Northern Irish politicians now commercially indemnified against libelling members of the public…

I suppose taking out private insurance is one way of asserting parliament privilege. The new arrangments were put in place after two Sinn Fein MLAs found themselves in a case that was to cost them and/or their party somewhere between 1/4 and 1/2 million pounds.

The Irish News reports on a case before the High Court in which DUP MLA Paul Given and UTV settled with Nuala O’Loan for a substantial figure…

TAXPAYERS cover all 108 MLAs against libel costs – including an estimated £50,000 damages bill incurred by the DUP’s Paul Givan yesterday.
The Irish News has learned that Mr Givan will not have to pay anything in the libel case brought by former police ombudsman Nuala O’Loan because insurance is provided at the public’s expense.

The question is who is prepared to cover all 108 MLAs and how much are the premiums? And, when MLA’s already have parliamentary previlege and qualified privilege, why does the taxpayer have to fork out for this kind of extra protection?

Isn’t it just a little bit scary we now have a class of citizen that’s doubly protected from the same rigours of the law you and I might be subject to (I can think of more than one Northern Irish politician that’s none to slow to pull the legal trigger when the occasion arises)?

  • Jack2

    “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”.

    Time to turf this lot out on their backsides.

  • FDM

    I don’t care who the politician is, a man/woman should stand by their word. If they can’t then they should keep their mouths shut like the rest of us or suffer the consequences.

    This is a disgrace and should not be tolerated.

  • Paulk

    I suspect this will be one story everyone will agree on, the public should not have to bail any politician out because they can’t keep their mouth shut or put their pen down. Its frankly outrageous that they can do what they like with no penalty to themselves. Anyone costing taxpayers this amount should also be considering their own position surely?

  • Mick Fealty

    Consider also that MLAs rejected legislation that would shift some of the burden of proof to those making the accusation:

    Patrick Kane: http://goo.gl/6tnge

    Lord Lester of Herne Hill: http://goo.gl/Z82v3

    Who needs to visit Pyongyang when we can have Pyongyang here?

  • jthree

    It will give broadcasters pause for thought as it means MLAs can now shoot their mouths off, pretty much risk free.

  • Dec

    ‘And, when MLA’s already have parliamentary previlege and qualified privilege, why does the taxpayer have to fork out for this kind of extra protection?’

    MLAs can employ the usual robust rebuttal Royalists roll out when the rest of us query why we have to fund palaces and towers for others to live in when we’re struggling to pay our own mortgages: it only works out at around £1 a year so shut up.

    Sorted.

    (Though all these £1s soon start to add up)

  • Mick Fealty

    Good point jthree… UTV will have had no such cover… more caution, less done live, less risk

  • David Crookes

    May the 108 beads on a prayer mala be taken to represent the most privileged privilegentsia in the world?

    Many of the staff in care homes earn only the basic minimum wage, work 12-hour shifts, don’t get paid for their meal-breaks, have to take internet courses and exams with 100% pass-marks in their spare time, and then they get into horrendous trouble if they break one of a myriad of rules.

    Something will have to change.

  • son of sam

    In any normal democracy,surely Mr Givan should be considering his position as Chair of the Justice Committee.But given the recent “bonding”session between Peter and Martin,we should not be holding our breath waiting on this to happen.Sadly the two major parties know they can get away with almost everything .It will be interesting to hear what the one man opposition in the Assembly (Jim Allister Q C) has to say on the matter.Maybe I’ve missed it ,but I fail to see any reference to the case on the U T V website.

  • Pete Baker

    There’s an interesting line in the statement by the SDLP’s John Dallat.

    John Dallat a long-standing member of the PAC said: “Until this week it was not common knowledge that members enjoyed the benefits of free public liability insurance paid for by the assembly and it came as a bolt out of the blue that our assembly colleague Paul Given (DUP) would be covered in the case brought by Baroness O’Loan. “In my inquiries it appears that clarification was provided by our insurers last December that our insurance policy could, in certain circumstances, extend to members as well as staff. [added emphasis]

    So, who sought the clarification last December? And what are the “certain circumstances” in which MLAs are covered by that insurance against libel cases?

  • carl marks

    The outrage at this latest piece of news about those who live on the hill is something that I can see almost total agreement on (the only people who could possibly disagree are our MLA’s), can anybody tell me did we pay his legal fees as well?
    So a MLA can blacken your name, lie about you and make up storeys and if you take him to court he doesn’t have to put his hand in his pocket , but the media outlet that reports it can be done.
    Are they immune to any other laws that the rest of us mere mortals must obey

  • son of sam

    Pete
    Doubt if there will be any searching questions on this matter on U T V Live!

  • carl marks

    Can somebody confirm if SF benefitted from this strange arrangement in the past?

  • tacapall

    Crown servants have always governed Ireland with impunity its been going on for over 800 years, so whats new and what surprises anyone about this latest revelation concerning the privileged position that a crown servant receives.

  • observational

    CM: That’s an interesting question. We need to get the full details of all claims against this – and any other policy, and what excess the Assembly is liable for. Also, who is liable – the assembly (hence, us as taxpayers) or the individuals?

    I suggest an excess of £10k with the onus on the individuals themselves to meet the cost. Lets see how many libellous comments we see over the next 12 months.

    I wonder what other cosy protection measures we provide without knowing it. I bet we are insuring or subsidising all kinds of things we would probably not agree with. Travel? Cars? Homes?

  • iluvni

    Maybe that explains the arrogance of so many of them. They are immune from any sanction whatsoever.

  • GavBelfast

    No commercial insurance policy will provide a ‘blank cheque’ in situations like this – for example, there will probably be restrictions and things like ‘deliberate acts’ will probably be excluded.

    That said, it is still bizarre and just another brick in the wall of disconnection between Joe Public and the whole damn lot of them on the hill.

    Really, what is the benefit of having them?

  • observational

    Gav: I’m sure the level of liability will be limited just like most other insurance policies and will be dependant on how much the legal team advised the assembly to pay in annual cover. I hope they got their free meerkat when they got a quote.

    In this instance, surely the comments were deliberate acts? I mean, did he accidentally make the statements? Or perhaps they were misinterpreted? lol, I’m joking with that one.

    Can anyone provide a link to the comments? I haven’t been able to actually see what was said in this particular case. I guess its unlikely that anyone host the transcript on a blog anywhere – we don’t all have the luxury of state-sponsored libel protection, even though we have all been paying for it.

  • Comrade Stalin

    The part I don’t understand and which nobody has mentioned yet is .. exactly how is the question of libel action of this kind an insurable risk ? How can committing libel in this way be an accident or an unavoidable/unforeseen incident ?

    A Freedom of Information request would no doubt uncover the details of the policy wording.

    Longer term, if these insurers do indeed find themselves paying out to cover this, you can be sure that they will be amending their policy wording in no short order to exclude libel proceedings.

  • aquifer

    Great story Mick.

    So slabbers who happen to be MLAs can slander us with lawyers behind them, while we have little defense if we accidentally or mistakenly defame one of them.

    And we pay a premium to be so abused.

    I think I have this clear now.

    Should I also say ‘without prejudice’ or would I be perjuring myself, as I already believe them to be self satisfied huddles of confidence tricksters and political pyramid sellers with over plump pension plans?

  • GavBelfast

    Like many things insurance / law-related, it’s a grey area.

    It can be a legal and semantic minefield.

    Here’s an idea ….

  • Mark

    So there’s no real opposition in local Govt as it is . Each party can use PP in Westminister ( not sure about Stormont ) if they wish and now this …..

    The politicians have become the ” untouchables ” .

  • son of sam

    Ironic or not?Mr Givan on U T V again tonight.Bet Paul Clark is watching his P’s and Q’s at the moment.Doesn’t look as if D U P are going to demote Mr Givan.

  • observational

    UTV probably had a team of lawyers and a big red button with a ‘Cut Transmission’ sign taped just out of shot. Not to mention each was likely holding a cue card with legal advice written in txt spk

  • USA

    At the very least the political parties should be paying for their own insurance.

  • aquifer

    Political parties are poor.

    Global capitalism insists on it to prevent impediments to free trade in financial oppression.

    The state is merely kept in place to ensure the poor continue to pay rents to the rich.

    And now apparently to tell the rest of us to shut the XXXX up.

  • BarneyT

    Folks, are they not merely aligning with the rest of the UK government institutions? The Welsh, Westminster and Hollyrood based governments\administrators have had this protection for some time.

    The irony is that SF may elect to use this to address their 250k legal deficit. Some may use the “when in Rome..” argument to justify this claim. Others may mischievously suggest that SF are happy to align with wider UK instruments of government.

    I believe SF perhaps has an opportunity here to make some moral political headway on this matter by rebuffing this compensatory\insurance mechanism. If they don’t, they will undo some of the recent progress they have made.

    I can see that government institutions need to offer some protection, as boundaries do have to be pushed (its called debate – not something you see much of in Stormont), but the level of immunity offered is unacceptable.

  • observational

    Immunity is adequately provided through Parliamentary Privilege and I don’t see any rational reason for this protection to extend beyond the walls of Stormont.

    This allows people to go shooting their mouth off at will and then “apologise” at a later date in response to legal repercussions, with no financial penalty to themselves? Why would any of them even care about doing their job properly or acting with restraint in that case? We are protecting them from their own stupidity so that they can say or do what they want – whilst we, as citizens, would be personally liable in the same situation…!

    Remove it. Lets see them showing a little restraint and being a bit more rational in future – whether in words or actions. SF are obliged to foot the NIW bill themselves, as are the rest.

  • uglymugsie

    Jim Wells is currently abusing parliamentary privilege to repeatedly make false allegations about me. The reason for this being that I openly oppose the DUP’s plans to criminalise the purchase of sex work and Mr Wells has decided to use parliamentary privilege to attack anyone opposing his party’s view with malicious false allegations, in an effort to try to damage and discredit them. It is not a good situation in NI, that politicians do this so blatantly and apologetically, and there is nothing the victims of it can do about it, as the politicians have parliamentary privilege. Parliamentary privilege type arrangements exist in many countries, but some NI politicians appear to openly abuse parliamentary privilege in a way that wouldn’t be tolerated in other countries (or at least I don’t know of other countries that allow the same).