Secretary of State Karen Bradley has declined to explain what has caused months of delay in cutting the pay of MLAs while Stormont lies empty.
Every one of the 90 MLAs has been paid at least £49,000 for more than a year – despite spending just 46 minutes in the Assembly chamber since the last election 15 months ago – and some MLAs are being paid much more.
Assembly Speaker Robin Newton is still being paid a salary of close to £90,000, despite the first item of business if the Assembly does ever meet again being a decision about who should replace him because he lost the support of the chamber more than a year and a half ago.
Last December, a report commissioned by the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) recommended a series of cuts to MLAs’ pay if Stormont did not return. The advice, from former Assembly chief executive Trevor Reaney, in December recommended that MLAs’ pay should be immediately cut from £49,500 to £42,075 and then three months later (ie. by March past) cut again to £35,888.
In an interview with the Press Association this week, Mrs Bradley said she is “still minded” to follow that advice – even though she had not followed what Mr Reaney proposed.
She blamed unspecified hitches, saying that “I just need to make sure we have got all the technicalities and legalities sorted”.
The News Letter asked the NIO to specify which “technicalities and legalities” were preventing the secretary of state from cutting MLA pay immediately and, if it is correct that she is unable to do so immediately why she has not formally put MLAs on notice that their pay will be cut from a future date.
In response, a spokesman for Mrs Bradley would only say: “As the secretary of state has stated, she is carefully considering all the details and will set out next steps in due course.”
The NIO was also asked how much it had paid Mr Reaney for a report into the matter which is now not being followed. It did not respond.
MLA after MLA has spoken out over the last year to say that their pay should be cut.
Mrs Bradley’s comments surprised one of those MLAs to speak out, North Antrim representative and QC Jim Allister.
Mr Allister said that he could not think of a legal impediment to Mrs Bradley cutting his pay. He said that legislation passed by Parliament in March “gives her the authority to do it”.
“I don’t think she needs to ask any more questions. She has the authority.
“The excuses are wearing increasingly thin. I can’t think of any ‘technicality or legality’ that hasn’t been addressed which would restrict this.
“I suspect that the secretary of state is coming under political pressure from her partners in government [the DUP] not to do it.
“She should be getting on with it – there is no justification for her not to act.”
He said that by now saying that she will act “in due course”, it “sounds like never-never land”.