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Lack of faith in Stormont MLAs has led to dip in complaints

By Noel McAdam

The number of complaints against Assembly members has reached a new low - because so few people can be bothered to make them.

That is the view of the Assembly Commissioner for Standards Douglas Bain, who said the public has lost confidence not only in the complaints system - even though it has been simplified - but in the institution itself.

In his last annual report, published yesterday, Mr Bain said it was "most disappointing" that little or no action had been taken to inject more confidence into the system.

He said a series of recommendations he made last year have not been implemented. And he called for an immediate decision over a process on how people can also complain about himself.

Mr Bain said it was "wholly unsurprising" that the number of complaints about the conduct of MLAs had fallen from 53 in 2014-15 to a current low of nine in 2016-17.

"I believe that the reduction in complaints is due, in large part, to a continuing lack of public confidence in the complaints process and in the Assembly itself," he said.

"Last year I made a number of confidence building recommendations. It is most disappointing that little or no action has been taken to implement any of them. I believe that the only way this situation will be reversed is if my recommendations are implemented and I call for urgent action to be taken."

The commissioner's recommendations last year included the publication of brief details of all admissible complaints he receives; prohibiting the use of the controversial petition of concern - an Assembly voting mechanism that requires separate majorities of both unionists and nationalists - in relation to complaints; and appointing lay independent members to the Committee on Standards and Privileges.

The report is Bain's fifth and final because he is not eligible for re-appointment. The vacancy has already been advertised.

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