Robinson backs pay cut for MLAs
The Assembly needs to shoulder the cost-cutting pain hitting ordinary people, Peter Robinson has said.
Members should take a voluntary pay cut and subsidy of Stormont meals could be ended, the First Minister added. He also warned against a rapid rise in staff levels at Parliament Buildings.
The First Minister said he was speaking in his capacity as MLA for East Belfast. Critics accused him of a "solo run" and threatening the independence of the Assembly team which independently runs the legislature. They also likened Democratic Unionists to the Tea Party in the US which wants to radically roll back government.
Mr Robinson said: "What I think this motion does is to give the Assembly the opportunity to publicly state that it is going to face the same harsh economic storm along with everybody else and will seek no special or privileged position for itself. This Assembly must be seen to be taking a leadership role."
Mr Robinson has already proposed a two-year pay freeze for civil servants earning over £21,000 per year as one of a series of measures to cut back radically on public spending. He has estimated Chancellor George Osborne's spending review will remove £5 billion from the Northern Ireland economy over the next four years.
On Monday he outlined a range of further cost-cutting steps including the voluntary freezing or reducing of ministerial or Assembly member costs and ending the subsidy of Assembly meals. He also said steps should be taken to ensure there was no rapid rise in Assembly staff.
Mr Robinson said cheap meals should be targeted. "We should not be subsidising when people out there are having massive difficulties and in the months and years ahead will have even more difficulties in having money to pay for food bills," he declared.
SDLP MLA Alban Maginnis said it was "rich" of Mr Robinson to advocate cutting Assembly meal subsidies after claiming substantial sums for food at Westminster. It is a wee bit like the Lone Ranger coming without Tonto. It is him doing a solo run," he said.
Sinn Fein MLA Pat Doherty criticised Finance Minster Sammy Wilson for endorsing Monday's motion calling on the Assembly Commission to reduce its running costs. "Both ministers should have declared a conflict of interest," he said. "The member who brought forward this motion is on very dangerous ground of threatening the constitutional independence of the commission."
Mr Wilson said there were massive public spending challenges facing everybody in Northern Ireland and criticised MLAs for failing to address the most fundamental problems. "We have had our own version of the Assembly's Strictly Come Dancing...who can dance on the head of a constitutional pin," he said. "Some of the performances have not even been as elegant as Ann Widdecombe."