Request by McAteer for salary refused

 

THE O'Neill Cabinet rejected a request from the leader of the Nationalist Party, Mr Eddie McAteer, for payment of a salary to him as Leader of the Opposition following his party's historic acceptance of official opposition status in 1965.

The matter was discussed at a Cabinet meeting at Stormont Castle on May 21st 1965. The Minister for Finance, Mr Kirk informed the Cabinet that he had received a request from the Nationalist leader for the payment of salaries to the opposition leaders and whips in both houses at Stormont. Previously, when the Northern Ireland Labour Party had been recognised by the Speaker as the official opposition payment had been resisted on the grounds that the party represented, a minority element of the opposition.

It had to be recognised, Mr Kirk stressed, that modern Commonwealth precedents favoured payment. In the new circumstances, he explained, refusal would have to be justified on other grounds; for example, that the Leader of the Opposition in the Commons did not have very onerous responsibilities; that payment in the Senate would be an absurdity and that the question, was one on which two select committees had been unable to make any possible recommendation. Other members might well point out that an opposition should be "loyal" in the sense of being willing to form an alternative government under the constitution and that the present Nationalist leader had already displayed his unwillingness to play his proper part at functions.

The Minister of Home Affairs,

Mr Brian McConnell, felt that, since payment to the Labour leader had been resisted for many years, any payment to the Nationalists would be misconstrued.

The Prime Minister, Captain Terence O'Neill, pointed out that the Nationalists had opposed the idea at a select committee. He also recalled the Unionist chief whip's strong objections when the question of paying Mr McAteer had been canvassed. By such action as his refusal to meet the Governor in Derry (at a function, attended by Nationalist councillors) and to attend a dinner for the British Home Secretary, Mr McAteer had provided ample justification for the argument that he was not playing his proper part. In the House, it could be explained that the new dispositions were so recent that the government could not yet consider any question of payment.

However, the Minister of Education, Mr Fitzsimmons, felt that there was some difficulty in using, one argument against the Labour opposition and another against the Nationalist opposition. It was agreed, after further discussions, that the request for the payment of salaries should be resisted on the basis suggested by the Minister of Finance.