Stormont politicians face pay cut over Assembly impasse

Northern Secretary questions pay for members ‘who have not met for several months’

 Northern Ireland secretary James Brokenshire:  said it would be a hugely retrograde step after years of progress if the UK government had to take back direct charge of Northern Ireland. File Photograph: PA

Northern Ireland secretary James Brokenshire: said it would be a hugely retrograde step after years of progress if the UK government had to take back direct charge of Northern Ireland. File Photograph: PA

 

The British government will consider whether to stop paying members of the Northern Ireland Assembly if Ulster politicians fail to reach a deal to restore powersharing.

Northern Ireland secretary James Brokenshire raised the possibility on Friday of salaries of more than £50,000 (€54,800) per annum being frozen in the absence of the Stormont getting up and running again.

Mr Brokenshire also reiterated the warning that, while London would prefer to see the restoration of devolved government in Belfast, Westminster could be forced back into direct rule.

In a speech to the British Irish Association in Cambridge University on Friday evening, Mr Brokenshire said: “In the continuing absence of devolution, the UK government retains ultimate responsibility for good governance and political stability in Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom and we will not shirk from the necessary measures to deliver that.

“At the same time, we will need to consider carefully a range of other issues reflecting public concern, including whether it can continue to be justified to pay Assembly members who have not met for several months now.”

Mr Brokenshire acknowledged that it would be “a hugely retrograde step, a massive setback after so many years of progress and hope” if the government in London had to take back direct charge of Northern Ireland.

He continued: “If things don’t change we are on a glide path to greater and greater UK government intervention. But we can still change course.”

Compromise

The minister urged the Assembly parties, in particular Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party, to reach a compromise aimed at bringing back powersharing in the region.

Britain’s commitment to the 1998 Belfast Agreement remains “steadfast” according to Mr Brokenshire.

The UK government would continue to defend the Common Travel Area between the UK and Ireland after Brexit, he said.

Mr Brokenshire said he was concerned that without a functioning powersharing Executive in Belfast, Northern Ireland’s voice was severely weakened in the debate about Brexit and its implications for the region and the entire island.

Powersharing government in Northern Ireland has been suspended since the beginning of 2017, after the late Martin McGuinness withdrew from the post as deputy first minister of Northern Ireland.

Mr McGuinness resigned after Arlene Foster refused to temporarily stand down from office while an inquiry was held over a controversial and costly renewable energy scheme which the DUP championed in government.

Under the rules of devolved power-sharing, if the leading representative of one section of the community resigns from office the entire administration falls.

– (Guardian service)