Northern Ireland

Dr Melissa McCullough: Building trust in our elected officials has never been as important

Dr Melissa McCullough, Northern Ireland Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Dr Melissa McCullough, Northern Ireland Assembly Commissioner for Standards

Dr Melissa McCullough

Northern Ireland Assembly Commissioner for Standards

No matter the institution, professional and ethical standards are essential to building trust and confidence in the people it serves.

As the Northern Ireland Assembly Commissioner for Standards, it is my job to investigate complaints about the behaviour of Ministers and MLAs in an independent, fair, and transparent way and to encourage and promote high ethical standards in public life.

Since taking up this post in September 2020, the need to increase public trust in the Assembly and politics in general has become ever more apparent to me.

As high-profile stories and concerns around the upholding of ethical standards in public life continue to make the national and international news, we are all regularly reminded of the vital importance of trust and the expectation of high standards in public life.

That is why this Office and the public’s engagement with it has never been as important, especially as the Assembly election approaches in May 2022.

The Seven Principles of Public Life include integrity, honesty, openness, selflessness, objectivity, leadership, and accountability; these form the bedrock of the public’s expectations of those who take decisions on their behalf. In March 2021, highlighting their commitment to increasing accountability and promoting high standards in public life, MLAs debated and passed new legislation that extended my role to include complaints about the behaviour of ministers.

This new function is unique to Northern Ireland among the UK jurisdictions, and one I am hoping will further influence positive culture change and increase public trust.

This week I have launched a new website that includes an online confidential, accessible, and streamlined complaints form as part of a programme of work to update the complaints procedure and simultaneously raise awareness of the work of the Commissioner for Standards.

Information on what I can and cannot investigate, the MLA and Ministerial Codes of Conduct and much more can be found there.

It is my hope that this new online presence will help to promote the high standards that the Northern Irish public want to see in the Assembly and their elected officials.

Alongside the website, a new complaints software system will enable more efficient case handling and enhanced reporting that will ultimately benefit complainants, the Assembly and society as a whole.

I recognise that not everyone will have access to the website to make a complaint online, therefore I would also encourage engagement via post, email or by telephone.

The task of building trust in our institutions has never been as important. MLAs and ministers have all signed up to their respective Codes of Conduct which reflect the Seven Principles of Public Life.

As we look to the Assembly election in May 2022, we must all continue the work of building public confidence and trust by taking ownership of ensuring MLAs and ministers adhere to the high standards expected of them in order to create the culture we all desire.

For more information about the Commissioner for Standards or to make a complaint about the conduct of a minister or MLA please visit