Statements from NI party leaders after MLA pay cut

A workman outside an empty Stormont
A workman outside an empty Stormont

Following the Northern Ireland Secretary of State`s statement to the House of Commons today, NI political leaders reacted.

DUP leader Arlene Foster said: “The need for this statement lies wholly with Sinn Fein’s decision to boycott the Assembly, Executive and the House of Commons.

“The DUP was able to deliver an additional £1.5b for Northern Ireland. It is deeply frustrating and utterly careless that Sinn Fein has decided to block government for almost 600 days.

“Whilst only a small step towards decisions being made, we welcome the statement from the Secretary of State. Ultimately, Northern Ireland needs a Ministerial decision-making mechanism which respects democracy. We have been and will continue to press the Government to get a mechanism in place which can ensure decisions about front line services are no longer left in abeyance. We will continue to engage with the Government in the coming weeks to find the best way forward.

“We would prefer to have a fully functioning local Executive where decisions about our schools, roads and hospitals are being made in Northern Ireland. Sinn Fein is the roadblock to an Executive. It is the only major party boycotting the Executive. All other parties would elect Ministers today without preconditions.

“We stand ready to form an Executive today and enter an Assembly with nothing but our mandate. Our proposal from August 2017 to run a talks process in parallel with an Executive was rejected by Sinn Fein within an hour of being published but that offer still stands.

“The proposal to reduce the pay for MLAs is a sensible step as we are not able to fulfil our full role as legislators. The Secretary of State is right to guard against cuts to the pay and allowances for Members’ staff.”

Sinn Féin Deputy Leader Michelle O’Neill said:

“The British Secretary of State has finally made some movement but only because she faced the imminent prospect of the courts ordering her to do so.

“The political process has been allowed to drift for far too long as a result of her government adopting a do nothing approach rather than confronting the denial of rights by the DUP.

“Faced with the prospect of a court-ordered election, Karen Bradley has now moved to suspend her powers to call an election as set out in the legislation. That is a retrograde step. Any attempt to move away from the Good Friday Agreement or towards Direct Rule will fail.

“Clearly, the British Government’s reliance on the DUP remains a central problem and if any process around restoring the institutions is to be credible, Karen Bradley must begin prioritising the rights of citizens over Tory Party self-interest.

“Departmental decisions have continued to be taken in the absence of the Executive but clearly, clarity is needed for officials and issues such as compensation for victims of Historical Institutional Abuse should not be caught up in legal or political quagmire. It should have been addressed long before now.

“Equally, the reduction in MLA pay should have been introduced months ago. Sinn Féin told Karen Bradley that on several occasions but it is clear she was reluctant to move because of resistance from the DUP. That position has now become untenable and it is right that wages are finally being reduced.

“The Dublin Government must also assert its full role as a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement and I have spoken to Tánaiste Simon Coveney today and I will be meeting with him in the coming days.

“We can all agree the need for a process to restore the political institutions but that process must address directly the core problem of the denial of rights and the two governments must show leadership in securing and defending rights which are routinely delivered by their governments everywhere else on these islands. There can be no ambivalence or equivocation on rights, equality and integrity.

“Consistent with the Good Friday Agreement and in the absence of rights-based institutions, the British Irish Intergovernmental Conference is the proper forum to ensure the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, to resolve the issue of rights and to address the oversight of the political process.”

Ulster Unionist Party Leader, Robin Swann MLA said: "For months the Ulster Unionist Party has been urging the Secretary of State to take action. However, this looks like another holding statement from Karen Bradley MP. It`s only a sticking plaster on a huge political mess in which Northern Ireland finds itself, and the blame for that lies squarely with Sinn Fein and the DUP.

“What we need is a fully functioning Assembly and Executive where locally elected MLAs can hold local Ministers to account and get to grips with the crisis in the health service, in Education and take the whole range of decisions that have been put ‘on ice’ in the absence of Executive Ministers.

“I welcome the fact that the Secretary of State has finally decided to implement the Reaney recommendations. This is the inevitable consequence of the ongoing political impasse which has prevented the formation of a fully functioning Assembly and Executive. The cut to pay should be linked to a meaningful and productive talks process.

“I note that the Secretary of State plans to deliver some clarity with regard to how civil servants might be empowered to ‘take decisions in Northern Ireland in the public interest and to ensure the continued delivery of public services.’ I would urge the Secretary of State to get on with it as soon as possible in providing that clarity. The devil will be in the detail. She should consider the call from my colleague Lord Empey to repatriate Health powers to Westminster on humanitarian grounds, regardless of Sinn Fein`s stance.

“Her move today to introduce legislation to provide for 'a limited and prescribed period in which there will be no legal requirement to set a date for a further election' topples another piece of the St Andrew`s agreement. The only reason this is needed is because the government acceded to Sinn Fein demands at the time. If she can do this to facilitate good will in talks, then she should also remove another shameful edifice of the St Andrews Agreement and that is how the First and deputy First Minister are elected which has embedded sectarianism at the heart of our political system. She should revert back to the position as stipulated in the Belfast Agreement.

“When speaking to the Secretary of State before her announcement to the House of Commons, I asked if this statement was being issued on the same day as a major witness appeared at the RHI Inquiry, as a distraction. She assured me that was not the case.”

TUV leader Jim Allister said: "At last the Secretary of State is moving to cut MLA salaries. Good. About time.

"However, by continuing to duck her responsibility to govern, by planning to legitimise decision-making by civil servants, demonstrates, again, a lack of mettle. It is the appointment of ministers accountable to Parliament that is required, not the poor substitute of empowering unelected civil servants.

"The fact that the Secretary of State is moving to amend the 1998 Northern Ireland Act, to remove the requirement for an election, demonstrates that when it is politically expedient the Act implementing the Belfast Agreement can and will be amended. So, if she really wants devolution that works and lasts, then, let her face the reality that the mandatory coalition prescription in the 1998 Act needs also to be removed. Seeking rather a return to the failure of the present structures is foolhardy."

SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood MLA said that it is time for both the Irish and British Governments, as co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement to step up and step in.

He has said that the two Governments should meet immediately to agree a package of legislation between them to get Stormont back up and running.

"This political vacuum that we have found ourselves in has already gone on for far too long. The truth remains, without a functioning Assembly, MLAs are not fulfilling the full job that they were elected to do. As the SDLP has made clear time and time again, MLA pay should be cut to reflect that fact and we welcome this move from the Secretary of State today.

“We are now in the nineteenth month without power-sharing here. For most of this time, the British Government has found it more appropriate to pander to the DUP instead of tackling the hard issues head on. No more – it is time for action and responsibility.

“The two Governments, as co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement, need to meet urgently to agree a package of legislation to get Stormont back up and running. We cannot continue in this political abyss. The public is sick and tired of seeing banners and finger pointing between the DUP and Sinn Féin. They need Ministers in place and a functioning Assembly to take decisions and responsibility for schools, a struggling health service and the ever-growing threat of a no deal Brexit.

“The SDLP has been clear time and time again, we are ready and willing to engage. We did not create this political vacuum and we have absolutely no desire to remain in it. It is simply ridiculous that there is no process in place to even try and resolve the problems and tackle the issues. Parties and the public must be given clarity on the next steps and the road ahead and the SDLP will be fully engaged in any process.

“Continued inaction will be catastrophic for our people and for the North. Everyone must be completely focused and dedicated to restore power-sharing here – time is up on the political drift.”