Northern Ireland news

DUP MLA Trevor Clarke failed to register wife's employment as office administrator

DUP MLA Trevor Clarke and his office administrator wife Linda

A DUP MLA who has failed to complete a declaration of interests for the assembly is among ten of the party's Stormont representatives employing relatives, The Irish News can reveal.

South Antrim representative Trevor Clarke employs his wife Linda as an office administrator but has not declared the fact since he was co-opted in 2017.

A DUP spokesman said Mr Clarke's failure to register his wife's employment was an "oversight" which would soon be rectified.

The Irish News reported yesterday that nine of the party's MLAs have family members on the payroll – almost twice the number of Stormont representatives from all the other parties combined who employ relatives.

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

Mr Clarke's failure to complete the register is in breach of the MLAs' code of conduct but compliance is enforced by the assembly's commissioner for standards, a role which has been vacant for 18 months.

Mr Clarke lost his Stormont seat in the March 2017 election but was co-opted into the assembly the following June after his colleague Paul Girvan won the South Antrim Westminster seat.

A spokeswoman for the assembly said any complaint against the DUP MLA for breaching the code of conduct could only be dealt with following the appointment of a new commissioner for standards.

Green MLA Clare Bailey said the practice of MLAs employing family members was an "unwelcome facet of politics of the past".

"I don’t employ any relatives, nor does Steven Agnew MLA – I believe that people should be appointed on merit," the South Belfast representative said.

“The practice of employing relatives is on the wane, however, MLAs employing relatives is an unwelcome facet of the politics of the past and is damaging to community confidence."

Ms Bailey said there were many "articulate and talented people" not presently in employment.

"I want to see them have every opportunity to realise their potential through open and fair recruitment practices," she said.

In all, 16 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.

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.

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