Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

TUV's Jim Allister 'employs daughter on merit'

TUV leader Jim Allister

THE TUV has defended leader Jim Allister employing his daughter as his researcher saying she was "there on merit".

The party made the comments after a call for a separate standards in public life body for the Assembly.

Lord Bew, who was once an adviser to then Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble, said he would like to see a Committee on Standards in Public Life in Northern Ireland.

Lord Bew was appointed as chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life earlier this month.

He suggested one issue that could be examined by any new body was that of MLAs employing their relatives.

The practice is common among some parties here, with 61% of DUP members having family members working for them.

Under current rules, MPs at Westminster cannot employ more than one relative, and Lord Bew thinks that this should be the case throughout the UK. A TUV spokesman defended Mr Allister (below) employing his daughter, saying she was in her position entirely "on merit".

He said: "Mr Allister has not kept the issue under the table, it has been a matter of public record for some time."

Lord Bew said he would like to see the Assembly brought into line with Westminster.

He said: "There is no debate in London that members of parliament should actually have more than one member of their family on their staff, and in that sense Northern Ireland is in a different place on this issue."

East Antrim DUP MLA Alastair Ross, chairman of the Assembly Committee on Standards and Privileges, questioned the call by Lord Bew for a new regional body to be set up in Northern Ireland.

Mr Ross said: "These comments are somewhat confusing given that the Committee on Standards in Public Life, the committee that Lord Bew now chairs, is a UK-wide body, and although principally reporting to Westminster, it does have scope to comment on devolved matters too.

"I fail to see what purpose a separate CSPL for Northern Ireland would serve, and will listen with interest to the reason for Lord Bew's intervention."

Almost a third of MLAs at Stormont employ a family member but the practice varies between parties. For instance, 23 out of 38 DUP MLAs employ a relative, while Sinn Fein and the Green Party both employ none.

Around 25% of Alliance Party MLAs employ family members, but it welcomed any new committee. Alliance Chief Whip Stewart Dickson MLA said: "Those who hold public office should be held to a higher standard, both in their actions and words."

An SDLP spokesman said: "The SDLP hire all Assembly staff in accordance with the rules and regulations laid down by the Assembly."

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