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Suzanne Breen: So Stormont could agree on one thing ... they should keep getting their wages

By Suzanne Breen

The DUP and Sinn Fein have agreed on nothing in the last five months of Stormont talks. Be it an Irish Language Act, equal marriage or a Bill of Rights, the two big parties have been at loggerheads over every issue on the agenda.

But yesterday, after negotiations ended in another unspectacular failure, Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill found common cause.

They united in defending MLAs continuing to receive handsome salaries and expenses even though the political institutions are mothballed. An already cynical public will surely be incensed at this new display of unity. Talks' sources say that both parties have lobbied the Government to ensure that their politicians are still rewarded financially despite doing diddly squat at Stormont.

With the Tories reliant on DUP votes at Westminster, Mrs Foster's party is pushing at an open door.

And equal rights aren't in doubt on this one - what's sauce for the DUP goose is gravy for the Sinn Fein gander.

The parties may pretend that they'll be sweating away trying to reach a deal over the summer, but we all know that no business will be done until the autumn - if even then.

The local constituency work of MLAs doesn't justify continuing to pay their wages. With 18 MPs, 462 councillors and three MEPs, Northern Ireland already has ample elected representatives to meet the public's needs. In an era of austerity with so many ordinary people struggling to survive, it is morally wrong to keep splashing the cash on our Assembly Members.

Just think of what £1 million a month could do for our hospitals and schools. Protective redundancy notices were issued on Monday to 50 Sure Start staff who look after 1,600 children in south Belfast.

That those already at the bottom of the pay ladder are hit - while the political fat cats responsible for the deadlock go unpunished - is reprehensible.

The talks are parked until the autumn but what chance is there of a deal then as the public inquiry hearings in the Renewable Heat Incentive begin? The stalemate could well continue to Christmas - and beyond.

We've pampered our political class and papered over the Stormont cracks for far too long.

On the streets there's a wide variety of views on an Irish Language Act, gay marriage and all the rest. But I don't think you'll find a single person, unionist or nationalist, who says: "Keep the MLAs on full pay for as long as it takes."

Belfast Telegraph


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