Belfast Telegraph

Taxpayers to fund fresh MLA payoffs just months after 33 of them shared £1m

By Adrian Rutherford

Taxpayers will be forced to bankroll a second wave of Stormont payoffs just 10 months after shelling out more than £1m to departing MLAs.

Thirty-three MLAs who did not return to the Assembly last May received payments to help them readjust to life outside of politics, new figures show.

One received almost £80,000. All but four got payoffs totalling more than £20,000.

The payments are made up mainly of resettlement allowances and winding-up expenditure.

Now, a second election in less than 10 months will see a fresh wave of payoffs.

The reduction in seats from 108 to 90 will see 18 MLAs not returned to Stormont on March 2 - and each will qualify for a payoff.

Several MLAs who have already announced they will not be seeking re-election will receive a payment. These include Sinn Fein's Caitriona Ruane and Catherine Seeley.

It means further expense to the public purse from a snap election that is already expected to cost £5m.

Harry Davis, the campaign manager of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: "Being an MLA is not a job for life and they know going in that they are in effect on a contract that could end at any moment.

"While the position that MLAs find themselves in is unusual, ratepayers will find it strange that so much of their cash can be paid out in so-called resettlement payments to those who lose their seats at the ballot box.

"When hard-pressed families are struggling to make ends meet, it is incumbent on all areas of the public sector to cut out wasteful spending, and a system that rewards failure needs to be challenged and reviewed."

Alliance MLA Stephen Farry said: "In one respect there will be a medium term saving because we are reducing from 108 down to 90 MLAs, so there will be a reduction in terms of salaries and office costs that flow from that."

But he added: "This is a fairly needless election. It is an election that reflects the fact that government has collapsed, as opposed to a routine election, so I think people have a right to be frustrated in terms of the money to be spent in managing that process and indulging those who have been responsible in bringing the situation to this point."

According to guidelines published on the Assembly website, an MLA can claim a resettlement allowance if they don't contest an election, or fail to be re-elected following dissolution.

"The allowance is one month's salary for each full year of service, capped at a maximum of six months' salary," it states.

The salary is that of a member only - in other words their £48,000 MLA's salary. No additional offices they have held, such as chairing an Assembly committee or acting as an Executive minister, are taken into account. Yet it could still mean someone walking away with up to £24,000.

A winding-up expense can be claimed by an MLA who stops being a Member. The maximum expense recoverable is £4,500.

The cap has been reduced from last time following a determination last year from the Independent Financial Review Panel.

The review panel was set up in 2011 to make determinations on the salaries, allowances and pensions payable to Members of the Assembly.

Details of payoffs following the 2016 election were released by the Assembly yesterday.

Resettlement payments totalled £696,331, while winding-up expenditure totalled a further £471,151.

The allowances were claimed by 32 departing MLAs, including former First Minister Peter Robinson, who received £58,318 after quitting his East Belfast seat.

The highest payment, which totalled £79,981, was claimed by Alban Maginness, a former SDLP MLA for North Belfast.

Dolores Kelly, a former Upper Bann MLA, received £65,792, and ex-Newry and Armagh MLA Dominic Bradley received £62,831.

Michael McGimpsey, who was a UUP MLA for South Belfast, received £63,549, while ex-Alliance MLA Anna Lo received £36,429.

Ex-Sinn Fein MLA Mitchel McLaughlin received £37,831, while the party's former Fermanagh-South Tyrone MLA Phil Flanagan received £25,522.

Former East Londonderry SDLP MLA John Dallat received £50,784; Jonathan Craig, who was DUP MLA for Lagan Valley, received £45,554; and John McCallister, an independent MLA for the same constituency, received £46,660.

Belfast Telegraph

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