Dr Melissa McCullough to be appointed as assembly standards commissioner

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Dr Melissa McCullough is an academic with a research record in law and ethicsImage source, NI Assembly
Image caption,
Dr Melissa McCullough is an academic with a research record in law and ethics

The NI Assembly commission has nominated a candidate for the post of standards commissioner.

MLAs will vote on Dr Melissa McCullough's appointment when the assembly meets next Monday.

The role of the commissioner is to act independently to investigate formal complaints against MLAs for alleged breaches of the code of conduct.

Dr McCullough is an academic with a research record in law and ethics.

The post of assembly standards commissioner has been empty since Douglas Bain stood down in 2017 after his five-year term ended.

Image caption,
Douglas Bain stood down from the post in 2017

Retired solicitor Paul Kennedy was due to take over the role in July but withdrew from the appointments process.

Assembly Speaker Alex Maskey, who also chairs the Assembly Commission, commended Dr McCullough's suitability for the role:

"The independent role of the Commissioner for Standards is central to ensuring that MLAs uphold the highest standards of conduct in public life.

"Over the past 15 years, Dr McCullough has worked as an academic in law, ethics and professionalism in the United Kingdom and Ireland.

"This breadth of experience will leave her well equipped to perform this vital role."

Assuming MLAs approve the nomination of Melissa McCullough, it will fill a vacancy which has remained open since Douglas Bain stepped down in September 2017.

Earlier this year Mr Bain told the BBC that it was "outrageous" that no one had been appointed to deal with what he believes is a significant number of complaints which have been building up about MLAs' conduct.

In early July some Stormont parties pledged to report the Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill to the relevant authorities over her attendance at the funeral of the veteran republican Bobby Storey - but there was no one in place to receive such a complaint.

Later in July, the Assembly authorities were left embarrassed when a retired solicitor selected for the post withdrew his interest, after a debate in the chamber to approve his nomination was called off at the last minute.

Now the hope will be that Ms McCullough can get to grips with the pile of paperwork waiting in any new standards commissioner's in tray. An American who moved to Northern Ireland in the 1990s, Ms McCullough is an academic expert in medical ethics and law.

She raised concerns about her own treatment from a Belfast neurologist who was suspended by the Belfast trust amidst concerns about possible misdiagnoses.

In April Ms McCullough also warned about the need to provide PPE to frontline care workers after her own mother died in a US nursing home hit by a Covid-19 19 outbreak.

Dr McCullough's published work and research interests include professionalism, organisational ethics, applied ethics, equality and justice in policy and practice, diversity and inclusion, and public health ethics.

She moved to Northern Ireland from the United States in 1994 and is married with three children.