Belfast Telegraph

MLAs pocket £275k for travel to Stormont despite its suspension

More than £275,000 has been paid to MLAs for travel from their constituencies to Stormont from April 2017 until June 2018 despite the fact that the Assembly hasn't sat since January 2017
More than £275,000 has been paid to MLAs for travel from their constituencies to Stormont from April 2017 until June 2018 despite the fact that the Assembly hasn't sat since January 2017
Victoria Leonard

By Victoria Leonard

More than £275,000 has been paid to MLAs for travel from their constituencies to Stormont from April 2017 until June 2018 despite the fact that the Assembly hasn't sat since January 2017.

The figures, which were published on the Assembly website, reveal that Members were paid a total of £277,466.27 in a period in which Stormont was in stasis.

MLAs still use the building for a variety of purposes including meetings, talks to try and restore devolution and constituency issues.

Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O'Neill was paid £5,374.95, while SDLP leader Colum Eastwood was paid £7,375.01.

DUP leader Arlene Foster and her Alliance counterpart Naomi Long are among the MLAs who are listed as having received no payment for travel to Parliament Buildings.

Assembly Members are entitled to an annual allowance for travel from their constituency to Stormont, which is determined by the constituency they represent. This ranges from £600 in Belfast to £6,200 in Fermanagh and South Tyrone.

In 2016 the Independent Financial Review Panel ruled that MLAs are entitled to the full allowance if they attend the Assembly for 72 or more working days a year.

For each working day less than this that the Member attends, the allowance is reduced by one per cent.

However, the number of days needed is due to rise to 100 amid concerns that the existing rules are not appropriate during the political stalemate.

An MLA is not entitled to an allowance if they use an official car for travelling to the Assembly, and if a member uses an official car for part of the year, the allowance is reduced accordingly.

The figures also reveal that MLAs were paid a total of £79,742.08 in travel expenses within their constituencies between April 2017 and June 2018.

Allowances range from £250 in Belfast to £1,250 in Fermanagh and South Tyrone.

Details of constituency office expenses have been made public too.

MLAs received a total of £1,563,602.74 between April 2017 and June 2018.

In addition, some MLAs were paid resettlement or ill health allowances totalling £326,668.33.

SDLP MLA John Dallat, former deputy chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said that it was difficult to justify any expenses when Stormont was not up and running.

He told the Belfast Telegraph: "The longer the Assembly is not functioning the more ridiculous it becomes and the more angry the public feel, and they have every justification.

"In my constituency I am working flat out and I am doing a lot of travelling for which I haven't claimed any money.

"These figures make a good argument for getting the Assembly back up and functioning as soon as possible. The Assembly is not the best value for money at the moment."

Last month Secretary of State Karen Bradley announced that MLAs' salaries are facing a reduction of more than £13,000.

Salaries will be cut by more than £7,000 from November and a further reduction of more than £6,000 will come into force from February if parties cannot agree to Stormont's restoration.

The initial reduction will see MLAs' salaries fall from £49,500 to £35,888, followed by a further reduction of £6,187.

It has now been 21 months since Stormont collapsed after the late Martin McGuinness resigned as Deputy First Minister in protest against the DUP's handling of the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme.

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