I can totally appreciate that and in particularly the way that it was presented and whenever they even used that terminology that LPS has confirmed it was paid into an account in Mr McHugh’s name you know how the general public can then assume you are talking there about a bank account and they are talking there about an account that I had and that this money goes into whereas the LPS account is different from the bank account in every respect.

JD 1:19:28

But you have already told us that you had an interest in the. The party is the West Tyrone Sinn Fein Office Account. Your name was on that account whether you like or whether you don’t. The LPS had that, that’s why they sent it to you.

MM 1:19:47

They talk about the LPS account.

JD 1:19:47

So therefore the public perception is that you did have an interest in that account and because you have told us what you have told us this afternoon, confirms that you had an interest because you got your office manager to contact Barry at the Omagh office to put this situation right. Your error is that you failed to follow up on that and ensure that Barry had paid it back as you thought he was going to do.

MM 1:20:21

In your judgement you.

JD 1:20:21

Well no it’s not my judgement I am saying those are the facts.

MM 1:20:29

You are saying my error is that I failed to follow up on that. I thought I had followed up on that and I thought it had been addressed and I thought it had been dealt with.

JD 1:20:36

So therefore it is your error..

MM 1:20:42

That was a mistake in the first instance yeah.

JD 1:20:43

Thank you.


Can I just go back to Dr Aiken’s complaint just to get the response I need from you in terms of each of these rules that he alleged. He alleged that you shall use or attempt to use your position as a member to improperly to confer an advantage of preferential treatment on either yourself or any person to avoid disadvantage or create advantage for someone else. The failure to declare says Dr Aiken the £10,000 small business grant from LPS deposited in a bank account in Mr McHugh’s name potentially leaves Mr McHugh vulnerable to the charge that any comments in the Committee or Assembly about any grant scheme he was seeking to confer advantage or preferential treatment for either yourself or any other person. As such he is in breach of this rule.

MM 1:21:35

I have to reply to each of these haven’t I?


Yeah. Just getting your view again on that.

MM 1:21:43

Which rule is that 4.


This is rule 14. 4.1.14.

MM 1:21:49

And I didn’t receive the £10,000 and the grant was not as is wrongly alleged paid into my account.


Into your account OK.

MM 1:21:54

That is exactly right. I had no interest to declare 1:22:00 I never sought to confer an advantage or preferential treatment and I have no difficulty in making that statement again to that it would be unfair to assume that as I haven’t received anything into my account.


And in terms of Rule 19 taking care to ensure that your staff uphold the rules of conduct. Your staff being Ruairi because you are not in charge of.. Do you think there was anything you could have done differently?

MM 1:22:33

No in fact I would commend Ruairi for being the very person who picked this up in the first instance and brought it to my attention and that he had reminded me in that 1:22:40 too and asked for the other person i.e. Barry McColgan, he’s not my member of staff and again Ruairi McHugh I think he done his job. Again he was the person too that only came into this job in January but then like all these things a lot of people were dealing with for the first time ever. They never had to deal with stuff like this before.


Did you receive a payment confirmation from the LPS once you paid after 26th After that cheque was received who did they send the confirmation of payment to? At that stage was it still in your name? the LPS account?

MM 1:23:28

Whenever that was repaid it would still have been in my name at that time. The confirmation payment I don’t know who would have received it.


But you don’t remember receiving it.

MM 1:23:38

I don’t remember receiving it myself or ever seeing it. I don’t remember offhand no. You have a lot going on in your head at times as MLAs with mail coming in and email and everything else but I don’t remember no confirmation but it wouldn’t have been after that that the rates account as opposed to the bank account. The bank account is probably still the same The rates account is not just the Strabane Constituency Office.



JD 1:24:13

So the rates are now the Bann Constituency office?

MM 1:24:15

Strabane Constituency office.

JD 1:24:17

Strabane Constituency office so is your name associated to any bank account at the moment other than your own personal account.

MM 1:24:26

I have already said that. I have no accounts on behalf of Sinn Fein. I don’t sign and I have never signed and any accounts on behalf Sinn Fein. Not as a councillor not as an MLA at any point in time and any transactions that are paid for by cash in relation to that office I pay for them myself with my own debit card, credit card or whatever and I submit the receipts to Stormont.

JD 1:25:05

On the 18th November there was another Finance Committee meeting which you attended and at that meeting the Land and Property Service also gave evidence. You may recall that you may not but you can certainly look at it in your own time. And at that point in time the chair notified the committee that he had raised a complaint with the Commissioner Office. You are aware of that?

MM 1:25:34


JD 1:25:37

And throughout that session I think it was the Ian from the LPS went through in great detail and explained how the system worked, who was entitled to it, who was excluded, including MLAs, MLA’s offices. Vacant properties etc etc. Again at no time during that meeting that I can find did you declare any conflict of interest. Is that correct?

MM 1:26:10

I am sure if you have been through the minutes of the meeting that is correct, Aye. In fact I remember that particular meeting as well that were I think it might have been Jim Allister in particular that was if anything hounding Ian to nearly make a statement or judgment that could have been regarded as i.e.political and he avoided that. Now so that was after all of this had blown up and after the repayments had been made and all that so again.

JD 1:26:46

I accept all that

MM 1:26:48

Yeah again just as a ratepayer You know that is the only interest I had then as a ratepayer i.e. on my own house not even on our offices anymore.

JD 1:26:59

But the reason I raised it is that the question may well be asked knowing what you knew in October and this meeting was on the 18th November. On the same topic did you not feel any embarrassment in having to sit through that committee meeting knowing what you knew and saying I have to excuse myself from this committee meeting.

MM 1:27:24

No. And the reason I felt no embarrassment was because I know and I still know and I still I done nothing wrong. So I wasn’t embarrassed about people discussing about LPS and the likes of it at that stage. It is a different issue altogether in terms of what was I ashamed of. What should I be embarassed about?

JD 1:27:57

Well I am simply asking the question because the embarrassment would have been that you knew that the office had been in receipt of that money, that it hadn’t been paid back, that your integrity was under the spotlight because your member of staff had contacted Ruairi and Ruairi had not serviced your needs correctly.



MM 1:28:18

The other way around.

JD 1:28:19

Sorry Barry. Those are the facts.

MM 1:28:27

I don’t know what you want me to say? That is your interpretation of that and you are asking me was I embarrassed, did I blush. You know whenever LPS were there. I wasn’t there feeling as if that I was embarrassed because of our dealing with that whole issue and let’s face it that particular issue didn’t just relate to the Sinn Fein offices it related to quite a number of other business units and that as well too and a greater part of the other ones had never and still haven’t paid the monies back. So I wasn’t sitting there feeling embarrassed and this answer to your question you asked me was I embarrassed. No. I wasn’t embarrassed because I know that I haven’t done anything wrong and I felt that I was entitled to be at that meeting as much as anyone else and I had nothing to be embarrassed about in that respect.

JD 1:29:19

OK well the reason I have asked the question is that if you go Mr Allister’s complaint. In his complaint he concludes that by reason of your actions you have failed to conduct yourself in a manner which would tend to maintain and strengthen the public’s trust and confidence in the integrity of the Assembly and thereby you brought the Assembly into disrepute. What’syour response to that.

MM 1:29:46

I don’t believe that I did do but probably that’s your judgement you know if you have to make a judgement on that complaint that he is making there. I don’t agree with him. I don’t agree with Jim Allister and what it is he is saying and I totally disagree with what is was that Jim Allister even said during this radio station whenever he was being interviewed about the whole issue as well as I did do with Steve Aiken. I don’t agree with him on that judgement either.


So just to bring you back to the radio show. You say you, there was a statement on regarding this, the way your lawyer gave answers to the Nolan show was that read out on the Nolan Show.

MM 1:30:25

It was read out, yeah. It was read out. In fact I would go as far as to say whenever it was read out that Nolan avoided the issue the following Monday morning. All of a sudden it was nearly like a, it was like a torpedo to all of the allegations that he was actually making at the time implying that I had benefitted in some way, that I had received into my own personal account. How do you not know when you have £10,000 sitting in your personal account. That was his line at that time you know.

JD 1:30:59

Why did your solicitor speak on your behalf and you didn’t personally speak. Can you enlighten us to that.

MM 1:31:07

I wouldn’t communicate with the Nolan Show at a personal level. In the first instance knowing only too well that the way that he.. it’s a contortion of the truth very very often and that is what it is one hears and when that type of allegation is being made I knew, I knew because it was actually affecting my own reputation that as well that I needed to deal with this totally within a legal context.

JD 1:31:38

OK no I am just trying to contextualise it and to be fair and understand why you didn’t personally speak and defend your position.

MM 1:31:47

Well I was personally speaking through my solicitor. My solicitor was answering the questions you know through my solicitor I was sending that in but that was me that he was representing. It is not as if to say that I was there like a ventriloquist or something you know this was him speaking what it was that I had told him exactly.


And following from that you say that you noticed Nolan retracted from talking about the story too much. You feel it was an effective answer to these questions and these allegations. Is that correct?

MM 1:32:20

They were exactly and I am sure you can go back and even listen to that particular broadcast if needs be but I can remember some of the specific questions, when did you get the money, and when it did it go into your account and this type of stuff and it was all no, no, no down the line.


And do you find that after that I mean John referred to the November 18th meeting and beyond. How do you feel now today in terms of this whole issue. Is that, is it something that is still being investigated by Sinn Fein. They have obviously got, some staff have left not maybe by their own choice and so where is it now because I am conscious of the fact that this was back in October and we are now in March so what is the current situation.

MM 1:33:08

There is no further investigation into my particular situation. In relation to the whole events and that in and around this at the time. What has actually happened probably in a different respect is that emphasis is there for each and every office no matter where it is 1:33:34 where they are dealing with finance it is the highest standards are expected all the time. And that message has gone out hard and strong. Everywhere and I know too that it has left me that I am much more alert to things that would come into my office one way or the other, insuring just that everything is passed to me in relation to things of that nature.


Are there any court cases against you or did anybody make this a legal thing.

MM 1:34:01



OK. No it was mentioned I remember at a point because I had to stop my investigation initially because somebody was looking into criminal, looking to the police about this whole allegation and that so I just wanted to follow up on that.

MM 1:34:17

No I am not aware of that at all


No and in effect I confirmed that there was nothing at the time but I just didn’t know beyond that so that I could proceed with it. Do you have any further questions for us because I think as far as I am concerned I have asked as many questions as I wanted to at the moment. John may have some.

JD 1:34:38

I just have one final question and you may or may not be able to answer this but had this situation, these events not been made public on 26th October when do you think if ever that money may have been paid back.

MM 1:34:57

You asked me that question earlier.


I asked it earlier.

JD 1:35:00

Well then would you like to answer again.

MM 1:35:02

Again. I made the same point I think that whenever you said that to me if it had been brought to my attention again that it still hadn’t been paid back I would have again going a stage further again. So after that I don’t speculate on there is no point in me. I wouldn’t know.

JD 1:35:23

My analysis is this. The media article set a chain of events in action where the money was paid back. The questions are that the money was paid back on 26th, 27th October. There is a cheque made out here on 15th October so there is 10, 11 days gap between the cheque was written and signed before it was deposited.Yeah.

MM 1:35:55

I knew nothing about that cheque. I knew nothing about when it was signed. I know nothing about when it was paid as I pointed out earlier on that I became aware of this just the same as everyone else in terms of the general public and the events in terms of the issuing of that cheque and the likes of it I knew nothing about it. Now but going back to your original question again too was this ever going to come to light in a sense. I would have thought that whenever people would have being doing yearly accounts again too and even then submitting them within the party to whatever it is that the constituency organiser would submit the accounts to all of a sudden it would be seen. Aye listen look where’s that. How come that’s sitting there. I think that is very likely. I am only speculating you know in them situations.

JD 1:36:51

And that’s why I asked you the other question that I asked you is that between June and October when this money was paid back at all your discussions with your colleagues, Ruairi, Barry whoever else this topic of conversation never arose.

MM 1:37:05

No and I am not on any committee that would have been dealing with the returns in terms of the financial accounting in relation to the West Tyrone Development Fund. I am not any committee 1:37:18 either you know so I wouldn’t have seen that. I have never seen statements, not even to this day I’ve never seen statements of that account, they go to a different office.

JD 1:37:28

Thank you.


Mr McHugh is you have no other questions for us. Do you have any questions for us?

MM 1:37:36

I don’t think so.


I just wanted to remind you and the reason I am doing this is because I am doing it with anybody who comes before me that there is a Rule 17 which says that this is a confidential matter and not to be spoken of. It is an investigation so it is to be kept confidential. What’s happened today in terms of this. Of course you will receive your thing but I ask that you keep this matter confidential in terms of this interview. It is Rule 17 basically of your code. Buts there is people who may not have in the past been keeping this, not this investigation but other investigations confidential so I am using this as an opportunity to remind you to maintain confidence within the structures of this process. Please.

SD 1:38:20

Commissioner on that point and it is not the evidence relevant to this complaint or this hearing but it is obvious from Mr Devitt own questions today that Mr Aiken did reveal the fact and the content of this complaint at committee meeting and he has breached Rule 17 Section 33 of Due Process of Law Act. Now it is something 1:38:51 discuss and don’t really want to get into a tit for tat complaints but it is something that we are going have to reflect on because there has been a very clear breach of Rule 17 by Mr Aiken.


And of course you are within your rights to make any complaint you wish as long as you know it has where you believe there has been a breach of the rules and the code of conduct so that is for you to decide. But I am just making it quite clear that I am starting to understand that we need to Rule 17 quite strictly.

SD 1:39:17

Proactive steps to make sure people are aware of it.


Yeah maybe so. So I am understanding that better. I will be sending you once do get this recording transcribed, you will have sight of it and 14 days to suggest any changes, not substantive of course but if you wanted something substantive to be different you could arrange another interview but in the event 14 days if any small changes that you think are wrong or something and at that stage I hope we can get this concluded you know within a timely fashion if you like. But I just want to thank you for coming today and for your cooperation. And if you have any questions in the interim of then and now please don’t hesitate to get in touch with Elizabeth and we will take it from there anyway.

MM 1:40:19

Within two weeks we will receive this transcript yeah.


You will probably receive it sooner than two weeks.

MM 1:40:25



You will receive it sooner than two weeks but you have 14 days to get back to me with any changes.

MM 1:40:31

And in respect of any judgement or decision.


Well I hope to be able to make, you know it is a report now, this will be formal report so I have to make sure the transcripts are in within the 14 days and all of that and so hopefully I would say I hope within the month of April. I hope. I can’t give you a definitive because we are working on a few other investigations at the moment so I have to be time wise I am never sure but that is my goal. OK

MM 1:41:05

Right. Go raibh maith agat.

SD 1:41:06

Go raibh maith agat.

MM 1:41:07

Go raibh maith agat. Thank you.


Thank you so much.


Find MLAs

Find your MLAs

Locate MLAs


News and Media Centre

Visit the News and Media Centre

Read press releases, watch live and archived video

Find out more

Follow the Assembly

Follow the Assembly on our social media channels

Keep up-to-date with the Assembly

Find out more

Useful Contacts

Contact us

Contacts for different parts of the Assembly

Contact Us