Why Sinn Féin MLA's libel is not covered by Stormont insurance

Sinn Féin assembly member Phil Flanagan at Belfast High Court
Sinn Féin assembly member Phil Flanagan at Belfast High Court

A STORMONT insurance policy will not cover Sinn Féin MLA Phil Flanagan's libel damages to Ulster Unionist Tom Elliott because both were MLAs when the dispute arose.

Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA Mr Flanagan is to pay compensation to the constituency's MP Mr Elliott over a defamatory message posted on Twitter.

Belfast High Court was told Mr Flanagan had falsely suggested that Mr Elliott had harassed and shot people as a soldier.

Assembly members are usually protected from legal action over their defamatory comments by an insurance policy costing taxpayers over £30,000 annually.

But last week the court heard the insurance firm has refused to pay out for Mr Flanagan – and he is now suing the insurer.

The Northern Ireland Assembly yesterday explained why its insurance does not cover the case.

A spokeswoman said: "Under the terms of the current policy the insured are 'the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly Commission.

"The policy indemnifies for claims against the 'insured' and as both Mr Elliot and Mr Flanagan are deemed to be 'the insured', indemnity does not apply."

Mr Flanagan tweeted the defamatory message after Tom Elliott appeared on a BBC radio programme in May 2014.

Mr Elliott was still an MLA at the time and has since become MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone.

Mr Justice Stevens has reserved judgment on the amount of compensation to be paid.