High flying Justin McNulty causes huge headache for SDLP…

The Justin McNulty saga took a dramatic twist this weekend with the news that he left the first sitting of the new Assembly to fly to a GAA game in a helicopter. From Brett Campbell in The BelTel:

The SDLP has defended its decision to suspend Justin McNulty after he left the first sitting of the new Assembly to fly to a GAA game in a helicopter.

The Newry and Armagh MLA, who manages Laois, made a swift exit before proceedings closed in order to get to Co Wexford where his team was playing a National Football League match in Wexford Park at 6pm.

A source told the Belfast Telegraph Mr McNulty went to Newtownards aerodrome, where he jumped in a chopper to “avoid the traffic and get across the border”, ensuring he landed on time.

They added the helicopter was provided by “a former SDLP backer with deep links to the GAA”.

We obtained a quote from a local company — which provides chartered flights — for the cheapest option for a single passenger going from Newtownards to Wexford.

It recommended a Robinson R44 copter at a cost of “around £3,340”, subject to pick-up and drop-off.

“The final price will depend on the preferred departure and arrival locations, as airport fees/charges vary,” it stated.

It is not known if the helicopter was owned by the former SDLP backer, or if they paid for a chartered flight.

Mr McNulty, who took the Laois job last October, saw his team beat the home side by 10 points in the Division Four clash.

There are arguments for and against him being a GAA manager while also being an MLA. GAA managers are not meant to be paid (no laughing at the back), but the issue is the modern game is so competitive and professional it can be all-consuming for players and managers.

The main problem here is the optics of this are terrible and will haunt the SDLP for ages. At every interview, this will be brought up, you can just see it now:

Colum Eastwood: Ordinary working people are suffering out there we need to do more to help them with this cost of living crisis

Reporter: The cost of living crisis does not seem to be affecting the SDLP; your MLAs are flying around in private helicopters. 

And so it will go…

You can see this already on Twitter:

The problem is the seat belongs to the party and there are rumblings that McNulty will sit as an independent if the party doesn’t restore the whip to him.

Expect this one to run and run. Or fly and fly…

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