Northern Ireland news

Sinn Féin MLA Conor Murphy hiring his own press officer

Sinn Féin MLA Conor Murphy speaking to the press along with party colleagues Máirtín Ó Muilleoir and Mickey Brady. Picture by Mal McCann
Brendan Hughes

SINN Féin assembly member Conor Murphy is hiring his own personal press officer.

Based at Stormont, the full-time post involves "drafting speeches/briefing papers, press releases" and "advising on press strategy".

The successful candidate must also have detailed knowledge of "traditional and online marketing" and a "strong commitment to Sinn Féin's values", according to a recruitment advertisement.

Sinn Féin politicians' public comments and contact with the press are usually tightly controlled through a centralised team of party press officers and communications staff.

Although MLAs across all parties may have staff carrying out some media work as part of their roles, it is considered unusual for an MLA to have their own dedicated press officer.

The job involves a 37-hour working week and attracts a salary of £22,750 a year.

It will be paid for by the public purse through the Newry and Armagh MLA's expenses entitlements.

According to the job description, duties include "analysing, evaluating and interpreting press, broadcast and social media to ensure [the] member is accurately informed on key issues" and delivering "briefings as required for press and media".

The employee would be "drafting speeches/briefing papers, press releases, opinion pieces and content for a range of social media platforms"; "preparing material for meetings/conferences"; and "identifying media/press opportunities and advising on press strategy".

If Stormont is restored, the role would also involve "monitoring events in assembly and ensuring [the] MLA is fully briefed on potential questions and motions to be put to the house".

The successful candidate must have a third-level qualification and "six-months recent experience or at least two years relevant recent experience".

"The position is for a period of 12 months with the view to being extended or made permanent," according to an advertisement on the Sinn Féin website.

The closing date for applications is Friday at noon.

According to expenses rules, each MLA can only recover costs for two full-time equivalent (FTE) support staff and their combined wages are capped at about £50,000 per year.

Alan McQuillan, a former member of the Independent Financial Review Panel which set MLA expenses rules, questioned the impact of employing a dedicated press officer on an MLAs' remaining staff allowances.

"It's very unusual for any MLA to have their own press officer, but there's nothing to stop them doing it," he said.

"If they're employing a press officer on £22,000, then almost 50 per cent of their staff money is taken up doing PR work, and there's only a limited amount left to provide constituency services. But it's completely a matter for an MLA."

Sinn Féin and Mr Murphy were yesterday asked why he requires his own press officer and how the post will be funded.

In a statement a party spokesman said: "Assembly support staff are employed by MLAs.

"The Independent Financial Review Panel set the roles, terms and conditions of employment for MLA support staff in 2016."

Sinn Féin has previously maintained that all its elected representatives accepted an 'average industrial wage' and donated the rest to party and constituency matters, but last year it confirmed this is "entirely voluntary".

It followed a review of party policy which led to changes to Sinn Féin's recommended salaries, while revised Stormont rules restricting constituency staff pay in 2016 also led to changes.

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