Belfast Telegraph

McDonnell 'sorry' for pay comments

The under-pressure leader of the SDLP has apologised after calling for a pay rise for politicians.

Alasdair McDonnell faced criticism from party colleagues, political rivals and some members of the public when he said elected representatives deserved improved salaries and a better pension deal.

The South Belfast MP and former GP, who was elected leader of the nationalist party last November, was accused of insensitivity given the financial problems facing so many working people in the current economic climate. Stormont Assembly members are paid £43,000 a year.

Dr McDonnell acknowledged he had caused offence and stressed that SDLP policy was opposed to pay rises for MLAs.

"My choice of words over the last two days, without explaining the wider context, has caused offence to the public and party members and for that I am sorry," he said.

"As those who know me are aware, poverty, job loss and protecting those most vulnerable are at the very top of my agenda.

"These realities have never been more relevant than they are now in the midst of this recession and they are issues that I deal with daily in my South Belfast constituency.

"Just a few short weeks ago, my party colleagues who also tackle these problems on a daily basis stood shoulder to shoulder with workers campaigning against threats to pensions.

"It was in this context that I pointed out that absolutely no one is immune from financial hardship when they lose their jobs. That said, SDLP party policy is that there should be no pay rises for MLAs.

"Let me be clear: under my leadership, the SDLP will continue to fight the real threats to our people and those are job cuts and poverty."

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