The DUP has hit back after attacks from rival unionist parties over Peter Robinson’s announcement that senior party figures will be able to double up as MPs and MLAs for up to another six years.
In an exclusive interview with the Belfast Telegraph yesterday, the First Minister confirmed MPs can also stay on at Stormont beyond both next year’s General Election and the Assembly race in 2011 — but would have to give up their Stormont salaries.
Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey accused the DUP leader of an embarrassing climbdown and Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister said the DUP had pledged to end dual mandates “just to get through” the European election in which he lost his seat.
But the DUP replied that both Sir Reg and Mr Allister have been double-jobbers themselves.
“Reg Empey is in no position to attack other people, being a councillor and an Assembly Member,” a party statement said.
“As for Mr Allister, he did legal work during his time as an MEP — so he was a double-jobber too! The DUP is focused on doing what's best for Northern Ireland, while these two has-beens are focused on attacking the DUP. How sad.”
UUP Assembly deputy leader Danny Kennedy said the DUP had missed the point over double-jobbing. “It is not just about the money and the double salaries and expenses, it is also about not short-changing the public by giving them part-time MPs and about not being able to be in two places doing two jobs at once,” the Newry and Armagh MLA said.
“This represents another amazing U-turn by the DUP after they officially said they would abandon double-jobbing within hours of Conservative Leader David Cameron’s statement that he would ban it if he became Prime Minister, and following the DUP’s bad result in the European election.”
Mr Allister, who is in the United States, pointed out that before the Euro poll Mr Robinson had said: “It is simply not possible to sustain and fully perform multiple roles whether they involve other elected positions or indeed interests outside Parliament the workload is too great and there are not enough hours in the day to do multiple jobs.”
The TUV boss said: “When the DUP leader said that I imagine most people thought he meant the practice would end at the next Westminster election.
“It is now evident that this is not the case and that double-jobbing will remain a defining characteristic of the DUP — in spite of their promises to the contrary — for years to come.
“Of course, the people of Northern Ireland are well used to hearing the DUP say one thing and doing the opposite.”
Mr Robinson, however, explained: “Anybody who remains after the Westminster election in both the Assembly and Westminster will not take their Assembly salary, so there will be no pecuniary advantage to the individual of being in the two institutions. They will be doing if for the sake of devolution or their party organisation
“There are people I know who want to be doing one job but their constituency associations are saying to them we need you for an additional term, so we’re resolving those issues within the party and attempting to reduce those figures as quickly as we can. But they’ll be down to zero by the following Westminster election.”
l In our reports from the Ulster Unionist conference yesterday we reported that the event was described as a “sell out” by South Belfast association chairman Bill White. The remarks were in fact made by party chairman David Campbell. We are happy to provide clarification.