Belfast Telegraph

Watchdog wants MLAs’ pay cut off if no deal is done by deadline

By Noel McAdam

The Government should put pressure on the Stormont parties to reach a deal by threatening to stop MLAs' salaries, a public watchdog has said.

The group which formerly set their pay levels has written to Secretary of State James Brokenshire to suggest a three-month deadline is imposed after which MLAs' pay would stop.

The Independent Financial Review Body (IFRP) suggested the move could act as leverage and ensure "full probity" in terms of public finances.

Former chairman Pat McCartan said: "Three months is quite long enough to reach agreement on re-establishing the Executive."

Alan McQuillan and Etta Campbell are also members of the panel which still exists as a legal body although its official term of office has expired.

The trio understand they have not yet been replaced because Sinn Fein and the DUP have proved unable to agree a new system for overseeing Assembly expenses and pay.

Their letter to Mr Brokenshire, released yesterday, said: "Given our work and the general public disquiet expressed to the IFRP in every public consultation the panel undertook, we must strongly suggest that payments to MLAs in the absence of a functioning assembly and executive would be publicly regarded as unjustifiable.

"Also, that any future system for payments to MLAs needs strong and independent administration, supervision, and audit.

"If the Government is therefore forced to suspend the assembly by Order in Council we strongly recommend that you consider strictly limiting the period for which members may draw salaries and expenses - perhaps to a period of three months to allow completion of any negotiations. We do not even see why expenses should be paid for this period as these are supposed to relate to the management of MLAs' constituency offices and without a functioning Assembly the work that can be done in these is very limited".

Mr McCartan added: "The way to get confidence back into the Assembly is to ensure financial probity across the piece."

He argued that essentially politicians would be put on "protective notice" and denied the move would leave people without representation.

"My panel members are very committed to having a working Assembly that people can trust and which will have public esteem. This is asking the Secretary of State to use his powers to deal with the matter and at least ensure some probity in terms of public finance."

The DUP's Gregory Campbell, however, said he thought the pay issue was a distraction from the core problem of finding a resolution which would result in the restoration of devolved government. He said a decision on a pay curb would be a matter for the Secretary of State.

Speaking on the BBC Talkback programme, Mr Campbell said: "It boils down to the Secretary of State and what he would do. It would entirely be a matter for him. But it is not at the centre of the things that need to be resolved to get Stormont up and running. If that can be achieved the salary issue becomes null and void."

But Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson said it was right to apply the threat to salaries "as a pressure point".

He added: "I have heard CBI and other groups make their arguments for pressure to be put on the key players here."

An Assembly statement said: "Once those elected to the Assembly sign the Undertaking and the Member's Roll, they are entitled to receive their salaries and all other financial assistance so that they may carry out their functions as a Member.

"These functions include all of their parliamentary and constituency duties."

Basic salary of a Stormont MLA. The Speaker, ministers and committee chairs also receive an additional 'Office Holders' Salary'

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