SDLP accepts pay rise after taking ‘principled stand’ against it

SDLP's Dr Alasdair McDonnell MP and Fearghal McKinney MLA
SDLP's Dr Alasdair McDonnell MP and Fearghal McKinney MLA

The SDLP has defended its decision to accept a pay rise for MLAs after it took a “principled stand” and rejected the recommendation of a pay review body in 2013.

Assembly member Fearghal McKinney said the U-turn was the result of a £6,000 cut in office expenses for each of the party’s MLAs “beginning to bite”.

When the independent review team recommended that salaries should be increased by 11 per cent, it also said the money available to provide constituency offices should be cut by a similar amount.

Despite reservations being expressed by some MLAs at the time - against a backdrop of public sector workers being asked to endure pay cuts - all of the other parties accepted the rise when offered.

The SDLP has 14 MLAs at Stormont, but party leader Alasdair McDonnell does not receive a salary from Stormont because he is also an MP at Westminster.

Shortly after the pay rise was introduced in April 2013, the SDLP’s Mark H Durkan told the Nolan Show: “Actions speak louder than words and we have all refused to take it.

“In this undoubted time of austerity where you have people in work facing pay freezes, pay cuts and pay-offs and then people out of work, and with disabilities, facing cuts to their benefits, it’s completely unjustifiable, in my opinion, for elected representatives to take a pay rise.”

Yesterday Fearghal McKinney told the same programme the pay rise was belatedly accepted to prevent job losses among MLAs’ staff: “We got cut by (£)6,000 - it began to bite and it began to bite very, very hard.

“The situation matured over recent times...we were not winning the argument with the [pay review] commission that made the decision,” he said.

Yesterday, a SDLP spokesman said: “Faced with the choice of compulsory redundancies or continuing to refuse the pay increase, SDLP MLAs chose to supplement their office costs with the increase recommended by the independent pay review panel.

“The SDLP continues to be of the view that office cost financing is more important than increases to MLA pay and believes that an enhanced system of checks recently proposed by the independent panel to minimise abuse in payments to societies and research services linked to political parties is the best approach.”