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Bid to cut Stormont's special advisers

By Noel McAdam

Published 30/06/2015

Leader of the TUV Jim Allister
Leader of the TUV Jim Allister

A new Bill at Stormont aims to cut the number of special advisers - and their pay.

Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister plans to introduce a Private Member's Bill targeting the high-earning, largely unaccountable and occasionally controversial ministerial advisers.

It follows earlier legislation Mr Allister steered through the Assembly thwarting people with convictions from becoming special advisers - better known as 'Spads'.

That law change prevented former prisoners who were jailed for five years or more from becoming Spads. It came after former IRA member Mary McArdle was appointed as adviser to Sinn Fein Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin.

McArdle was convicted and jailed for her role in the IRA murder of judge's daughter Mary Travers in Belfast in 1984.

Her appointment was met with anger by Ms Travers' sister Ann, who campaigned in support of the Spad Bill, which became known as Ann's Law.

The latest move, however, comes after in the wake of controversy surrounding Stephen Brimstone, who was special adviser to former DUP Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland and his successor Mervyn Storey. He now works for First Minister Peter Robinson.

Mr Brimstone was accused of trying to pressure former DUP councillor and Housing Executive board member Jenny Palmer to change her vote over contracts for maintenance firm Red Sky. Mrs Palmer has since resigned from the DUP.

A fact-finding investigation by the Civil Service into the incident recommended that Mr Brimstone face disciplinary action, but Mr McCausland subsequently declined to initiate any action. An inquiry by the Assembly's social development committee has criticised both Mr McCausland and Mr Brimstone, who both deny any wrongdoing.

Mr Allister said his new Bill would ensure that Spads are subject to Civil Service disciplinary processes in the future, with their ministers unable to intervene to "save" them. The Executive employs "significantly more" special advisers than the other devolved institutions and also paid them more, with many earning over £90,000, he said.

The TUV leader wants to halve the number of Spads in the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister from eight to four and would link their salaries to a lower pay grade.

"The cost and number of special advisers at Stormont has got out of hand," Mr Allister said.

There was no immediate response from the DUP. The number of Spads should reduce in any event with the proposed reduction in Stormont departments.

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