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A salary bill of £8.7m despite no Assembly

By David Gordon

MLAs were paid £8.7m in salaries and expenses last year - while the Assembly remained free from devolved powers and responsibilities.

Details of Stormont payouts made during 2006 have been disclosed by the Assembly in response to a freedom of information request by this newspaper.

Throughout the 12-month period, Stormont representatives remained MLAs - Members of a Legislative Assembly - in name only.

The salary bill in the year came to £3,211,379.88, while a further £4,857,062.12 was paid in office allowances.

Claims by MLAs for travel and subsistence came to £676,381.88.

The expenses bills could, in some cases, involve backdated payments for costs incurred during 2005.

Although the Stormont authorities released the information, they stated that the figures were not final as the Assembly accounts have not yet been audited.

According to the statistics, Sinn Fein's Catriona Ruane was paid the highest travel and subsistence expense total - £19,923.58 - in 2006.

Ms Ruane, who is now Education Minister in the executive, represents the South Down constituency, but lives across the border in Louth.

Travel expenses are paid to MLAs for journeys from home.

Ms Ruane's £19,923.58 travel total was greater than those for MLAs in such constituencies as Foyle and Fermanagh and South Tyrone.

But her future MLA mileage claims can be expected to drop sharply, as she is now entitled to an official car.

The DUP's Mark Robinson was criticised for having the highest travel expenses in 2005 - £18,218 - while representing South Belfast. His total for 2006 was £14,248.

Mr Robinson has been living in north Antrim and did not contest this year's Assembly election.

The mileage rate for MLAs was cut by Secretary of State Peter Hain last year, after a Belfast Telegraph campaign.

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