MLAs set for pay rise despite Stormont suspension

Putting a stop MLA's salaries could pay for 500 new GPs or 1500 extra nurses in Northern Ireland, it has been claimed.

Wednesday, 29th March 2017, 2:38 pm
Updated Tuesday, 9th May 2017, 7:04 pm

It comes after Secretary of State James Brokenshire said he will consider halting MLAs’ pay to put pressure on the parties to reach a deal over the future of the province’s power-sharing institutions.

And it has also emerged that Stormont politicians are set to have their salaries increased by £500 to £49,500, despite the Assembly being suspended due to the ongoing political crisis.

Alan McQuillan, who sits on the panel responsible for setting MLAs’ salaries and expenses, said the wage hike will take effect automatically on April 1.

But the former PSNI assistant chief constable added that he wanted to see payments to MLAs stopped if parties are unable to reach a settlement.

He said: “I think Mr Brokenshire should set a reasonable period to allow the parties to come to an agreement, which I suggest should be three months from now.

“If no agreement is reached within that timeframe, then the MLAs pay should be stopped.”

Mr McQuillan pointed out that during the last period of prolonged direct rule from 2002-2007, MLAs received a large proportion of their salaries.

“We cannot allow that situation to be repeated,” he added.

“The NI Assembly costs just under £50m a year to run. That is the equivalent to hiring 500 new GPs or 1500 extra nurses. If it was a choice between that or paying MLAs salaries while there is no Assembly in place, I know what most people choose.”

Speaking about the impending pay rise, Mr McQuillan said MLAs would have no choice but to accept the increase.

He added: “It was built into the legislation that MLAs have to take the pay rise, they have no choice in the matter.

“This was done because in the past, there were issues where some MLAs said they would not be accepting the money initially, but a few months later they changed their minds and took it.”

Mr McQuillan said that while he wanted to see devolution restored, he added that direct rule would be “inevitable” if the parties could not strike a deal.

At the House of Commons on Tuesday, former Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson asked Mr Brokenshire if stopping MLA’s payments “might crystallise minds”, to which the Secretary of State responded: “Certainly, we will be keeping all options under consideration, but the focus has to be on looking to the positive, looking to that outcome that sees parties coming together and getting the devolved government back on its feet.”