Conall McDevitt steps down from his MLA post…

This is the end for Conall McDevitt and public life… That storm in a teacup blew up into something rather more when it segued into something rather more… What made him walk was a handover payment from his former employers, Weber Shandwick which he failed to declare

In early 2010 I received payment from my former employers. I’d been managing director of a company and I received payment in order to help the new management team bed in.

“That should have been declared and it wasn’t. That’s a serious breach, in my opinion, of the code.

“I have rectified it today, but I entered politics to try and bring about change and positive change, and I feel I have fallen below the standards expected of someone in public life.

Here’s his statement…

Today I have submitted by resignation as an MLA with immediate effect.

Over the past few weeks there has been considerable public interest in my use of public money. I am satisfied that at all times I complied with the obligations on me and am compliant with my duties.

Between March 2010 and August 2010 I received a total of £6750 from my former employers, Weber Shandwick. These payments related to internal work within Weber Shandwick. I resigned as Managing Director of the Belfast office in December 2009 and I provided support and mentoring to the new management team following my departure from the company. I was never asked to nor did I ever represent any of the company’s clients whilst an MLA.

These payments were made through JM Consulting, a consultancy which my wife has an interest in. These are registerable interests under the Assembly rules. I have now registered these earnings on my register.

My failure to register these interests at the time means that I have fallen below the standards of expected of me in public office. I have done my best to discharge my duties as an MLA with integrity but there is no question that I failed to do so on this occasion.

I apologise unreservedly for my failures in this regard.

It has been the greatest honour of my professional life to serve the people of South Belfast and the SDLP since January 2010. I will forever treasure the opportunity given to me to make a contribution to the building of a new society here. That work will be continued by my successor whomever he or she may be.

I would like to ask for some privacy at this time for myself and my family.

  • keano10

    He’s resigning on the basis of an entirely new matter unconnected to his payments to his wife which is perhaps the biggest shock of all. Massive body blow to the SDLP. Incalculable…

    Whom within the SDLP will attack the younger vote now? McDevitt was the figurehead for the progressive youthful wing of their party. He’s just been in tears after being interviewed by UTV. Perhaps he is an honourable guy, then again he has fallen on his sword for not being honest and declaring his interests…

    Either way, a pretty stunning local political story…

  • leftofcentre

    I never could warm to CMD; he always came across as a bit smug but what a tedious thing to resign over.

    It seems the path is now clear for Alex Attwood to launch a leadership challenge at the next SDLP conference. He may not be the most dynamic chap but there is no arguing that gets things done.

    He will pull the SDLP out of government and into opposition and maybe the local political scene will wake up a bit from its moribund state.

  • cynic2

    So who grassed him up to the BBC? I suspect that in the incestuous bag of reptiles that is the SDLP (they feast on their own young) there are lots of potential suspects. He was ever an endangered species – competent and mouthy and capable of making his peers look even more stupid than they are

    It was apparent in the BBC interview last week that they were laying a trap with the ‘is there anything else you haven’t declared ?’ question.

    At the time I thought …whoops they know something. Now we see this.

    Well, the rules are clear and in effect he lied over something extremely stupid. But the question is, this is so stupid an issue, is there more still?

  • cynic2

    By the way…a side issue. Why the hell do Policing Board members get £16k to spend on ‘research’? This is madness and just shows their incapability to act as a Corporate Body. If research is done it should be the Boards research not money farmed out to family or tame ‘research companies’ owned by senior party members

  • Charles_Gould

    Northern Ireland (not just the SDLP) has just lost a huge political talent. He had a huge contribution to politics to make. He has shown honour and integrity that few if any other NI politicians have shown in resigning rather than just “brazening it out”.

  • leftofcentre

    It does seem to be such a stupid thing to resign over. I can’t help but think he is just feed up with politics and has thrown the head up. He can walk back into a job in PR that gives him more cash and a lot less hassle. Could you blame him?

  • keano10

    Leftofcentre,

    Jesus! If you are seriously suggesting that Alex Attwood is The White Knight who will ride in and save the SDLP, then they really ARE in trouble…!

  • DC

    Built for long distance running you might have thought he could last the pace, however I’m afraid to say the guy just couldn’t take a few serious body blows.

  • Charles_Gould

    An Alliance friend says this clears way for second South Belfast MLA at next election.

  • leftofcentre

    @keano10
    Not a white knight, more like last man standing.

    Big Al has been a disaster, his public profile is practically zero. It is like his handlers are deliberately keeping him in a box, I can’t see him lasting past this years conference.

    Who else is there? At least if they go into opposition it will liven things up a bit.

  • cynic2

    this clears way for a Uniuonist walkover

  • iluvni

    Well, after that woeful interview on Nolan this morning, at least he had the good grace to resign, instead of fronting it out shamelessly like so many other dirtbags in that useless Assembly.

    Does this now mean though that the utterly discredited SDLP can simply appoint another non-entity to gorge in the bottomless pit of public money up there?

  • cynic2

    Alex was a very competent Minister who played exactly by bthe political rules and showed he could stiff the Shinners when appropriate.

    Anyway…in the valley of the blind …….

    PS whose cousin will the SDLP co-opt to replace McDevitt?

  • cynic2

    “so many other dirtbags”

    ….and every dirtbag elected by us.

    The problem is that the quota is so small. If they needed more than say 7000 votes they would have to appeal more widely. As it stands local pigeon fanciers could collectively elect an MLA

  • Charles_Gould

    Jim Allister was a fan it seems, he tweeted: “Though opposed to Conall McDevitt’s politics, he had talent and ability well above the average MLA. Not an easy decision for him.”

  • USA

    I was a fan of CMcD. He struck me as being articulate, on task and forward looking. He will be a loss to local politics. Looks like a very bad day at the office for Conall.

    Feargal McKinney (former newscaster and bartender in Laverys) took a savage beating at the polls in Fermanagh. This followed the Unionist decision to run a joint candidate which unsurprisingly turned the election into a sectarian head count. McKinney and McDevitt both seemed to be made from the same mould and were set for high office in the SDLP.

    I see it as a net loss to society and politics over there. It is another very tough blow for the SDLP to absorb.

  • How can someone from a high stakes PR background not see this coming like a train? Was it a blind spot or something he didn’t think was serious enough to merit mentioning, or did he earn so much money that this represented buttons, or just failing to declare at the time and then not wanting to raise it in case it opened a can of worms. Whatever it was, it was naive in the extreme and has damaged the party.

    I’m glad it got found out though and I hope some others across the parties are crapping themselves because I am sure this is not the only dirt in town and probably not the worst either. I actually think that bringing in his wifes company to do research was a much worse offence than not declaring £6k in earnings.

  • Tir Chonaill Gael

    This looks like a smokescreen for the payments to his wife: which, in my opinion, is a much more serious issue than the Weber Shandwick payments.

    It’s not just the principle involved with regard to paying public money to his wife – the failure to have a proper tendering process etc. – it’s the vast amounts involved as well. Shady dealings all round, and he has a lot to answer for on that score.

    I’m not giving any credit for resigning: he resigned because he got caught. His wife should re-pay that money immediately – and provide a breakdown of services offered.

    That said, Nelson mcCausland, Peter Robinson etc: take note. Anyone know if those legal writs have landed on the BBC’s desk yet?

  • Tir Chonaill Gael

    P.S. Claire Hanna will replace him.

  • keano10

    Call me a cynic but Conall putting on tears in BOTH of his interviews with BBC & UTV smacks of a bit of insincerity. He’s clearly hoping that the whole issue of the £30,000 of public money which he “paid” to his wife will disappear now?

    Is this something that can be investigated by The Police? Not sure of any legalities in this instance?

  • Mark

    Just seen the crocodile tears on the BBC . Why do they always blame the wife ?. No no the missus was driving the car not me , it was the wife’s company , I was just protecting her , it wasn’t me sleeping with teenagers ( scrap the last one ) .

  • Tir Chonaill Gael

    Keano, reminds me of those strategically placed “world’s best dad” cards behind Mr Robinson in January 2010.

  • Comrade Stalin

    I’m sorry everyone, but there’s a lot of nonsense being talked here.

    What the fuss is about McDevitt ? Not an idiot, sure, but on what basis are people saying he is/was effective or had a bright future ? I found him, I’m afraid, to be a vacuous waffler at the best of times. People are using words like “effective”, what was he effective at other than mouthing platitudes and namedropping John Hume ? I never saw him lay the law down on anything; what did he ever accomplish ? He is a politician, in my view, firmly in the Blairite mould.

    Back in the days before he was elected he spent a lot of time writing blogs and articles here on Slugger (plenty of words but no content). As soon as he was elected – the day and hour – he stopped. I felt that he saw writing about his views to be a means to an end.

    In terms of today’s news – when has a politician, especially a politician with a background in PR, resigned over a failure to declare an interest ? Never, to my knowledge. Conall could have fought this and I’d say, given a few days of media circus and perhaps resigning from the odd committee here or the odd oversight body there he could have taken the licks and moved on. The fact that he threw in the towel almost straight away without a fight makes me believe there is something else afoot. It’s an old trick – resign, allow everyone to talk about what a great guy you were, and hope that this shames the media to stop digging for more skeletons.

    True, he showed grit whenever he received death threats earlier this year. That takes real courage. A politician who continues to fight in the face of such activity is inspirational. Why did that courage suddenly melt away ?

  • Charles_Gould

    McDevitt was a great talent, and represented a very likely future leader of the party.

    It is a huge huge loss for the SDLP and a very very sad day for Northern Ireland politics.

  • Mick Fealty

    TCG,

    The stuff over the wife is embarrassing, but what tendering process does any MLA have in place? There’s been a lot of trite nonsense spoken on that issue.

    The PBNI stuff is more embarrassing still, but I’m afraid the WS stuff is the real deal breaker, plain and simple. It may also explain why Conall did not fight his corner more robustly over the first round of revelations.

    That onerous ‘obligation’, as I had forcibly pointed out to me here and, on a number of occasions, privately as well, fell to me. 🙂

  • boondock

    At least he had the decency to quit now if only the DUP had such integrity to quit when they are caught red handed although in fairness if they did there would be no-one left in the party

  • Comrade Stalin

    It seems the path is now clear for Alex Attwood to launch a leadership challenge at the next SDLP conference.

    I doubt that Conall was standing between Attwood and the leadership.

    That said, the SDLP is highly factionalized and I certainly wouldn’t rule out the possibility that someone in the party leaked things to the BBC.

  • DC

    I just watched the UTV clip and jeez now i do feel genuinely sorry for the guy!

    however with that performance he surpassed richard nixon and this was no water gate, so maybe on that display he is full of his own importance and has only tears for himself, i dunno??

    or maybe post-holiday blues and his missus saying to him stuff this it aint worth it?

  • Charles_Gould

    Conal McDevitt was a political class act.

    He had good values, he had eloquence, and he had passion.

    He was that rare thing in Northern Ireland politics: a person that put social democratic values above all selfish interest; who hated and worked hard genuinely to end sectarianism and tribalism; a listener, someone who cared about his constituents. He was the next leader of the SDLP and would have let them to renewal and revival.

    Northern Ireland will not see his like again.

  • Comrade Stalin

    McDevitt was a great talent, and represented a very likely future leader of the party.

    Exactly what made you think this ? I’m seriously beginning to think that McDevitt has some sort of mind control device on the go here.

  • Charles_Gould

    I certainly wouldn’t rule out the possibility that someone in the [SDLP] party leaked things to the BBC.

    Most unlikely as the damage to the party’s future from this is immense.

  • Charles_Gould

    It is more likely that someone in Alliance did it, as the Alliance party stands to gain from the loss of talent in South Belfast SDLP.

  • DC

    He was undone by an accumulation of ‘events’.

  • Mick Fealty

    Ken Reid hits the mark…

  • Mick Fealty

    CS,

    “Exactly what made you think this?”

    Erm, his high placing in the last leadership election?

  • Comrade Stalin

    It is more likely that someone in Alliance did it, as the Alliance party stands to gain from the loss of talent in South Belfast SDLP.

    If anyone is going to have an insight into the private business dealings of an SDLP MLA surely it’s going to be a member of the SDLP rather than a rival party ?

    McDevitt limped in on the last count as I recall in 2011. Alliance topped the poll.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Mick,

    Erm, his high placing in the last leadership election?

    Margaret Ritchie won a leadership election in the SDLP. I think it’s safe to say that winning that vote isn’t a barometer of political talent. Charles up there is saying “we’ll never see his like again” as if Churchill died.

  • Mc Slaggart

    Comrade Stalin

    As an Alliance party supporter I think you need to stop attacking the sdlp on the basis of their political talent.

  • cynic2

    “P.S. Claire Hanna will replace him.”

    Cf my post at 6.56pm. They didn’t even go to a cousin

  • DC

    Comrade has a point, didn’t Conall McDevitt just about get elected last time round off the skin of someone else’s fart?

  • “McDevitt limped in on the last count as I recall in 2011. Alliance topped the poll”

    For the avoidance of doubt, Conall McDevitt did not reach the quota in 2011.
    It stretches things a little to say that Alliance topped the poll.
    The single Alliance candidate Ms Lo got 6,390 votes (19.8%).
    The TWO DUP candidates got 7,845 votes (24.4%)
    The TWO SDLP candidates 7,718 (23.9%)

    Ms Lo therefore topped the poll. But Alliance was third in number of votes.
    Dr McDonnell elected on the second count.
    After eliminations five candidates contested the final foyr places.
    McGimpsey, Maskey, McDevitt, Spratt elected.

  • Hopping The Border

    Whilst he may have been in the Blairite mould, given the useless communicators we currently have he was certainly a breath of fresh air.

    An awful pity he went, perhaps he could have gone on to actually do something useful and not rail about themmuns every single summer like the rest of them.

    What sickens me more about this is the fact that undoubtedly FM Robinson, Minister McCausland and the rest of the DUP mafia are undoubtedly chuckling away to themselves under their solid brass necks.

  • keano10

    TCG

    Ha ha. I had forgotten about Robbo’s cards! Another classic moment 🙂

  • Comrade Stalin

    As an Alliance party supporter I think you need to stop attacking the sdlp on the basis of their political talent.

    Thanks for sharing. I’m entitled to make observations on anyone I want, just like anyone else. And I am perfectly free to ask people to explain exactly why they are describing McDevitt as some sort of searing political talent.

    Perhaps now that he’s no longer an MLA he’ll come back and write articles for Slugger again.

    fjh,

    The case was being made (fantastically and somewhat unbelievably) that Alliance acted to discredit McDevitt in order to clear a path for a second Alliance seat, as if somehow the only way the party can win is via dirty tricks on its opponents. I thought Alliance had a chance of a second seat before I heard that McDevitt resigned and I don’t believe his resignation changes the nature of that chance.

    Watching the UTV interview above, I have no doubt that McDevitt made an innocent mistake. Actually I believe him when he suggests that his failure to declare the payment from his company was a simple oversight. I can see how that would happen. That’s why I think this is being used as a pretext for something else.

  • iluvni

    Is Charles Gould taking the piss?

  • Mark

    Either that or Conall McDevitt owes him money .

  • keano10

    Seriously though – What are the odds that McDevitt will miraculously re-appear at an SDLP Conference in 2 or 3 years time being welcomed back as the returning Prodigal Son?

    He would’nt be the first politician to come back from the political grave. Mind you, he might be dealing with a party holding around 9% of the vote by that time…

  • Mick Fealty

    Wise words (for once) McS… 😉

  • Mc Slaggart

    Comrade Stalin

    “I’m entitled to make observations on anyone I want”

    True but It looked a bit daft from my perspective.

    For example anyone who understood PR would not be shouting about coming first as though that was a “good” result. Getting more party member elected is a much better outcome.

    See FG Mayo election result for vote management.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mayo_(D%C3%A1il_%C3%89ireann_constituency)

  • Zig70

    Conall McDevitt appealed to SDLP voters. He maybe was a bit Blairish but your comparing him to a once v popular uk prime minister. Definitely had a better media presence than anyone else in the SDLP. A loss to the SDLP but maybe not the last of him. My guess is his wife didn’t like the public glare and gave him a kicking. Certainly seems well within what politicians in NI can get away with.
    I’d like to see how much of the 16k the other pb members spend and what justification is required to spend it. Seems a complete mindless attitude to public money. What other monies is the pb throwing about?

  • Comrade Stalin

    True but It looked a bit daft from my perspective.

    Oh, now you’ve got me worried.

    For example anyone who understood PR

    Who in this conversation is claiming to understand PR ?

    would not be shouting about coming first as though that was a “good” result.

    Who said coming first was a “good” result ?

  • DC

    That’s why I think this is being used as a pretext for something else.

    Yeah it could be…

    Carrying on with my boxing analogy, conall mcdevitt shipped some serious body blows, definitely the kind of blows to make you eat canvas, but on the 10 second count, he probably should have just about made it up on his feet by 9 and been able to continue on.

    unless it really is the exaggerated sense of own importance and thinking time to make amends for something that wasn’t really a resigning matter. on the failure to declare the WS 6k, administrative oversight due to a lot of work-related chaos from such a big job change, stress etc??? he never really explained that flaw in his judgement properly on the news, maybe just deep down today he knows that he knew at the time what to do but didn’t and just couldn’t be bothered with declaring in case of media interest?

    Anyhow! What hope the rest of us if the moral moraliser cocks up? Perhaps best not to come at your politics using such a rigid moral framework, particularly concerning the issue of loyalist behaviour and urinating in his street every summer lol.

    Imo a good politician is worth his or her salt doing a lot of accurate explaining than just moralising.

    oh to be able to indulge in the luxury of moral judgement, hey conall?

  • Alan N/Ards

    Good luck to him. He had the decency to resign. I happen to like the guy.

  • Zig70

    Also, probably a good time politically to lay low. He’s young enough to earn some money till he benefits from more grey hair. The political landscape is in a bit of a mess and the SDLP seem mismanaged. Back in 3-5.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Zig,

    The thing is, there is nothing even vaguely strange about spending £16K a year on a researcher. That sum of money, paid annually, is barely a notch above minimum wage. Inexperienced IT graduates coming out of university are paid substantially more than that. Newly minted solicitors working in someone else’s practice would, I suspect, feel lucky to pull in this kind of income in their earlier years.

    It’s absolutely necessary to have advisers and researchers etc. to draft debates, collate facts, ensure your arguments are fact-checked etc. Every time you see an MLA stand up and give a speech in a chamber, or question someone at the Police Board, he is reading from a script which will have been prepared with the assistance of one of these researchers. It’s hardly a positive thing that these researchers are often family members but if an MLA chooses to employ someone to do the job who is not competent to do so it will ultimately reflect on them and (in theory) effect their prospect of re-election.

    What we are debating here looks like an unfortunately coincidental series of administrative errors. This, and the disclosure issues connected with the Police Board, are wrong but they do not by themselves constitute evidence that McDevitt was trying to conceal anything or do anything improper or that he was hypocritical in terms of his attitude to transparency in politics. As I said above, had McDevitt chosen to fight this I can’t be sure I would have too much of a problem with it – you apologize, you do your penance, you move on. Maybe I’m being naive ?

  • Alan N/Ards

    That should read ..I happen to like the guy as he spoke a lot of sense at times

  • Zig70

    Is the amount of research required such that it would justify a years work for each board member? I’d bet CD didn’t get a years work from his missus. You don’t have to give full year contracts. If all the board members spent the full 16k then it just looks like pigs at the trough. The opinion seems to be that this is a throwaway amount. For many in the private sector, you’d have to fill in a detailed document to spend it and expect to have to show its fruits.

  • Mc Slaggart

    “McDevitt limped in on the last count as I recall in 2011. Alliance topped the poll.”

    Comrade Stalin

    “Who said coming first was a “good” result ?”

    Comrade Stalin

    BTW

    The point of PR is to get as many people elected and if the 2nd “limped in” its a result to be proud off.

    Getting only one person elected in an election were with the right second candidate you could have had 2 is a disaster.

    I look forward to seeing if Alliance will run 2 candidates at the next election.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Zig,

    I don’t think it’s a appropriate/valid to go down the road of second-guessing what is or is not value for money. That is what elected representatives are there for; they use their judgement and we elect them (or not) based on whether we respect that judgment.

    We do this a lot in Northern Ireland. We elect double jobbers, expenses claimers, people who use their role to help out their privileged friends; then we complain about it; and then we re-elect them. It is as if we want the system to be constructed in such a way that we are protected from the consequences of electing bad politicians. We seem want a system where we can elect whatever bastards we like and then just limit their bastard-ness by placing restrictions on their jobs. That sort of system can’t work.

    The opinion seems to be that this is a throwaway amount. For many in the private sector, you’d have to fill in a detailed document to spend it and expect to have to show its fruits.

    The idea is that politicians go to their electorate, or to their party, and talk about the great job they did on the Police Board. Said electorate or party then re-appoints them based on the result they get.

  • Charles_Gould

    Alliance would be wise to run two candidates – this is a constituency they do well in.

  • antamadan

    Agree with Alan. You can’t ignore the rules, and he had to go. But he is a positive guy, and a loss to Irish nationalism as a whole, as well as the moderate middle. I would hope after he pays the penance, he returns older and wiser to contribute a lot more to politics. Go néirí leat Conall

  • Tir Chonaill Gael

    In terms of the Weber Shandwick payment: did a journalist or political rival get wind of it?

    If not, why did McDevitt suddenly raise the matter when it didn’t seem to bother his conscience for nearly four years?

    If the media didn’t get wind of this, then this resignation is a complete stunt.

  • Comrade Stalin

    TCG, reading the news it sort of looks like the media got hold of it and Conall short-circuited the story by coming clean.

  • cynic2

    Charles

    Yes. And after they got rid of the flag they must hope that more Catholics will vote for them.

  • FDM

    Conall McDevitt’s resignation is only a shock because we are used to the chancers hanging on with shamed faces and weathering the storm. Probably a little more shocking because he was viewed to have a little bit of talent.