Belfast Telegraph

Watchdog in warning to MLAs over trivial complaints

By Noel McAdam

Stormont's standards watchdog has told Assembly Members that continuing to waste his time with trivial complaints will undermine public confidence in them.

The warning came in a report from Standards Commissioner Douglas Bain after the UUP claimed the DUP's Jimmy Spratt had called opponents of the Maze peace centre "nutters", and then dishonestly denied doing so.

Dismissing the complaint, Mr Bain said: "I find it disturbing that in this case a complaint so lacking in substance was made following an unanimous decision of the Assembly group of a major political party.

"There is, in my opinion, a real risk that such unjustified complaints and the publicity they attract will tend to undermine the public's trust and confidence in the Assembly." The now-abandoned Maze centre was being discussed at a Stormont committee meeting that included UUP leader Mike Nesbitt, who also complained about Mr Spratt.

But the DUP man said his comment was not directed at any groups or individuals and the commissioner found that it was an "aside", mainly aimed at a party colleague beside him.

Meanwhile, the Stormont Committee on Standards and Privileges has said a Sinn Fein MLA who published a crude joke about the birth of Prince George on Twitter was crass and ill-advised.

But it also found that Phil Flanagan was not acting in his capacity as an Assembly Member when he retweeted the remark last July. The complaint had already been rejected by Mr Bain, who reportedly described it as "trivial" last year.

The committee also decided that even had Mr Flanagan been acting as an MLA at the time, the incident would not have amounted to a breach of the code of conduct.

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