TUV bids to cut adviser numbers
An Assembly bid to cut the number and pay of ministerial political advisers at Stormont has been launched by the TUV.
Party leader Jim Allister has drafted a private members' Bill which, he claimed, will address the "excesses" of special adviser (Spad) use in the power-sharing Executive.
Mr Allister said he was motivated by a recent controversy surrounding the alleged conduct of a Spad to former DUP Social Development minister Nelson McCausland.
An inquiry by the DSD committee into the awarding of Housing Executive maintenance contracts examined an allegation that Mr McCausland's special adviser Stephen Brimstone tried to pressurise a DUP councillor, who was a member of the Housing Executive Board, to change her vote at a board meeting considering a contract.
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.
Both Mr McCausland and Mr Brimstone denied wrong doing when they appeared before the DSD committee.
Mr Allister said his 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 TUV leader said the Stormont Executive employed "significantly more" special advisers than the other devolved institutions and also paid them more, with many earning over £90,000.
His Bill would reduce the number of Spads in the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister from eight to four and would link the salaries of all Spads to the senior civil service pay band grade five.
"The cost and number of special advisers at Stormont has got out of hand," Mr Allister said.
"In this time of austerity they are a disproportionate drain on public resources. This needs to be addressed, along with the disciplinary deficit, as illustrated by the rescue of Stephen Brimstone from any discipline by his minister. My Bill addresses all these issues and brings much needed control to a publicly funded sector which is out of control."
A public consultation on the TUV proposal will be held over the next nine weeks, with the Bill set to be introduced in the Assembly in September.
However, with all Executive parties using Spads, it is uncertain what level of support Mr Allister will obtain for his legislative bid.
In 2013, Mr Allister successfully passed a private members' Bill that prevented anyone with a conviction for a serious criminal offence becoming a Spad.
The law change prevented ex-prisoners who were jailed for five years or more from becoming political advisers and was brought forward after former IRA prisoner Mary McArdle was appointed as adviser to Sinn Fein Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin.