Robin Swann, Ulster Unionist candidate for North Antrim has said the roles, remit and cost of Special Advisers (SpAds) in the Stormont Executive must be brought under control in the next Assembly.
Mr Swann said:
“One of the things which has become abundantly clear in the fallout from the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal, is that Special Advisors in the DUP/ Sinn Fein Executive have been running out of control. These people are appointed, not elected, but it is clear that they are wielding far too much control and influence over government policy.
“Even leaving aside the large numbers of Special Advisers and the ridiculously high salaries they have been awarded, it is not clear from answers to questions I submitted at the Assembly what their roles are. I specifically asked a series of questions to all Ministerial Departments on the role SpAds played in reviewing and altering replies to Freedom of Information (FoI) requests, and the answers varied widely.
“The Minister for Infrastructure said that no Freedom of Information responses were read or altered by his SpAd. Communities and the Executive Office said they had no records, or it would cost too much to find out. The Minister of Health did not specifically respond to the role of her SpAd, instead referring to the Department’s FoI policy, while the Minister of Education has a SpAd who has sight of all FoI responses- but did not say how many were altered by him. The Economy Minister did not reply before the Assembly fell.
“What we have is a picture of confusion and lack of transparency. It is clear, because both the DUP and Sinn Fein combined to vote down a proposal to reduce the number of Special Advisers and to cap their salaries, that there is only one way to end the era of Stormont run by unaccountable, unelected, overpaid party appointees. Vote Ulster Unionist on 2 March.”