MLAs who stand down or lose their seat could receive £19,000

 

Northern Ireland Assembly members could receive a £19,000 payment if they stand down or fail to get re-elected, according to new proposals.

The Assembly's finance and personnel committee yesterday discussed a Bill which would entitle Stormont members to half their £38,000 basic annual salary if they are not re-elected or are forced to retire due to ill-health.

At the committee meeting, Mr John Fee of the SDLP said: "The arrangements are about ensuring anyone can stand for election and making sure people are protected if they suddenly find themselves out of work." Mr Fee presented the legislation on behalf of the cross-party administrative Assembly Commission. He said it offered similar terms to those available to Westminster MPs and members of the Welsh and Scottish Assemblies.

"It is based on recommendations from the Senior Salaries Review Board, an entirely independent body," he said. Under the proposals, senior members aged 55-64 with more than 15 years' service would be entitled to a full year's salary.

Anyone losing ministerial or other office while remaining an Assembly member would get a quarter of their annual wage. Some of the committee expressed reservations about the payments, which will be the first primary legislation placed before the full Assembly in the near future.

Sinn Fein's chief whip, Mr Alex Maskey, said: "This is something which could be abused." The Alliance deputy leader, Mr Seamus Close, said: "This might be a huge big stick that the electorate could beat us across the back with." All members would also be entitled to up to £11,617 allowance to wind up their Stormont business, although this would be for expenses incurred and would not go directly into the member's pocket.

Meanwhile, the Rev Ian Paisley yesterday challenged the Agriculture Minister, Ms Brid Rodgers, to say whether a conspiracy existed to sacrifice the pig industry. The DUP leader and chairman of the Stormont agriculture committee queried the Department of Agriculture's motives after it allocated £400,000 to the marketing of pigmeat.

Dr Paisley said that with pig-producers struggling, he was "astonished" no direct aid was allocated to help them. The Department had awarded £3.2 million to animal disease compensation, £1.5 million to timber sales compensation, £1.5 million for environmentally sensitive area schemes and £500,000 to a strategy for the marketing of red meat and £400,000 for pigmeat marketing.

"Once again, the marketing men are getting the advantage - the farmers and housewives are getting nothing. More and more people in Northern Ireland are beginning to be persuaded that for some reason or other there is an intention to destroy the pig men."

Ms Rodgers said the DUP had the luxury of criticising from outside and she noted that the party declined the agriculture portfolio when ministries were being distributed. The chairman of the Assembly's finance and personnel committee, Mr Francie Molloy of Sinn Fein, has urged the British government to divert money from security into the block grant available to the Executive to enable it to "properly deal" with the challenges faced by departments.

"For years we have been told by the British government that the money spent on maintaining security here and prisons could be spent on agriculture, education, health and roads," he said.

"Now that we are in a peaceful situation, there is an obligation on them to spend that money elsewhere, to put it back into the budget for the six counties."