Belfast Telegraph

Stop acting like bickering toddlers and get back to work: Question Time plea to Northern Ireland politicians

Northern Ireland's MLAs have been told to get back to work and stop "bickering like toddlers".

The biggest round of applause on Thursday's edition of BBC's Question Time filmed in Northern Ireland went to a question needling MLAs on the continued payment of their salaries while Northern Ireland remains without its devolved government.

Addressing a panel that included DUP MLA Simon Hamilton and Sinn Fein MLA John O'Dowd, audience member Jacqueline Gray asked : "Do the MLAs on the panel feel any sense of embarrassment over receiving full salaries while they have been effectively bickering like toddlers?"

The questioned was applauded the audience, before host David Dimbleby put it to the Stormont representatives on the panel whether they felt comfortable taking a collective £371,000 a month in pay.

Responding to the question, Mr O'Dowd said: "If we were bickering like toddlers then I would agree with the audience, but we are not. We are dealing with fundamental rights of citizens. In terms of LGBT rights, and we had a conversation at the start of this meeting that there's a denial to equal marriage in this society. I don't see that as being childish."

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Sinn Fein's John O'Dowd

Mr O'Dowd added that without a rights-based society the Executive would not return, and MLAs' pay would stop.

"We were returned with a massive mandate. There can be no return to the status quo... but if there is no change there will be no more pay," he said.

Responding to the question, DUP MLA Simon Hamilton said: "We are not doing the job we are paid to do and we should be doing. My party is prepared to go into government with no red lines.

"With Brexit and Bombardier it is the worst possible time.

"Sinn Fein have important issues. But to elevate them over health issues and jobs is wrong. We are working on trying to get a resolution.

"It is unsustainable - it will come to an end. But we have been working away today and all week and over the months to find resolution and build on solid progress we have made."

He said that while the DUP was "happy" to legislate for an Irish language act, they didn't want to see a "dynamic act elevated above other languages and cultures".

Former Northern Ireland Secretary of State Theresa Villiers said it was "never going to be easy" resolving issues that have dogged Irish history for centuries.

While the playwright Jonathan Lynn said he found it hard to understand "why these things are such a big problem for the DUP".

Abortion, gay marriage, Brexit and Bombardier all featured during the broadcast from Titanic Belfast.

There was no mention of the Conservative deal with the DUP which allowed Theresa May to operate a minority government. There was passing mention from an audience member of the RHI scandal and the controversy surrounding the Assembly speaker.

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