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MLAs agree to return or give £1k pay rise to charity

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MLAs have been awarded a £1,000 pay rise despite the Assembly not sitting for three years (PA)

MLAs have been awarded a £1,000 pay rise despite the Assembly not sitting for three years (PA)

MLAs have been awarded a £1,000 pay rise despite the Assembly not sitting for three years (PA)

Northern Ireland's MLAs have agreed to either give their £1k pay increase to charity or return it to the public purse.

It comes after public outcry when it was revealed that MLAs were to receive the increase, just days after returning to Stormont from a three-year absence.

Salaries for MLAs are set to rise from £49,500 to £50,500 per year.

In a joint statement following a meeting of the Assembly Commission on Thursday, Northern Ireland's five main parties "recognised the public concern" in relation to the pay rise.

The statement said that no MLA or party supported an increase in MLA salaries but they were automatically applied by the Independent Financial Review Panel (IFRP).

It said that despite opposition the pay rises could not be halted and the "Assembly Commission is legally required to pay them to MLAs".

The five parties have agreed that MLA salaries should be determined independently, and that no salary increase should be retained until a review of the IFRP is completed or an election is held.

"In the meantime, inflationary increases to MLA salaries should be returned either to the public purse (through the Commission to the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund) or donated to charitable causes s eg through Give As You Earn," the statement read.

Sinn Fein chief whip John O'Dowd said the independence of the Independent Financial Review Panel was paramount.

"The next issue we wanted to answer was how we ensure that MLAs did not profit from the inflationary increase that was awarded by that body and we have put in place a very simple mechanism where the MLAs can return that money," he said.

SDLP chief whip Colin McGrath said the commission was unable to stop the rise being implemented.

"That money is going to come to us, that is set in law," he said.

"But the parties have worked hard together today and have now set in stone a process which will enable us to give that money back."

Mr McGrath said a new salary review panel was due to be constituted.

"Should that panel not make any determinations before the end of this mandate each of the increases that come in on the first of April will move into this scheme, so there will be extra money for charities or extra money for the public purse. Because it is unjustifiable at this stage that it goes to MLAs."

Assembly Speaker Alex Maskey said he was "encouraged by the constructive cooperation which the parties have shown to deal resolutely with this difficult issue".

The IFRP was established in July 2011 by the Assembly Members (Independent Financial Review and Standards) Act (Northern Ireland) 2011.

The panel makes determinations in relation to the salaries, allowances and pensions payable to members of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

It meets at the beginning of every Assembly term and sets pay and increases for the next five years. However, it last sat in March 2016 and set the current pay levels and increases up until April 2020.

In 2016 the panel announced salaries would increase from £48,000 to £49,000 and by £500 each April if inflation was greater than 1%.

The panel is fully independent and is not subject to the control of either the NI Assembly or the Assembly Commission.

Belfast Telegraph