Stormont’s glut of special advisors giving rise to party honours system?

In yesterday’s Irish News, Brian Feeney cast a particularly penetrating light on a peculiar aspect of Northern Ireland’s political settlement, the secretive lives of its many special advisors…

Another reason for the restraint of all Stormont parties about Sinn Fein’s appointment is that starting a shouting match runs the real issue which is the matter of special advisors as a species.

We have nineteen of them in the north, eight of them in the Office of First and Deputy First Minister alone.

To place that in perspective the British Government has all of 60. To scale that up per head of population to match Stormont’s profligacy would require the British government to employ 2,400 special advisors. That’s how bad Stormont is.

In Scotland with three times the population, the ministerial code stipulatesa maximum of twelve special advisors. The Scottish first minister is responsible for appointing all of them. What’s more important the Scottish Parliament publishes their numbers, names and pay bands as well as full information on unpaid advisors.

The British government does the same. Not our lot. The Stormont ministerial code is silent on the subject of special advisors. The parties won’t even tell you the names even though we are paying for them.

I won’t quote more (the column is almost worth a week’s online subscription in and of itself), but suffice to say he observes that Sinn Fein have been using some of these posts as an unofficial party honours system, rather than for individuals who have been ‘distinguished experts in their professional fields’.

Which, in itself, begs a whole other set of questions…