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Allister Renews Campaign on Special Advisers as Sinn Fein Duck and Dive

06 September 2011

Just two days into the new Assembly term and TUV leader Jim Allister has renewed his campaign for openness when it comes to Special Advisers. Commenting the North Antrim MLA said:

“I had tabled a number of searching questions relating to how the current batch of Special Advisers were appointed before the recess. They obviously caused the Ministers considerable difficulty because not one of them was addressed!

“To all Sinn Fein/IRA Ministers I tabled the following question before the recess:
To ask the Minister (i) how many candidates were considered for the post of Ministerial Special Adviser; (ii) what account was taken of any potential imbalance in religious background or gender in the pool from which the Minister selected the Special Adviser; (iii) how wide was the trawl for candidates and how did the Minister ensure it was “broadly based” as required by the Code of Practice on the Appointment of Special Advisers; and (iv) to publish the job description and person specification drawn up before the Special Adviser was appointed.

“A series of “answers” came back from the Ministers which failed to address any of the specific points in the question. The only exception was the Office of the Co-First Ministers which hasn’t answered the question at all – this in spite of the fact that Standing Orders require Ministers to respond to Written Questions within 10 days!

“I have therefore asked the Sinn Fein/IRA Ministers to address the question put to them back in June properly and have raised OFMdFM’s failure to reply at all with the Speaker.

“Additionally, I have particular concerns with the appointment of Mary McArdle as Special Adviser to the Culture Minister, Carol Cullen. During her interview on the BBC’s Spotlight programme the Culture Minister stated: “The party appointed myself and Mary McArdle to these positions.”

“This suggests there was a breach of the Code of Practice on the Appointment of Special Advisers issued by DFP in March 2011. Under Section 4 (Framework for Selection and Appointment) the Code states: (a)    Given Northern Ireland’s unique equality legislation, Ministers should not put themselves in a position which gives rise to challenge. Ministers should be careful therefore to make the selection on justifiable grounds, and to consider potential candidates on their merits; (b)   Ministers have a  personal responsibility to ensure that selection is free from unlawful discrimination;(c)    Ministers should ensure that they consider a number of candidates.

“The Code goes on to say that “when the Minister makes a selection from the pool [of candidates], either by interview or as a paper exercise, it is important that the selection is made on sustainable and lawful grounds and that the Minister’s reasons are recorded”.

“In light of her remarks on Spotlight I tabled the following question: To ask the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure whether she or her Party selected Mary McArdle as her Special Adviser.

“Cullen’s answer – “I appointed Mary McArdle as my Special Adviser” – of course completely dodges the question of who selected McArdle. So I have asked the Minister again to explain who selected her adviser and have invited her to explain the discrepancy   between her comments on Spotlight and the DFP Code.

“I still await Minister Wilson’s response to my question about whether he believes the Code of Practice was complied with – a question which should have been answered two months ago.”

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NI politics