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Our £3.3m bill for Ulster's 'double-jobbing' MPs

By David Gordon

Northern Ireland's 16 'double-jobbing' politicians have been paid a whopping £3.34m in pay and expenses in a single year, it can be revealed today.

The hefty total comprised the salaries and allowances allocated in 2005/06 to the Assembly members who also hold Westminster seats.

All but two of the province's 18 MPs are MLAs as well - a 'double-jobbing' ratio that contrasts sharply with other devolved regions of the UK.

In Wales, just one of the 60 Assembly members is also an MP while none of the 129 members of the Scottish Parliament holds Commons seats.

The £3.34m paid to the 16 Northern Ireland politicians in the year included almost £1.1m in Assembly pay and expenses, plus close to £2.25m in Westminster salaries and allowances.

Staff wages, running costs for constituency offices and travel expenses account for a large bulk of the sums.

Other expenses include up to some £20,000 a year to cover the costs of staying in London.

The highest individual salary and expenses total of the 16 politicians - £270,641 - was paid to DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson.

Meanwhile, the party's husband-and-wife team Peter and Iris Robinson were allocated almost £500,000 in total.

Sinn Fein's five MPs had the lowest individual totals, due largely to the fact that they do not take their Commons seats and were not paid the parliamentary salary of £59,095 for the year.

They are controversially still entitled to parliamentary expenses and received a combined total of £206,721 from Westminster in 2005/06, including London accommodation expenses of £7,500 each.

The 11 MLAs who take their Commons seats have an annual combined salary of some £70,000 each.

This includes Westminster pay and an Assembly salary of £10,606.

Because of their dual roles, they receive an "abated" Stormont sum - a third of the full MLA total of £31,817.

The £31,817 is a reduced figure due to the fact that devolution is suspended.

Mr Donaldson said he employs five staff and runs a full-time constituency office in Lisburn, plus six satellite advice centres around his Lagan Valley constituency.

"The allowances that are available I use to the benefit of my constituents to provide what I believe is an excellent service," he said.

"We provide employment for staff who do an excellent job.

"I believe of all the work that I do, the constituency service that I provide is probably the most important aspect of it.

"Therefore, I believe it is a wise use of the resources that are available, not for my benefit, but for the benefit of the people that I represent."

Mr Donaldson said his Commons expenses were higher than normal in 2005/06, as they included the provision of cover for a staff member who was on extended maternity leave.

The DUP MP said the issue of MPs also sitting as MLAs may be reviewed in future.

"That may happen eventually when devolution is fully restored. The Government may well look at that again," he added.

A Sinn Fein spokesman said its MLAs and Assembly staff are all paid a flat salary, based on the average industrial wage, with the rest of the pay going to the party.

- The salaries and expenses paid to the 16 MLAs in 2005/06 were released to the Belfast Telegraph by the Assembly under freedom of information.

- The corresponding Westminster figures are published by the House of Commons.

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