Northern Ireland news

Stormont special adviser numbers cut and salaries reduced as names are revealed

Stormont's new special advisers, top row from left: Emma Little-Pengelly, John Loughran, Eoin Rooney, Peter Martin and Ronan McGinley; middle row: Philip Weir, Stephen McGlade, Alastair Ross, Tanya McCamphill and Mark Beattie; bottom row: Kim Ashton, Mark Ovens, Claire Johnson and Dara O'Hagan
Brendan Hughes

THE number of Stormont special advisers has been cut and their average salaries have been reduced by almost £10,000.

The names and wages of those taking up the influential roles advising executive ministers were announced yesterday by the finance department.

Former MLAs, some party councillors and several back-room staffers are among the line-up.

Stormont has pledged greater scrutiny of special advisers (Spads) after concerns over their conduct and accountability were exposed in the RHI inquiry.

Their average annual pay is now £62,750 – an almost 14 per cent drop compared to £72,681 in January 2017.

The total annual salary pay bill is £876,498, compared to £1,162,894 three years ago.



Eight Spads can be appointed to The Executive Office (TEO) – four in First Minister Arlene Foster's side of the joint office and four in Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill's side.

But amid calls to cut the number of Spads, both the DUP and Sinn Féin have voluntarily only appointed three each.

DUP leader Mrs Foster's advisers include Emma Little-Pengelly, who in December lost her South Belfast MP seat to the SDLP's Claire Hanna.

Ms Little-Pengelly, who was previously a special adviser to Peter Robinson, will receive an annual wage of £78,000.

Philip Weir returns as a DUP Spad in TEO on £78,000, while Mid Ulster councillor Kim Ashton also joins the department on a wage of up to £54,999.

Sinn Féin's TEO Spads are former MLA Dara O'Hagan (£78,000) – who was previously an adviser to the late Martin McGuinness – and party workers Stephen McGlade (£78,000) and John Loughran (£67,000).

Sinn Féin's Ronan McGinley (wage of up to £54,999), who recently stood down as a councillor and party group leader in Mid Ulster council, is the adviser for communities minister Deirdre Hargey.

Party policy worker Eoin Rooney (up to £54,999) returns as Spad in the Department of Finance, having previously advised former Sinn Féin finance minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir.

Delays in announcing the full Spads line-up are believed to have been linked to problems in choosing an adviser for the economy department.

It's understood Larne businessman Ken Nelson, chairman of InterTradeIreland, had been approached but it went no further.

Instead, ex-DUP MLA Alastair Ross will take up the appointment when the notice period for his current job ends.

He will receive a wage of £65,000 to advise DUP economy minister Diane Dodds.

Her former staffer Mark Beattie (up to £54,999), who worked in Mrs Dodds's office in her role as an MEP, is Spad to DUP agriculture minister Edwin Poots.

In education, DUP minister Peter Weir has appointed Peter Martin (£60,000), a DUP councillor in Ards and North Down and a business lecturer at Belfast Metropolitan College.

UUP health minister Robin Swann has appointed Mark Ovens (£60,000), who has previously worked in the party's policy team.

SDLP infrastructure minister Nichola Mallon has chosen Tanya McCamphill (up to £54,999), who has formerly worked for the SNP and as the SDLP's head of campaigns.

Alliance leader and justice minister Naomi Long has appointed party's head of policy Claire Johnson (up to £54,999).

The finance department said: "The salaries reflect the role of the special adviser as set out in the code of conduct, relevant experience and expertise as well as whether the special adviser is working for the first and deputy first minister or on more complex cross-cutting work."

Last month, a revised code of conduct for Spads was announced and their salaries were capped to three pay bands with a maximum of £85,000 per year.

New measures include provisions to ensure ministers are responsible for the management, conduct and discipline of their Spads.

Special advisers will also be required to publish their meetings with external organisations, as well as gifts and hospitality received.

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