Belfast Telegraph

Parties colluded to stop Spads bill, claims Allister

By Suzanne Breen

TUV leader Jim Allister has accused the DUP and Sinn Fein of shamefully joining together to vote down his legislation to make special advisers accountable.

Mr Allister yesterday recalled how the two parties opposed his bill in 2015 at a time when some DUP 'spads' were delaying Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) cost controls, according to evidence heard at the inquiry into the botched energy scheme.

Mr Allister said: "Back in 2015 I brought legislation before the Assembly which would have done three things.

"It would have reduced the number of special advisers at Stormont, restricted the amount they could be paid by tying spad salaries to Northern Ireland Civil Service rates and brought them under Civil Service disciplinary procedures.

"At the time the DUP were engaged in a token boycott of Assembly business following an IRA murder, missing business such as a debate on cancer, but broke that boycott to join Sinn Fein to vote down the bill - at the very time we now know DUP spads were delaying cost controls in RHI."

Mr Allister said that during the debate on the second stage of the bill in October 2015, he pointed out that the Red Sky scandal had highlighted how spads were not subject to the normal Civil Service disciplinary process.

"When an independent, fact-finding investigation by the Department of Finance and Personnel into a Department of Social Development special adviser Stephen Brimstone recommended that there should be a disciplinary process in respect of him, the minister, who appointed him, quashed it," he said.

The TUV leader recalled how he had argued that special advisers couldn't expect to gain from all the benefits flowing from being a civil servant, including the pension scheme, but "dodge and evade the disciplinary possibilities that come as to their conduct".

He said: "The bill would make it abundantly clear that the normal disciplinary processes of the Civil Service would also apply to these civil servants who are special advisers and would expressly prohibit any ministerial meddling in that."

"The bill would also have reduced the amount paid to special advisers. I observed that while in Wales the average cost of a special adviser was £58,500 in 2013-14 - well shy of the £100,000 plus cost in Northern Ireland."

Mr Allister said that as well as bringing this legislation, he repeatedly questioned ministers on the appointment processes for spads.

"It seemed obvious to me that the process which should have been followed was not. It wasn't just the DUP which disregarded the legal process on appointment of spads but their partners Sinn Fein."

In 2015, Northern Ireland was spending over £2m per year on spads, which was double the cost of Scotland and three times that of Wales.

The DUP and Sinn Fein voted down Jim Allister's bill by 52-33 votes.

The SDLP, Alliance and the Ulster Unionists supported the bill.

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