Belfast Telegraph

RHI: Yes, it concerns me that we ignored code on Spads, says ex-DUP minister Hamilton

By Lauren Harte

Former DUP minister Simon Hamilton said he is concerned by RHI Inquiry evidence showing that his party ignored the code for appointing special advisers.

It has been claimed that both the DUP and Sinn Fein did not adhere to the rules governing the appointment of special advisers to ministers - known as Spads - in the power-sharing administration at Stormont.

Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service David Sterling said this week that there is "a strong case for a review" of the role of special advisers before devolved government is restored.

At the end of Mr Hamilton's evidence session on Tuesday the issue of the appointment of his Spad John Robinson was raised and he issued his response in writing.

Mr Robinson was DUP director of communications until he left the position to become special adviser to Mr Hamilton in June 2016.

However, he returned to his old job after the collapse of devolution.

Mr Hamilton referred to his previous evidence in which he said that his special advisers were "all appointed in accordance with the relevant rules and legislation".

The former Economy Minister said: "This was my honest and genuinely held view at the time I completed my first written statement. I have been concerned to learn, as a result of the work of the inquiry, that special adviser appointments may not have been done in strict accordance with the relevant legislation."

Mr Hamilton said that he had "a very clear recollection" of how he appointed Mr Robinson as his adviser after he was offered the post of Economy Minister by party leader Arlene Foster. In his evidence, he said: "I gave the matter of whom I would like to act as my special adviser some thought and reached the view that my clear preference would be John Robinson.

"I had considered the suitability of at least one other person who was already in the role of special adviser in another department, and considered people external to government."

Mr Hamilton said that he was "not told or instructed" by anyone in the party as to who his Spad would be.

He added: "I, and I alone, decided who I wanted to offer the role to after considering the range of skills that I believed would complement my own and make a good adviser in the Department for the Economy.

 

"I considered a number of possible candidates. I conducted this exercise myself.

"I was not advised by departmental officials that any aspect of the appointment process was outwith the relevant legislation.

"I would have expected to have been so advised if there was a belief or view that any element of Mr Robinson's appointment did not adhere to that legislation."

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