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Tackling the issue of Spads

By Samuel Morrison

Published 07/07/2015

Last week Jim Allister launched his second Private Member's Bill on the issue of special advisers
Last week Jim Allister launched his second Private Member's Bill on the issue of special advisers

Last week Jim Allister launched his second Private Member's Bill on the issue of special advisers.

When Sinn Fein appointed a convicted murderer as a special adviser (Spad), there was condemnation from across the political spectrum. But it was left to the sole TUV MLA - backed by the powerful and intensely personal arguments of Ann Travers - to ensure that an innocent victim would never be traumatised again by the appointment of someone convicted of a serious criminal offence to a position as a Spad.

The treatment of another woman by the political class in Northern Ireland is one of the factors behind why Jim Allister has returned to the subject.

An investigation into a Spad's conduct in relation to the Red Sky affair and towards Lisburn councillor Jenny Palmer recommended disciplinary action. But this was prevented by the Social Development Minister, who intervened to protect Stephen Brimstone.

Far from being disciplined, Mr Brimstone was promoted to a Spad post in the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM). The Bill proposed by TUV would stop a repeat, ensuring there can be no ministerial interference when Spads are subject to the processes of the Civil Service disciplinary code.

Another important matter which the Bill seeks to address is the number and cost of Spads in Northern Ireland. When contrasted with the other devolved regions of the UK, the figures tell their own story.

The Scottish Government has 14 Spads which, in 2013/14, cost a total of £1,022,39. The Welsh administration gets by with just eight, which cost £468,468 in 2013/14. Northern Ireland, however, has 19 which cost £2,016,362.31 between April 1, 2014 and March 31, 2015.

The average Spad in Northern Ireland earns just over £106,000 - almost twice as a Welsh one.

Jim Allister's Bill would cut the number of Spads in OFMDFM from eight to four and cap Spad pay by linking it to the salary scale applicable to an assistant secretary (Grade 5), whose current salary band is £65,422-£78,275.

The proposals are out for consultation until the end of August. You can make your voice heard by taking a few minutes online at: https://eSurv.org?u=spads.

Samuel Morrison is Press officer of Traditional Unionist Voice

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