Sucking up Stormont’s deadlocked politics for £90k

One of the great things about not being able to scrutinise the Stormont administration and having everyone in government is that there is little brake on stuff like this

The information released on Monday shows that last year Mr Robinson’s two main Spads – barrister Richard Bullick and former accountant Timothy Johnston – were being paid the absolute maximum for a Spad, £91,809 A third DUP Spad, former lawyer Emma Pengelly, is also being paid the top rate of £91,809.

The fourth DUP Spad – who at that point was Gavin Robinson – was being paid £75,000. The three Sinn Fein Spads at the time were also being well paid, although none of them were on the maximum salary. Dara O’Hagan was being paid £87,812, Vincent Parker (who has now left) was also getting £87,812, while Aine McCabe was getting £84,054.

Sinn Fein says that its Spads only keep ‘the average industrial wage’ and pay the rest of their salary to the party.

Under the Belfast Agreement OFMdFM was originally given 3 SpAds, but since ST Andrews a fourth has been added. Missing in these accounts is an eighth, Sinn Fein’s Leo Green who took a private settlement from the party months before the date of the informational release.

Stormont has 19 Spads – more than any other devolved region in the UK, even though Northern Ireland has by far the smallest population. Interestingly one of the DUP’s gripes against David Trimble was the sheer size of OFMdFM, and department which still has very few direct executive functions.

For comparison with central government, Number 10 had 18 roughly about the same time. No one could suggest that OFMdFM is an equivalent to the PM’s office, and nor could anyone seriously suggest that many of those named above could find jobs in the private sector at equivalent rates.

Indeed, you have to ask really what any of the folk there actually get to do since OFMdFM’s most senior function seems to be blocking rival ministers getting anything to the Executive table.

UPDATE: Here’s the paper trail of just how long it took to get OFMdFM to answer the question (several years after Cameron pledged to make this information default public information in 201o)



  • Sergiogiorgio

    The natural reaction to this is graft/gravy train politics. However when viewed against the awfulness, incompetence, stupidity, insert adjective here, of our MLA’s then maybe the more help they (ofmdfm) get, the better.

  • chrisjones2

    These aren’t MLAs they are salaried staff paid by us. Their salaries are decided by the Ministers.

    So if I am a SF Minster I appoint a SPAD and pay them an inflated salary knowing that they MUST pay most of it back to the party. How is that legal? Its pointless saying they ‘voluntarily donate it it’. No donation, no job.

    Money is being ripped off from the public straight into SF’s accounts.

    Do the Electoral Commission check that it actually appears there?

    How many SF Staff at Stormont have a similar deal?

    When they donate it back is there a tax scam ie do they claim any tax relief by paying it to a ‘charity’ ?

    Austerity? My backside…no austerity for the Shinners themselves

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    You might want to reconsider the words “help” and “better”.

  • Nevin

    Mick, here is the link to that Sam McBride article in the Newsletter.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    With the hand of history about to be placed upon some shoulders I guess it was a “say yes to eveything” only in the interests of equality of course.

  • Sergiogiorgio

    God help us should the MLA’s start to take actual decisions themselves.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    But MLAs do and who’s advising them on these decisions? SPADs are appointed to serve party interests and strategy not to be impartial public servants nor to serve the common good. Do you really think that SF éminences grises are mutually interchangeable with those of the DUP? That sounds like an idea dreamt up by MI5.

  • Mirrorballman

    you must of missed the whole paragraph on DUP spads….

  • Nevin

    “you have to ask really what any of the folk there actually get to do”

    Have any Slugger bloggers or political journalists examined the roles of SpAds? I’ve noted a SpAd presence in DRDNI’s Weekly Business Review meetings but not at its Departmental Board ones. According to Treasury best practice Ministers are supposed to chair these latter meetings but they’re not even present. A middle ranking former civil servant told me that some SpAds channelled FOI responses from divisional offices back to the offices of Permanent Secretaries via their SpAd office.

  • Sergiogiorgio

    One hopes the civil servants provide the donkey work and the MLA’s act as the mouth pieces, when it suits their party policies, pockets etc.

  • chrisjones2

    Nope …that’s a disgrace too. A huge waste of public money. If ministers cant make decisions why are they appointed and who does OFMDFM need so many of them,? But at least with the other Ministers the money goes to the individuals . That is clear and straightforward.

  • chrisjones2

    Or the fear of the boot of history kicking the former PM along the road to oblivion

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Well we must be grateful that the DUP SpAds are getting to keep their fees without such unreasonable demands being made on them. I’m sure they deserve every shekel for the sterling service they are providing in offering such sagacious council to their principals.

    Chris, have you come across George Monbiot’s unwieldy but surprisingly accurate word “Klepto-renumeration”, describing this kind of thing to a tee?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Best of all, SG, we should simply hire the best project managers possible at the market rate and simply get rid of the elected incompetents. That way, we might pay rather more for the executives to run the government departments properly, but we would save both on the cost of running election, on the cost of the currently necessary SpAds and on the private cost of petrol and time lost wasting our votes. I’m sure that Stormont could be reduced to around three departments.

    I would hope that now the Conservatives have a workable majority, plans will be afoot to entirely privatise both parliament and the rest of the administration in the interest of proper “Value for money”.

  • Nevin

    You probably meant kleptoremuneration, Seaan.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I apologise, Nevin, on behalf of OSX9 which insists on correcting (and hyphenating) my terrible spelling even when I am the one who is right. I have to turn it off when I’m transcribing seventeenth century texts and want to hold on to the original spelling and capitalisation for what it tells me about dialect here and in scotland in the 1680/90s. The highly irregular spelling is nearly always an attempt to reproduce pronunciation in manuscript.

    I would also recommend George Monbiots’s excellent definition, which you link to, especially for its pertinence to what the lead piece is about.

  • Dan

    The lot of them are looting the public purse.

    Any idea what this ‘average industrial wage’ is?…is it illegal to ask Sinn Fein to name the amount?

  • Nevin

    That’s ok, Seaan – the perils of predictive text!

  • james

    I’d like to know how much the average industrial wage is by SF thinking. Anyone? And yes diverting public funds into party coffers? Oh dear… this the kind of kleptocracy the Party has in mind for a UI?

  • james

    The pistol of history on our kneecaps….

  • John Collins

    Well it is 829€ in ROI and £26,500 in the UK so I presume that is what they draw depending on which jurisdiction they are residing

  • Catcher in the Rye

    If, or when, party political donations become public, it will likely become apparent that MLAs, MPs and publicly funded party employees such as SPaDs or those employed as researchers through Short money (which in the DUP’s case comes to around £160,000 per year) are all required to donate a portion of their salary into party coffers to keep the “machine” running.

  • Mirrorman

    I think you could make an argument that being a SPAD to the First or Deputy First Minister justifies a £90K salary – but only on the basis of them having 1 SPAD each – as opposed to the present 3 SPADs each. These 2 SPAD’s could also be shared with the Junior Ministers – as opposed to the present position of them having their own SPADs. Therefore total number of OFMDFM SPADs would reduce from 8 to 2. One accusation currently levelled against the OFMDFM SPADs is that they interfere quite a lot. However, if there were only 2 of them that particular problem should be mitigated by the fact that they would only have enough time to focus on their core tasks. Does anyone know if the subject of reducing the number of OFMDFM SPADs was brought up during the Stormont House talks in December? I know that there was reference in the subsequent agreement to changing OFMDFM’s name and also making a couple of other tweaks – but I can’t see anything about reducing the number of SPADs.

  • Robin Keogh

    Chris, its a nationwide policy that everyone employed by the party or who represent the party only take the AIW, with the balance going to the party, its been policy forever so anybody with ambitions in SF or outside are fully aware of it. The excess goes into the overall pot from which everything else is paid including providing employment. Why have one person benefitting from a salary of 80k plus when u can have three people paid from it. I think its a super policy. I am not sure about the north but in the south all parties have to declare their income and expenses etc. If u have concerns about what they do with their money, go find out rather than assume the worse.

  • Robin Keogh

    James in the south the average industrial wage is approx 34k euro which is what shinners get paid.

  • Granni Trixie

    Yes,Chris, the way the tax of SF employees is paid s interesting. My understanding is that a political party is not a charity .. Maybe someone who knows about Trust laws might suggest some way around this?

    I am guessing however that PAYE kicks in on salaries as it normally would and tax taken off at source and at that point the SPAD,MLA or whoever takes the ‘industrial wage’ before passing the rest onto SF coffers. But I’m only guessing.

  • Deke Thornton

    It’s-by the ‘common people’- theft/corruption/fraud. Except it’s a legal high. And it will continue. The gravy train keeps going because no-one knows how to stop it. Same with ‘community workers’. Now pay your taxes and bills. These people are ‘working’ for you. You voted for them, remember?

  • james

    Excellent. Would you consider they offer the same value as the average industrial worker?

  • james

    Value for money, would ypu say?

  • Granni Trixie

    You cannot generalise about this. As far as I know some parties distinguish between a contribution (not a large sum) from
    public representatives (presumably to cover HQ and running costs) and from employees such as Spads or researchers.
    I think this approach is reasonable.

    It would be interesting to know what impact on SF, if any, their rule about IW has. Does it result in greater turnover? quality of representation?

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    I love hyphenating words, sometimes I’ll even write ‘to-day’ as opposed to ‘today’ (never want to inadvertently accuse someone of being a boot-lick, what!)

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Lord Dunsany fumes at the failure to use hyphens where they explain sense, AG. when my wife is editing my work she lifts those I use out, and I have to replace them before sending in texts. But if George Monbiot spells his word that way who am I to support my predictive text in the matter!

  • Old Mortality

    This rigid rule of paying ‘the average industrial wage’ seems inequitable. It implies that a single person with no dependants receives the same amount as one with a family to support, especially a ‘traditional Irish family’. It’s little wonder that SF seem to have difficulty in attracting able people.

  • Reader

    Same as any other job then? Pay has nothing to do with family size.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    £90K is an awful lot of money. It’s highly unlikely that the same people would get anywhere near the same salary in the private sector. It would therefore be a massive surprise if at least some of the parties said, look, we’ll hook you up with the SPaD role but we think it’s appropriate that you make a 20% annual donation of your net salary to the party (IOW, about £10K).

    Publications of donations may reveal this.

  • Robin Keogh

    I understand, and in general I agree with you somewhat in that it seems unfair that a person with no dependents would be on the same pay rate as someone who has. However (again relating to the south) the Irish tax system is set up to favourably treat those who are married with children financially with generous child benefit and a generous tax credit for married persons. So in the final shakedown the single is effectively and justifiably penalized in favour of the married person with children etc. I don’t think SF are having much trouble attracting able people, such is their growth in support nationwide, there are very few people who could honestly admit that individuals such as Mary Lou, Pearse Doherty, Peadar Toibin and other are not more than able. The difference is they share a common vision and are not money hungry unlike many other parties who are effectively no more than a collection of selfish private interests.

  • Robin Keogh

    Feck, good answer. Why didn’t I think of that !

  • Robin Keogh

    Then stand for election yourself and put an end to all this looting

  • Granni Trixie

    I only know for sure about one party whose policy is not to require staff,including SPads, to ‘donate’ a portion of their salary.

    Aside from Sf, surely the employee status of Spads and others would mean that they are not required to “donate” to a party? Representatives have a different relationship with a party in that they benefit from the party machine – and therefore pay towards a central resource ie There is a logic to this system.

  • barnshee

    Look at the figures

    On salary of £87812.00

    The “Spad” Will pay Tax and NICS of £29554.84

    Leaving £ 58257.16

    Where the SPAD takes £26500.00

    This Leaves £31757.16 for the party

    (A net of £26500 represents a gross before tax of £34430 i.e. some 30% greater than average wage.)

    The USE of the funds by the party may produce further tax and NICS liabilities if for example the donation is used to fund wages

    (A salary of £87812.00 will incur Employers NICS of £11005 giving a total wage cost for the SPAD of £98817 p.a. for a person who is apparently prepared to work for £26500 p.a.)

    Poor value for the tax payer ?
    Time to send in HMRC?

  • HopefulPessimist

    I know a SPAD! who is one of the most capable people I have ever worked with. The job is highly demanding with no such thing as down time and requires a range of high level skills. Their main role is to ensure that new legislation is in line with what the Minister wants and not what the Civil Service wants, often highly divergent and more generally that it is fit for purpose. They aren’t paid as well as the SPADs listed above but in my opinion are worth every penny they get. I wouldn’t do it for any money.

  • Granni Trixie

    Very impressive! (You, not SF scheme).
    Re paying NiC and tax for Sf people employed with “donated” funds – would this be different if the organisation who officially employed them had charitable status?

  • barnshee

    “would this be different if the organisation who officially employed them had charitable status?”

    1 Charities cannot be established for a political purpose

    2 Their are specific rules where charities hope to change the law or influence government policy through their activity.

    3 Charitable status will not affect the charity`s liability to operate the PAYE system for it employees

  • Catcher in the Rye

    As barnshee says, MLAs and MPs are PAYE employees. They get taxed by their employer and get a payslip and a P60 just like everyone else. Their expenses are also passed to them through payroll by virtue of a P11 dispensation.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    I appreciate that there is a difference, but it’s a small one. SPaDs are political appointees and they benefit from the party machine – the party leadership decides who will be appointed.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    We’ve no evidence what exactly the Shinners get paid other than what they claim.

    People on the average industrial wage are not able to afford to fly to the USA to get specialist eye surgery, as Gerry Adams did.

  • Robin Keogh

    Flippin hell your tax regime is very punitive

  • rapunsell

    I know a spad indeed – which one are you? I heard Peter Robinson on Inside Politics earlier claiming that his SPADS earned at least the same or even more in the private sector and the salaries weren’t that different from senior civil servants. Total bollocks. You list the public and /or private sector jobs paying those salaries in NI and the qualifications and experience needed to get them. Few and far between in my view.

  • Theelk11

    Yea but dude it had to be pointed out to you…glad you agree
    Under FOI The DUP refused to give an exact salary for their SPAD’s
    They are always very coy about money and that includes their dubious property transactions. At least they are consistent.
    The sinners by comparison are rubbish at this maybe there is votes in being “cute” with money

  • Granni,

    Do you think Gerry Adams’ declared “Northern Assembly” Pension in the Dáil Register of Members Interests (2014) [Word doc] – it being a pension from a foreign Parliament – was based on an average industrial wage?

    No, I didn’t think so…

  • Reader

    So the calculation assumes that the SPAD receives £26,500 Net. Is the Average Industrial Wage £26,500 Net or Gross?

  • Robin Keogh

    They can ifsomebody else pays for it

  • Robin Keogh

    Well assuming they are still party grandees when they retire the same rules apply.