Parties divided over calls for MLAs to face salary cut during impasse

Calls have been made for MLAs to have their pay cut while the NI Assembly is not functioning
Calls have been made for MLAs to have their pay cut while the NI Assembly is not functioning

The salary paid to MLAs “will have to be reassessed” if the prospect of restoring the Stormont Executive becomes hopeless, the DUP has said.

Assembly members received a £500 pay increase in March – and are in line for a similar increase in six months’ time – despite not having taken their seats in the Assembly since March.

News of the pending increase has provoked widespread anger as frustration at the lack of political progress intensifies.

The DUP and Sinn Fein are at loggerheads over a Sinn Fein ‘red line’ that there can be no return to government without a stand-alone Irish language act.

Pat McCartan, who chaired the independent review panel responsible for setting MLAs’ salaries, has said that pay should be cut by 25% after three months – and eventually reduced to zero if direct rule is implemented.

Quoted in yesterday’s News Letter, Mr McCartan said that the wider political situation is now “just ridiculous and untenable”.

Yesterday, Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie posted a message on Twitter that said: “No deal by Christmas then time is up – cut all MLAs loose completely.”

Mr Beattie’s comments sparked a wider media debate, with TUV leader Jim Allister telling the Talkback radio programme that as half of the MLAs’ responsibility was legislating at Stormont then their pay no longer reflected their workload.

“The secretary of state should be acting forthwith, to recognise that there needs to be a salary commensurate with the reality,” he said.

A DUP spokesman later said: “The concentration at the present time should be on restoring devolution with everyone committed to doing so without preconditions. If there is no prospect of government then MLA pay will have to be reassessed.”

A spokeswoman for Alliance said: “We believe the current situation on MLA salaries is not tenable. We don’t believe MLAs can continue to be paid indefinitely in the absence of a functioning Assembly, and especially when cuts and job losses are occurring elsewhere.”

The UUP said there is an onus “for a realistic timeframe” to make political progress, but stopped short of calling for salaries to be reassessed.

A party spokeswoman said the talks process “cannot be allowed to drift along endlessly,” and added: “There are real problems arising in health, education and infrastructure, we need decisions being taken by those given a mandate to by the public, not by civil servants.”

The SDLP said no one deserved to be paid for “a job they aren’t doing”, but said its MLAs were committed to restoring devolution and are still working in their constituencies.

“But we recognise that no MLA is fulfilling their legislative or committee scrutiny role,” a party spokesman said.

He added: “The SDLP is committed to restoring power-sharing and getting on with the job.”

Sinn Fein said the only way the Executive can be formed is on an “inclusive” basis, and added: “Doug Beattie and the UUP’s focus should be on ending their denial of rights.”