Belfast Telegraph

MLAs will get pay rise whether they like it or not

By Adrian Rutherford

The Assembly will be powerless to stop an 11% hike in MLAs’ wages, despite all the major parties opposing the recommendations, it has been claimed.

The news comes amid a furious public backlash to proposals, which will see members’ pay rise by nearly £5,000, with the increase funded by hefty cuts to constituency services.

The recommendations of the independent review body have been criticised by the DUP, Sinn Fein, Ulster Unionists, SDLP and Alliance Party.

Last night the parties were considering their next step in response to Wednesday’s controversial announcement.

However, speculation that the recommendations could be the subject of a legal challenge were dismissed by one MLA.

SDLP representative Alban Maginness, who is a former barrister, said there was “no way” the body’s proposals could be challenged in the courts.

“Absolutely not — this was an independent body, its recommendations are binding on the Assembly and the Assembly cannot do anything about it,” he said.

Other legal experts suggested a judicial review would be unlikely because there would be an onus to show the review body’s decision was unreasonable.

On Thursday night an SDLP source indicated there was little the party could do to stop the rise being implemented — despite being opposed to the recommendations.

Meanwhile a DUP source said he was “not aware of any discussion of a legal challenge”.

A Sinn Fein spokesman said the party “will be discussing all options” on Monday.

The Ulster Unionists said they would discuss the matter “in due course”.

An Alliance spokesman said the party was looking at ways in which the Assembly could redirect the salary increase towards the shortfall in constituency services funding.

However, panel spokesman Pat McCartan said the MLAs were free to hand back the pay rise.

He said all anyone had to do was pick up the phone and tell the clerk of the Assembly what salary they wanted to accept.

“If they do that money goes back to the public purse,” he said.

Factfile

Key decisions by the Independent Financial Review Panel:

  • An increase of £4,898 (11%) in the salary of MLAs, with effect from next April
  • Office expenses reduced by 3% a year from £75,857 to £69,238 by April 2014
  • MLAs who are also councillors will have 100% of their basic councillor allowance deducted from their MLA salary by next April
  • MLAs who are also MPs will have Assembly Office Costs expenses cut from £37,928 per year to £8,655 by April 2014

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