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Suzanne Breen

MLAs pay rise own goal sees politicians turn media-shy

Suzanne Breen


Gerry Carroll

Gerry Carroll

Presseye/Stephen Hamilton

Gerry Carroll

It's a PR disaster for the newly functioning Stormont institutions.

Public faith in devolution is hardly sky high.

Giving MLAs a pay rise after three years of them doing diddly-squat up there is not a confidence-building measure.

We've heard much talk of the challenge of making ends meet in Northern Ireland over the next few years.

London is not delivering the big financial package that was anticipated.

We've been told it's embarrassing for Northern Ireland to be constantly putting out the begging bowl.

That we, the public, need to be realistic. To face up to the tough decisions that have to be made on hospitals and other public services.

There's been talk of increasing university tuition fees and property rates. Even speculation about eventual water charges.

How on earth does handing a pay rise to already handsomely paid politicians fit in with all this?

We are divided on a lot here, but giving a £1,000 salary increase to the 90 men and women in Parliament Buildings isn't one of them.

They are only 10 days back at work. Ten days. Some would say it would take 10 months or 10 years before they deserved any reward.

This looks like a massive pat on the back for MLAs for doing what they should have been doing all along. And a slap in the face to the rest of us.

It doesn't matter where you stand on New Decade, New Approach. Whether you want an Irish Language Commissioner, an Ulster-British Commissioner, neither or both. People of all political persuasions and none are united in opposing this salary hike.

The optics are awful. To ordinary people from Ballymurphy to Belvoir, this looks like the political establishment rewarding itself while preparing the rest of us for austerity.

It's not just MLAs whose pay is going up - that of ministers is rising as well. No wonder the vast majority of Stormont representatives have so little to say on the issue.

Since the restoration of power-sharing, our politicians have been queuing up to speak to the media. Enthusiastically putting their names and faces out there.

Not yesterday they weren't. The Belfast Telegraph asked the five main parties for a response to the pay increase.

"No comment," said the Ulster Unionists. Sinn Fein, the SDLP, Alliance and the DUP all replied via anonymous spokespersons.

Alliance and the SDLP at least had the good grace to sound embarrassed and annoyed.

"We are not happy with the timing or content of this increase," said the Alliance spokesperson. The SDLP said the announcement was "poorly judged and poorly timed".

The MLAs who emerged from all this with the greatest integrity were Gerry Carroll and Jim Allister. The People Before Profit representative noted that nurses had to "stand on freezing pickets for months for pay parity" while our pampered political class secured an automatic hike.

The TUV leader asked if the public would think that many of our MLAs deserved £50,500 a year.

Mr Allister, Alliance leader Naomi Long, and new SDLP MLA Matthew O'Toole are among those up on the hill who had successful careers outside politics.

But a fair proportion of our Stormont representatives would struggle to command even half the salary they are on if they ventured to earn a crust outside politics.

"Are they worth it?" many of us will ask over coming weeks and months when we cast our eyes on Stormont.

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