Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: McDonnell's MLA sums must add up

Dr Alasdair McDonnell, the new SDLP leader, has created an unnecessary storm with his call for substantial pay and pension increases for MLAs.

The issue of salaries is being reviewed by an independent panel and he would have been well advised to let it make recommendations before commenting publicly.

While there is merit in arguing that the current basic MLA salary of £43,000 is not a king's ransom and that many politicians could earn more away from Stormont, openly campaigning for a substantial increase in these times of austerity does not go down well with the public. Politician's salaries are well in excess of the average wage in the province and, with unemployment soaring, many workers experiencing pay freezes or reductions in salary and still uncertain about future prospects, there is little support for a pay increase.

That is not to deny that politicians work hard on behalf of their constituents or that many work long hours but there is a general feeling that the political system here is not as productive as it could be. Critics will point to long fallow periods at Stormont with little legislation passed and much time taken up with political point-scoring.

They will also note that politicians in the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales carry a much heavier workload than their counterparts here. Proportional to our population we have three times as many representatives here as in Wales and two and a half times more than in Scotland. The politicians in those two administrations get paid more, and that, perhaps, is the answer to Dr McDonnell's plea.

If MLAs are to get substantial pay increases here then it can only be at the expense of trimming their number very substantially. Is that an equation the politicians are willing to consider?

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