Karen Bradley delaying a decision around possible pay cuts for MLAs is “dithering” and “morally indefensible,” Lady Sylvia Hermon has told the Commons.
The North Down MP was speaking after the secretary of state’s announcement that she was “minded” to cut salaries by 27.5% – but would consult the parties before making a final decision.
Members of the Assembly have continued to receive full pay despite the power-sharing institutions collapsing in January 2017.
Mrs Bradley’s predecessor James Brokenshire commissioned former Assembly chief executive Trevor Reaney to examine the controversial issue of paying MLAs who are not performing their roles as legislators due to the political impasse.
Before Christmas, Mr Reaney recommended the 27.5% cut, a move that would take the average salary of £49,500 to £35,888 in two stages.
Mrs Bradley told the Commons she would seek to introduce legislation at Westminster that would hand her the power to vary MLA pay.
“Further to that, I am minded to reduce pay in line with the Reaney Review recommendation, but I would welcome full and final representations from the NI parties before I make a final decision,” she said.
Lady Hermon said she was disappointed that the Northern Ireland secretary continues to “dither about cutting the salaries of MLAs”.
She also said that paying full salaries to MLAs when the Assembly is suspended is “morally indefensible”.
TUV leader Jim Allister described Mrs Bradley’s statement as a “non announcement” and said it was “further evidence of the UK government’s refusal to face reality when it comes to the failure of the Belfast Agreement”.
Mr Allister added: “In the absence of the Assembly functioning the public rightly demand and expect action.”
Bumper Graham of the Nipsa trade union accused Mrs Bradley of having “fudged” making a hard decision.
“MLAs have been on full pay for 15 months and any ordinary worker who was not carrying out their full duties would be dismissed by now,” he told the BBC.
Mrs Bradley has also announced that a cap to stem money paid out through the botched green energy Renewable Heat Incentive would be extended for another year.
“I also intend to act to extend the cost-capping of the current Renewable Heat Incentive scheme in Northern Ireland, which the Assembly had put in place over a year ago,” she said.
Mrs Bradley said her powers as secretary of state remained limited, as was the scope of Westminster to pass laws on devolved issues.
She said that meant fundamental decisions were not being taken in Northern Ireland.
Mrs Bradley said it would therefore be “irresponsible” for the government not to consider “different arrangements” for the Province while the ongoing impasse continued.
“I would welcome the views and proposals of the Northern Ireland parties and others on how such arrangements – providing for local decision-making and scrutiny, on a cross-community basis – might be achieved in the continued absence of an Executive. Let me be clear that this in no way affects my commitment to the Belfast Agreement nor my commitment to continue to work to remove the barriers to the restoration of devolution.”
SDLP MLA Nichola Mallon said: “Despite the fact that the Good Friday Agreement offers a way forward through the convening of the Intergovernmental Conference, the secretary of state continues to choose a path of political drift rather than one of political solutions.”
Nigel Dodds of the DUP said he welcomed the reassurances from Mrs Bradley.
He said: “It is very welcome that the secretary of state has announced she is going to take a series of decisions which the government is beginning to take for the good government of Northern Ireland.
“This is long overdue but is very necessary. I also welcome that she is willing to look at arrangements providing for local decision making and scrutiny on a cross-community basis.”