Belfast Telegraph

TUV's Allister questions Northern Ireland Assembly staff working in 'foreign parliament'

By Jonathan Bell

TUV leader Jim Allister says the secondment of Northern Ireland Assembly staff to the Irish parliament "raises profound questions" as to why UK taxpayers should pay for it.

In a question from the North Antrim MLA, the Assembly Commission said the equivalent of 11 full-time staff had been redeployed to work in the House of Commons, Lords, the Scottish Parliament and the Oireachtas in Dublin during the suspension of devolved government over the past year.

Mr Allister said that while it was "understandable" to have staff work in other legislatures during the political impasse, he said questions were raised over why the Northern Ireland block grant should be used to pay them and if it was right for UK taxpayers to pay for staff to work in a "foreign parliament".

The Assembly Commission said staff were redeployed in order to maintain skills and they would be recalled immediately should the power-sharing institutions be restored and it continued to pay their salaries.

The commission said the equivalent of 4.2 staff worked for the Commons, 4.6 for Scotland, 1.4 for the Lords and 0.8 for the Irish parliament up to February 19.

It said most of the work is carried out in Parliament Buildings in Belfast.

"On one level this is understandable given Stormont’s deadlock and the remote prospects of devolution being restored," said Mr Allister.

"However, people in Northern Ireland are entitled to ask why in such circumstances the salaries of redeployed staff continue to be paid from the Northern Ireland block grant.

“In the case of staff who have been deployed to work for Dublin in a foreign parliament the questions are more profound. UK taxpayers’ money should not be spent to aid the running of a non-UK administration."

The MLA has further asked how much money has been spent including as to if travel and expenses are paid.

In its answer, the Assembly Commission said it does not have any formal secondment arrangements in place for staff outside Northern Ireland.

"However, the commission has utilised its contacts in other legislatures to seek to maintain the skills and experience of its staff during the period when the Assembly has not been fully functioning through a process of redeployment.

"All redeployment arrangements enable Assembly Commission staff to be recalled immediately once the Assembly resumes its full range of functions.

"The Assembly Commission pays the salaries of the redeployed staff."

An Assembly Spokeswoman added: “In relation to the process of redeployment, a number of Assembly Commission staff have assisted and are continuing to assist other publicly funded bodies, including other legislatures across the UK and Ireland, with projects within their organisations.

"This will be reviewed on an ongoing basis, depending on Assembly Business requirements.  The Northern Ireland Assembly remains committed to maintaining the skills and experience of its staff during this uncertain time."

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