Ben Lowry: Double jobbing ban has been exposed as folly

Why can someone not be elected to both Stormont and a council?
Why can someone not be elected to both Stormont and a council?

This election has exposed the idiocy of the ban on being both a councillor and an MLA.

It is called a ‘double jobbing’ ban but it is not so. It is a ban on councillors holding one specific job – the most relevant job that they could possibly hold, that of MLA.

Think for a moment about how foolish that ban is. If you are a councillor, it is a part-time position and so you need to have a full-time job. Thus you might be a doctor or fireman or plumber or whatever. But you cannot be an MLA.

How supremely daft.

There is no conflict of interest, beyond the fact that occasional daytime engagements will clash with Assembly business. But then any of the other full-time jobs that most councillors need to make a living will occasionally clash with council duties.

Now that we have allowed such a rigid ban to come into place, some deeply unfair situations have arisen.

Consider the cases, among others, of Gerard Diver of the SDLP or Adrian Cochrane Watson of the UUP.

Diver topped the poll in his ward in Derry and Strabane District Council in 2014.

Cochrane Watson topped the poll in his ward in Antrim and Newtownabbey Council.

Both men were co-opted to the Assembly and for no good reason (beyond the idiotic ban) were both forced to resign their council seats. But they lost their bid for Assembly election. 
Now two politicians who topped their council polls are out of elected office for at least three years.

We are trying to attract people into politics, not needlessly put barriers in their way.

There is a more persuasive argument for a ban on being both an MP and an MLA, given the clash in timetables. But even then I see no need for a formal ban. Voters of all parties often elected some of their leading politicians to both Stormont and Westminster.

But whereas there was some argument for an MLA-MP ban, there was none at all for MLA-councillor ban.

The restriction should be repealed forthwith.

Ben Lowry (@BenLowry2) is News Letter deputy editor

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