The main Sinn Féin ‘super spad’ used by the party to flout the intent of a law banning killers and other serious criminals from being special advisers has said that he was paid from public funds – contrary to what Máirtín Ó Muilleoir told the inquiry.
Aidan McAteer was removed as a special adviser (Spad) under a law passed by the Assembly which barred him from that post because of a past IRA conviction.
However, Sinn Féin set up a system whereby he was given even more seniority than a normal spad, and was managing not only the party’s spads but the party’s ministers as well.
The system was not made public at the time.
Under close questioning at the inquiry in October, former Sinn Féin Finance Minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir accepted that the party had disagreed with the legislation and – regardless of the fact that it failed to stop it becoming law – it had consciously acted to ensure that it would have no effect.
Referring to Mr McAteer, he said that “of course, Sinn Féin paid that wage” and that “we would’ve much rather he was paid from public funds but public funds were not allowed to be used for his employment”.
However, Sinn Féin has now accepted that Mr McAteer’s salary was funded by taxpayers through a little-known Assembly funding stream intended for staff who assist the work of MLAs in the legislature rather than the Executive.
In a written statement published by the inquiry last night, Sinn Féin MLA Caral Ni Chuilin said that Mr McAteer’s salary “was paid through public funds, specifically the FAPP (Financial Assistance for Political Parties) Scheme to carry out related to the Assembly and to work with myself as chief whip alongside carrying out other duties identified by the deputy First Minister and authorised by myself”.
But even though he was paid by the Assembly, and nominally employed by Ms Ni Chuilin, Mr McAteer said that he was “directed by the deputy First Minister”.
Mr McAteer said: “My status as a party apointee was well known within the government system both at civil service and political level... the issue of my role and position was never raised or presented as a problem.”