Stormont insurance no longer protects MLAs from libel claims

Sinn Fein's Phil Flanagan at the High Court in Belfast
Brendan Hughes

STORMONT'S insurance policy no longer protects assembly members from being sued for libel, it has emerged.

The cover had been part of the assembly's wider employer and public liability insurance policy, costing the public purse more than £30,000 a year.

It caused controversy in 2013 when The Irish News revealed it was used to provide cover for a libel action against DUP MLA Paul Givan.

He was left with an estimated £50,000 damages bill in 2013 after being sued by former Police Ombudsman Nuala O'Loan over his remarks during a live UTV interview.

The insurance was also raised last week during a court hearing over Sinn Féin MLA Phil Flanagan's libel against Ulster Unionist Tom Elliott.

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.

But Belfast's High Court heard the insurance firm has refused to pay out for Mr Flanagan – and he is now suing the insurer.

The assembly said the insurance policy does not protect Mr Flanagan because both politicians were MLAs when the libel arose in 2014.

More than £260,000 has been spent on Stormont's liability insurance since 2008, but the assembly has now confirmed the policy no longer includes libel cover.

"The combined policy does not provide cover of this nature. Prior to 2015, the insurance provided cover for 'personal injury' which included libel and slander," a spokeswoman told the News Letter.

"On renewal of the policy from April 1, 2015, the Assembly Commission was informed that this aspect would no longer be included as part of the standard policy so cover is not included."

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