Northern Ireland

Suspended SDLP MLA Justin McNulty back at Stormont after ‘exit’ row on Saturday

SDLP’s Justin McNulty arrives for the first sitting of the assembly at Stormont on Tuesday.
Suspended MLA Justin McNulty arrives for the first sitting of the assembly at Stormont on Tuesday. PICTURE COLM LENAGHAN

Double-jobbing Justin McNulty was back at Stormont on Tuesday sitting close to his erstwhile SDLP colleagues – rather than with other independents despite being suspended by the party.

The Newry and Armagh MLA was suspended at the weekend after leaving Saturday’s assembly recall in the early afternoon to travel to Wexford to coach the Laois senior Gaelic football team.

Mr McNulty took up his coaching job with the Leinster side for the second time in October, drawing criticism from the SDLP leadership, who argue that being an assembly member is a “full-time job”.

Justin McNulty during his first spell in charge of Laois
Justin McNulty took up his coaching job with Laois for the second time in October

Did the SDLP MLA for Newry and Armagh travel to the game by helicopter?

It was reported that the one-time All-Ireland winner travelled by helicopter to Wexford for his side’s Division 4 Allianz National Football League game, which had a 6pm throw-in.

Justin McNulty has not commented on the reports, which suggest he flew out of Newtownards airfield to be at the match, which Laois won by 1-19 to 0-12.

Laois GAA coach since October 2023

The SDLP said Mr McNulty the recall “without seeking permission and did not return for important parliamentary business which included the SDLP taking up its role as the official opposition at Stormont”.

Speaking at Parliament Buildings on Monday, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said an internal party disciplinary procedure would “have to be gone through”.

“I expect 100% from all my MLAs, I won’t accept 50% from one of them but we’re very clear the door is open for Justin to come back in if he wants, we’ve made a very generous offer to him but that’s on him and we’re ready and willing to listen,” he said.

A statement from the assembly said: “The Business Committee agrees the allocation of seats to each party at the beginning of a new assembly mandate, thereafter it is a matter both for parties and individual MLAs to decide where they sit in the assembly chamber.

“This will be influenced by the number of members wishing to be in the chamber at any one time.”