Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Honestly, we don't want £6,000 pay rise, but we may be forced to accept big hike, claim our MPs

Mark Durkan (SDLP)
Mark Durkan (SDLP)
Nigel Dodds (DUP)
Nigel Dodds (DUP)
Paul Maskey (Sinn Fein)
Paul Maskey (Sinn Fein)

Political parties in Northern Ireland have claimed their MPs will not be taking a proposed £6,000-plus pay rise.

MPs from across the spectrum insisted that they were opposed to the salary hike yesterday –which will see pay for Members rise to £74,000 a year from 2015 if the reforms get the go-ahead.

But the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) has recommended cuts to perks, including meal allowances and taxis, and a leaner pension scheme.

Lump sums, known as 'golden goodbyes', paid to MPs when they retire could also be cut back under the plans.

But the proposals, which come on the back of the 2009 expenses scandal, have been criticised by party leaders and individual MPs who have demanded a rethink from the Commons expenses watchdog.

While the watchdog will gauge reaction to the rise through a public consultation, MPs are unable to block the decision after handing control to the independent body following the fallout from the MPs expenses revelations four years ago.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Labour leader Ed Miliband are among a series of high-ranking politicians who have pledged not to accept the pay rise if it is approved.

MPs from the DUP, the Alliance Party and SDLP also voiced their opposition to it yesterday.

There are 18 MPs from Northern Ireland elected to the Commons, including five from Sinn Fein, who do not take their seats at Westminster.

They take an industrial wage (around £356 a week) with the rest going to the party.

Paul Maskey, Sinn Fein's MP for West Belfast, declined to comment on the planned changes yesterday.

"It's up to the British MPs that take their wages," a party spokesman said. "It's irrelevant to us (whether they take the pay rise)."

Citing a freeze on pay rises in the public sector and a programme of sweeping reforms to benefit payments, Mark Durkan, SDLP MP for Foyle, said he did not believe there was a practical case for MPs to receive a pay rise in the current recessionary environment.

"I do not believe that an exceptional case can be made for a pay rise for MPs which exceeds the public sector pay increase cap," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"I think a case can be made... because pay was effectively frozen in the past, because MPs could not be seen to vote for a pay increase.

"Looking at that, as compared to some other wages elsewhere in local government... a case could be made that MPs pay should be on a different peg than other positions.

"That case can be made on paper," he added.

"But is it an overwhelming case for an increase in MPs' pay? No."

However, he warned that IPSA's plans could include a provision obliging MPs to accept the pay increase to avoid MPs receiving different levels of pay.

The SDLP was the only party in the Assembly to turn down a £5,000 increase in June.

However, both the DUP and the Alliance Party voiced their opposition to a salary hike for MPs yesterday.

"We have said that our position is that we are opposed to it. That still stands 100%," Nigel Dodds, DUP MP for North Belfast, said.

A spokesman for Naomi Long said the Alliance MP had already stated her opposition to the proposed rise.

BACKGROUND

In 2009 seven DUP MPs were asked to pay back a total of more than £14,000 in expenses under a reassessment of claims by an independent auditor.

William McCrea, DUP MP for South Antrim, was asked to repay the most, more than £5,000.

Among the other parties, then-MP Martin McGuinness, Lady Hermon and Mark Durkan were also asked to make repayments.

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