News

UUP and DUP reps attend fewest flags commission meetings

UUP MLA Doug Beattie and the DUP's Nelson McCausland had the lowest attendance
Brendan Hughes

UNIONIST party representatives have the poorest attendance on a Stormont panel set up a year ago to tackle flags and bonfire controversies.

Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie and the DUP's Nelson McCausland have attended the fewest meetings of the Commission on Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition (FICT).

The 15-member panel was formed last June and is due to publish its recommendations on dealing with the contentious issues by the end of the year.

Of more than 130 meetings held over a 12-month period until June this year, Mr Beattie attended just 16 and Mr McCausland 24.

The attendance details emerge after The Irish News revealed the commission panel has received almost £140,000 in pay and expenses.

The commission holds formal monthly meetings as well as meetings with a range of organisations and stakeholders.

Panel members are not required to attend every meeting. They are split into sub-groups and can attend extra meetings of interest or relevance to them.

The panel is made up of seven political appointees and eight non-political including joint chairs Dominic Bryan and Neville Armstrong.

Read more: Stormont's Civic Society Panel paid £3,600 for four meetings

The political appointees are ex-DUP MLAs Mr McCausland and Ian McCrea, Upper Bann MLA Mr Beattie, SDLP appointee Carl Whyte, former Alliance Party adviser Richard Good, former Sinn Féin councillor Tom Hartley and former Bogside residents spokesman Donncha Mac Niallais.

The other non-political appointees are Prof Thomas Hennessey, former Orange Order worker David Hume, Katy Radford, David Robinson, Mukesh Sharma and ex-DUP representative Ian Crozier.

Unelected commission members can receive remuneration, and only receive payments for the meetings they attend.

Mr Beattie is the only elected representative on the panel following Mr McCausland losing his North Belfast seat in the assembly election in March.

A UUP spokesman said: "As an MLA and member of the party's talks team many of these FICT meetings have unfortunately clashed with his other commitments.

"However, Doug is completely committed to the work of the commission, and has attended as many meetings as his diary has allowed."

The DUP did not respond to requests for a comment.

A spokeswoman for the commission said: "In addition to the formal monthly commission meeting, meetings have been held with a range of organisations, sectors and interest groups. A number of sub group meetings have also been held. Attendance at these meetings is not mandatory for all members."

She added: "As outlined within the Fresh Start agreement, remuneration is paid on a standard per diem rate, plus travel and expenses costs.

"Travel expenses are paid to members in line with NICS (Northern Ireland Civil Service) rates and expenses incurred by members on commission business are reimbursed on receipt basis and in line with NICS guidelines.

"Members have to travel from different parts of Northern Ireland and England and use various modes of transport.

"Members have been required to write papers individually and in groups for consideration by the commission."

 

Flags commission: Number of meetings attended and amount received in remuneration and expenses

Dominic Bryan (joint chair) 91 meetings  -  £13,936.11

Neville Armstrong (Joint Chair) 88   -  £22,367.93

David Robinson 70   -   £12,332.28

Mukesh Sharma 66    -   £9,828

Katy Radford 64     -  £10,659.18

Thomas Hennessey 63    -    £23,260.72

Richard Good 59     -   £10,091.97

Tom Hartley 56     -    £7,794.13

David Hume 45    -   £7,780.51

Ian McCrea 38     -     £6,152.28

Carl Whyte 37     -     £5,015.53

Donncha MacNiallais 26    -     £5,606.61

Ian Crozier 25      -     £3,225

Nelson McCausland 24     -    £71

Doug Beattie 16      -  £0

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