Ex-Sinn Fein MLA got £24,500 ‘golden handshake’ as well as salary

Former Sinn Fein South Down MLA Caitriona Ruane

Catriona Ruane received a £24,500 payment on top of the tens of thousands of pounds which she was paid for months after leaving the Assembly, it has emerged.

TUV leader Jim Allister revealed last month that the former South Down Sinn Fein MLA continued to be paid as if she had remained an MLA due to a quirk of the Assembly rules because the Stormont impasse meant that she remained an Assembly deputy speaker, which has a £55,000-a-year salary.

She renounced the salary last month on the day that Mr Allister exposed the issue.

However, he has now called on her to pay back a further £24,500 which she received for choosing to stand down as an MLA – while still being paid as deputy speaker.

There is no suggestion Ms Ruane has broken any rules, however Mr Allister believes she was benefiting from a loophole in that the authorities never considered that such a situation would arise.

The Assembly Commission told him that even though she was continuing to be paid the £55,000 salary as an absentee principal deputy speaker for seven months, she also received a ‘resettlement allowance’ – intended to compensate MLAs for their lack of job security – of six months pay tax-free at the same time.

Sinn Fein said she was not an MLA after March and that “any arrangements she may have come to with the Assembly were her own affair”.

Mr Allister said it was unclear whether the ‘golden handshake’ figure had been calculated based on her MLA salary of £49,000 or the deputy speaker salary.

But Mr Allister called on Ms Ruane to pay back monies which he said no fair–minded person would have accepted.

“This is a scandalous situation: while creaming off £55,000 per annum as an office holder in an Assembly to which she did not belong, she at the same time was pocketing a tax-free £24,500 pay-off for ceasing to be an MLA,” he said. “What a double rip-off of the taxpayer.

“I am calling on Ms Ruane to pay back in full either the resettlement payment or the deputy speaker salary. This is a person who regularly hectored others on issues of ‘equality’ and standards in public life – and who would have had us believe that as a Sinn Fein representative she lived on an average industrial wage – well caught on. She needs to now live up to her own rhetoric. So, Ms Ruane, let the public have its money back.”

According to Assembly rules, MLAs are entitled to a resettlement allowance if they were an Assembly member immediately before its dissolution in January and stood in the March election, or if they stood but were not re-elected.

After the TUV leader shone a spotlight on her finances last month Ms Ruane resigned as principal deputy speaker.

“I have put on record with the Assembly last March I would be donating the salary to a wide range of charities,” she said at the time.

“I can confirm that I have donated the monies received to charities and community groups including an Irish language group, a group for the elderly, an LGBT group, and a charity for children with disabilities.

“I never anticipated that the election of a new speaker and deputy speaker would be so protracted and I have come to the conclusion that now is the time to tender my resignation.”

The News Letter asked Ms Ruane to name the groups she donated the money to, but as yet she has not detailed them.

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