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Ex-MLA given £65k Stormont pay off set to run for election again

By Noel McAdam

A former SDLP MLA is to run again in the Assembly election - despite receiving a Stormont severance package.

Dolores Kelly confirmed she got a resettlement payment and a winding-up allowance linked to the closure of her office.

Figures released by the Assembly this week, covering the period between April and May last year, show more than 30 MLAs who did not return to Stormont received over £1m between them. This included £696,331 in resettlement allowances, and a further £471,151 in winding-up expenditure.

Mrs Kelly received a total of £65,792, according to the Assembly figures covering this period.

But Mrs Kelly, who is 57, insisted there was nothing in the rules to prevent her from standing again. Yesterday, she told the Belfast Telegraph she received a final severance payment of around £34,000 - but said she was not prevented from running again.

"As I understand it, the rules do not preclude a person from standing for re-election. The payment is a redundancy to help people adjust back into normal life," she said.

Asked if she felt she should hand some of it back, Mrs Kelly said: "Well I would have to get elected first. Let's wait and see."

Mrs Kelly also confirmed her final winding up allowance totalled around £60,000, but said the money was used to pay off her staff.

"None of that money went to me. I had to pay off the equivalent of three full-time staff and they were paid up until September under a contractual agreement," she said.

In 2014, Mrs Kelly referred to the "scandal" of senior PSNI officers being rehired days after walking away with generous pay-offs.

The Public Accounts Committee had found that a fifth of officers who retired under the Patten reforms, were rehired as agency staff.

Mrs Kelly's defeat last May left Upper Bann without an SDLP representative in the Assembly, as the fight for the last seat went down to the wire.

She was finally squeezed out on the 11th count - only around 160 votes short of maintaining the seat she had held for 13 years.

That election saw Sinn Fein candidate Catherine Seeley - who is now bowing out of politics to return to her former job as a teacher - gain a second seat in Upper Bann for her party, alongside John O'Dowd.

Mrs Kelly said it had not been expected there would be another election until 2021 and she did not know if she would want to return to politics by that time.

This time, the number of seats in each constituency is reduced from six to five, making the contest more of a battle than ever.

Mrs Kelly confirmed she will be the only SDLP candidate, and said her sole concern was that the relatively low turn-out of last May could be repeated.

She said: "I think this is a concern among all the parties, but I am being told by people I meet that they are very angry and they want change.

"Well, if they want change, they will have to come out and vote for it. People will not get the change they want if they stay at home."

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