to provide information on any financial interest or other registerable interest which might reasonably be thought by others to influence a Member’s actions, speeches or votes in the Assembly, or actions taken in his or her capacity as a Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly.
However, once an MLA becomes a minister, they publish their ministerial interests on a separate register. And that register isn’t available online. According to a Freedom of Information (FOI) response from The Executive Office (TEO), though, that should soon change. Because later this month, the public should be able to view Assembly ministers’ registered interests.
When The Canary contacted TEO about this list in November 2020, a TEO spokesperson said:
Ministers have provided The Executive Office with information on their relevant interests and this is being prepared for publication in the near future.
Then, following the FOI response in February from TEO, The Canary discovered:
It is anticipated the list will be published this month [February] on the NI Executive website
Read on...Support us and go ad-free
Conflict of interest?
In November 2020, The Canary reported on EHA Exploration Ltd’s application for a petroleum licence to drill in Lough Neagh. Anti-drill campaigners opposed this application because:
Lough Neagh is the biggest freshwater lake in the UK and 40% of Northern Ireland’s drinking water is taken from it
At that time, a separate campaign group became concerned about a conflict of interest in the planning process. This was because of minister for infrastructure Nichola Mallon’s husband Brendan Scott. In November, Scott, who works for public relations company MW Advocate, was listed on the EHA website as community engagement manager. This has since been removed. Moreover, MW Advocate and EHA share the same Belfast address.
The Canary asked MW Advocate if Scott still worked with EHA as community engagement manager. A spokesperson for MW Advocate said:
No he does not and my firm has not done any work with EHA since before the restoration of devolution in January 2020. I know this issue has been raised in the last year but there is no conflict here. EHA’s license application was made to the Dept for Economy, not Infrastructure, and was made a number of years ago.
Scott also worked as a parliamentary assistant to MLA Patsy McGlone, an SDLP colleague of Mallon’s. Meanwhile, Mallon has consistently denied any conflict of interest. She has also made it clear she declared this interest, as per the ministerial code.
The Minister has formally declared in the interests of openness and transparency and in line with her responsibilities as Minister, that her husband is employed by a public relations company. This has been recorded in her register of interests. She advised the DFI Permanent Secretary of this immediately following her appointment as Minister and as required, the declaration was forwarded to the then Head of Civil Service for publication. There is no conflict, actual or perceived, with her responsibilities as Infrastructure Minister. The Minister has at all times complied in full with the requirements of the Ministerial Code including those relating to conflict of interest, and will continue to do so.
The FOI response also revealed that TEO didn’t immediately receive the minister’s declaration. Because TEO told The Canary it received an email:
from DfI on 1 May 2020 confirming that the declaration had been completed by the Minister
The actual declaration was received in TEO in July 2020
Mallon was appointed on 11 January 2020. In the above statement, DfI told The Canary:
She [Nichola Mallon] advised the DFI Permanent Secretary of this immediately following her appointment as Minister
Whereas in actual fact, it wasn’t “immediately following her appointment”. Mallon hadn’t even claimed to complete the declaration until May 2020.
The list will appear
Following weeks of questioning the whereabouts of this list, it should finally go public this month. At that point, people should be able to inspect the registered interest of ministers as well as MLAs.
Featured image via Flickr – David Stanley
We need your help to keep speaking the truth
Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.
Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.
We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.
In return, you get:
* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop
Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.
With your help we can continue:
* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do
We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?