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I'm delighted Caitriona Ruane has gone, says Jim Allister, as deputy speaker quits £55k role

 

By Suzanne Breen

TUV leader Jim Allister says he is delighted that his actions led to the resignation of a Sinn Fein politician who continued as a Stormont speaker despite not being an MLA.

Caitriona Ruane last night announced that she had "resigned with immediate effect as principal deputy speaker" after Mr Allister had highlighted how she had retained the £55,000 a year job even though she hadn't stood for re-election to the Assembly.

In a statement, Sinn Fein distanced itself from the former high-profile MLA who served as Stormont Education Minister for four years.

"Caitriona Ruane was no longer an MLA after March this year. Any arrangements she may have come to with the Assembly were her own affair," it said.

Ms Ruane didn't run in the Spring poll but Assembly procedures meant the speaker, principal deputy speaker, and two deputy speakers retained their roles after an election until a fresh team of speakers is elected at the start of a new mandate.

With no new Assembly formed in the wake of the March election, Ms Ruane had continued in her role.

Mr Allister claimed that receiving public money for a post no longer held was a "scandalous situation".

Announcing her resignation, Ms Ruane said she had donated her salary to charities and community groups.

Mr Allister said he believed that if he hadn't highlighted the issue, she would be continuing in her role and claiming the salary.

"I am delighted to have forced her hand," the TUV leader added. "But it is incredible that after standing down as an MLA, she thought for one minute that she could continue to cling to the office of principal deputy speaker of an Assembly in which she no longer belonged to."

Mr Allister pointed out that the former UUP MLA Danny Kennedy, who lost his Newry and Armagh Assembly seat in March, had resigned his job as deputy speaker.

In her statement, Ms Ruane said: "I have put on record with the Assembly last March I would be donating the salary to a wide range of charities. I can confirm that I have donated the monies received to charities and community groups including an Irish language group, a group for the elderly, an LGBT group, and a charity for children with disabilities."

She continued: "I never anticipated that the election of a new speaker and deputy speaker would be so protracted and I have come to the conclusion that now is the time to tender my resignation.

"I hope in the interests of the people of the North that the institutions are restored and a new speaker and deputy speaker are elected as soon as possible."

Ms Ruane was best known for her move to abolish the 11-plus transfer test while Education Minister in 2008.

Announcing in January that she wouldn't be standing for re-election, she said she was proud of her role "in abolishing the 11-plus exam, tackling underachievement, improving educational attainment and excellence for all, investing in the Irish medium sector and delivering the largest school building programme in decades". Ms Ruane added that she was also pleased to have helped "to promote equality issues in the Assembly at every opportunity; equality for the LGBT community, for Irish language speakers and for women".

The former South Down MLA had been a prominent member of the 'Bring Them Home' campaign for the Colombia Three who were arrested in Bogota in 2001.

She did not explicitly explain why she stood down as an MLA after 14 years at Stormont.

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