Belfast Telegraph

If Assembly isn't up and running soon we should all be paid off, says MLA Poots

By Suzanne Breen

A former DUP minster has said the Assembly should be scrapped and MLAs paid off if there isn't a deal to restore power-sharing soon.

Lagan Valley MLA Edwin Poots revealed he was looking for a new job - and advised his colleagues to do the same rather than pinning their hopes on devolution being salvaged.

An independent review of MLAs' pay has recommended it be reduced by £13,000 to £36,000.

Mr Poots said: "I don't see any point in a pay cut.

"Rather than keeping MLAs hanging around, it would be better if they were paid off and allowed to go about their business.

"They shouldn't be paid unless there is a shadow Assembly to scrutinise direct rule ministers.

"Retaining MLAs in other circumstances is a waste of their time and of public money."

Mr Poots said he had already looked for a new career path.

"I've had discussions about what I might do and several opportunities are on the table", he stated - but declined to say what they were.

Green Party leader Steven Agnew said a pay cut was right since a significant part of an MLA's job had disappeared, but admitted that it would cause him personal difficulties.

"Most people would find it hard to have their pay cut by that proportion and they wouldn't be able to cushion it," he said.

"I have a mortgage, child-care costs for two children, and bills like everybody else," he said.

"When I got re-elected, I took out a loan to have work done to my home.

"I thought I would have five years to pay it off."

The North Down MLA said the looming pay cut had caused "worry and stress" and that cutbacks like "packing your own lunch rather than eating in the canteen" wouldn't be enough.

He is continuing in politics but seeking additional work.

Mr Agnew is offering consultancy services on "leadership for social change" to voluntary and community organisations "whose ethos and values are in line with those of the Green Party".

People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll said politicians worried about having their salaries reduced to £36,000 were "completely out of touch with the living conditions of ordinary people".

"Whole communities are struggling to get by from month to month - many have to top up their wages with working tax credits," he said.

"Why should MLAs earn more than double the people they are meant to represent?"

The West Belfast representative said he took home an average worker's wage, "but even that wage is more than many people in my constituency can expect to earn".

He added: "If MLAs say they cannot live on £36,000, then many will wonder what lifestyle they were living in the first place."

Alliance MLA Kellie Armstrong said she would remain in politics despite a likely pay cut.

Until 2016, Ms Armstrong was Northern Ireland director of the Community Transport Association, working with 3,500 volunteers organising transport for older people and the disabled.

"I left a perfectly good job, knowing the risks, to run for the Assembly," she said.

"Not for one second have I thought of leaving politics, despite the present situation.

"People voted for me and I've no intention of walking away.

"To even think of doing another job would distract me from concentrating on the one I was elected to do.

"A threatened pay cut isn't nice but it should have happened a long time ago because there is no working Assembly.

"Nurses, teachers, and those in the community and voluntary sector are facing tough times and they don't walk away."

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