UUP MLA faces two-day suspension from Northern Ireland Assembly

Former Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) leader Steve Aiken is facing a two-day suspension from the Northern Ireland Assembly.

He is accused of breaching the "confidentiality" of the assembly complaints process.

The standards committee recommended the sanction over Mr Aiken disclosing a complaint he had made against another assembly member (MLA).

The proposed sanction will go before the assembly for approval next week.

Mr Aiken is an MLA for the South Antrim constituency and a deputy speaker for the Stormont assembly.

He was previously leader of the UUP between 2019 and 2021.

Maolíosa McHugh
The complaint was made by Sinn Féin MLA Maolíosa McHugh [BBC]

A complaint was made against Mr Aiken to the assembly's standards commissioner by Sinn Féin MLA Maolíosa McHugh.

It was after Mr Aiken told a Stormont committee in November 2020 that he had made a complaint about Mr McHugh to the commissioner, Melissa McCullough.

Ms McCullough investigated but Mr Aiken's complaint was not upheld.

But in her investigation into Mr McHugh's complaint, the commissioner found Mr Aiken had breached the MLA code of conduct relating to disclosure of confidential information.

She also found he breached the code by "failing to cooperate with my investigation".

'Appropriate and proportionate sanction'

The commissioner's report was considered in March 2022 by the standards and privileges committee, which is made up of MLAs.

It described the conduct as an "egregious" breach of the code given that Mr Aiken was a member of the standards and privileges committee at the time.

The committee proposed that when the devolved institutions returned, their successors should consider an appropriate sanction for recommendation to the assembly.

With the committee re-established after Stormont's restoration in February, it has now recommended Mr Aiken be excluded from assembly proceedings for two sitting days.

Sinn Féin MLA Carál Ní Chuilín, chair of the standards and privileges committee, said they take all breaches of the code "very seriously".

She said they "noted the conclusion of the last committee that this was an egregious breach given the particular circumstances of the case".

"I am therefore pleased that the committee has agreed to recommend to the assembly that it imposes what we consider to be an appropriate and proportionate sanction," she said.

The proposed sanction is due to be considered by the assembly next Tuesday.

The UUP has been approached for comment.

Mr Aiken said in written submissions that his comments at the committee were made to declare an interest.

He has also previously denied failing to cooperate with the commissioner, blaming a delay in responding on the Twelfth of July holiday period.