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£561 a day is rate for job keeping MLAs in line

By Margaret Canning

The job of policing name-calling and bad language by Stormont MLAs is up for grabs - at a rate of £561.04 per day.

Commissioner for Standards Douglas Bain - dubbed a "wee wimp" by the DUP's Sammy Wilson after finding he was in breach of conduct over calling the TUV's Jim Allister a "thug" - steps down from the five-year post this year.

And despite the lack of a functioning Executive, the Assembly is now looking for a replacement to probe complaints of breaches of the Assembly's code of conduct, and give advice on the standards of conduct of MLAs. The Assembly said the "politically sensitive" role was advertised at a daily rate because it was not a full-time position, and Commissioners were only called upon when their advice was needed.

But further information on the role does disclose how many days were worked by Mr Bain over the last two years.

He had earned £59,470 in the post, working the equivalent of 106 days in 2015, and £20,197.44, working 36 days in the role during 2016.

Mr Bain notched up the hours in 2015 dealing with incidents like then-East Antrim MLA Mr Wilson interrupting a Stormont committee evidence session to call Mr Allister a "thug". The DUP politician went on to call Mr Bain a "wee wimp" and a "faceless Commissioner" after the watchdog concluded that Mr Wilson had breached Stormont's code of conduct. The Commissioner ruled that the use of the word "thug" to describe Mr Allister contravened the respect principle within the MLAs' code of conduct.

Mr Bain concluded it was an "unreasonable and excessive personal attack" on Mr Allister.

Later, Mr Wilson called on Mr Bain to investigate Sinn Fein's Mairtin O Muilleoir - though Mr Bain said he would defer to an outside Commissioner.

Mr O Muilleoir said: "I am not going to get in the middle of those two. This could be a wrestling match at a WWF level.

"But I am willing to hold their coats."

Mr Bain's job was advertised in newspapers and online yesterday.

A spokeswoman for the Assembly said: "The functions of the Commissioner are demand-led and, hence, a yearly salary is not appropriate.

"A Commissioner only receives payment for the actual hours that are worked when carrying out the statutory functions of the post."

Commissioners who have already served five years in the job are not able to seek an extra term.

She added recruitment had to proceed despite the uncertainty prevailing at Stormont, adding: "The remuneration is in line with that paid for similar posts.

"The present Commissioner for Standards' term will end in September 2017.

"The Assembly is taking reasonable steps to ensure that there is no vacancy in the office of Commissioner."

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