Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland MLAs' pay should continue, says Labour's Owen Smith

Labour's shadow Northern Ireland secretary of state Owen Smith has said MLAs' salaries should continue.

The MP told Secretary of State James Brokenshire to resist pressure to cut salaries in the House of Commons saying politicians were needed to bring about power-showering again and to cut pay would undermine that.

"It is a short term and populist step," he told the BBC Stephen Nolan show on Friday morning.

"Ultimately it will be a long term dis-benefit to the people of Northern Ireland unless you subscribe to the view we don't need politicians and want to leave the running of things to the civil servants.

"But long term if people thought about that, they wouldn't want it either.... ultimately people want decisions to be accountable."

He said it wasn't realistic to stop pay while expecting the politicians to continue talking, describing calls for pay to end as a "distraction". He said there was a need to keep the experience and acumen in the political arena in Northern Ireland.

"The leverage has to be political," he continued. "The leverage has to be from the people that want them to serve Northern Ireland and their communities should be putting pressure on them to do a deal in order to exercise power accountably on their behalf.

"Cutting their pay would just frankly a sop to people who are arguing it would be just something to do. You may as well argue there is no need for Stormont."

Mr Smith said Mr Brokenshire's move to legislate for a budget was "tantamount to direct rule" and that the current situation could not continue for much longer.

Alan McQuillan, a former police officer who sat on the pay-setting body for MLAs, said the current system was broken.

"People in Northern Ireland that vote are disgusted that they are still getting their pay," he said.

"It brings politics into disrepute and undermines Stormont."

He added: "We have a secretary of state taking independent advice on salaries because he doesn't want to take a decision. I can understand he wants to keep politics here on some sort of a respirator. But the bottom line is this process has failed and it is sad to say that."

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