SDLP rising star resigns over undeclared payments
Conall McDevitt was viewed as favourite to be next leader of the party
SDLP undated handout photo of SDLP MLA Conall McDevitt who tonight dramatically quit politics after admitting he failed to declare payments made shortly after he was elected. Photograph: SDLP/PA
SDLP Stormont politician and potential future leader of the party Conall McDevitt has resigned from the Northern Assembly because he failed to declare payments he received from his former employer Weber Shandwick.
Mr McDevitt, a 41-year-old native of Dublin who grew up in Malaga in Spain, made the surprise announcement this evening and said he was standing down as an SDLP Assembly member for South Belfast “with immediate effect”.
He resigned because he failed to declare a payment of £6,750 which he received shortly after he became an Assembly member in 2009.
“These payments related to internal work within Weber Shandwick. I resigned as managing director of the Belfast office in December 2009 and I provided support and mentoring to the new management team following my departure from the company. I was never asked to nor did I ever represent any of the company’s clients whilst an MLA,” he said.
“These payments were made through JM Consulting, a consultancy which my wife Joanne Murphy has an interest in. These are registerable interests under the Assembly rules. I have now registered these earnings on my register,” he added.
“My failure to register these interests at the time means that I have fallen below the standards expected of me in public office. I have done my best to discharge my duties as an MLA with integrity but there is no question that I failed to do so on this occasion,” said Mr McDevitt.
The MLA has been under pressure in the past five weeks over disclosures about payments to JM Consulting run by his wife Joanne Murphy, a Queen’s University academic with a particular expertise and interest in policing.
In early August it was reported by the BBC that JM Consulting was paid more than £14,000 for research and secretarial work. Mr McDevitt said his wife did not gain financially from the payments as the money was paid to other researchers to carry out the work.
It was further confirmed this week that Ms Murphy earned £30,000 in the past two years carrying out research work for him as part of his membership of the North’s Policing Board.
The resignation has caused political shockwaves in the North. Mr McDevitt, a former SDLP press officer during the period around the creation of the Belfast Agreement and subsequently the chief advisor to former SDLP agriculture Minister Bríd Rodgers, was viewed as the likely successor to SDLP leader Dr Alasdair McDonnell.
Two years ago he was second in a four-way battle for the SDLP leadership which was won by Dr McDonnell, also an MLA and MP for South Belfast.
The SDLP with 14 seats is the third largest party in the 108-member Assembly.
Dr McDonnell said this evening that McDevitt had “done the right thing” by resigning. “As elected representatives we quite rightly hold ourselves and are held by the electorate to a very high standard,” he said.
“South Belfast was very well represented by Conall McDevitt and he made a very positive contribution not only the constituency but also to the wider SDLP party where he showed energy, enthusiasm and drive. Conall will be a loss to the Assembly party and to south Belfast.”