MLAs should only be paid for a maximum of three months if direct rule from Westminster become necessary.
That is the recommendation of former members of a pay panel, which was set up to scrutinise MLAs’ wages.
The Independent Financial Review Panel (IFRP) is no longer functioning.
A long, detailed and sternly-worded letter to the Secretary of State – signed by its full trio of former members – states that in its absence there is “now no external oversight” over MLAs’ pay and expenses; something which it blames on a lack of agreement between the DUP and Sinn Fein.
The letter to James Brokenshire, the former IFRP members stated that they “strongly suggest that payments to MLAs in the absence of a functioning Assembly and Executive would be publicly regarded as unjustifiable”.
It adds that any future system for payments to MLAs “needs strong and independent administration, supervision, and audit”.
“If the Government is therefore forced to suspend the Assembly by Order in Council, we strongly recommend that you consider strictly limiting the period for which members may draw salaries and expenses – perhaps to a period of three months to allow completion of any negotiations,” it said.
It states that, during the last period of suspension (2002 to 2007), it believes expenses and pay were still paid out at a rate of two-thirds of what they would have been otherwise.
It also states that since the panel was appointed in 2011 it granted MLAs a pay rise, but that this was funded the reform of the expenses and pensions system.
Prior to 2011, it said there had been “significant abuses in the expenses system”, including funnelling funds meant for constituency work towards party political activities, “nepotism in appointments of staff by some MLAs”, and awarding of contracts to politically-linked firms – with no evidence that work was ever done.
On this latter point, it adds: “It was also noted that as soon as these arrangements became public some of the companies ceased to trade.”
The letter suggests that any return of devolution should be conditional on creating a “new fully independent authority/panel” with investigatory powers and the ability to publish full details of claims.
The letter (sent on Friday) is signed by former panel members Pat McCartan, Dr Etta Campbell and Alan McQuillan.