Ex-Sinn Féin MLA Phil Flanagan won't say if £20k Stormont deal will pay Tom Elliott libel costs

Former Sinn Fein MLA Phil Flanagan at Belfast High Court earlier this year. Picture by Alan Lewis, Photopress 

FORMER Sinn Féin assembly member Phil Flanagan would not comment on Monday whether his five-figure resettlement package from Stormont will be swallowed up by the outstanding libel damages against him.

Following his failure to retain his assembly seat in the elections earlier this month, he will receive a `balloon' resettlement payment of around £20,000.

Earlier this year, the courts awarded former Ulster Unionist leader Tom Elliott more than £50,000 damages against the then Fermanagh South Tyrone MLA for posting a defamatory tweet.

Mr Flanagan's party ruled out paying the damages on his behalf and the former small business owner said he does not have the money.

He posted the tweet about Mr Elliott after the Fermanagh and South Tyrone MP appeared on the BBC's Nolan Show in May 2014.

Although the Twitter post was taken down within an hour of being posted, Mr Elliott argued that it remained accessible on the internet and a judge ruled that the tweet was grossly defamatory and he was ordered to pay damages and apologise.

In the past, defamation damages have been paid out by the assembly, which had insurance to cover libel claims against assembly members.

However, Mr Flanagan was not covered by the policy because he and Mr Elliott were members of the assembly at the time.

He has launched court action against insurer AIG, with the judge in that case ruling that no money is to be paid until the dispute over libel cover is resolved.

Mr Flanagan said yesterday he has been advised to make no comment on the matter until the judge comes to a decision.

Independent Unionist John McCallister, who served as an assembly member for four years longer than Mr Flanagan, will receive £24,000.

Sinn Féin's former health committee chair Maeve McLaughlin, who had only been an assembly member since 2012, before losing her seat to Eamonn McCann, will collect £12,000 because she had not completed four years.

Long-service SDLP assembly member Dolores Kelly, who lost her seat after 13 years, will get more than £36,000 because she falls between the `golden band' age between 55 and 64 years.

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