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Stormont leaders ask for controversial and 'surprising' £1k pay hike to be deferred

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Parties want the work of the Financial Review Panel to be reviewed (Steve Parsons/PA)

Parties want the work of the Financial Review Panel to be reviewed (Steve Parsons/PA)

PA Archive/PA Images

Parties want the work of the Financial Review Panel to be reviewed (Steve Parsons/PA)

The leaders of the five main Stormont parties have called for the controversial decision to award MLAs a £1,000 pay increase to be deferred.

It emerged yesterday salaries would rise from £49,500 to £50,500 following the return of power sharing.

Following widespread anger from the public, many MLAs said they would be giving the extra money to charity.

On Wednesday afternoon the leaders of the DUP, Sinn Fein, SDLP, UUP and Alliance released a joint statement outlining their opposition to the salary hike.

“The announcement yesterday of a proposed pay rise for MLAs came as a surprise to all parties," the statement said.

"We share the broad public dismay at this development, only a matter of days after the Assembly and institutions have been fully restored.

"We have had a range of concerns over time around recommendations emerging from the Independent Financial Review Panel.

"We are jointly asking the Assembly Commission that any pay proposal is immediately deferred until the work of the Financial Review Panel has been comprehensively reviewed, and a new panel has the opportunity to consider this matter again and produce a fresh determination."

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The new Northern Ireland Executive.

The new Northern Ireland Executive.

The new Northern Ireland Executive.

The leaders added that, if the proposed pay increase cannot be stopped, parties have indicated they will donate the extra money to community causes and charities.

Following the statement an Assembly spokesperson said that Speaker Alex Maskey was "mindful of the concerns" and would invite Assembly Commission members and members due to be appointed to the Commission to attend a meeting on Thursday "to discuss how those concerns might be addressed.

Earlier the DUP and Sinn Fein said they were exploring if the money could be returned, while the SDLP said its MLAs would donate the cash to charity.

The Ulster Unionists and Alliance said it was a matter for individual MLAs.

Sinn Fein deputy leader Michelle O'Neill said it was "unjustifiable and should not be paid".

DUP MLA Diane Dodds, who is the Minister for Economy, told Good Morning Ulster that she had "no idea" that the pay rise was coming.

"I think whoever thought that this was a good thing to do at this particular juncture is way of the mark. I don't think folk out there will understand in any sense how it is sensible to have a pay rise for people who sit in an institution who hasn't met for three years."

The Independent Financial Review Panel was established in July 2011 by the Assembly Members (Independent Financial Review and Standards) Act (Northern Ireland) 2011.

The panel makes determinations in relation to the salaries, allowances and pensions payable to members of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

It meets at the beginning of every Assembly term and sets pay and increases for the next five years. However, it last sat in March 2016 and set the current pay levels and increases up until April 2020.

In 2016 the panel announced salaries would increase from £48,000 to £49,000 and by £500 each April if inflation was greater than 1%.

The panel is fully independent and is not subject to the control of either the NI Assembly or the Assembly Commission.

Belfast Telegraph