Northern Ireland

Former MLAs Alastair Ross and Dara O’Hagan among recently appointed Stormont spads

Former MLAs Alastair Ross and Dara O'Hagan have been appointed as special advisers to Stormont executive ministers
Former MLAs Alastair Ross and Dara O'Hagan have been appointed as special advisers to Stormont executive ministers

Former DUP MLA Alastair Ross has returned to Stormont as a special adviser to Deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly.

The 42-year-old former junior minister, who chose not to defend his East Antrim seat in the 2017 assembly election, went on to serve as an electoral commissioner between 2018-2020.

Mr Ross, who is joined in the Executive Office by Ashleigh Perry, a former DUP policy worker at Westminster, is one of two former MLAs who have taken up a spad post since the restoration of the executive earlier this month.

Former Sinn Féin Upper Bann MLA Dara O’Hagan, who previously worked as an adviser to both Martin McGuinness and Michelle O’Neill when they were deputy first ministers, is employed in the office of Finance Minister Caoimhe Archibald.

Eoin Rooney, who in the last Stormont administration was an adviser to Conor Murphy, has followed the former finance minister to the Department for the Economy.

Re-appointed to the Executive Office, where they are now advising First Minister Michelle O’Neill, are Stephen McGlade and John Loughran, who are joined by Ronan McGinley, a former Mid Ulster councillor who previously worked as an aide to Deirdre Hargey at the Department for Communities.

Sinn Féin spad Ronan McGinley

Advising Infrastructure Minister John O’Dowd is Bronagh O’Kane, who until her recent appointment worked as senior policy adviser for Sinn Féin.

The DUP has yet to fully appoint its advisory team with posts the Executive Office and Department for Communities still vacant, however, the party has confirmed that Richard Bullick, a former aide to Peter Robinson during his time as finance minister and first minister, is now working with Paul Givan at the Department of Education.

Alliance’s has re-appointed Claire Johnson as adviser to Justice Minister Naomi Long, while Jodie Carson joins Andrew Muir at the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs.

Health Minister Robin Swann has reappointed Fermanagh and Omagh councillor Mark Ovens, who worked alongside the former Ulster Unionist leader during the coronavirus pandemic.

In 2020, in the aftermath of the RHI scandal, the then finance minister Conor Murphy published an updated code for special advisers, which included a salary cap.

The updated code included an £85,000 cap on the maximum salary the Department of Finance employees can receive, a reduction from £91,809.

Who are the Stormont spads?

Sinn Féin:

Stephen McGlade (Executive Office) – A Queen’s University graduate who this year completed a LLB law degree, Mr McGlade is a member of Sinn Féin’s negotiating team and previously headed-up the party’s Leinster House operations.

John Loughran (Executive Office) – A Sinn Féin member for almost 30 years, the north Belfast man previously acted as adviser to Martin McGuinness before assuming the same role with the late deputy first minister’s successor.

Ronan McGinley (Executive Office) – His party’s former group leader on Mid-Ulster Council, the 41-year-old was appointed special adviser to then communities minister Deidre Hargey in 2020.

Dara O’Hagan (Department of Finance) – Among the first tranche of post-Good Friday Agreement MLAs, the 59-year-old Lurgan woman moved to a backroom position after five years in the assembly and has previously worked alongside Martin McGuinness and Michelle O’Neill.

Bronagh O’Kane (Department for Infrastructure) – Prior to her appointment as aide to John O’Dowd, Queen’s University graduate Ms O’Kane worked for four years as senior policy adviser for Sinn Féin.

Eoin Rooney – (Department for the Economy) – The west Belfast man previously worked for Nicva before becoming spad to Máirtín Ó Muilleoir in the Department of Finance and latterly working as an aide to Conor Murphy.

Eoin Rooney


Alastair Ross (Executive Office) – A former private secretary to Arlene Foster when she held the economy portfolio, the Co Antrim man worked as a parliamentary researcher for Sammy Wilson before serving as an MLA for a decade up to 2017.

Ashleigh Perry (Executive Office) – The Ballymena woman, who holds a PhD from Ulster University, previously worked as a researcher for Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and was involved in DUP policy development.

Richard Bullick (Department of Education) – One of Stormont’s longest-serving spads, the qualified barrister was an aide to Peter Robinson before and after St Andrews, and worked for a short while in public affairs while the institutions were down between 2017-2020.

Richard Bullick


Claire Johnson (Department of Justice) – Manchester-born but raised in Northern Ireland, Mrs Johnson was previously Alliance’s head of policy and business before joining Naomi Long’s department after New Decade New Approach.

Claire Johnson

Jodie Carson (Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs) – An economist and former Ulster University academic, she previously worked as a senior adviser to North Down MP Stephen Farry.

Ulster Unionist Party – Mark Ovens (Department of Health) – The 35-year-old Fermanagh-born politics graduate is a part-time farmer and councillor, who worked alongside Robin Swann during the pandemic.

Mark Ovens