A DUP MLA who has been ordered by a court to repay a £30,000 debt has already paid the money back - but still disputes that it was ever owed in the first place.
North Antrim Assemblyman David McIlveen told the News Letter that most people would have appealed the judgement - which became public on Monday - but that he had previously made clear to the individual requesting the money that he would accept the judge’s verdict.
He described the judgement, which related to his co-ownership of an estate agency in Ballymena, as “confusing”.
He said: “This was not a default; it was a dispute and it was a dispute that I [had the right to make] - as every citizen has the right to make if they feel that they are being charged for something that really they shouldn’t have been charged for.
“Where I suppose I am slightly different as a citizen is that where most people would probably have appealed it, I settled it so it’s long gone out of my hair, thankfully.”
However, Mr McIlveen said that there is a “fairly significant possibility that I may have to challenge it through other means now”, adding: “I’ve fully honoured the commitment and from day one I’ve always said that if a judge told me to pay, I would pay. But I may have to look at other options now as well.” He added: “I’ve paid it but it will now be a recovery process for me, rather than one of non-payment as such.”
The court judgement contains an email from Mr McIlveen at the time when he was entering politics in late 2010.
In it, he said: “Although [his then business partner] Gareth and I are individually liable to our creditors in the eyes of the law we are jointly liable, therefore the grim reality is that if our creditors decided to close in on us today I would have no choice but to declare myself insolvent.
“Admittedly this would not do much for my political future, however UPS Ballymena would be no better off and Gareth would be shackled with 100% of the debt. ”
When asked whether, in light of that, he had entered politics because he needed money, Mr McIlveen laughed and said: “This is what I find most offensive about the reporting of this...if that had been the case, I would have completely ceased my connections with the business and I would have therefore just have taken the job that I do now entirely as my main income.
“That is not the case and it will not be the case. I came into politics on the basis that I did have a lot of private sector experience and I was planning and hoping to bring that into the role that I do to make a very positive contribution with that experience.”
He added: “I’m certainly not in this for any particular financial gain. I came into politics for the right reasons.”
He said that although he had several business interests he had decided not to take money out of those companies while he is in politics, in order to provide greater stability for the businesses’ employees.
MLAs are paid a basic salary of £48,000.
Mr McIlveen, whose father of the same name is the well-known Free Presbyterian minister, also said: “In a more general sense, if the public want benches of our Parliaments filled with people who’ve walked straight out of university into political positions...then so be it.
“But if the public want people with a little bit of experience outside of politics, then this is something that happens in the rough and tumble of business every day so it’s not that big a story.”
By Sam McBride
There are MLAs who would never earn £48,000-a-year in the private sector.
Some of them struggle to string a sentence together in the chamber – even when it has been written for them by a speech writer and is on a page in front of them. Although relatively new to politics, David McIlveen has never been in that category.
Part of the new intake of 2011, he has quickly established himself as a force to be reckoned with in the Assembly, leapfrogging numerous party veterans around him on DUP benches to become one of the party’s prominent voices in the chamber.
That has been recognised by the party leadership when he was given the job of Assembly Private Secretary to Finance Minister Simon Hamilton. The unpaid role was occupied by Mr Hamilton himself prior to him taking over as minister. Given that role, a court judgment which ordered Mr McIlveen to repay money is less than ideal for him.
Nevertheless, in an age where debt disputes are more common, if this judgment is the end of the matter it is unlikely to impede his career.