Election Diary: No publicly funded libel insurance for new MLAs

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Unlike their predecessors in the last Assembly, incoming MLAs will not be able to avail of publicly funded libel insurance.

At the start of this month, the Assembly renewed its current employer’s and public liability insurance policy with AIG, which now does not cover defamation.

The policy had been used by the DUP’s Paul Givan to pay for his libel of Baroness Nuala O’Loan and Sinn Fein’s Phil Flanagan is currently awaiting judgment from the High Court in his bid to make the insurer pay for his libel of UUP MP Tom Elliott.

MLAs already have full legal privilege for what they say in the Assembly chamber or committees, meaning that they can only be sued for libel over comments made outside those settings.

An Assembly spokeswoman said: “The policy has been renewed on the same basis as last year, therefore it does not cover for ‘personal injury’ which includes libel and slander; similar to the policy that has been in place since 1 April 2015.”

However, the cost of the policy has increased by almost 30 per cent in recent years.

In 2014-2015, the policy cost taxpayers £33,735 a year. Now, excluding VAT and taxes, the policy costs £43,617 a year.

Meanwhile, the Assembly is still refusing to reveal details of how an unnamed MLA used the policy to settle a libel claim.

Last week the Assembly refused a News Letter request for details of the case, saying that “it was clearly expected to remain confidential” and that “whose personal data is contained within this information will reasonably have expected this information to remain private and confidential”.

Don’t lose your vote, urges student body

The student union movement in Ireland has urged students from Northern Ireland studying elsewhere to ensure that they are able to vote in the Assembly election.

The NUS-USI encouraged students to apply for a postal or proxy vote ahead of the deadline of 5pm on Thursday (April 14).

One of the major issues facing the next Assembly will be a decision about whether to increase student fees in order to off-set some of the recent cuts to university funding.

NUS-USI president Fergal McFerran said that students should “make their voice heard” during the Assembly election campaign.

Upcoming hustings

• East Belfast: Knock Presbyterian Church, April 14, 7.30pm, all parties invited

• Housing and Homelessness Hustings: Girdwood Community Hub, April 15, 2pm. (Organised by CIH, CHNI, Housing Rights and NIFHA)

• General Practice and Primary Care Hustings: Clayton Hotel (Ormeau Avenue, Belfast). April 21, 7pm. Aimed at current and prospective medical professionals. (The Royal College of General Practitioners)

• South Belfast: City Church (University Avenue), April 19, 7.30pm. (Evangelical Alliance/CARE)

• North Down: First Holywood Presbyterian Church, April 21, 7.30pm. (EA/CARE)

• Environmental Hustings: Lough Neagh Discovery Centre, Oxford Island, April 22, 10am. (NI Environment Link)

• Lagan Valley: Lagan Valley Vineyard Church (Altona Business Park), April 26. (EA/CARE)

Email hustings details to sam.mcbride@newsletter.co.uk