Just one of the political parties employing press officers from public money has voluntarily released the name, salary and working hours of the person who is paid by taxpayers.
The News Letter approached the five parties who employ press officers under the FAPP scheme and asked them two questions: whether they would voluntarily disclose the names and salaries of the staff, and how they could justify the use of public funds for such a purpose, given that the work of many press officers involves attacking other parties.
Just one of the parties – the Green Party – was entirely open about the arrangement, releasing the name, salary and exact job specification for its sole press officer.
In a statement, the party said: “Sara McCracken is the Green Party Assembly communications and events officer and is paid an annual salary of £24,000 for a 37-hour working week, including unsociable hours.
“The purpose of the role is to assist the MLA in communicating with his constituents and the wider public, informing them of his work in the Assembly and his constituency.
“Please see attached job specification and candidate criteria which were published when recruiting for the post.”
A UUP spokesman said: “We respect the confidentiality of individual employees. Press officers play an important role in highlighting the work of MLAs in the Assembly chamber and in statutory committees and in assisting MLAs in holding others to account.”
A DUP spokesman said: “The DUP, like every other Assembly party, receives money under the Financial Assistance for Political Parties scheme.
“All our expenditure is in compliance with the rules of scheme and is regularly audited as is appropriate. Resources to political parties assists in the work of the members of the legislative Assembly for our party.”
An SDLP spokesman said: “Communicating and promoting work undertaken on behalf of constituents and the public is a key part of the work of any legislator and allows for debate on their record throughout their time as elected representatives.
“In order to carry out that function efficiently, SDLP MLAs employ press staff who assist with the promotion of the work of MLAs in the Assembly which includes holding government ministers to account.
“That is an essential element of the democratic process. Every penny of public money received is stringently accounted for and compliant with Assembly rules.”
An Alliance Party spokesman said: “Having taken advice, to disclose such personal data of individual members of staff would represent a significant breach of the party’s duty to its employees relating to contracts, both as a matter of principle and relating to the Data Protection Act.
“The role of press officers in Alliance is not to attack other parties but rather provide wide-ranging help for Assembly members, both individually and as a team, including giving media support, strategy and guidance. This is part of normal political discourse.”