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DUP and Sinn Féin explore ways to stop MLA pay rise

MLAs sitting in Stormont assembly chamberImage copyright
Pool/Getty Images

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The assembly sat for the first time in three years on 11 January

The DUP and Sinn Féin have said they will look at ways to stop a £1,000 pay increase for assembly members.

On Tuesday, it was revealed that MLAs are set to get a pay rise, less than two weeks after power sharing returned to Stormont.

The hike will see their annual pay increase from £49,500 to £50,500.

Sinn Féin said it was “unjustifiable”. The DUP said it was “totally opposed” to it, “in light of the very recent restoration of the assembly”.

The current rules on salaries and expenses were set by the Independent Financial Review Panel (IFRP) following a report it produced in March 2016.

MLAs were due to receive the extra money over the past three years, but the increase was blocked by the former NI Secretary Karen Bradley.

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Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA

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The DUP and Sinn Féin said they would explore ways to stop or return the pay rise

The DUP said it supported “the concept that pay levels should be entirely independent of any MLA input”.

However, the statement added: “We are currently examining options to see whether this rise can be returned and if not then it is the view of our members that they will not keep any additional salary but instead support local causes.”

Speaking on BBC NI’s Good Morning Ulster, Economy Minister Diane Dodds said: “Whoever thought that this was a good thing to do, at this particular juncture, was way off the mark.

“It is incredibly unfortunate that this has jarred with the start of what has been quite a positive opening to the assembly.”

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill tweeted on Tuesday that assembly members had “no input into this decision, nor did they seek it”.

In a statement on Wednesday, the party said they were “actively exploring options to stop it”.

“If that’s not possible then we’ll see if the money can be returned to public funds or donated to charity,” it added.

There’s no denying the timing of this is disastrous: MLAs are barely back at work two weeks and the scorn from the public is evident.

That being said, the parties are firm this was not their choice but happened automatically once devolution was restored.

Some will argue that MLAs at Stormont are already paid far less than their counterparts in Scotland and Wales, and that they are only getting what they are entitled to.

But others believe that after three years without government, when workers in other sectors have struggled to get pay increases, it’s a bit of a slap in the face.

It’s also brought back a long-running debate about whether MLAs should get to have an input into how their salaries are set.

In the past there have been calls to allow MLAs to sit on any future body that would address salary issues; that won’t sit well with everyone.

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Stormont Assembly

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West Belfast MLA Gerry Carroll has criticised the pay increase

All 12 SDLP MLAs said they would be donating their pay rises to charity.

People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll said it was “a slap in the face to nurses who stood on freezing pickets for months for pay parity, and the civil service staff who are still taking industrial action to get what they deserve”.

UUP Chief Whip Robbie Butler said in a Facebook post he would be donating the salary increase to a number of charities.

“Just for clarity, there is no way to refuse this pay increase. It is automatic. It was not voted on by MLAs,” he added.

‘Entirely justified’

The former chair of the IFRP, Pat McCartan, said the determination in the 2016 report still applies.

“It did provide for a basic salary of an MLA of £49,000 with a less than 1% increase per annum of £500 provided inflation was running at more than 1%,” he said.

“Now, when you roll that up, that is why you get the current level of salaries and it is entirely justified through the whole method that we use with job evaluation, pay comparison, and looking at all other legislatures in these islands.

“These are the lowest paid legislatures, whether they actually legislate or not is a matter for the electorate.”

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