Sinn Fein has said the fact one of its former MLAs was still claiming a five-figure salary from the Assembly long after giving up her seat was nothing to do with the party.
Up until Thursday night Catriona Ruane, formerly Sinn Fein MLA for South Down, was still registered as the principal deputy speaker of the Assembly despite not being an elected MLA.
She has now resigned from the position after her continued earnings were revealed publicly.
She said she had “come to the conclusion that now is the time to tender my resignation”, adding that she had been giving the salary money – amounting to £55,500 per year – to charity.
Whilst Robin Newton, the speaker of the Assembly, has faced strong criticism for continuing on in his post while the Assembly is not sitting (and in the midst of a series of controversies about him), he is still an elected MLA.
Ms Ruane, however, has not been an MLA for several months, having decided not to stand in the last election.
TUV leader Jim Mr Allister had confirmed that she nonethless still formally held the post of principal deputy speaker (effectively, the second-in-command of the Assembly chamber) thanks to a written question to the Assembly Commission, the answer to which he published on Thursday.
He branded the arrangement a “farce,” adding: “As with so much, it could only happen in Stormont.”
He also called upon her to quit the post and to repay the cash she has earned from it since the election.
Sinn Fein responded: “Caitriona Ruane was no longer an MLA after March this year. Any arrangements she may have come to with the Assembly were her own affair.”
Then shortly afterwards, Ms Ruane herself issued a statement which said: “I have resigned with immediate effect 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.
“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 [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transexual] 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.”
Despite Sinn Fein’s statement, the Assembly website lists her as having ceased to be an MLA on January 25 this year.