MLAs earn twice national average as £1,000 pay hike takes salaries up to £49k
MLAs have been awarded a new £1,000-a-year pay boost - even before the next Assembly is elected.
If inflation goes above 1% their salaries are to increase by a further £500 every year, an independent panel has ruled.
The pay hike - the first for three years - takes their annual pay to £49,000, almost twice the average annual salary here.
At the same time their pension contributions are to be increased by 2% which could negate most of the additional pay.
On a per-constituent basis MLAs are paid nearly double of the salary of their Scottish counterparts and a fifth more than an Irish TD.
Last night a public spending watchdog warned the public would find the new pay increase difficult to stomach.
The Taxpayers Alliance said: "Taxpayers will find it difficult to swallow if MLAs end up getting a pay rise above the 1% public sector cap already in place."
Campaign manager Harry Davis added: "MLAs currently receive more than twice the national average wage, which was bumped up with a recent 11% rise.
"So they need to focus less on their own salaries and more on delivering the savings needed to get the country living within its means once again."
The report of the panel, chaired by Pat McCartan, said following the implementation of the May 2015 pay award for MPs in Westminster, MLAs are earning almost 65% - around two-thirds - of an MP's salary.
It continues: "However, the data also shows that Members receive a salary that is significantly more per constituent than elsewhere.
"There will always be some diseconomies of scale in a smaller jurisdiction."
The last Assembly already voted to reduce the current 108 MLAs to 90 by the time of the next election in 2020.
Even cut to 90, Stormont would remain far ahead of the Welsh Assembly, which has 60 members even though Wales is around twice the size of Northern Ireland.
In April 2013, MLAs were given the 11% increase, amounting to almost an extra £5,000 a year - which all MLAs except for the SDLP members and then Ulster Unionist Michael Copeland accepted. The panel, which also includes Alan McQuillan and Dr Etta Campbell, said it had used the same benchmarks for the latest increase - comparing salaries in other legislatures in the UK and Ireland as well as salaries in the public sector and in the private sector.
Some salaries in the Assembly are going in the opposite direction.
The next Speaker, to be appointed at the first session following the election, will receive £87,000 - the same as ministers - compared to the present £92,000.
The deputy speaker's pay is dropping from £57,000 to £55,000 while the salary of the two junior ministers will fall from £60,000 to £55,000, partly as a result of the reduced functions their department will have when the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister changes to the Executive Office, after May.
The panel concluded that the annual salary of £121,000 for the First Minister and Deputy First Minister is a "fair reward" and should remain.
"They carry a high burden in terms of making politics, the Executive and the Assembly work. They have high personal workloads," the report said.
The panel also made clear it is prepared to help develop an Opposition in the Assembly, if suggestions - particularly by Ulster Unionists and the SDLP - become a reality following the inter-party negotiations on a programme for government which will follow the May 5 election.