Belfast Telegraph

Karen Bradley accused of ‘waffle’ after deferring cut to Northern Ireland MLAs’ pay

By Suzanne Breen

Secretary of State Karen Bradley has been accused of "waffle" after she postponed taking a decision to cut MLAs' pay.

Alan McQuillan, who sat on the panel that set Stormont politicians' salaries and expenses, said most ordinary people were "outraged" by the government's failure to act.

Mrs Bradley last night told the House of Commons that she was "minded" to cut MLAs' pay by 27.5% but would consult with the local parties before making a final decision.

She said she would seek to introduce legislation in Parliament that would allow her to vary MLAs' salaries but she did not set a date for doing so.

Mr McQuillan said: "The Secretary of State is correct when she says she needs legislation to change MLAs' pay.

"However, we have seen no sense of urgency or direction from her on this issue. She says she wants to hear the parties' views on the matter.

"After that, the government may well say that it's difficult finding time to introduce legislation in Westminster because of Brexit matters.

"Then, it will be summer recess and in the autumn we will likely hear that there is the possibility of fresh Stormont talks. It's all waffle, waffle, waffle."

A former member of the Independent Financial Review Panel, Mr McQuillan added: "Most ordinary people are beyond being fed up with it all - they are outraged.

"The Secretary of State is desperate to keep the DUP happy and Sinn Fein well funded and within the fold. The Stormont institutions haven't functioned for 14 months.

"To continue as we are doing regarding pay is completely unacceptable."

Mrs Bradley indicated yesterday that she was willing to examine ways of giving MLAs some form of scrutiny role on Westminster decisions, even if they were not part of a fully functioning legislature. Such a scenario could provide a half-way house style arrangement between devolution and direct rule.

"I would welcome the views and proposals of the Northern Ireland parties and others on how such arrangements - providing for local decision-making and scrutiny, on a cross-community basis - might be achieved in the continued absence of an executive," she said.

The Secretary of State said she would keep under review her statutory obligation to call an election.

Last year, the Government commissioned former Assembly chief executive Trevor Reaney to examine the issue of MLAs' pay.

Before Christmas, Mr Reaney recommended the 27.5% cut, a move that would take the standard salary rate of £49,500 down to £35,888 in two stages.

Mrs Bradley told the Commons she would seek to introduce legislation at Westminster that would hand her the power to vary MLA pay.

"I am minded to reduce pay in line with the Reaney Review recommendation, but I would welcome full and final representations from the Northern Ireland parties before I make a final decision," she added.

The Secretary of State also announced that a cap to stem money paid out through the Renewable Heat Incentive would be extended for another year.

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said it was right that Mrs Bradley was taking a series of decisions "for the good government of Northern Ireland".

He said: "This is long overdue but is very necessary. I also welcome that she is willing to look at arrangements providing for local decision making and scrutiny on a cross-community basis."

Sinn Fein MLA Conor Murphy said: "It's clear that neither the British Secretary of State nor the British Tory Government has any plan to restore the political institutions on the basis of rights and equality."

On MLAs' salaries, Mr Murphy said: "Sinn Fein has consistently made it clear that MLAs' pay should be reviewed if the Assembly is not re-established in the short-term and that is clearly not the case following the DUP's reneging on an agreement."

SDLP deputy leader Nichola Mallon said it was yet another vague statement from Mrs Bradley.

"After 14 months without a government, people here are sick and tired of soundbites and fudge. There is absolutely no certainty or clarity offered in this statement on what's next," she said.

"Despite the fact that the Good Friday Agreement offers a way forward through the convening of the intergovernmental conference, the Secretary of State continues to choose a path of political drift rather than one of political solutions."

Belfast Telegraph

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