The News Letter can today reveal that the mystery MLA who used got taxpayers to foot the bill after he libelled a journalist is David McNarry.
In January, the Assembly refused a Freedom of Information request from this newspaper which sought to reveal details of the MLA who had used the controversial policy, saying that details of the case were “clearly expected to remain confidential”.
But the News Letter has now established that it was Mr McNarry – Ukip’s leader in Northern Ireland – who used the Assembly insurance to foot a significant bill after he admitted defaming a journalist.
It is understood that the case involved a substantial five-figure sum being paid out of an insurance policy which is paid for by taxpayers. However, there was an excess of £25,000 on the policy, meaning that taxpayers directly paid that sum of the settlement.
The then Strangford MLA admitted that he had wrongly maligned the then Belfast Telegraph political editor, Liam Clarke. Mr Clarke, a respected author and former northern editor of The Sunday Times, died six months ago.
Mr McNarry had been infuriated by Mr Clarke’s report of policy differences between himself and Ukip’s overall leader, Nigel Farage, after the journalist had interviewed both men in May 2014.
The then MLA put out a statement, via his press officer, Lloyd Lavery, which was sent to many senior journalists in Northern Ireland, with the headline ‘McNarry roasts Liam Clarke for his mischievous, devious report in today’s Belfast Telegraph’. In it, Mr McNarry said: “Clarke set out to rubbish Ukip deliberately, it was obviously his intention from beginning to end. It will be a long time, if ever, before I give him an interview.”
The politician also forwarded an email which he had sent to the journalist. In it, he said: “It seems your penchant for mischief making and obtuse slants, as epitomised in this morning’s report, hasn’t changed.” He went on: “Pity Liam, when you are such a talented journalist, you just can’t refrain from exposing your own agenda – it’s been the same for years. The Headline – “All smiles” etc. is of course all part of someone’s warped agenda!”
Mr Clarke took legal action against the veteran MLA which led to him accepting that the statement had been defamatory.
In a statement signed by Mr McNarry, he apologised for his words and said: “Mr McNarry wishes to retract this statement; it is accepted that the report by Liam Clarke to which it refers...was neither mischievous nor devious.
“Mr McNarry has reached an amicable settlement with Liam Clarke, including the payment of appropriate damages and his legal costs.”
It is understood that Mr McNarry’s side requested a confidentiality clause so that neither party could speak publicly about the settlement. However, as Mr Clarke is now dead that confidentiality clause has no legal weight.
The News Letter has repeatedly tried to contact both Mr McNarry and Ukip Northern Ireland’s press office since Tuesday, but there has been no response.
Mr McNarry is not the first MLA to use the Assembly’s publicly-funded libel insurance - which has not been renewed by the Assembly so is no longer available to MLAs. The DUP’s Paul Givan used the insurance in 2013 and Sinn Fein MLA Phil Flanagan unsuccessfully attempted to use the policy after he libelled UUP MP Tom Elliott.