MLA pay rise: Parties challenged to ‘reject and not defer’ £1,000 hike

Stormont political parties have been challenged by a fellow MLA not to merely ‘defer’ an across the board pay rise of £1,000 a head – but to reject it outright.

And the Royal College of Nursing has also broken its silence on the matter, highlighting its ongoing campaign for pay parity and safe staffing levels.

People Before Profilt MLA Gerry Caroll called for the pay rise to be rejected after Stormont’s five main party leaders issued a rare joint statement asking to ‘defer’ the pay rise, which came only days after they agreed to go back into government after a three-year hiatus.

Leading figures from across the parties said on Tuesday that they had been blindsided by the rise, a sub-inflationary annual rise of £500 per year set by an independent panel in 2016. A further £500 is due to be awarded in April.

Most of the parties issued terse statements on Tuesday pointing out the rise had been set by the independent panel and was not welcomed by them.

But after widespread angry reaction from taxpayers on social media, the five main Stormont parties took the unusual step of issuing a joint statement through the DUP press office 24 hours later, calling for the pay rise to be “deferred”.

Issued in the name of the leaders of the DUP, Sinn Fein, SDLP, UUP and Alliance, it said: “The announcement yesterday of a proposed pay rise for MLAs came as a surprise to all parties. We share the broad public dismay at this development, only a matter of days after the Assembly and institutions have been fully restored.

“We have had a range of concerns over time around recommendations emerging from the Independent Financial Review Panel.

“We are jointly asking the Assembly Commission that any pay proposal is immediately deferred until the work of the Financial Review Panel has been comprehensively reviewed, and a new panel has the opportunity to consider this matter again and produce a fresh determination.

“We recognise that a number of MLAs and parties have indicated if the proposed pay increase cannot be halted, they will donate any additional sum to local causes and charities.”

The UUP also pointed out that a number of its MLAs had said on social media they would donate their £1,000 to various charities – party leader Steve Aiken, Roy Beggs, John Stewart and Robbie Butler.

A spokeswoman for the Royal College of Nursing responded by drawing attention to its recent unprecedented strike action over equal pay and safe staffing levels.

“It is on record that nurses have been on strike in relation to safe staffing and to restore pay parity with colleagues in the rest of the UK,” she said.

“While we understand that pay for MLAs is set by an independent body, our members will have their own views on the timing of this announcement following three days of strike action by health care workers.”

Nipsa, the largest public sector trade union in Northern Ireland, met with the Stormont finance minister on Wednesday to press for an above inflation pay increase for NI civil servants.

General secretary Alison Millar said: “Our members are angry that over the last nine years they have received below inflation pay increases or no pay increases during that period. In addition their anger has grown on foot of the announcement yesterday that our MLAs will receive a £1,000 increase in their pay with a further increase in April 2020.”

Harry Fone, grassroots campaign manager at the TaxPayers’ Alliance, welcomed the fact that “well-heeled politicians” had listened to constituents’ reactions.

“I’m delighted that Assembly members have listened to the concerns of their constituents,” he said.

“Taxpayers want to see their money spent on frontline services not pay rises for well-heeled politicians. I hope this spirit of public duty continues far into the future.”

The speaker of the Assembly issued a statement on Wednesday night saying he is “mindful of the concerns expressed” by the five parties. “He has therefore invited Assembly Commission members and those members who are due to be appointed to the commission, to attend a meeting on Thursday afternoon to discuss how those concerns might be addressed.”

Alan McQuillan, a member of Independent Financial Review Panel until 2016, said they approved an annual pay rise of £500 for MLAs if inflation rose above 1% in any year. As inflation had been around 2% for the past three years, the £1,000 is “fair enough” he said.

In fact the £1,000 was sub-inflationary, so the MLAs’ salaries have actually been losing spending power as the panel only estimated inflation reaching around 1% per year, he added.

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