Belfast Telegraph

SDLP's Attwood still drawing £55k pay despite losing his job as MLA

 

By Victoria Leonard

Former MLA Alex Attwood is still receiving his £55,000 salary as a member of the Assembly Commission - three-and-a-half months after he lost his West Belfast seat.

The veteran SDLP politician failed to get elected in the March election, and has not been paid the basic £49,500 MLA's salary since the election on March 3.

But under the Northern Ireland Act 1998, members of the Assembly Commission remain in office until their replacements are appointed.

This means that Mr Attwood continues to receive a £55,000 salary as a member of the Assembly Commission - despite the loss of his Assembly seat.

With the Assembly in limbo, no new Assembly Commission can been elected, and Mr Attwood's salary continues to be paid. There is no suggestion that Mr Attwood has done anything illegal, as this is entirely in accordance with the Act.

The Assembly Commission's function is to ensure that the Assembly has the property, staff and services required to carry out its work.

The other four members of the Assembly Commission - the DUP's Jim Wells, Sinn Fein's Alex Maskey, the UUP's Robin Swann and Alliance's Stewart Dickson - also continue to draw their £55,000 salaries. Speaker Robin Newtown of the DUP receives a £61,000 salary.

However, unlike Mr Attwood, they held on to their Assembly seats in the March election.

All of the 90 MLAs elected to the Assembly in March continue to be paid their basic £49,500 salary despite the fact that the Assembly is not currently sitting.

The Belfast Telegraph made several attempts to contact Mr Attwood yesterday, but received no response. An SDLP spokesperson said: "Alex Attwood is a member of the Assembly Commission and continues to represent the party in that role.

"The SDLP has been unable to appoint a different MLA to the role, as the collapse of the Assembly has rendered a change in the appointment not possible in the absence of the institutions.

"Mr Attwood wrote to the Chief Executive of the Assembly to confirm that, as of the end of June 2017, only the allowance in respect of membership of the Assembly's Commission should be paid, in the event that there is not restoration of the Assembly at that time.

"In his correspondence Mr Attwood advised that any payments other than those due to membership of the Assembly Commission would be returned.

"Contributions to charity have been made by Mr Attwood.

"Alex Attwood has been the SDLP lead on legacy issues for a long time and since March has continued working on legacy issues and to contribute on legacy in the talks. For example, this week Mr Attwood drafted four legacy papers that were forwarded to both Governments; he and Dolores Kelly also met the Victims' Forum and he has attended meetings with Government officials and other groups. When the institutions are restored, another MLA will be appointed to the Commission by the SDLP."

A Northern Ireland Assembly booklet entitled Guidance for Members During an Assembly Election Campaign, which was published in January 2017, states: "Assembly Commission Members cease to hold office when a new Assembly Commission is appointed, which can occur at any time in a period of 28 days from the first meeting of the Assembly.

"Salaries, including office holders' salaries, will be payable up to and including the date of appointment of the new Assembly Commission."

An Assembly spokesperson confirmed that the Assembly Commission Speaker also: "remains in post and continues to receive his salary until he ceases to hold his post with the election of a new Speaker."

TUV MLA Jim Allister said that the present system of payments to members of the Commission who no longer continue to hold office should be reviewed and measures introduced to prevent such ongoing payments.

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