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Cut in number of Stormont MLAs could fund 90 nurses, says Alliance

By Noel McAdam

Published 02/02/2016

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt
UUP leader Mike Nesbitt

An immediate reduction in the number of MLAs could finance 90 more PSNI officers or 90 new nurses, the Alliance Party has claimed.

Slashing the current figure of 108 Assembly members to 90 would save the public purse around £11m over five years, the party said.

A smaller Stormont is already on the cards - with only five MLAs from each constituency compared to the present six - but it will not take place until the election after next, in 2021.

Alliance, however, wants the axe to fall in time for this May's election, when the number of government departments will be cut from 12 to nine.

Sinn Fein and the DUP are likely to join forces to defeat the move, and could be supported by the SDLP which has argued that fewer MLAs will not automatically make Stormont less dysfunctional.

Former minister Alex Attwood said: "Anyone who thinks that reducing the number of members will automatically make something more efficient and effective does not recognise the scale of the issues that face the Assembly and politics in the North."

And he warned against going "down the road of further mechanisms that might, innocently or otherwise, lead to the removal of the principle of inclusion that was so denied to our politics for so long and to our people for too long".

The Ulster Unionists, TUV leader Jim Allister, Green Party leader Steven Agnew and independents John McCallister and Claire Sugden have voted against the plan being fast-tracked through the Assembly, as the bill's 'accelerated passage' continues in the Assembly today.

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said: "There is plenty of time, and rather than further overloading the remaining legislative programme, which will, as I understand it, keep us late (in the Assembly) many sitting nights, this would be a very appropriate bill to introduce as the first item of business for the next mandate after May 5."

But Alliance spokesperson Nuala McAllister said: "We are in a really bizarre situation.

"People have agreed the reduction - but are holding off until 2021."

And she asked: "Why get a power to do something and then wait five years to use it?"

The Belfast councillor said the public would like to see an £11m saving over the five years before the 2021 election which would finance 90 new police officers or 90 new nurses.

Independent unionist John McCallister argued, however: "The Assembly has teetered on the edge for a long time.

"In fact, during this mandate, we put the election off for a year.

"So why the rush?"

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