MLAs will have to get a pay cut under direct rule

Morning View
Morning View

One thing is clear with regard to the pay of Stormont MLAs – if the assembly goes into a long period of abeyance, their salaries must be cut.

That is the easy thing to say, and few people would disagree with it. Despite their recent pay rise, MLAs would see their income drop considerably.

But we must not lose sight of the reason that Northern Ireland is in this situation – Sinn Fein’s conduct since January.

The party’s attempt to de-stabilise the Province is so transparent that a growing number of people have been talking of voluntary coalition, and not just traditional unionists.

It is gratifying to see people who would never have countenanced such a solution finally coming to consider it. But in the process of first moving to direct rule, perhaps for a period of months or years until a different process can emerge at Stormont – one which republicans cannot simply decide to control or veto – it is important that London does not rush into an arrangement that punishes everyone.

A host of people, from churchmen to business people, have urged compromise from the two main parties, to revive Stormont. But that in effect means movement towards the Sinn Fein red lines, which would be reward for SF’s tactics to date.

There can now be nothing even akin to the cultural supremacy of the sort of standalone Irish legislation that Sinn Fein insisted upon. Sinn Fein’s demands in other areas, such as legacy, are if anything even more unpalatable.

When Stormont was suspended in 2002, MLAs suffered a prolonged pay cut. Yesterday on BBC Radio Ulster the respected lawyer and SDLP ex MLA Alban Maginness explained how he had weathered that cut while bringing up a family, and how he had not chosen instead to return to the bar.

Some sort of reduced payment for MLAs under direct rule, so that they continue to serve their constituents and to monitor governance in NI, will be needed to ensure that people such as Mr Maginness, who have not engaged in political blackmail, do not abandon politics altogether.