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'Indefensible' £15 million spend on MLA pay since Stormont collapsed

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland acknowledged that the figures were ‘unacceptable’.

Northern Irish politicians haven't sat in Stormont for nearly three years.
Northern Irish politicians haven't sat in Stormont for nearly three years.
Image: Niall Carson/PA Wire/PA Images

NEARLY £15 MILLION has been spent on the salaries of Stormont politicians since power-sharing collapsed in January 2017.

The figures were revealed by Northern Ireland Office officials during a sitting of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee in Westminster today. 

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Julian Smith, acknowledged that the figure of £14.9 million, which covers the cost of MLAs salaries, was “unacceptable”. 

“I describe the situation with the Assembly and the Executive as a tragedy. I think these sums of money for an institution that is not doing its job is unacceptable,” he told the committee. 

Lady Sylvia Hermon, the Independent Unionist MP – and the only non-DUP representative in the House of Commons – said it was “unsustainable and indefensible that MLAs continue to be paid their full salaries”. 

Since the failure of talks to restore power-sharing, MLAs have had their salaries partially cut to from nearly £50,000 £35,888. 

While Smith said that he would review the salaries if there was no progress on Stormont, returning, he said that MLAs are still working in their local areas. 

“I do believe that the vast majority are doing good work,” he said. “The other options for Northern Ireland governance are significantly worse. We have to do everything we can to persuade MLAs to talk to me, or talk to the Tánaiste, to get everything up and running.”

“The general public are furious that MLAs continue to receive handsome salaries for not doing their full work,” Hermon said. 

Earlier this week, some MLAs – including the DUP and the Ulster Unionist Party – did try to return to Stormont in a bid to block the decriminalisation of abortion in Northern Ireland. 

However, it descended into farce as one by one the parties left the chamber. 

Checks on goods 

Smith also told the committee that he wants “minimum” checks on goods moving between the North and the rest of the UK. 

The government has faced considerable scrutiny in recent days, particularly from the DUP, over the fact that under the Boris Johnson’s deal with the EU there will be some customs checks between Northern Ireland and the UK. 

Smith said that the government was working with Northern Ireland businesses to ensure that there would only be a low level of checks. 

He promised that there would be “nothing more than the bare minimum of information required” for goods travelling from Northern Ireland to the rest of the UK. 

“My aim is to make sure that we’re talking to any business in Northern Ireland that is going to be from Northern Ireland to Great Britain,” Smith said. 

However, Smith did not set out a timetable for when the details of any such regulatory system would be published. 

“The details of that model will be outlined in the coming weeks and months,” he said. 

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A short UK government impact assessment of Johnson’s deal, published this week, said that that the sale and purchase of goods between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK were valued at £18.1 billion in 2017. 

Smith was speaking following last night’s dramatic events in the House of Commons, which saw MPs initially vote to back the legislative progress Boris Johnson’s Withdrawal Agreement Bill before rejecting the prime minister’s timetable that would have rush the legislation through parliament. 

The secretary of state said that if the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, the progress of which has been ‘paused’ following last night’s defeat, could be moved through parliament be would add clauses to make “crystal clear” the government’s commitment to “unfettered access” between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. 

Adding that the deal provides opportunities for Northern Ireland, Smith said the government will try to make checks as “reduced and as limited as possible”. 

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