Political news

Almost a third of DUP MLAs have family members on payroll

Rules introduced in 2016 limited the number of relatives MLAs could employ

ALMOST a third of DUP MLAs employ family members to carry out constituency work at taxpayers' expense, fresh figures from Stormont reveal.

In all, 15 assembly members have relatives on the payroll, with those employed ranging from sons and daughters to wives and fathers.

The roles fulfilled range from office manager/researcher and receptionist to parliamentary officer and secretarial case worker.

Of the DUP's 28 MLAs, nine have family members on their books – almost twice the number of Stormont representatives from all the other parties combined who employ relatives.

Two Ulster Unionist MLAs have wives working for them, while only one representative from Alliance, the SDLP and TUV respectively employ an immediate family member.

In 2016, Stormont's expenses watchdog introduced new rules limiting to one the number of family members who could work for an assembly member.

The move saw a significant reduction in the number of MLAs employing relatives.

Three years previously, a survey by The Irish News revealed that 22 of the DUP's 38 Stormont representatives used taxpayers' money to employ family members in their offices.

The assembly has not sat for almost two years but according to its most recent register of interests, those MLAs who employ relatives include former communities minister Paul Givan, whose father works as a part-time research assistant, and TUV leader Jim Allister, whose daughter is a part-time receptionist and constituency case worker.

According to the register Stormont speaker Robin Newton employs his son as an office manager/researcher. However, a DUP spokesman said Belfast councillor Adam Newton now works for public affairs company Stratagem.

Elsewhere, the register shows former DUP health minister Edwin Poots employs his son as a part-time case worker, while one-time agriculture minister Michelle McIlveen's brother works as her office manager/researcher.

The daughter of the SDLP's John Dallat works as the East Derry representative's policy and research officer, while Alliance MLA Paul Bradshaw's husband acts as her part-time parliamentary officer

None of Sinn Féin's MLAs employ their own family members with the party saying the practice is against its policy.

Other members with relatives on the payroll are Ulster Unionists Steve Aiken and Roy Beggs, whose spouses are employed respectively as a policy, communications and research officer, and part-time secretary.

The DUP's North Down MLA Alex Easton employs his wife as "part-time Grade 3", while party colleague Paul Frew's wife works as his constituency office manager/personal assistant.

East Belfast DUP representative Joanne Bunting employs her aunt as a part-time constituency assistant, with the son of Gordon Dunne working as the North Down MLA's researcher.

Fellow DUP MLA William Irwin employs his daughter as a secretarial case worker, while his party colleague George Robinson's son works as the East Derry MLA's office manager.

All the parties were given the opportunity to respond to the figures.

An SDLP spokeswoman said: "It is a matter of public record that one of our MLA's employs a relative who has a wealth of experience previously working for an MP in Scotland."

An Alliance spokesman said the appointment of Ms Bradshaw's husband was made "through an open application and interview process".

"In this case, Paula Bradshaw MLA withdrew from the short-listing and interview panel to ensure no perception of bias," the spokesman said.

"She subsequently appointed the best candidate identified by that process."

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