Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Stormont Assembly Members McDevitt, Lunn and Allister in spotlight for employing relatives

Trevor Lunn, Alliance Party

Three Northern Ireland MLAs have been in the spotlight in recent weeks for paying close relatives from the public purse.

SDLP South Belfast MLA Conall McDevitt  quit politics after a series of revelations about his earnings and expenses.

More than £14,000 from Mr McDevitt's Assembly office cost allowance was paid to researchers through his wife's firm, JM Consulting. Joanne Murphy also received £16,000 in public funds in the last two years, carrying out research for him in his role as a member of the Northern Ireland Policing Board.

Alliance MLA Trevor Lunn has insisted he acted within the rules after confirming he employed his wife for research and clerical duties at taxpayers' expense. Mr Lunn said he paid a Policing Board allowance to his wife for "support services". The Lagan Valley MLA gave no details of earnings. However, each party on the Policing Board receives a £16,000 allowance for research services.

And the TUV defended its leader Jim Allister employing his daughter as his constituency researcher, saying she was "there on merit".

The TUV's comments came after Lord Bew – a Queen's University professor and the chairman of the UK's Committee on Standards in Public Life – said a regional body should be set up in Northern Ireland to advise Stormont on ethical standards, such as the employment of family.

"The position that has been arrived at is that one (family employee) is satisfactory," he said.

"There is no debate in London that Members of Parliament should actually have more than one member of their family on their staff... and in that sense Northern Ireland is in a different place on this issue."

The practice is common among some parties here, with 61% of DUP members having family members working for them.

Under current rules, MPs at Westminster cannot employ more than one relative, and Lord Bew thinks that this should be the case throughout the UK.

Almost a third of MLAs at Stormont employ a family member but the practice varies between parties.

For instance, 23 out of 38 DUP MLAs employ a relative, while Sinn Fein and the Green Party don't employ any.

Lord Bew said: "Under current policy, the CSPL cannot intervene in Northern Ireland matters unless specifically invited to do so by the Assembly authorities."

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