None of Northern Ireland’s parties have been able to give a definite answer as to what their MPs’ 10 per cent pay increase will be spent on.
All of the parties said they opposed the pay rise in the first place – but since the increase is automatic, no-one can opt out of it.
The increase was not been decided by MPs, but rather by an independent body called the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA).
The SDLP said it is “totally opposed” to the 10 per cent salary increase, and had called for “a tax to bypass IPSA’s decision and take back the pay rise”.
However, it added there had been no response to this idea.
It said: “The party’s MPs now have to identify the best way to deal with this pay rise which will involve payments to charity.”
Pressed for further details, the party said it is not yet known if the entire salary rise will go to charity, which charities will get money, or how it will be divided up.
Prior to the changes, DUP MP Nigel Dodds had written to IPSA, saying: “In this climate of ongoing austerity, it cannot be right that IPSA has produced the increased figures for MPs’ pay it has.”
The party was asked if its MPs themselves would keep the money, and if not, what it would go towards.
It responded: “The MPs are due to meet and discuss this.
“It’s not clear from IPSA what the net difference will be as pension contributions have now changed.
“Many of our MPs already supplement their office running costs and contribute to charity from their salary and that will continue.”
The UUP had also provided a written submission to IPSA before the changes, in which it said that “under current circumstances and constraints, in both the private and public sectors, it is our view that this proposed increase does not seem justifiable.”
Asked what would happen with its members’ increased pay, it said: “Although IPSA say that the reforms will not cost the taxpayer more money, and links MPs’ remuneration to public sector pay, unfortunately the timing and nature of this announcement will not enhance public confidence.
“The UUP’s MPs will abide by the recommendations of the independent body and will continue to provide best value for money services to all their constituents.”
Tom Elliott (UUP MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone) said he works up to 90 hours per week.
He also spends as much as £10,000 per year helping to run his constituency offices in Dungannon and Enniskillen, and already gives money to charity too.
He said the pay rise will help contribute to these areas of spending.
Asked if he would keep any of the rise himself, he said: “That I’m not sure.”
He added that “you could end up with a few hundred going to you, you could end up with none of it going to you. It’s not an exact science in that sense.”
Sinn Fein’s abstentionist MPs do not receive parliamentary salaries.
Even though the changes to pay would not affect the party, it said it was opposed to them.
There is controversy over the fact that special dispensation was given to Sinn Fein to get Westminster allowances despite not taking its seats.
Independent North Down MP Sylvia Hermon could not be reached.
The increase takes salaries from £67,060 to £74,000.
THE HIKE EXPLAINED:
Explaining the rise, IPSA’s chairman Sir Ian Kennedy said: “Over the last Parliament, MPs’ pay increased by two per cent, compared to five per cent in the public sector and 10 per cent in the whole economy. It is right that we make this one-off increase and then formally link MPs’ pay to public sector pay.”
IPSA’s report concludes that for the next five years their pay will be linked to average public sector earnings, with salaries being altered accordingly each April.
It also notes that “GPs, hospital consultants and senior people in local government are also paid from funds from the taxpayer and get much more”.
The pay hike comes after a tightening of rules around expenses, cuts to severance pay, and more.