Belfast Telegraph

Mystery MLA's £25,000 libel bill

Assembly won't name politician who landed taxpayer with huge legal bill.

By Christopher Woodhouse

Stormont is refusing to name an MLA who landed the taxpayer with a £25,000 legal bill.

The politician settled a libel action sometime last year - and the Northern Ireland Assembly covered the cost.

Although insurers picked up the full bill for legal costs and damages, the Assembly had to cover the excess to the tune of £25,000.

The figure was revealed to Sunday Life after we made a request under Freedom of Information laws.

We asked for details after it emerged that Stormont’s employers’ liability insurance was being used to cover libel actions.

In response, Assembly officials revealed they made two excess payments as a result of libel cases brought against MLAs in 2013 and 2015.

In 2013, £5,000 was paid out when DUP MLA Paul Givan settled a libel action brought by former Police Ombudsman Baroness Nuala O’Loan.

Officials also admitted making a second payment of £25,000 last year - but refused to name the MLA involved or the person who sued them, quoting data protection laws that prohibit revealing names.

“The information was provided to the Assembly Commission by its insurers in the course of a commercial contractual relationship and it was clearly expected to remain confidential,” a statement said.

The Assembly also refused to reveal the full amount of damages and legal costs paid out by its insurance company in the case.

Green Party leader Steven Agnew said the secrecy surrounding the identity of the MLA was “concerning”.

He told Sunday Life: “I am very concerned at the lack of transparency surrounding a significant amount of money.

“This is public money and we all have a right to know on what it has been spent and which MLA, as a public representative, was involved.”

The former North Down MLA added: “There needs to be much greater transparency in how money is spent at Stormont. 

“It is only then that voters will be able to have confidence in politicians and our political system.”

The Assembly’s employer’s and public liability insurance cost the taxpayer £33,735 in both 2013/14 and 2014/15.

However, the decision was taken in March last year not to renew the libel cover aspect of the policy.

The first case arose when Baroness O’Loan sued Mr Givan and UTV after he questioned her integrity and impartiality as Police Ombudsman during a live television interview in 2011.

Both Mr Givan and UTV payed Baroness O’Loan substantial damages.

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