A row over Stormont’s special advisers has returned to haunt the Executive with a spat between the DUP and Sinn Fein.
Finance Minister Sammy Wilson said he was refusing to approve funding for Sinn Fein’s most recently appointed adviser, Jarlath Kearney, because the party had refused to follow new guidelines.
Sinn Fein insisted any new procedures had never been fully discussed or approved by the Executive.
Mr Wilson said he was reviewing the appointment process for advisers following Sinn Fein’s appointment of convicted murderer Mary McArdle as an adviser to Culture and Arts Minister Caral Ni Chuilin last year.
The revamp was sent to ministers for comment but it was made clear that any new guidelines could not lead to any action being taken retrospectively against Ms McArdle.
Then, earlier this year, Ms McArdle was replaced by former journalist Mr Kearney and Sinn Fein said it was not aware of any issue over payments.
The DUP’s Mr Wilson said Sinn Fein had not applied for security clearance for Mr Kearney and had therefore failed to comply with the arrangements.
“I do not know whether the in
dividual would have got through the security vetting or not,” Mr Wilson added.
“It has not been applied for and if it has not been applied for then the guidance has not been adhered to and therefore payment will not be made from the public purse.”
The finance chief promised to re-examine the issue should Sinn Fein apply for security clearance for Mr Kearney.
Sinn Fein insisted it was part of its normal party policy to rotate staff and it was unaware of any issue over financing the special adviser’s post.
Following a pay rise last year, special advisers are eligible to earn salaries of up to £90,000.
With 19 adviser posts at Stormont — eight of them in the office of First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness — the overall costs could be up to £1.4m.
The salary levels of individual advisers have not been disclosed.
Traditional Unionist Voice MLA Jim Allister has been pursuing a private members bill in an attempt to make it law that no one with a serious criminal conviction can hold the office of adviser.
“This Assembly and every MLA have to decide whether they are really on the side of democracy.
“Why would anyone, apart from Sinn Fein, seek to stop this bill? Every decent MLA will vote for it,” he said.
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Sinn Fein’s appointment of convicted killer Mary McArdle as a special adviser sparked outrage among unionists last year. Ms McArdle was convicted for her role in the IRA attack on magistrate Tom Travers as he and and his family left a church in south Belfast — an ambush in which his daughter Mary was shot dead.