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Stormont leaders used royal powers three times since 2007

Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness has used the royal prerogative on three occasions since 2007. Picture by Hugh Russell

Stormont's first and deputy first ministers have used the royal prerogative on three occasions since 2007 to amend legislation.

An answer to an assembly question by Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt revealed that in addition to employing the legal mechanism to appoint journalist David Gordon as Executive Office press secretary earlier this month, Stormont's leaders also used it 2008 and 2010.

In the first two instances the powers were exercised by then First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness to change the law on public appointments.

Mr Nesbitt yesterday said: "We have the bizarre situation where Martin McGuinness, someone who would style himself as a 'principled republican', has now exercised the powers of a monarch on three occasions.

"One would have to question what other 'principled republicans', like Bobby Sands and the other hunger strikers, who spent so long at her majesty's pleasure, would make of it all."

Last week Mr McGuinness told the assembly he felt "absolutely grand" using royal powers.

"Anything that benefits the working of the executive and, by extension, enriches the lives of the people we represent, is a good thing," he said.

"I have done many things over the course of the last 20 years, none of which I am ashamed of whatsoever because I think my contribution to this process has put us all where we are today."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said last night: "The use of prerogative powers is a tool open to the government but to exercise it in secret and exclusively in relation to public appointments and recruitment raises very serious questions about the judgement of the first and deputy first ministers.

"The nationalist community suffered at the hands of secret and unfair recruitment processes in the past, this is a throwback to a form of government that the devolution set-up was designed to shatter."

A spokesman for the Commissioner for Public Appointments said the two amendments covered the addition and removal of bodies which fall within the quango watchdog's remit.

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