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Lawyer Paul Kennedy withdraws from Stormont Assembly standards role before taking up position

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Retired solicitor Paul Kennedy

Retired solicitor Paul Kennedy

Retired solicitor Paul Kennedy

The retired solicitor nominated to become Stormont's new Standards Commissioner has withdrawn from the process.

Earlier, a debate in the Stormont chamber approving the nomination of Paul Kennedy was cancelled and the Assembly said that the process had "now been paused".

But in a second statement last night, an Assembly spokeswoman said: "This afternoon, Mr Paul Kennedy informed the Assembly Commission that he wished to withdraw from the recruitment competition for Commissioner for Standards.

"The Assembly Commission will now seek to identify another candidate as soon as possible."

Stormont sources said they understood that the commission would now turn to other candidates who had applied for the job, rather than re-advertising the position.

MLAs were due to debate a motion approving the appointment of the retired Co Down solicitor on Tuesday morning.

The Standards Commissioner has responsibility for investigating MLAs over alleged breaches of their code of conduct.

The new commissioner will likely investigate complaints concerning the attendance of some Sinn Fein MLAs at Bobby Storey's funeral.

When asked to formally table the motion approving Mr Kennedy's appointment yesterday, UUP MLA Robbie Butler, speaking on behalf of the Assembly Commission, said it would not be moved at that time.

No reason was provided, and MLAs moved on to the next item of business on the day's agenda.

Stormont has been without an Assembly Commissioner for Standards since September 2017, when Douglas Bain's term in office ended.

He had been in post for five years.

A replacement was not appointed during the suspension of devolution.

Mr Kennedy, a qualified solicitor for 37 years, is an expert on commercial law.

Since retiring from his job, the married father of three has taken on a range of other roles, including membership of the Veterans' Advisory and Pensions Committee for Northern Ireland and voluntary work with a local homeless charity.

In the Assembly's first statement on the matter, a spokeswoman said yesterday: "While it was the Assembly Commission's intention to debate the motion to appoint a Commissioner for Standards today the process has now been paused."

The second statement, announcing Mr Kennedy's withdrawal from the process, means that the other applicants will now likely be considered.

The absence of an Assembly Standards Commissioner has been highlighted in recent weeks. SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has called on Deputy First Minister, Michelle O'Neill, to report herself to the Assembly standards authorities.

Earlier this month, Mr Bain told the BBC that it was "frankly ridiculous" that the public could make a complaint about Ms O'Neill or any other MLA, but nothing could happen as the post remained unfilled.

A new commissioner will likely be able to retrospectively investigate complaints lodged against MLAs before his or her term begins, so long as those complaints were made within six months of the alleged breach of the code.

It is understood that there is an extensive backlog of complaints which have come in over the past three years.

Belfast Telegraph