Two ex-MLAs still paid for senior Stormont roles while Assembly not functioning

Two former MLAs are still receiving wages for holding senior Stormont positions while the Assembly is not functioning.

Sinn Fein’s Alex Maskey did not seek re-election in May but has remained as Speaker, a role which attracts an annual salary of £89,500.

The SDLP’s Dolores Kelly, who lost her seat in Upper Bann, is still a member of the Assembly Commission – a body which handles the running of Parliament Buildings.

Read more: One in seven MLAs employ family members in their offices

Members of the commission, which is made up of representatives from Stormont’s main parties and is chaired by the Speaker, earn £6,000 more than MLAs with a wage of £57,500.

The Assembly said the Speaker and commission members continue to exercise some responsibilities while the power-sharing institutions are not fully operating.

Stormont has been in limbo since February when the DUP withdrew its First Minister from the power-sharing Executive in protest over Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol.

Since elections in May, the party has blocked three bids to elect a new Speaker, meaning that no further business can be discussed.

Under Assembly rules the outgoing Speaker, deputy speakers and commission members can retain their roles until successors are appointed.

But no new appointments can be made in the absence of a functioning Assembly.

Mr Maskey chaired the first attempt to appoint his successor in May following the election, but under Assembly rules, he has been unable to chair two subsequent attempts.

The role has instead passed to an acting speaker, which under Assembly procedures is the oldest current MLA, the UUP’s Alan Chambers.

TUV leader Jim Allister said: “I am sure that there are many who will be surprised that Alex Maskey remains as Speaker while not even able to chair a sitting of the Assembly as he no longer holds a seat as an MLA.

“Similarly, Mrs Kelly continues to serve on the commission having lost her seat. I appreciate that new members of the commission cannot be appointed without an Assembly but again the public will doubtless question how it is possible to hold such a position while not being an MLA.”

The North Antrim MLA said he raised these issues during Wednesday’s recalled sitting of the Assembly, the most recent failed attempt to restore power-sharing.

Former UUP MLA Roy Beggs resigned as a Deputy Speaker, which attracts a wage of £57,500, after losing his East Antrim seat in May. The SDLP’s Patsy McGlone, who was re-elected for Mid Ulster, has remained as a Deputy Speaker.

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MLAs in the Assembly chamber at Parliament Buildings, Stormont

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It is not the first time outgoing MLAs have retained top Stormont posts during a power-sharing hiatus.

In 2017, Sinn Fein’s Caitríona Ruane faced criticism for remaining as Deputy Speaker for months after Stormont’s collapse in the wake of the RHI scandal.

The former Education Minister, who had not stood for re-election, said she never anticipated delays in appointing successors would be “so protracted” and that her salary was donated to charities and community groups.

Former SDLP MLA Alex Attwood quit the Assembly Commission in 2019 – more than two years after losing his Stormont seat. The SDLP at the time said Mr Attwood had been continuing to attend commission meetings but had been paying back most of the wage.

Mr Allister said the UUP’s Mr Beggs did the “honourable and correct thing in standing down”, arguing it was in “stark contrast” to Ms Ruane who he claimed was “shamed into resigning”.

An Assembly spokeswoman said: “The current Speaker, supported by the Deputy Speaker as required, continues to exercise the ongoing procedural, statutory, corporate and representational responsibilities of that office, until a successor is appointed.”

She said the Speaker had responsibility for summoning MLAs to Wednesday’s recalled Assembly sitting as well as a meeting on Tuesday to pay tribute to former UUP leader David Trimble.

“The Assembly Commission also continues to exercise its responsibilities in relation to the running of Parliament Buildings and its staff and the services provided to the Assembly and members.”

She added: “The Northern Ireland Act 1998 makes clear that the Speaker, Deputy Speakers and members of the Assembly Commission remain in office until their successors are elected by the new Assembly.

“They continue to receive their salaries while they remain in office. The current Speaker has been clear that he would prefer the Assembly to elect his successor as soon as possible and will continue to engage with the parties to enable that to happen at the earliest opportunity.”

The SDLP has been approached for comment.


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