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I'm embarrassed: UUP's Stewart says salaries 'can't go on' as MLAs notch up £1.1m in pay

By Jonathan Bell

An MLA has said he is embarrassed that he and the 89 others elected in March are still being paid - despite the Northern Ireland political institutions being in limbo.

It comes as MLAs received their third pay packet since the election. Each MLA is paid £49,500 annually, meaning over £1.1million has been paid out to them since March.

They have spent 45 minutes in the Assembly chamber.

Talks aimed at breaking the deadlock to restore the institutions have been paused to allow for the General Election, however, some commentators have said a return of Assembly politics by the end of the year is unlikely.

Sinn Fein has repeatedly said the "status quo" can not continue and has refused to go into government again with Arlene Foster as first minister as long as the RHI inquiry continues its work.

Newly elected East Antrim MLA John Stewart said pay could not continue.

"It can't go on," he told the BBC.

"I hope first and foremost that it (the Executive) is up and running again as soon as possible.

"I am personally embarrassed that we are not functioning as a legislative body up there and getting paid for that. At constituency level work never stops being done but I appreciate frustration people have that we don't have a functioning government.

"It is my and my party's determination to get the Executive back up and running as quickly as possible."

The MLA said continuing to pay salaries was "not feasible in the long term".

He said MLAs should have a "long enough time" to hold negotiations to get the Executive up again and restore the institutions but that the snap Westminster election "had not helped that process".

The politician would not be drawn on how long the situation should continue, but laughed off a suggestion of a five year period - the length of time MLAs were paid during the longest period of suspension of the institutions.

"There was a time when anything would have been done to keep the institutions up and running but this is not on," he added.

"I honestly believe people can not go on being paid while there is no legislative work being done."

Following the Assembly vote, former PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Alan McQuillan, who sat on the Independent Financial Review Panel which set out MLA standards, called for MLAs to be served with a three-month notice in order to speed up the process of restoring devolution.

"We can't have the situation that dragged on before that pay continued for five years and nothing was done. Salary should stop but notice should be given now so that the MLAs' staff know what is happening," he said.

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