Northern Ireland news

Sinn Féin rejects comparisons between calls for transparency in the Dáil and rejecting Jim Allister's efforts to tighten Stormont governance

Jim Allister insists his private members bill is not anti-Good Friday Agreement

SINN Féin last night rejected comparisons between legislation it is proposing in the Republic and Jim Allister's private members bill that aims to increase accountability around the recruitment and conduct of Stormont's special advisers.

MLAs spent last night debating the TUV leader's bill at the consideration stage, while in the Dáil Sinn Féin TDs Mairéad Farrell and Pearse Doherty presented legislation that the party believes will "bring enhanced accountability and transparency to political lobbying".

The Dáil bill seeks to extend the cooling-off period for ministers, junior ministers and special advisers who move from public office to a lobbying role, while giving the authorities greater powers to enforce breaches.

Sinn Féin insists its bill is completely different from Mr Allister's, which is designed to tighten the lax governance exposed by the RHI scandal by capping spads' pay and making the recruitment of aides more transparent.

It would also subject ministers to the assembly's standards watchdog's complaints procedure for the first time and include a requirement that all ministerial meetings are minuted and records kept of meetings with lobbyists.

The TUV leader insists his bill is "not an orange and green issue" and is "not anti (Good Friday) Agreement", as Sinn Féin has claimed.

North Antrim MLA Philip McGuigan said Mr Allister's bill was "not about good governance... as its title would benignly suggest".

"This bill is about undermining the ability of this executive and this assembly to deliver for our people. It is about making this more difficult to the point of impossible," he said

But SDLP finance spokesman Matthew O'Toole, whose party has given provisional support to the TUV leader's bill, said Sinn Féin's opposition was "bizarre".

"Sinn Féin have decided to oppose every single clause of this bill – and the very principle of legislation at Stormont – while at the same time introducing their own transparency law in Dublin," he said.

The Stormont private members bill is also supported at this stage by the DUP, Ulster Unionists and People Before Profit.

A DUP spokesman said there were elements of the bill where "further work is required".

However, Alliance appeared set to reject the bill, with North Down MLA Andrew Muir saying it "could actually lead to even slower decisions and more inefficient government".

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