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SDLP's top press officer to leave the party

SDLP senior press officer Nicola McHugh

The SDLP's most senior press officer is leaving the party to take up a new role in the private sector.

 

Former journalist Nicola McHugh leaves her post tomorrow after 18 months in the job. Appointing a successor may prove problematic because new rules have reduced the amount available to Stormont's parties for workers' costs.

Ahead of being dissolved in July, the assembly's expenses watchdog imposed a new regime that tightened the rules around recruitment and pay for party employees.

The Independent Financial Review Panel (IRFP) said the crackdown was to stop MLAs' costs being used to subsidise their parties.

The same determination also introduced new rules on employing relatives or colleagues' family members.

The IRFP's tightening of the rules around MLAs' office allowances and costs for workers means no funds can be diverted to party headquarters, where they could potentially be used to cover the salary of a senior press officer.

Following Ms McHugh's departure, the SDLP will need to fund the post from its own coffers.

The party has declined to say whether it will replace the 37-year-old former BBC and GMTV journalist, who is leaving to join Co Antrim-based biotech firm Randox.

"In order to protect the privacy of those involved, the SDLP does not comment on internal staffing matters.”

Ms McHugh is the party's second senior press officer to leave within as many years. Her predecesor, former Fianna Fáil press officer Suzanne Collins, stepped down in March last year for personal reasons after less than two years in the job.

The full implications of the IFRP's determination are not yet known, as many MLAs are still grappling with the details.

In May, a number of Stormont sources told The Irish News that the rule changes were likely to lead to staff redundancies and that other workers will have their hours slashed.

The IRFP determination also heralds changes to worker's conditions and in some instances, party employees are having to re-apply for their old jobs.

The cuts are expected to save the assembly between £1.5 million–£2 million over the next five years.

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