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Spad problem shows the need for electoral reform

Published 14/10/2015

Godber Evans rightly asks (Write Back, October 9) why Northern Ireland ministers have a disproportionate number of special advisers (Spads), in comparison with those in other devolved regions of the UK (Scotland and Wales).

The answer to this question is quite obvious. Politics in Northern Ireland is very much a closed shop and has always been a friends-and-family affair.

Presumably, because they could not get a regular day job anywhere else.

The Northern Ireland political landscape is rife with nepotism across all the parties.

However, to the impartial observer, it would appear that the DUP seems to have a high score, with respect to hiring friends and family. Thus, we often end up with well-known husband-and-wife teams and family dynasties.

The Spad problem is further compounded, since these very lucrative posts paid for by the state are not even advertised, or interviewed, but are hired solely by nepotism.

It just takes the appropriate nod to obtain one. This also explains why all the Spad posts here are graded at the top end of the salary scale (currently £92,000).

In addition, once one has become a Spad, it is a relatively easy step to become an MLA by the back door via the singularly dubious practice of being co-opted, without even having to face the electorate.

This clearly demonstrates that we urgently need electoral reform to clean up politics in Northern Ireland, to attract better candidates who will actually serve the electorate, rather than themselves. I am reminded by an anecdote told by my Latin master at Stowe, PG Hunter, who during the summer term of 1944, discussed with us the Roman poet and satirist Juvenal.

Apparently, when asked for his opinion of the political class of ancient Rome, he simply replied: "Yesterday, they were unkempt ruffians, today they control our lives, tomorrow they are keepers of the public lavatories."


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