Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein calls for 15% pay cut for Stormont MLAs and ministers

By Noel McAdam

Assembly Members and ministers should take a 15% pay cut in the next year, Sinn Fein has urged.

The party says politicians must be seen to "share the pain" of the public which votes for them, and urged all parties to consider the move.

It said the 15% cut should apply to party special advisers, and there should also be an end to the extra remuneration given to the chairs of Assembly committees.

Daithi McKay, chair of the committee which monitors Finance Minister Simon Hamilton, said: "It is important that the Assembly sends a message out to the public.

"People are suffering and having to deal with the rising cost of living and, until recently, the rising cost of oil.

"There is also the rising cost of food and so on," the North Antrim MLA added.

"They expect that we should take some of the pain as well."

The SDLP's MLAs were the only party to refuse last year's 11% pay hike, along with lone Ulster Unionist Michael Copeland.

Sinn Fein said that increase would go into central party coffers.

The party also supported an amendment from independent unionist John McCallister voicing concern over the prospect of 20,000 redundancies in the Civil Service and public sector.

TUV leader Jim Allister said Northern Ireland was the only place where parties which formed the Government could also vote against its budget - referring to the UUP, SDLP and Alliance.

"It is unheard of anywhere else and illustrates the absurdity of the system we have," he claimed.

He said NI was now in possession of the "ignoble title" of the biggest borrower in the devolved regions and was concerned about the level of debt being passed onto future generations.

Mr McCallister, the former NI21 deputy leader, replied: "Absolutely."

He said with £2,000 more per head being spent in NI compared to Scotland and Wales "we have been very generously looked after by our fellow UK citizens and we still want more".

The South Down independent warned the exit scheme could lead to a brain drain of top civil servants and a repeat of the Patten reforms of the PSNI which ended up with having to bring the same people back in.

"Why would the public have confidence in this Executive given its track record?" he asked.

Alliance MLA Judith Cochrane said: "The budget that is before us is not the balanced budget that the Stormont House Agreement called for." She urged a more strategic and radical approach.

Finance Minister Mr Hamilton said the budget placed finances on a more secure footing for the future.

Background

Following the Stormont House Agreement, agreed by the five main parties in December, borrowing is set to increase to £1,000 per head of population - twice the upper limit of Scotland. But the Finance Minister warned that despite increased access to loans, NI still "does not have the luxury of excess in our budgets, we have to do more with less." Asking for the Assembly's approval of the budget, Simon Hamilton said: "I am sure many will disagree with this budget."

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