The implementation of the Assembly Members (Reduction of Numbers) Act 2016 took one seat from each of the NI Assembly constituencies, reducing the number of MLAs by eighteen.

I thought that given we are now in the midst of the ‘brutal’ election, I would see how the parties could perhaps be affected, and it will make difficult reading for some.  The methodology is simple – remove the Assembly member that was elected last in each of the constituencies in May 2016 and see how the parties stand.

It’s not exactly scientific, but given the unlikeliness of a seismic politic shift generally, and in most constituencies, it could well be a good barometer for the future makeup of the Assembly and the fortune of parties.

The data revealed some shocking names, big names, that would fall if the May 2016 election were re-run with five seaters across the board.

These are some of the well-known faces that would be wiped out.


In total, the data, all from the Electoral Office which indicates the order of who had been elected in each constituency in May 2016, would leave the state of the parties like this:

Not particularly good reading for any party apart from perhaps the Ulster Unionist Party who would go from 16 MLAs to 15.

The DUP would take a dip to 33 but would still be over that crucial 30 member line that would allow them to deploy a Petition of Concern.  They would lose the Speakers seat in East Belfast.

SF would fall to 23 members, way off their current 28 – though it must be said that one of the seats they would be due to lose would be the North Antrim seat won by Daithi McKay in May 2016.

The continued fall of the SDLP will roll on, losing five seats and some big hitters like former Minister Alex Attwood in West Belfast, bringing them down to 12.

The UUP will lose one in Strangford, along with Alliance in North Down – albeit Stephen Farry, former DEL Minister and Deputy Leader of the party.

People Before Profit would be set to lose the seat in Foyle only won by Eamonn McCann in May 2016, though to put it in context they may well stay on two if the Carroll machine in West Belfast can clinch a second seat.


Here is the full list based on the sixth member elected in May 2016:

Belfast East: Robin Newton (DUP)

Belfast North: Nichola Mallon (SDLP)

Belfast South: Christopher Stalford (DUP)

Belfast West: Alex Attwood (SDLP)

East Antrim: Oliver McMullan (SF)

East Derry: Caoimhe Archibald (SF)

Fermanagh and South Tyrone: Richie McPhillips (SDLP)

Foyle: Eamonn McCann (PBPA)

Lagan Valley: Brenda Hale (DUP)

Mid Ulster: Keith Buchanan (DUP)

Newry and Armagh: Justin McNulty (SDLP)

North Antrim: Daithi McKay (SF)

North Down: Dr Stephen Farry (AL)

South Antrim: Trevor Clarke (DUP)

South Down: Colin McGrath (SDLP)

Strangford: Phillip Smith (UUP)

Upper Bann: John O’Dowd (SF)

West Tyrone: Declan McAleer (SF)





In September, I asked the Assembly to outline the following to me;

“The total value of stored artefacts, paintings and all other valuables held in storage by the Northern Ireland Assembly, including any past valuations from the past five years. Please include the number of items in total and broken down by item type i.e. painting name, etc.”

The focus of this was to reveal what artwork or artefacts the Assembly held in storage, as apart from those that are on display throughout Parliament Buildings.  As someone who previously worked in the building, this was primarily of interest because of the often one-sided use of publicly owned art in Stormont.

We have likely all seen the hanging portraits of former First and Deputy First Ministers during the news, or the sight of the pristine Senate Chamber, complete with throne.

The contents, however, of the stored artwork and artefacts raises the question of why indeed the Assembly continue to hold some of the items given their somewhat controversial nature, and why they have not been sold for the public benefit.

There are eight items currently in storage, with a valuation undertaken in 2013 placing these at £35,500 in total.

Three artefacts are valued at £24,000, these are;

Carved and painted model of Parliament Buildings centre section: £8,000.00

Table with map of six counties by Sir James Milner Barbour 1935: £10,000.00

A carved and gilded throne chair upholstered in red velvet: £6,000.00

Yes, you read correctly, the Assembly has a £6,000 throne in storage as well as what is no doubt a very expensive table.

The awkward nature of the items does not stop there.  Paintings of an illustrious former Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland are amongst the pieces, costing £2,000 as well as a portrait of Lord Craigavon valued at £3,000.

However, the most questionable holding of these pieces, seemingly hidden away from the public though owned by them, is a portrait of Sir Henry Wilson MP, valued at £1,500 and completed by H.W. Gates.


Sir Henry might be better known to followers of Irish history as a chief protagonist in the Curragh mutiny, where the Army refused to coerce Ulster into Home Rule.  Michael Collins referred to Wilson as “a violent Orange partisan” and he was later made a security advisor to the new Northern Ireland Government – in other words, he was anything but a liberal or supporter of equality in Ireland.

Why then, does the current Assembly and the parties therein permit such a divisive piece of art to be held in trust for the public in storage? Surely in this new era of devolved government following the New Start initiative, this piece of history should be sold by the Assembly and the proceeds used for some public good?

This required further consideration, especially when we take into consideration that all of these pieces are valued at a total of £35,500, but the cost of storing them over the last five years comes to a staggering £45,394.40.


The NI Executive operate a number of overseas offices – or bureaux – to represent the interests of NI in Washington, Brussels and since 2014/15, China.

The Bureau in Washington has the following description from the Executive office;
‘The Bureau works to cultivate and strengthen mutually beneficial links among economic, educational, cultural and community development interests in North America and Northern Ireland’.

The Washington office has a complement of 6 staff and has done since opening, whilst the Brussels office has had 5 staff from 2009-12, increasing to 7 staff in 2015/16.
The China office, which opened in 2014 has two staff.

BtP asked the Executive Office to outline how much each office spent on staffing, hospitality and travel each year since opening.

Despite implementing an austerity budget at home, the spending of the three overseas office (the Chinese office less so) could be seen as extravagant.

Since opening in 2007/8, the Washington office has spent over half a million pounds on hospitality – £686,000 to be exact.  This dwarfs the other two offices, with Brussels having spent £178,000 and China £4,000 on hospitality.

On travel, the Washington office far outspent its counterparts again, spending £737,000 since opening, compared to £231,000 for Brussels and £28,000 for the Chinese office.

The staffing for each office, bearing in mind the highest staff complement in any office itself is 7, are phenomenal.

Since opening, Washington has spent almost £3 million on staffing – £2.949m.  Surprisingly, Brussels tops the board with a staffing spend of over £3 million – £3.071m, and China has spent £265,000.

In total, the three NI Bureau offices have cost the taxpayer a whopping £8.149m since opening.


There has been alot of attention paid recently to the contacts between political parties of the Executive and Israeli delegations or officials in particular, so BtP decided to investigate and seek to uncover the relationship between parties in the Executive with both Isreali and Palestinian representatives and Governments.

We asked both the Executive Office, formerly OFMDFM and the Department of the Economy, formerly DETI, to release all Ministerial correspondence sent to or received from the Israeli and/or Palestine Embassy/Consulate or Government Department; dates and minutes of meetings with Israeli and/or Palestinian trade delegations, consular officials and government officials; and details of any trips to Israel and/or Palestine by any Minister or departmental official since 2007.

In relation to the Executive Office, the response was partially redacted because ‘releasing the information is likely to prejudice the UK’s interests.   For clarity, we chose both these Departments as there was a transition by Arlene Foster from DETI Minister to First Minister in the period.


Correspondence sent or received by/to any Israeli Embassy/Consulate or Government Department from the relevant Ministers:

February 2009 – Letter from the Deputy Head of Mission in the Embassy of Israel Re:

the Ambassador’s proposed visit to Belfast (04/02/09) and a letter of reply from the

First Minister and deputy First Ministers’ Private Secretaries (27/02/09)

18th December 2014 – Letter from the First Minister and deputy First Minister to

Israeli Ambassador in reply to his concerns regarding the removal of an historical

blue wall plaque in Belfast commemorating the birthplace of Chiam Herzog.


Dates of meetings with Israeli trade delegations, consular officials, Ambassadors and government officials:

7 May 2009 – the First Minister and deputy First Minister met the Israeli Ambassador,

HE Ron Prosser – as this was a diplomatic meeting no formal minute of the

discussion was recorded.

14 March 2011 – the First Minister and Junior Minister Robin Newton had lunch with

the Israeli Ambassador, HE Ron Prosser

20 February 2013 – Junior Ministers Jonathan Bell and Jennifer McCann met the

Israeli Ambassador, HE Daniel Taub – no minute of the meeting was recorded

12 June 2014 – Junior Ministers Jonathan Bell and Jennifer McCann met Deputy

Israeli Ambassador, Mr Etian Na’eh – no minute of the meeting was recorded


Details of trips to Israel by any Minister or departmental official:

15-18 February 2012 – Junior Minister Jonathan Bell visited Israel to attend the Equal

Employment Opportunities Commission (EU-EEOC) Twinning Project Closing




Correspondence sent or received by/to any Palestinian Embassy/Consulate or

Government Department from the relevant Ministers:



Dates and minutes of meetings with Palestinian trade delegations, consular

officials, Ambassadors and government officials:

6 May 2014 – the deputy First Minister and Junior Minister Jonathan Bell met the

Palestinian Ambassador to the UK, HE Ahmed Abdelrazek – no minute of the

meeting was recorded


Details of any trips to Palestine by any Minister or departmental official:



31/07/08 – dFM and Junior Minister Donaldson met with the Israel-Palestine Joint

Committee on Culture of Peace – no minute of the meeting was recorded.


Contacts by the Department of the Economy (formerly DETI)


Correspondence sent or received by/to any Israeli Embassy/Consulate or

Government Department from the relevant Ministers and all correspondence sent or

received by/to any Palestinian Embassy/Consulate or Government Department from

the relevant Ministers.

April 2010 – Invitation to Arlene Foster MLA from the Ambassador of Israel (to the UK)

June 2009 – Letter from the Ambassador of Israel (to the UK) to Arlene Foster MLA

June 2009 – Letter from Arlene Foster MLA to the Ambassador of Israel (to the UK)

March 2016 – emails between the Department for Enterprise, Trade and Investment, and

the Embassy of Israel, London


Dates and minutes of meetings with Israeli or Palestinian trade delegations,

consular officials, ambassadors and government officials.

Meetings took place on 7 May 2009 and 30 April 2013. No minutes are held in relation to

either of these meetings.


Details of any trips to Israel or Palestine by any Minister or departmental official

for any reason in the same timescale.

27 to 29 March 2012 – Three officials from the Department of Enterprise Trade and

Investment and the Department for Employment and Learning participated in a Business

Science & Technology fact finding trip to look particularly at University Business Links and Business Incubators.


The scale of the money lost by InvestNI when companies they have aided go to the wall is shocking, but small compared to the amount actually clawed back by the organisation, BtP can reveal today.

Less than 4% of all the money granted to companies who have then gone out of business for one reason or another has been regained by the organisation, which means the public has suffered a catastrophic loss.

Over one and a half million pounds was granted to companies since 2011 that has now closed.  As part of the letters of offer for aid, companies are required to pay back grants.

InvestNI told us:

Clawback is triggered when a company defaults on the conditions in the letter of offer for financial assistance. In a significant number of cases the act of default is company closure. The ability to clawback financial assistance paid to a company is normally limited to the five year period prior to default, and given that in many cases the company has gone into liquidation the ability to recover funds is limited.

Since 2011, 29 companies have been the subject of clawbacks, with aid totalling £1.65m.  The biggest debt owed is from the Limavady Gear Company, which went into administration in October 2010 – it owes almost £330,000.

Also included on the list is Mivan, the construction firm which closed in January 2014 with the loss of almost 300 jobs.  It owes InvestNI – and thus the public, a whopping £222k.  Documents from Companies house dated March 2014 show that at the time it still owed InvestNI over £73k.

Some of these businesses were hailed at the time, and attracted vast sums of public money in aid, such as Mediasmiths International which was offered £75k when it came to Belfast in 2011 and was welcomed by then Enterprise Minister, Arlene Foster. (Source)

Despite the enormous outstanding debts, a meagre 3.7% of the total bill has been settled by the the companies or their administrators.  In fact, just two companies have paid back the aid they were granted, totalling just £55,456.


We have been told that 8 of the companies debts have been ‘written off’ and 19 are still outstanding.  At present, no court costs have been paid by InvestNI to regain the money granted to these companies.

Here is the full list from InvestNI and how much the respective former businesses owe:


You will notice we have blanked out a company name in the 2013-14 year, this is due to an ongoing legal case, and we’d rather not get sued.



Your new Executive has been agreed by the Assembly this afternoon:

First Minister: Arlene Foster

Deputy First Minister: Martin McGuinness

Minister for the Economy: Simon Hamilton

Minister of Finance: Mairtin O’Muilleoir

Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs: Michelle McIlveen

Minister for Communities: Paul Givan

Minister of Education: Peter Weir

Minister of Health: Michelle O’Neill

Minister of Infrastructure: Chris Hazzard

Minister of Justice: Claire Sugden

Junior Ministers: Alastair Ross and Megan Fearon


Committee Chairpersons and deputy Chairpersons

Justice: Paul Frew / Deputy: Pam Cameron

Economy: Conor Murphy / Deputy: Steve Aiken

Finance: Emma Pengelly / Claire Hanna

Executive: Mike Nesbitt / Deputy: Sandra Overend

Education: Barry McElduff / Deputy: Chris Lyttle

Health: Paula Bradley / Deputy: Gary Middleton

Communities: Colum Eastwood / Deputy: Michelle Gildernew

Infrastructure: William Humphrey / Deputy: William Irwin

Agriculture: Linda Dillon / Deputy: Declan Kearney


Standing Committee Chairpersons and deputy Chairpersons

Procedures: Gordon Lyons / Deputy: Edwin Poots

Standards and Privileges: Cathal Boylan / Deputy: Adrian McQuillan

Assembly and Executive Review Committee: Christopher Stalford / Deputy: Michaela Boyle

Public Accounts: Robin Swann / Deputy: Daniel McCrossan

Audit: Declan McAleer / Deputy: Trevor Lunn





Before we start, we should be clear, this is not any kind of scientific survey and thousands of people have not responded.  We wanted to get an insight from Nationalist voters as to why, so the figures tell us, they are not voting.

We asked five anonymous questions:

  1. Did you vote in the Northern Ireland Assembly elections in May?

  2. If yes, who did you give your number one preference to?

  3. If no, why not?

  4. What issues are Nationalist parties/National candidates not fulfilling, in your opinion?

  5. What could be done to persuade you to vote in the next Local Government/Assembly elections?

We got thirty responses – bearing in mind we shared this over our twitter and facebook profiles a few days after the election, this is not bad!  We advertised this specifically for Nationalists.

Here are our results

Did you vote in the Northern Ireland Assembly elections in May?


Oddly, the vast majority of our respondents did vote at the May 2016 Assembly elections.

If yes, who did you give your number one preference to?


Unsurprisingly, our respondents voted in the majority for Sinn Fein candidates, though then the results, from a small sample group as they are, are interesting.  Second to SF came the Green Party with 21.74%, followed in third by the SDLP on 17.39% and on exactly the same percentage, People Before Profit (why our graphic rounded this to 18% for SDLP we’ll never know).  Independent candidates were given first preference by 13.04% of our respondents, followed by Alliance on 4.35% – the Worker’s Party received no first preference votes from our respondents.

If no, why not?

The responses to question three were widely varying, with some food for thought for the future of Nationalist politics.

Some written answered referred to more than one issue, but it is clear that there is a range of issues on the Nationalist voters bases mind that are not being addressed satisfactorily.

Abortion, and the drive to make this more accessible by some quarters in the Nationalist political sphere was a major issue amongst our respondents.

The lack of progress with jobs or the economy also topped the list of reasons why some of our respondents wouldn’t vote.

Strangely, some other issues which might be embarrassing for some Nationalist political parties raised their head.  One respondent referred to the lack of ‘Unionist reciprocation’ when it came to initiatives in the peace process.  Another said they don’t ‘represent any of my interests’.

The pursual of integrated education was another issue why one of our respondents didn’t vote this May.  This was alongsided frustration with SF in particular in terms of addressing the problems in special education provision for young people.

The progression of a United Ireland came up once.

What issues are Nationalist parties/National candidates not fulfilling, in your opinion?

Question four is more generalised, and all but one of our respondents answered it, i.e those who did and did not vote.


Unsurprisingly, our respondents felt that the issue of the economy and jobs were not being addressed – 72.41% of them.

Infrastructure was next, with 58.62% of respondents indicating Nationalist politicians aren’t doing enough in terms of infrastructure.

The progression of a United Ireland came next, with 37.93% saying Nationalist politicians aren’t doing enough on this.

Oddly, in what is seen by many in the commentariat to be a largely Unionist issue, Nationalists feel their politicians aren’t addressing victims either – 20.69% of our respondents.  This may be some food for thought for some parties in particular if this was to be emulated in a larger survey.

We gave respondents the option to select one of those issues, and to input their own, and they sure did.

One respondent was very clear they felt that Nationalist politicians are addressing issues.

Two respondents felt abortion was not being addressed – one felt that the issue was being addressed too much, the other that it was not being addressed enough.

The other issues we expected to come up, did – Irish Language, Marching, Policing – but others did crop up.  Some respondents felt the disabled weren’t being adequately served, and another felt that politicians are ‘not speaking for the working person- more concerned about helping those on benefits.’

What could be done to persuade you to vote in the next Local Government/Assembly elections?

Of course this is the ‘big one’ that everyone wants to know.

The respondents are a progressive bunch, the majority of answers referred to ‘less tribalism’, ‘more policies, less personalities’, ‘end to the two-party system’.

One said if ‘Republican perfomance’ in councils, Leinster House and Stormont do not improve’, they will not vote at the next election.

The issue of the A5 came up a number of times, and Derry was specifically referred to in one response, in terms of delivery.

‘Stop obsessing about the border’ one respondent declared.

‘Reciprocation from Unionism’ was one which shocked us, but a fair point.

Two answers which we did not expect to see came up, and might give some in politics food for thought.

One respondent said that ‘More prominent Catholics in Unionism’ would make them, as a Nationalist, vote in the next election. Another referred to the need to ‘stop placating Unionism’.  Such is the broad nature of the opinions of some in the Nationalist community!



In 2011 it was revealed in the Assembly that the public were to pay £252,000 for a new fleet of Ministerial cars for each member of the Northern Ireland Executive plus another – 13 in total. (Source)

13 Skoda Superb’s were purchased for Ministers to chauffeur them around the region on your dime.


BtP can now reveal the costs for Ministerial travel including maintenance of the ministerial fleet since 2011.

We asked the Department of Finance and Personnel, who manage the fleet on behalf of the Executive to outline

  1. The cost of ministerial travel broken down by Department since May 2011 by month
  2.  The cost of maintenance of the ministerial fleet including MOT, Insurance costs (and any claims), and ad hoc maintenance by month and department in the same period.

Ministerial travel costs include air and rail fares and associated accommodation costs.

Ministers spent almost £24k of your money being driven around the country – and that excludes the staffing costs of the chauffeur drivers/bodyguards where applicable.


Travel costs amounted to £17,291 with maintenance costs coming to a total of £6,571 over the period – a combined cost of £23,682 of your money.

We include the full costs below – and given Minister are also constituency MLA’s, you might want to ask them for their explanation.


Whilst we didn’t get the figures broken down by Minister, the figures are not insignificant.



Much like the UK Parliament where the Speaker of the House is provided with a grace-and-favour apartment in the Palace of Westminster as a perk of the job, so too does the Assembly provide accommodation for the Assembly Speaker.

William Hay of the DUP served as Speaker from May 2007 until October 20114 when he was replaced by Sinn Fein’s Mitchel McLaughlin in January 2015 who is the current office holder.


Stormont House, this article’s cover picture was originally built to act as the Speaker’s residence, but present is used by the Northern Ireland Office as their local headquarters.

However, the Department of Finance and Personnel, who run the Stormont Estate, still provide accommodation for the Assembly Speaker – and you pay for it.

Whilst we do not know the location of the accommodation used specifically, we know it is within the grounds of the Estate, which for anyone who has ever visited, will know is far from being deprived.

So what have you been paying for?

BtP asked for all costs relating to the accommodation provided for the Speaker since the beginning of the current Assembly mandate, i.e. 2011.  We also asked how many times the accommodation has been used.


Home heating oil

Yes, you are paying to heat the private accommodation of the Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly.  Since 2011, this cost was a whopping





You also pay for the electricity bills run up by the Speaker during his use of the property.  Since 2011 this amounted to





You also pay the rates bills for the property – despite the property being paid for by the Department of Finance and Personnel, who bill you for your own home.  Since 2011, the rates bill for the Speaker’s accommodation came to





 The scandal here is that the rent is paid to the Department of Finance and Personnel – we pay rates to the Department and rent despite it owning the Stormont Estate.  Oh yes – despite the Speaker having his own respective private accommodation in his constituency, you pay the full rent on his grace-and-favour property also.  From 2011 this came to.


Remember the second question we asked – how many times the property was used?  The Assembly couldn’t tell us.  Which means in essence that you could have been been paying all of these costs for a property that went unused for months, even years at a time.

What’s worse – whilst we couldn’t pinpoint the location of the property, we can get an idea of what size it may be.  The level of rates paid indicate the commercial value of the property used by the Speaker would be in the region of £300,000.  BtP looked at a leading property website for properties for sale of that value – there were several detached 4 and 5 bedroom properties across NI.  This may give you an idea of the size of the property used by the Speaker – and you pay for it.


In April 2015, the Minister of Employment and Learning announced, on behalf of his Department and then-Minister for Enterprise Trade and Investment Arlene Foster ‘Enabling Success’ – a strategy to tackle economic inactivity and get people back to work.

In his speech to the Assembly, the Minister stated:

“High levels of economic inactivity represent a major structural problem with our economy, which, if unaddressed, would  limit our ability to develop and transform our economic prospects.

For that reason, our two Departments have been leading, on behalf of the Executive, on the development of a new strategy aimed at tackling economic in Northern Ireland.This will be the only dedicated government strategy in the United Kingdom at a national level aimed at tackling economic inactivity.

As part of the strategy, a number of departments wanted to invite a number of pilot projects to test how best to actually get people back to work on the ground – a rather major piece of work for the Executive given the high prevalence of people out of work in NI.

According to the Executive’s own 2016-2017 Budget, 27% of people of working age are deemed to be ‘economically inactive’ – vastly beyond the UK average at 21.9%.

As part of the perceived priorities for the new Minister for Communities (which will take on most of the current DSD portfolio plus some other features) the Budget states ‘How to enable access to debt advice and tackle economic inactivity’ as a major priority. (Source pg 51)

Also, the section on the new Department for the Economy refers to economic inactivity and the use of European funding in the form of the European Social Fund.

“The Department is also the Managing Authority for the Northern Ireland ESF Programme 2014-2020, which has a European funding allocation equivalent to £144 million and a total value of £360 million. The strategic aim of the ESF Programme 2014-2020 is to combat poverty and enhance social inclusion by reducing economic inactivity and to increase the skills base of those currently in work and future potential participants in the workforce”.

On a side note, it is likely that the new Economy Department will be headed by a DUP Minister who favour leaving the EU.

Bearing in mind the DEL Minister made the Enabling Success statement in April 2015, and was mooted long before that, you might be shocked to discover that BtP can reveal today that the Department hasn’t received any bids for funding for pilot projects.

Why? because, as the Department told BtP – ‘due to the ongoing pressure on government budgets and finance, these cross-departmental projects have yet to commence.

In essence, we are being told that a major Executive strategy to get people back into employment in NI has completely stalled – because of the austerity budget that the Executive agreed as part of the Stormont House Agreement.