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Stormont Spads - Who's who and earning what?

Nichola Mallon

EACH of the executive ministers is entitled to appoint a special adviser while the first and deputy first ministers each have four.

They occupy a democratically grey area, political appointees, yet paid from the public purse like civil servants and forced to resign their role (as many did in March) to take on the overtly political action of either canvassing for their party or indeed standing for election themselves.

And their influence, however, is likely to be at least as great as any senior civil servant, advising ministers on their every move.

Stephen Brimstone's arrival at the Office of First Minister and deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) fills a special adviser (Spad) post vacated by Gavin Robinson for the green benches of Westminster.

OFMDFM is widely regarded as a "hothouse" where the DUP's bright young things are groomed for future office and ultimately leadership.

First Minister Peter Robinson and Junior Minister Michelle McIlveen have four `Spads' between them, three of whom, an FOI revealed this week have reached the top of their pay grade, receiving £91,809 annually.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuiness and Junior Minister Jennifer McCann also have four of these advisers - all loyal party members, but none with criminal convictions, after a new bill was passed barring anyone with a serious conviction from holding the post.

The bill was put forward by TUV leader Jim Allister after Sinn Féin appointed Mary McArdle as a special adviser to Culture Minister Carál Ní Chuilín.

She had been convicted for her part in the murder of Mary Travers, and her sister Anne's high-profile campaign against such appointments led to the change in legislation.

While there is a right to appeal, any former prisoner appointed to the role is required to show contrition and assist police in solving their crime.

There is currently a vacancy at the Department for Regional Development, after Rodney McCune stood down to contest the South Belfast Westminster seat for the UUP.

However, there is a possibility that the former barrister may do a `Farage' and allow himself to be reappointed to the post which a department spokesman said had seen him enjoy a taxpayer-funded salary "in the range £59,037 to £91,809".


Advisers to the First Minister Peter Robinson and Junior Minister Michelle McIlveen

Timothy Johnston £91,809

A student activist for the party, standing for union president at Queen's University, Timothy Johnston was in charge of the party's press operation and brought major changes and expertise to managing the DUP in its dealings with the media and newspapers.

Richard Bullick £91,809

Richard Bullick is considered a key strategist inside the party and speech writer as well as having been involved in various talks processes. He also worked in the DUP press office.

Emma Pengelly £91,809

Emma Pengelly (nee Little), a long time Spad, is a former researcher and trained barrister. The Co Armagh native is married to the permanent secretary at the Department of Health, Richard Pengelly.

Stephen Brimstone undisclosed

Stephen Brimstone followed then minister Nelson McCausland from the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure to the Department for Social Development, where he became embroiled in the Red Sky scandal, with a fact-finding investigation by the civil service into the incident recommending that he face disciplinary action. None was forthcoming and he remained in his departmental role until the recent vacancy created by the departure of Gavin Robinson.

Advisers to the Deputy First Minister Martin McGuiness and Junior Minister Jennifer McCann

Mark Mullan £75,000

Mark Mullan, a keen runner who has completed the Palestinian marathon, is a trained journalist and a long-time Sinn Féin activist. He has worked for the Derry News and An Phoblacht.

Dr Dara O'Hagan £87,812

Dara O'Hagan was elected in 1998 as a Sinn Féin assembly member for Upper Bann, before being succeeded by John O'Dowd. She has a doctorate in Irish politics. Her father was prominent republican Joe B. O'Hagan

Conor Heaney £75,000

Conor Heaney came to OFMDFM where he served both as special adviser for Michelle Gildernew and for Michelle O'Neill

Adviser to Junior Minister Jennifer McCann

Áine McCabe £84,054

Áine McCabe, a co-ordinator of Blackie Community Forum, is known as a community worker in the Beechmount area of west Belfast and sat on the area's District Policing Partnership.

Adviser to Education Minister John O'Dowd (Sinn Féin)

Gráinne Maskey £65,966

Gráinne Maskey is niece of both Alex Maskey and West Belfast MP Paul Maskey. She was a training co-ordinator with Coiste, a republican ex-prisoners support group. She was also Tourism Training Co-ordinator in Fáilte Feirste Thiar, a west Belfast visitor initiative.

Adviser to Agriculture and Rural Development minister Michelle O'Neill (Sinn Féin)

Liam Lappin £58,452

An Armagh native, he performs with Paddywagon Band in his spare time.

Adviser to Culture, Arts and Leisure minister Carál Ní Chuilín (Sinn Féin)

John McDermott £63,736

Hailing from Strabane, Co Tyrone, he is a former spokesman for Ógra Shinn Féin, and a founding member of the Strabane branch of the youth wing.

Adviser to Justice Minister David Ford (Alliance)

Richard Good "in the range £59,037 to £91,809"

A long-time association with the Alliance Party, Richard Good has been special adviser since the creation of the justice department in 2010. The 42-year-old, was first involved with the party as a communications officer and later general secretary in the late 1990s. He also served on North Down Borough Council between 1997 and 2001. After that he worked in Dublin for the Irish League of Credit Unions and then in the north for the Independent Television Commission, which later became Ofcom. A familiar figure at Parliament Buildings, he also served as speaker's advisor to Lord Alderdice, Eileen Bell and Willie Hay.

Adviser to Employment and Learning minister Stephen Farry (Alliance)

Christine Robinson £62,125

Christine Robinson was the Alliance party's head of policy. According to party sources she previously worked in a "policy consultancy background".

Adviser to Health minister Simon Hamilton (DUP)

According to the department it has been vacated by Philip Weir "in the range £59,037 to £91,809"

Philip Weir is a 36 year old Craigavon councillor and former hospital doctor.

Adviser to Social Development minister Mervyn Storey (DUP)

Alan Ewart "in the range £59,037 to £91,809"

Just vacated by Stephen Brimstone, Alan Ewart had been a special adviser at the Department of Finance ever since Sammy Wilson was appointed to the role in 2009. He is also a Lisburn councillor and former DUP general secretary.

Adviser to Environment minister Mark H Durkan (SDLP)

Nichola Mallon "in the range £59,037 to £91,809"

Nichola Mallon has taken up the role again after a hiatus as Belfast Lord Mayor. She juggles the role with that of councillor for Oldpark in north Belfast. She is expecting her first child this summer.

Adviser to Enterprise, Trade and Investment minister Jonathan Bell (DUP)

Timothy Cairns "in the range £59,037 to £91,809"

A long time member of the DUP's back room team and formerly a special advisor in OFMDFM, it is likely that Timothy Cairns is near the top of that particular pay scale. He resigned from his position before the election to campaign for the DUP, but it is understood he will be appointed to role within DETI.

Adviser to Finance minister Arlene Foster (DUP)

Andrew Crawford "in the range £59,037 to £91,809"

Andrew Crawford is to follow the minister from her former role in Enterprise.

Adviser to Regional Development minister Danny Kennedy (UUP)

Rodney McCune stood down to contest the Westminster election "in the range £59,037 to £91,809"


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