North’s parties ask to defer MLAs’ pay rise

MLAs given £1,000 increase just weeks after three year Stormont hiatus ended

Deputy first minister Michelle O’Neill (left) and first minister Arlene Foster are pictured at Stormont. Their parties, Sinn Féin and the DUP, are seeking to reject a £1,000 pay rise given to Assembly members. File photograph: EPA.

Deputy first minister Michelle O’Neill (left) and first minister Arlene Foster are pictured at Stormont. Their parties, Sinn Féin and the DUP, are seeking to reject a £1,000 pay rise given to Assembly members. File photograph: EPA.

 

The leaders of the North’s five main parties have asked that a controversial pay rise which was awarded to MLAs be deferred.

In a joint statement issued on Wednesday afternoon, the DUP, Sinn Féin, SDLP, UUP and Alliance party leader said the proposed pay rise had come “as a surprise to all parties” and they shared “the broad public dismay at this development, only a matter of days after the Assembly and institutions have been fully restored”.

They said they “have had a range of concerns over time around recommendations emerging from the Independent Financial Review Panel (IFRP)” and asked the Assembly Commission “that any pay proposal is immediately deferred until the work of the IFRP has been comprehensively reviewed, and a new panel has the opportunity to consider this matter again and produce a fresh determination”.

The party leaders added that they “recognise that a number of MLAs and parties have indicated if the proposed pay increase cannot be halted, they will donate any additional sum to local causes and charities”.

The £1,000 increase, which raises Assembly members’ salaries to £50,500 per year, was implemented following a 2016 report by the IFRP. The annual uprating should have been awarded in £500 increments in 2018 and 2019, but was suspended while the North’s Assembly was not sitting.

The Assembly collapsed in January 2017 following a scandal over a renewable heating scheme, and was reinstated earlier this month.

In a statement on Tuesday, a spokeswoman for the Assembly said that “following the formation of an Executive on 11 January 2020, the full provisions of the Assembly Members (Salaries and Expenses) Determination (Northern Ireland) 2016 are in effect, including the provisions for an annual uprating.

“The annual uprating, provided for in paragraph 3, has been applied.”

A member of the IFRP, Alan McQuillan, told BBC Radio Ulster that “the panel hasn’t been aware of any concerns, and in fact the panel hasn’t existed for almost five years.

“To see that they’re now saying that they’re concerned about this it appears to me to be a case of panicking and shooting the messenger,” he said.

“This recommendation was delivered four to five years ago, it was consulted on a massive scale across all the parties and nobody challenged or complained about it then.”

Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill had earlier described the increase as “unjustifiable” and said it “should not be paid”.

The DUP said it was “totally opposed to this pay rise in light of the very recent restoration of the Assembly”.

If the pay rise could not be returned, a spokesman said, “it is the view of our members that they will not keep any additional salary but instead support local causes”.

Sinn Féin said if it was not possible to stop the pay rise “then we will see if this money can be returned to public funds or donated to charity”.

A number of politicians, including all of the SDLP’s MLAs, have said they will give the money to charity.

Pat Catney, SDLP MLA for Lagan Valley, said he did not think it was “appropriate for me or any MLA to take a pay rise when people in my constituency are struggling and MLAs have only just returned to Stormont”.