Stormont politicians 'can't keep getting paid while not sharing power'
Northern Ireland's politicians accept they cannot keep being paid while not sharing power, Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire has said.
After 10 months with no government in Stormont, Mr Brokenshire said he is considering new laws to dock or stop MLAs' salaries.
And he also revealed that powersharing talks between the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein broke down at the end of last week on the issue of culture and the Irish language.
Under scrutiny at the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee in Westminster, the Secretary of State said: "I think, to be honest, there is consensus even among the politicians in Northern Ireland, the MLAs themselves, that this can't carry on.
"They acknowledge that for them to be paid at the rate that they are, not being able to do the job that they do, is simply unsustainable."
An MLA is on £49,500 a year after they got a £500 pay rise in April - three months after the Stormont Executive collapsed.
That is almost double the official figure given for an average wage in Northern Ireland.
Mr Brokenshire said that in order for politicians' pay to be stopped, a law would need to be passed at Westminster.
"I have said, and I will reiterate it again, that I will keep this issue firmly under examination and if it looks like this is not going to make progress, then yes, I will certainly be taking forward steps here to deal with that issue," he told the committee.
DUP MP Gregory Campbell, who sits on the committee, told Mr Brokenshire that if MLAs' salaries are stopped then politicians should continue to receive constituency funding in order to run an office and keep representing the local area.
Mr Brokenshire gave a pessimistic assessment of the powersharing talks.
He said there has been some progress but that talks had stalled at the end of last week, as the parties failed to agree on an Irish language act.
The Secretary of State said the absolute latest an agreement could be reached to revive Stormont is October 30.
The near-Halloween deadline has been set to allow the UK Government time for a budget to be put in place by the first week in November.
Sinn Fein leader Michelle O'Neill insisted her party wants to do a deal.
"Sinn Fein have been consistent in our resolve to restore the institutions on the basis of the Good Friday Agreement with equality, rights and respect at their core," she said.
"I said last week that challenges remain in order to deliver sustainable institutions.
"One way or another, this process is coming to an end. Sinn Fein is determined to achieve a successful conclusion and to see the institutions re-established."
Party president Gerry Adams added: "What we need to see is the Good Friday Agreement fully implemented.
"The current crisis is caused by broken agreements.
"Any return to British direct rule would be a breach of the St Andrews Agreement. That would be in addition to the other existing breaches."
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said: "After 10 months of no government, after two elections and after month upon month of talking, it appears that Sinn Fein and the DUP have brought us to the brink of 'Direct Rule'.
"It appears they have used their big mandates to achieve one thing - bringing British Direct Rule to Northern Ireland."
UUP leader Robin Swann said: "It is a scandal that the country is still being held to ransom by ideological demands.
"The people of Northern Ireland deserve better. We are becoming tired of hearing hollow soundbites.
"The public need to know whether there really is prospect of an Executive being formed by the DUP and Sinn Fein or if hopes are falsely being raised."
Mr Swann said the Secretary of State has a responsibility to look at other options to allow other parties to get on with powersharing.
On Monday, former US president Bill Clinton held separate private meetings with both DUP leader Arlene Foster and Ms O'Neill and Gerry Adams during a visit to Belfast.
The Stormont Executive collapsed in January when the late Martin McGuinness pulled out of powersharing with the DUP.
He withdrew support for powersharing saying he was concerned about how the DUP had handled allegations of mismanagement of a renewable energy scheme.
Since then, the parties have been unable to reach agreement on a number of issues relating to language and culture legislation.
Sinn Fein have said they will not return to government without an agreed standalone Irish Language Act. The DUP have said the party will only agree to cross-community legislation with provisions for both Irish and Ulster Scots.