36 NW jobs to be opened up as political nepotism becomes passé

Photo caption: The Independent Financial Review Panel members, Alan McQuillan, is pictured alongside Patrick McCartan, (Chair) and Dr Henrietta Campbell.
Photo caption: The Independent Financial Review Panel members, Alan McQuillan, is pictured alongside Patrick McCartan, (Chair) and Dr Henrietta Campbell.

Thirty-six jobs are to be opened up to ordinary jobseekers in the North West over the coming number of years after an independent review panel decided to blow open that last diehard bastion of nepotism, the Stormont Assembly.

The Independent Financial Review Panel (IFRP) has this week ruled that all new support staff being recruited by MLAs to 216 positions across the whole of Northern Ireland, will, in future, be appointed on merit alone and through open competition.

Each new MLA will be allowed to employ no more than two full time equivalent (FTE) support staff up to an annual expenses limit of £50,000 and no more than one connected person may be employed by Assembly members.

That means you won’t have to be a friend or a family member of an Assembly Member to get a job in an MLA’s office.

Support staff in post will not be affected but there will have to be open competition for all new vacant positions from May 5 onwards.

That amounts to 18 jobs across West Tyrone, Londonderry and East Londonderry.

The IFRP explained: “MLAs shall be able to claim an annual allowance of up to £50,000 for employing up to two full-time or equivalent part-time staff in their constituency office or at Stormont.

“ERNI and a new employer pension cost of five per cent shall be paid in addition to the £50,000 cap.

“A new salary structure will be introduced to ensure that no member of support staff is paid less than the Living Wage Foundation living wage of £8.25 per hour, rising each year to meet the £9.20 per hour minimum set by the Chancellor for 2020. Support staff may be eligible for annual performance uplifts of £250 a year to reach the top of their salary scale.

“All future vacancies for MLA support staff shall be filled on the merit principle, requiring open competition.”

Several of our most officious MLAs, ie the outgoing Executive ministers, have paid or do pay family members or ‘connections’.

These are Culture Minister Carál Ní Chuilín, who has used her brother-in-law’s firm to carry out office repairs and maintenance; Jobs Minister Dr Stephen Farry, who has employed his wife as a senior researcher; Trade Minister Jonathan Bell, who has employed his wife as a part-time secretary and researcher; the son of Peter Robinson as his constituency manager; and the daughter-in-law of Peter Robinson as a part-time secretary; Social Development Minister Mervyn Storey, who has employed his daughter as a part-time office assistant; and his wife as an office assistant; Regional Development Minister Michelle McIlveen, who has employed her brother as a researcher and office manager; and junior minister Jennifer McCann, who has also used Carál Ní Chuilín’s brother-in-law’s firm.