PUBLIC SECTOR: NI Assembly speaker hunts for special adviser

The Northern Ireland Assembly's speaker Lord Alderdice is on the hunt for his first special adviser for more than a year.

The decision is an indication the troubled assembly's long term future may be secure, after years of upheaval.

Assembly PRO Clodagh Murphy confirmed a succession of suspensions of the assembly had put the appointment of a special adviser, as well as other non-PR posts, on hold.

She said: 'We are trying to get things up and running, get new staff like this post and get people in place.'

The special adviser role is seen as crucial to the assembly's PR operation as it will be the postholder's task to develop a liaison structure with the media, as well as offer policy advice.

The assembly currently has a small-scale PR operation. Media enquiries concerning the assembly and the speaker are handled by the information office, which has only two PROs - Patrick Price, who is currently on leave, and Murphy.

The last special adviser to the speaker was Niall Johnston, who resigned in November 2000 after two years in the post. He left to work for Liberal Democats leader Charles Kennedy in the run-up to the 2001 general election.

The assembly has been in turmoil since it was created in 1999 as part of the Good Friday Agreement.

The first attempt to form a regional government in July of that year collapsed when disputes over the decommissioning of arms led to a boycott by Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble and other UUP members.

The assembly finally met for the first time in December 1999 but was suspended within two months, once again due to disagreements over decommissioning.

The assembly was suspended a further two times last year, in a bid to stave off a total collapse of the political system over the decommissioning row.

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