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The Chairman of the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Committee on Standards and Privileges Mr Donovan McClelland today announced that complaints against Assembly Members will be independently investigated. Speaking after a meeting of the Committee attended by the Northern Ireland Assembly Ombudsman, Mr Tom Frawley, Mr McClelland said:

"Today, the Committee has agreed new interim arrangements to ensure that complaints against Assembly Members will, in future, be subject to entirely independent investigation. The Committee is particularly appreciative that the current Assembly Ombudsman, Mr Tom Frawley, has agreed to these new arrangements."

Mr McClelland’s announcement follows the publication, in 2001, of the Committee’s report on its "Inquiry into the Possible Appointment of an Assembly Commissioner for Standards". The key recommendation of that report was the establishment of an independent mechanism for investigating complaints that Assembly Members had breached or had not complied with the Assembly "Code of Conduct" or the "Guide to the Rules Relating to the Conduct of Members".

Speaking about the appointment of a Commissioner Mr McClelland said:

"The Committee considered various methods of appointing a Commissioner and concluded that the Office of the Assembly Ombudsman was particularly well placed and equipped to discharge the functions of a Commissioner. The Ombudsman’s Office demonstrably has all of the investigative infrastructure, skills and experience to investigate complaints against Assembly Members."

Drawing particular attention to the independence of the Office of the Assembly Ombudsman, Mr Mc Clelland said:

"The Northern Ireland Assembly Ombudsman is appointed through the public appointments procedure following open advertisement and the Ombudsman is totally independent of the Assembly."

The Committee on Standards and Privileges is responsible for considering complaints made about Assembly Members registering and declaring their interests or failing to do so. The Committee is also responsible for considering specific complaints that a Member has breached the Assembly "Code of Conduct".

In considering the existing arrangement for investigating complaints against Assembly Members, Mr McClelland said:

"Until now, the Committee on Standards and Privileges has itself been responsible for investigating complaints against Assembly Members. The Members of the Committee believe that they have dealt very effectively with the complaints that have been referred to them to-date. However, in order to promote additional transparency in the investigative process and public confidence in the work of the Committee, members are convinced that an independent means of investigating complaints will be an improvement on current procedures."

At the request of the Committee, the Assembly Commission has asked the First Minister and Deputy First Minister to investigate the possibility of bringing forward legislation to make the post of Commissioner for Standards a statutory function of the Office of the Assembly Ombudsman."

In acknowledging that it would take time for this legislation to be brought to the Assembly for consideration, Mr McClelland added:

"We have agreed interim arrangements with the Assembly Ombudsman, and his Office will now be responsible for investigating complaints against Members until the new legislation can be considered by the Assembly. For the foreseeable future, we will refer all complaints against Members to the Assembly Ombudsman who will investigate them and present a written report on his findings to the Committee. The Committee will, in turn, report its conclusions to the Assembly and recommend what, if any, sanction or penalty should be imposed on a Member where a complaint is upheld. In the interests of openness, the Assembly Ombudsman’s report on his investigation will, in every instance, be appended to the Committee’s report to the Assembly."

Mr McClelland concluded:

"The decision to engage the Office of the Ombudsman in the process of investigating complaints against Assembly Members goes a long way towards ensuring fairness and equity for Members whose conduct has been questioned. It will also promote maximum public confidence that the conduct of Members will be open to scrutiny and that behaviour which is found to be in breach of "The Assembly Code of Conduct" or "The Guide to the Rules Relating to the Conduct of Members" will be treated appropriately."

Notes for Editors

The Committee on Standards and Privileges is a Standing Committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly established in accordance with paragraph 10 of Strand One of the Belfast Agreement and under Assembly Standing Orders 49 and 57. The Committee has 11 members including a Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson and a quorum of 5.

The Committee has power:

  • to consider specific matters relating to privilege referred to it by the Assembly;
  • to oversee the work of the Assembly Clerk of Standards;
  • to examine the arrangements for the compilation, maintenance and accessibility of the Register of Members’ Interests and any other registers of interest established by the Assembly, and to review from time to time the form and content of those registers;
  • to consider any specific complaints made in relation to the registering or declaring of interests referred to it;
  • to consider any matter relating to the conduct of Members, including specific complaints in relation to alleged breaches of any code of conduct to which the Assembly has agreed and which have been drawn to the Committee’s attention;
  • to recommend any modifications to any Assembly code of conduct as may from time to time appear to be necessary.

The Committee is appointed at the start of every Assembly, and has power to send for persons and papers and records that are relevant to its enquiries.

The membership of the Committee since its establishment on 29 November 1999 has been as follows:

Mr Donovan McClelland: Chairperson
Mr Roy Beggs Jnr: Deputy Chairperson

Dr Ian Adamson
Mr Arthur Doherty
Mr Kieran Mc Carthy
Mr D O’Connor
Mr Edwin Poots*
Mr Paul Berry**
Sir John Gorman
Mr Pat Mc Namee
Dr Dara O’Hagan
Mr James Wells

* Mr Edwin Poots resigned from the Committee on 11 September 2000
** Mr Paul Berry was appointed to the Committee on 11 September 2000

All enquiries about the work of the Committee on Standards and Privileges should be directed to:

Mr Donovan McClelland
Committee on Standards and Privileges
Room 323
Parliament Buildings
Belfast BT4 3XX
(( 02890 521 693)


Mr John Torney
Principal Clerk of Standards
Room 28,
Parliament Buildings,
Belfast BT4 3XX
(( 02890 521 944)
Mrs Margaret Miskelly
Clerk of Standards
Room 402
Parliament Buildings
Belfast BT4 3XX
(( 02890 520 333)

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