Justin McNulty: SDLP suspend MLA who left Stormont for GAA game

Justin McNulty during his previous stint in charge of Laois
Justin McNulty left Stormont early to manage Laois in their match with Wexford on Saturday evening

An SDLP assembly member has been suspended from the party after quitting Stormont early "without permission" to manage a Gaelic football team, BBC News NI has learned.

Justin McNulty attended the first sitting of the NI Assembly on Saturday but left before proceedings ended

It later emerged he had driven to County Wexford where his team, Laois, were playing a match.

Mr McNulty was appointed Laois manager last October.

He was on the sideline when his team took on Wexford in Division Four of the National League at 18:00 local time - Laois won by 10 points.

However, he missed his party colleague Mathew O'Toole being nominated as leader of the official opposition.

The SDLP confirmed in a statement that the party has now suspended the whip from the Newry and Armagh assembly member (MLA), who won an All-Ireland title with Armagh in 2002.

A spokesman said Mr McNulty left today's sitting of the assembly without "seeking permission" and did not return for "important parliamentary" business which included the SDLP taking up its role as official opposition at Stormont.

'Expected to be there for work'

"All SDLP MLAs were informed by the party's chief whip that attendance at today's sitting was mandatory for the duration of the assembly proceedings," the spokesman said.

He added: "This was an historic day that saw the restoration of devolved government, the election of the first nationalist first minister and leader of the opposition.

"People rightly expect their elected representatives to be there for work."

The spokesman said the party expected all members of the assembly team to be there "to support their colleagues".

He added that as Mr McNulty "was not in his place, did not seek permission for his absence and breached the direct instruction of the whip, the SDLP chief whip has suspended the whip with immediate effect".

The move means Mr McNulty will not be able to attend SDLP assembly meetings.

BBC News NI has tried to contact Mr McNulty for a response.

It is understood the party had previously warned the assembly member that he had to chose between his assembly job and being Laois manager.

He was told he could not continue in both roles.