Belfast Telegraph

No offence Arlene Foster, but it's disgrace MLAs still paid, says man who helped set their salary

By Suzanne Breen

A member of the watchdog that sets MLAs' pay has repeated his call for their salaries to be stopped, as Arlene Foster said the threat of reducing wages shouldn't be used against politicians.

The DUP leader told BBC Radio Ulster's Sunday News programme that reducing salaries couldn't be used "as a stick" to secure a deal, and the idea of pay cuts as an incentive was "quite offensive".

But Alan McQuillan - who sat on Stormont's Independent Financial Review Panel - last night hit back at Mrs Foster's comments.

"Not having a government is offensive," he said. "Not having anybody at Stormont to approve cancer tests and drugs which could save lives is offensive.

"Not having politicians doing the job they are well paid to do is offensive.

"The mock fight taking place between the DUP and Sinn Fein as urgent issues in health, education and the economy go unaddressed is offensive.

"Northern Ireland is being held to ransom by its politicians and it's time the British Government said 'enough is enough' and stopped their pay."

SDLP deputy leader Nichola Mallon last night said nobody "should be paid for a job they are not doing".

She stated that if the DUP and Sinn Fein couldn't "get a deal over the line", London and Dublin must outline their proposals for moving the situation forward.

Northern Ireland Secretary of State James Brokenshire last week said he would consider a pay review if the current political deadlock wasn't broken.

But Mr McQuillan, a former PSNI Assistant Chief Constable, claimed the Government was reluctant to take action.

"James Brokenshire clearly doesn't want to cut MLAs' pay," he said.

"On the one hand, we have the DUP with a political knife to the Government's throat at Westminster. On the other hand, the Government has spent 20 years supporting Sinn Fein building itself up financially and they don't want to throw that away.

"But the reality is we have no government. There is nobody to approve the new bowel cancer test that could save lives. There is nobody to approve potentially lifesaving drugs for cancer patients.

"It's shameful how our politicians are behaving and it's shameful the British Government, the real government, isn't intervening."

In her BBC interview yesterday, Mrs Foster said cutting MLAs' salaries couldn't be used "as a stick" to secure a deal.

"It is quite offensive, I have to say, to those of us who have stood for election, who want to get on with the job of government, that people think if they make a threat of pay reduction that it will act as some sort of incentive," she said.

The DUP leader insisted that if anybody thought "the threat of reducing my pay is in some way going to make an agreement more possible - they don't really understand me and they don't really understand the people that stand for election".

Mrs Foster said the pay issue would have to "be reassessed if there is no government or if there is no prospect of government".

She said that, despite useful, intensive talks between the DUP and Sinn Fein recently, there were still "significant issues" between the two parties.

She was "very disappointed" at Sinn Fein's rejection of her proposal to legislate for the Irish language within a set time period if the Executive was restored immediately. Mrs Foster denied the offer was "too little, to late".

She said: "Sinn Fein has decided to ring-fence the free-standing Irish Language Act in a way that, frankly, makes it impossible for those of us who want to move forward but see that this is just being used as a way to humiliate unionism and those of us who believe in the British way of life."

Sinn Fein MLA John O'Dowd said the DUP leader needed to "make her mind up" on the Irish language.

"She has said no one has anything to fear from the Irish language and then claims that an Act would be a humiliation for unionists. That's simply preposterous," he said.

"It's well past time to stop talking about restoring the Executive and get on with the task of doing it."

Meanwhile, the Ulster Unionist Councillors Association unanimously supported a motion at the weekend stating there was no need for an Irish Language Act.

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