Salaries of Stormont Assembly members to be reduced by a quarter
There has been a broad welcome for the move from Northern Ireland parties.
Stormont Assembly members’ pay will be reduced by more than £13,000 as they are not performing all their functions, Secretary of State Karen Bradley said.
Northern Ireland’s devolved legislature in Belfast has not sat since early last year in a row over identity issues like the Irish language, which has prevented the appointment of ministers.
Repeated negotiations convened by the British and Irish governments have failed to persuade former coalition partners the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein to reconcile their differences.
Mrs Bradley has also decided not to call new Stormont elections and will bring forward legislation to allow civil servants to make decisions in the absence of ministers as public reforms have stalled.
She is to hold talks with the local political parties in the next few weeks about re-establishing formal powersharing negotiations and has not ruled out appointing an external mediator to help break the deadlock.
She told Parliament: “While Assembly members continue to perform valuable constituency functions, it is clear that during any such interim period they will not be performing the full range of their legislative functions.
“So, in parallel, I will take the steps necessary to reduce Assembly members’ salaries in line with the recommendations made by Trevor Reaney.
“The reduction will take effect in two stages, commencing in November – it would not reduce the allowance for staff as I do not think that MLAs’ [Members of the Legislative Assembly] staff should suffer because of the politicians’ failure to form an Executive.”
Mrs Bradley’s predecessor as Northern Ireland secretary, James Brokenshire, commissioned former Assembly chief executive Mr Reaney to examine the controversial issue of paying Assembly members.
He recommended the 27.5% cut, a move that would take the standard salary rate of £49,500 down to £35,888 in two stages, beginning in November, with a further cut three months later.
Public services have suffered because no ministers are in place to make major decisions.
Controversial issues like provision of abortion or same-sex marriage have not been addressed in the absence of an Assembly.
It is deeply frustrating and utterly careless that Sinn Fein has decided to block government for almost 600 days DUP leader Arlene Foster
Democratic Unionist leader and former Stormont first minister Arlene Foster said: “It is deeply frustrating and utterly careless that Sinn Fein has decided to block government for almost 600 days.”
She added: “Ultimately, Northern Ireland needs a ministerial decision-making mechanism which respects democracy.”
She and her Ulster Unionist counterpart Robin Swann welcomed the pay cut for Assembly members, a demand which gained widespread public support.
Sinn Fein deputy leader Michelle O’Neill said: “The reduction in MLA pay should have been introduced months ago. Sinn Fein told Karen Bradley that on several occasions but it is clear she was reluctant to move because of resistance from the DUP.
“That position has now become untenable and it is right that wages are finally being reduced.”
Explaining the need for a “stepped approach” staggering the pay reductions, Mr Reaney said the impact of any salary reduction on MLAs’ personal circumstances has been acknowledged.
He said research showed Assembly members spent 50% to 60% of their time on constituency work and the average working week could extend to up to 80 hours.
The Northern Ireland Secretary also addressed the issue of civil service decision making.
She said: “I recognise that there is a need to provide reassurance and clarity to both the Northern Ireland Civil Service and the people of Northern Ireland on the mechanisms for the continued delivery of public services.
“So, the legislation I intend to introduce after the conference recess will also include provisions to give greater clarity and certainty to enable Northern Ireland departments to continue to take decisions in Northern Ireland in the public interest and to ensure the continued delivery of public services.”