Belfast Telegraph

SDLP's Attwood pays back £55k Assembly salary but process 'cumbersome' says Eastwood

'The law's an ass' says former pay setter

By Jonathan Bell

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood says former MLA Alex Attwood returns his £55k Assembly salary but that the process is "cumbersome".

In June the Belfast Telegraph revealed the former west Belfast representative draws a salary of £55,000 for his role in the Assembly Commission - despite losing his seat in the March election.

Mr Eastwood said Mr Attwood was still carrying out the duties of the role and attending the meetings and "representing the party," but was returning the salary to Stormont coffers.

"An awful lot of effort goes into doing that," he said "It isn't the easiest thing in the world to do. It is very cumbersome, technocratic and bureaucratic process, but he does pay the money back.

"He wanted to resign but couldn't but he still goes to the meetings and represents the party."

On Thursday Caitriona Ruane resigned her deputy speaker position after it was revealed she was being paid, despite stepping down from Stormont before the snap poll. There has also been controversy over Speaker Robin Newton continuing to remain in the role despite him saying he will step down at the next sitting of the Assembly.

Former chair of the Independent Financial Review Panel, Pat McCartan, who was responsible for setting MLAs' pay said the processes in place did not easily allow those in positions which continue after the dissolution of the Assembly to resign and hand back their pay.

"In this respect the law is an ass," he told the BBC.

"This is based on the 1998 Good Friday Agreement which makes provision for the Speaker and Commission to be paid until the next appointment is made. And as the Assembly hasn't effectively sat that can't happen.

"No one envisaged a nine-month period of no government. The law has been in a way that doesn't allow the office to cease until new Assembly Commission is appointed."

He added: "This really is an impasse and the only person that can do anything about it is the Secretary of Sate."

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