No work but all pay

  • 18 January 2006
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For the 2003/'04 year the salary and expenses bill for Northern Ireland Assembly members was £9.2 million, although the Assembly did not sit for a single session in that 12-month period. Now assembly members are outraged at the possibility that their wages might be stopped. Colm Heatley reports

More than three years after the collapse of the Stormont Assembly, Northern Ireland's Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLA's) have expressed outrage at Peter Hain's suggestion that their £31,000 per year wage packets could be stopped if political progress is not made before the summer.

Despite the suspension Northern Ireland's 108 MLA's have been entitled to claim their wage plus expenses at a total cost of more than £30M to the public purse.

Hain's comments have been interpreted as part of a strategy to ensure maximum political progress between Northern Ireland's parties when political negotiations start within the next two months.

However the DUP, the party opposed to restoring the Assembly described it as a 'cheap political shot'.

"The secretary of state needs to concentrate on the broader issues instead of trying to grab headlines in a cheap political shot," said north Down DUP MLA Peter Weir.

"Assembly members are still carrying out their day to day activities, so they do deserve a degree of pay and that has already been cut down from £41,000. "Of course the decision rests with Peter Hain."

Assembly members are also entitled to employ relatives and friends as secretaries and personal assistants, an entitlement of which many avail.

For the 2003/4 year the salary and expenses bill was £9.2 million even though the Assembly did not sit for a single session in that 12 month period.

In 2003 then Secretary-of-State, Paul Murphy, announced he was cutting MLA's wages by a quarter.

Ironically with nine MP's and one MEP the leadership of the DUP, the party most opposed to the restoration of Stormont, would be least affected by the decision.

However all of the North's four major parties insisted the move would have little effect on their political positions.

Sinn Féin said the ongoing suspension was 'farcical'.

The Independent Monitoring Commission's report into IRA activity which is due to be released at the end of January is expected to signal the start of intensive political negotiations should it confirm, as expected, that IRA activity has ceased.

Both governments hope those talks will ultimately lead to the restoration of the Assembly and an agreement from the DUP to share power with Sinn Féin.

However the DUP has insisted that despite decommissioning and even with a positive IMC report it will not enter government with Sinn Féin.

In another attempt to provide an incentive for political progress Peter Hain has already said that he doubts the wisdom of holding Assembly elections in 2007 if the institution is still moth-balled.

That would deny Northern Ireland's political parties an opportunity to test their popularity until the next Westminster elections in 2009 or 2010, something the DUP, on an upward electoral roll in their battle with the UUP, would seek to avoid.