Northern Ireland's Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) has suspended MLA Justin McNulty after he left Stormont "without permission" on Saturday, February 3 to attend a GAA match in Co Waterford.

McNulty, an MLA for Newry and Armagh as well as a manager of the Laois Gaelic football team, left Stormont on Saturday afternoon during a sitting of the Northern Ireland Assembly to attend the Laois - Wexford National Football League Division 4 match that evening at Wexford Park.

McNulty reportedly traveled by helicopter from Newtownards Airport to make it to the match in time.

McNulty was subsequently absent when his SDLP colleague Matthew O'Toole was appointed as leader of the opposition in the Assembly on Saturday afternoon. 

Earlier on Saturday, McNulty posted a picture of Stormont on X saying "Let's hope for brighter days ahead."

Let’s hope for brighter days ahead 🌞

— Justin McNulty (@JustinMcNu1ty) February 3, 2024

According to The Belfast Telegraph, an SDLP spokesperson said afterward: “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.

“This was a 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.

“We expected all members of our team to be there to support their colleagues.

"Accordingly, as Mr McNulty was not in his place, did not seek the permission for his absence, and breached the direct instruction of the whip, the SDLP Chief Whip has suspended the whip with immediate effect.”

McNulty, who played inter-county Gaelic football with Armagh, was appointed as manager of the Laois Gaelic football team in October last year after being elected to the Stormont Assembly in May 2022. 

In November, The Belfast Telegraph reported that the SDLP was prepared to allow McNulty to work as Laois GAA football manager while the Assembly is not sitting. However, the party also indicated that McNulty will have to choose between his new job and his Stormont role when devolution returns.

Laois have made a 100% start to their first National League campaign under McNulty, winning 1-19 to 0-12 against Wexford on Saturday.