Sinn Fein’s seven Stormont special advisers are being paid more than half a million pounds a year from public funds – but Stormont’s other parties have yet to reveal how much their advisers are being paid.
After years of criticism of Stormont’s secrecy over how much special advisers (Spads) are paid, Sinn Fein has now made the first move towards opening up on one of Stormont’s excesses.
Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness have eight Spads between them – the equivalent of the entire Welsh government.
And, unlike Westminster which publishes the exact salaries of Spads earning above £58,000, Stormont will only state that Spads are paid within a vast payband of £57,300- £90,000.
The list published by Sinn Fein reveals that some advisers are being paid salaries which are greater than those paid to the commanding officer of an army battalion, who has the responsibility for leading 600 men into battle.
Many of the political appointees are also receiving more than some of the most highly qualified public servants such as school principals, hospital consultants and senior police officers.
Sinn Fein said it was voluntarily publishing the salaries – which have been placed on an obscure page on the party’s website and have not been publicised – “in the interest of openness and transparency in our political system”.
The party highlighted that, in line with its well-known policy, its advisers only take home the “average industrial wage”. That means that although the money is paid from public funds to the advisers, they then choose to pay most of it to Sinn Fein.
The list published by the party gives salaries for seven Spads. In OFMDFM, it lists Dara O Hagan (£87,812), Conor Heaney (£75,000), Mark Mullan (£75,000) and Aine McCabe (£84,054).
Education Minister John O’Dowd’s adviser Grainne Maskey gets £65,966, Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill’s adviser Liam Lappin is paid £58,452 and Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin’s adviser John McDermott gets £63,736.
The News Letter is currently appealing a decision by Stormont’s Department for Finance and Personnel to refuse to release the exact salaries of all Stormont Spads under the Freedom of Information Act.
Alliance leader David Ford has said that it would be “entirely reasonable” for the salaries of Alliance Spads to be revealed if the other parties agreed to do likewise – at least to within £5,000 of their exact salaries.
When asked by the News Letter whether he would release the salaries of Alliance Spads, Mr Ford said: “Alliance believes that in the interests of transparency, ministers should be required to publish details of their special advisers’ pay in bands of £5,000.
“Both Alliance ministers’ special advisers were appointed at the bottom of Payscale B [£57,300], and any progression since then has been on the basis of NICS-wide pay awards and restraint.”