Stormont party leaders are being asked for their views on a proposed pay rise deal for Assembly members, it has been revealed.
The discussions will involve a recently tabled four-year plan that would increase MLA salaries through phased upgrades totalling £3,000, and annual increases.
The package was drawn up by the Senior Salaries Review Body (SSRB), a London-based organisation that examines pay levels for UK politicians.
Its report, published in December, also proposed reforms to the Stormont expenses system.
The SSRB’s recommendations have been discussed by the cross-party Assembly Commission, with members agreeing to consult with their parties on them.
Speaker William Hay will hold further discussions with party leaders on the way forward.
MLAs currently receive £43,381 a year — 70% of an MP’s salary.
The SSRB report proposed a £3,000 lift over four years to bring the Stormont level up to 75% of the MP figure. MLAs would also receive the annual pay rises awarded to MPs in these years.
It is accepted at Stormont that discussions on pay and expenses are coming at a sensitive time due to the deepening recession. There will inevitably be calls for members to turn down any pay rise package, or defer deliberations.
Those arguing for an increase believe a higher salary could help ensure a good calibre of candidates at the next election.
MLA pay slipped behind that of counterparts in Scotland and Wales while devolution was suspended between 2002 and 2007.
However, the SSRB pointed out that Northern Ireland has the lowest ratio of constituents to elected representative of the UK legislatures, with just over 16,000 constituents per MLA. This compares to 40,000 per member of the Edinburgh Parliament and 50,000 per Cardiff Assembly member.
Other SSRB recommendations for Stormont included a phased £4,800 increase in the salaries of the First Ministers, and a £1,800 lift for other ministers.