Belfast Telegraph

Stormont's 'absent' DUP minsters will continue to be paid - but vow to return the money

By Claire Williamson

Stormont's 'absent' DUP minsters will continue to be paid from the public purse - but have pledged to return the money.

Questions have been raised over the payments to the so-called 'in-out' DUP ministers as the party continue to undergo their cycle of renominating ministers within a week, and resigning again in a bid to protect the roles being taken by other parties.

Under the rules of Stormont's mandatory coalition Executive, if a minister is not renominated within seven days the position is reallocated to another party.

However the DUP have insisted ministers "will not benefit financially during this period and will not keep any Ministerial salary they might receive".

It comes as Stormont is currently submerged in a political crisis following the PSNI's assessment that members of the Provisional IRA were involved in the murder of father-nine Kevin McGuigan in the Short Strand last month.

Subsequently DUP leader Peter Robinson resigned all ministers except for Arlene Foster who is continuing as finance minister during the ongoing Stormont crisis.

In wake of the crisis Mr Robinson stepped aside as First Minister with Mrs Foster acting up in the interim.

The move came as the DUP sought two unsuccessful attempts to have the Assembly adjourned to focus on crunch talks.

The absent ministers - and in particular the health minister Simon Hamilton - have come under increasing pressure from other parties to return to their roles permanently.

Former Health Minister Simon Hamilton has been accused of having "abdicated all sense of responsibility" after this week in the Belfast Telegraph strongly attacking as "nonsense" claims that his absence as Health Minister is harming patient care.

The Northern Ireland Assembly have said there is no legislation in place to stop the ministers getting paid their salary.

In addition to this a spokeswoman said there is no provision for the reduction or removal of a salary where a Minister "does not resign but steps aside and assigns the duties to another Minister".

Which suggests that Mr Robinson will still be receiving his First Minister salary.

Furthermore the Assembly outlined that Mrs Foster who remains as Minister for finance and personnel "does not receive any additional Ministerial salary" as acting First Minister.

An Assembly spokeswoman said: “The Northern Ireland Assembly Members’ Salaries, Allowances, Expenses and Pensions Determination March 2012 (as amended) provides for the payment of Members’ and Office Holders’ salaries. The Determination makes no provision for the reduction or removal of a salary where a Minister does not resign but steps aside and assigns the duties to another Minister.

“Arlene Foster MLA is still Minister for Finance and Personnel and continues to receive her Ministerial salary for that post.  She is also Acting First Minister, but does not receive any additional Ministerial salary, in line with the Determination (as above).

"A Ministerial salary is payable for each day an individual holds office.  Ministerial salaries cease to be payable the day after the effective date of resignation. This applies to all Ministers. A Northern Ireland Executive Minister is currently paid an annual salary of £86k. This can be broken down as £48k (MLA salary) and £38k (Ministerial salary).”

“The Assembly applies the rules set out above and Ministers are being paid for the days they are in post.”

The DUP's Gregory Campbell said the ministers instead are sending the money back.

He said: "The payment is going into their account, the net amount is worked and it is returned. Why do they receive it? Because they can't not receive it.

"They don't get any benefit from it, because it goes back in."

In a statement a DUP spokesman said: "As we have previously outlined DUP Ministers will not be benefiting financially during the period of the resignations.  We indicated that we take our posts to ensure the posts do not get reallocated to the SDLP or Sinn Fein.

The party leader indicated on the day of the initial resignations that DUP Ministers would not be keeping Ministerial salary money. 

"As the money is paid under legislation by the Assembly we have had discussions with the Assembly finance authorities about not only stopping future payments but also the repayment of any payments previously made.  As a result of those discussions appropriate arrangements are be made to ensure that happens.”

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