Northern Ireland news

Jim Allister assembly bill seeks to tighten accountability around spads

TUV leader Jim Allister. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA Wire

STORMONT will today debate proposed legislation seeking to tighten governance in the aftermath of the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scandal.

The private member's bill from TUV leader Jim Allister focuses largely on increasing accountability around the recruitment and conduct of special advisers but if adopted, it would also subject ministers to the assembly's standards watchdog's complaints procedure for the first time.

Other measures in the proposed legislation, which was first presented to MLAs in March, include a requirement that all ministerial meetings are minuted and a record is kept of ministers' meetings with lobbyists.

The bill would cap spads' pay, make them subject to the civil service disciplinary processes, and make it a criminal offence for ministers or their aides to hide material by keeping it off official IT systems.

Mr Allister said input from a majority of Stormont's parties, with the exception of Sinn Féin, had helped ensure his bill was "stronger and better".

He said the new rules would "place a check on the abuse of power exposed through the RHI Inquiry".

“In order to try and maximise support for my bill I have had to recognise I could not achieve all I wished, though apart from accepting that there is not sufficient consensus to reduce the number of spads for the first minister and deputy first minister below six, I believe the key components of the bill have been preserved, indeed improved," the North Antrim MLA said.

“Now, it is up to the assembly as a whole to deliberate and decide."

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