Belfast Telegraph

One Northern Ireland MLA abstained in vote calling for halt to pay rise

By Jonathan Bell

Northern Ireland Assembly members voted to stop a planned pay increase - bar one who abstained, the BBC has reported.

Speaker Robin Newton, on behalf of the commission has written to the Secretary of State to call for the planned April 1 pay increase for MLAs - which will see their pay hit £50,000 a year - to be stopped given the lack of a Northern Ireland government.

The Belfast Telegraph revealed MLAs received a pay rise last April and are set to receive a further increase of £500 in the coming weeks.

The BBC reported that of the six commission members - which counts among its number representatives from all the parties - there was one abstention in the vote to approve the letter.

That was the DUP's Jim Wells.

He told the BBC the item was not on the agenda and wanted more time to consult with his party before voting. He stressed he was not opposed to the letter being sent to Mrs Bradley or to its contents.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Mr Wells said he abstained on the basis of "purely procedural means". He said he wanted to consult with the party before last Tuesday's vote.

"The Assembly Commission deals with a range of complex issues," he said, "and I wasn't even given five minutes to consult with the party.

"We were discussing pension matters and it was brought up that maybe we should write to the Secretary of State on this pay rise and I don't feel it is right for matters to be brought up on the hoof in this way.  Had it been on the agenda for the next meeting I would have consulted with he party on it.

Jim Wells abstained in a vote over calling for MLA pay rise to be halted.

"This was one of those issues the party should take a position on and I needed time to consult with it.

"Since then Nigel Dodds has made a definitive statement and set out the party position and made it clear MLA pay is untenable. We have no objections and support a pay cut for MLAs in line with the Trevor Reaney report which recommended a cut of 27.5%."

Secretary of State Karen Bradley said on Monday she was "minded" to cut the pay of MLAs in line with the December Reaney report which recommended a cut in recognition of the lack of legislative work representatives do given the political impasse.

The issue of MLAs pay is set in legislation and requires Parliament to act to both halt the pay rise and change pay terms. Should Mrs Bradley not move legislation within the coming weeks the pay increase could go ahead.

However, Jim Wells said should that happen he was confident the Secretary of State would act to reverse the pay increase retrospectively.

The Northern Ireland Office has been asked to comment.

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