Ruane in new '˜double rip off' controversy

Catriona Ruane has come in for fresh criticism for receiving another £24,500 on top of the £55,000 Deputy Speaker's salary she got for seven months after losing her seat.

Monday, 6th November 2017, 6:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 12th December 2017, 10:40 am
Former Sinn Fein South Down MLA Caitriona Ruane. Picture by Bernie Brown.
Former Sinn Fein South Down MLA Caitriona Ruane. Picture by Bernie Brown.

TUV leader Jim Allister said last week that “big questions” remain over what became of the salary which was still being paid to the former south Down Sinn Fein MLA after she announced in January that she would not stand for reelection.

She renounced the salary last month after Mr Allister exposed the issue.

However, he has now accused her of a “double rip off” in pocketing at least a further £24,500 for standing down as an MLA – while still being paid as Deputy Speaker. There is no suggestion she has broken any rules, however Mr Allister believes she was benefiting from a loophole.

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The Assembly Commission told him that even though she was continuing to be paid the £55,000 salary as an absentee Principal Deputy Speaker for seven months, she also received a Resettlement Allowance of six months pay tax free at the same time. “Whether this was based on the MLA salary or the Deputy Speaker salary is unclear, but it amounted at least to £24,500.”

Sinn Fein said she was not an MLA after March 2017 and that the party received no donations from her since then: “Any arrangements she may have come to with the Assembly were her own affair.”

But Mr Allister called on Ms Ruane to pay back monies which he said no fair–minded person would have accepted.

“This is a scandalous situation: while creaming off £55,000 pa as an office holder in an Assembly to which she did not belong she at the same time was pocketing a tax free £24,500 pay off for ceasing to be an MLA,” he said. “What a double rip off of the taxpayer.

“I am calling on Ms Ruane to pay back in full either the resettlement payment or the deputy Speaker salary. This is a person who regularly hectored others on issues of ‘equality’ and standards in public life - and who would have had us believe that as a Sinn Fein representative she lived on an average industrial wage - well caught on, she needs to now live up to her own rhetoric. So, Ms Ruane let the public have its money back.”

According to assembly rules, MLAs are entitled to a resettlement allowance if they were an Assembly member immediately before its dissolution in January and stood in the March election, or if they stood but were not re-elected.

After the TUV leader shone a spotlight on her finances last month Ms Ruane resigned as Principal Deputy Speaker.

“I have put on record with the Assembly last March I would be donating the salary to a wide range of charities,” she said.

“I can confirm that I have donated the monies received to charities and community groups including an Irish Language group, a group for the elderly, an LGBT group, and a charity for children with disabilities.

“I never anticipated that the election of a new Speaker and Deputy Speaker would be so protracted and I have come to the conclusion that now is the time to tender my resignation.”

The News Letter asked Ms Ruane to name the groups she donated the money to, but as yet she has not detailed them.