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SDLP admits taking pay hike three years after vowing to reject increase

By Adrian Rutherford

Published 04/04/2015

The SDLP's health spokesman Fearghal McKinney
The SDLP's health spokesman Fearghal McKinney

SDLP Assembly members are accepting a pay hike - three years after promising they wouldn't take the extra cash.

However, MLAs have pledged they will not personally benefit from the increase.

Instead, they said the extra money will be pumped into providing constituency services.

Yet it represents a major U-turn from their previous pledge that MLAs would not take a rise.

It has led to criticism because of their grandstanding on pay hikes.

The issue first emerged in March 2012 when an independent panel decided that MLAs' pay should rise by almost £5,000.

The 11% increase to £48,000 was financed by a cut in office costs. At the time, SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell said his party did not support an 11% hike.

"It would be plain wrong for MLAs to accept a pay increase at a time when people in our communities are suffering and dole queues are lengthening," Mr McDonnell said in 2012.

Last year it emerged 13 SDLP MLAs had refused the £5,000 increase to their salaries. At the time the party's Foyle MLA Mark H Durkan said: "Actions speak louder than words and we have all refused to take it."

However, it has emerged that MLAs have now accepted the wage rise.

Speaking to the BBC's Nolan Show, SDLP MLA Fearghal McKinney said they had taken the pay rise to offset the cut.

Mr McKinney said if they had not, jobs would have been lost.

"We got cut by £6,000 - it began to bite and it began to bite very, very hard," he said. "The pay review body turned round to us and said 'read our lips, you're getting no more money from the £6,000, in fact you're getting another £1,000 cut next year'

"Now there's a pot of money over there that you can use to save those jobs'."

DUP MP Gregory Campbell said the SDLP should not have lectured other parties at the time.

"It would have been better had they not been making a virtue out of saying they weren't going to take the money," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"Had they made the caveat then that they are making now, there would not have been any criticism.

"But taking Mark H Durkan at his word, about judging them on their actions and not their words, that is unfortunately for them what people will do now - judge them on their actions."

And Mr Campbell added: "Their actions are that they are now doing what they said very vociferously they wouldn't do."

Factfile

MLAs drew a total of £5,831,965 in salaries last year. Their basic pay of £48,000 totalled £4,980,099, however, some MLAs receive more because they hold positions of responsibility. MLAs who are committee chairs get £60,000, while deputy chairs get £48,000. Junior ministers get £60,000 while ministers get £86,000. The First and Deputy First Ministers are entitled to £120,000 each. Currently, Members of the Scottish Parliament receive a £53,091 basic salary, Welsh Assembly Members receive £54,000, although this will rise by £10,000 next year. Westminster MPs receive £67,060.

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