Belfast Telegraph

Suzanne Breen: Time Bradley grew a spine and cut Stormont salaries

By Suzanne Breen, Political Editor

As they survey the charred ruins of their workplace today, Primark staff will be worried sick about their future.

Do they still have jobs? If not, how will they feed their families and pay their bills? Could they lose their homes? What is the prospect of finding work elsewhere?

Ordinary people struggling to survive in a hostile economic climate, their livelihoods now at risk through no fault of their own.

Compare and contrast their situation with that of our pampered political class who continue to enjoy full pay and expenses even though the Stormont Assembly hasn't met in 19 months.

By Northern Ireland standards, they are handsomely paid.

There aren't too many £49,500 jobs here. And let's face it, only a handful of our MLAs are of the calibre to command that sort of salary in the private sector.

On the streets there is a wide variety of views on who is to blame for the political impasse at Stormont.

Unionists chide Sinn Fein for walking away from power-sharing, nationalists retort that the DUP's heart was never in it anyway and castigate that party's stance on an Irish Language Act and same-sex marriage.

But ordinary people across the political divide are united in fury that MLAs are still on full pay.

The biggest cheer last night at the #wedeservebetter rally in Portadown to protest against 589 days without government at Stormont was when speaker Tim Reynolds called for MLAs' salaries to be cut.

Secretary of State Karen Bradley said in March she was minded to do so but wanted to consult with the parties first. Five months later she still, shamefully, hasn't acted.

Stormont sources say the pay issue is constantly raised by members of the public with Mrs Bradley any time she's out and about here, and she totally understands public anger. So someone is leaning hard on the Secretary of State, going against her natural instincts.

On paper no party in Northern Ireland supports continuing with the status quo. But there is obviously a huge gap between what some are saying in public and in private, and we need to flush out who that is.

The DUP currently wields enormous influence on the Government due to parliamentary arithmetic.

A cut in MLA wages and expenses would hurt Arlene Foster's party far more than Sinn Fein, which is in a stronger financial position to take the hit.

Stormont sources say that behind the scenes the DUP is insisting that if the Secretary of State cuts MLA pay, she must move against Sinn Fein MPs continuing to receive Westminster allowances despite the party's abstentionist policy. It is understood that the Government has so far resisted linking the two issues.

Mrs Bradley's predecessor James Brokenshire was ridiculed for constantly sitting on the fence and adopting a 'do nothing' approach to politics here.

She was regarded as a breath of fresh air when she was appointed in January. Trevor Reaney's report recommending a very moderate (in the circumstances) 27.5% cut in MLA pay has been gathering dust on her desk these past eight months.

Mrs Bradley needs to finally show some spine and take action. It's over to you, Karen.

Belfast Telegraph

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