Sunday 23 July 2017

New MLAs will still be paid - even if no deal is reached to restore an Executive

Sinn Féin leader in the North Michelle O’Neill at St Patrick’s Primary School before casting her vote. Photo: PA
Sinn Féin leader in the North Michelle O’Neill at St Patrick’s Primary School before casting her vote. Photo: PA

Noel McAdams

Northern Ireland's newly elected MLAs are to be paid their salaries - even if there is no deal to restore an Executive.

Voting in Northern Ireland's snap Assembly election yesterday was described as steady, with some polling stations reporting higher early turnouts than last year's Stormont vote.

The electorate returned to the polls to select a new devolved Assembly for the second time in less than a year.

The powersharing coalition executive led by the two largest parties at Stormont - the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Féin - collapsed in January.

As counting to decide who will fill the 90 seats of the new, smaller Assembly gets under way this morning, it was confirmed that, once elected, MLAs are entitled to receive their salaries "and other financial assistance".

Secretary of State James Brokenshire is required to call another election if the parties fail to restore the Executive within a fortnight of the first sitting of the Assembly.

But there is speculation the UK government will instead rush emergency legislation through Westminster, effectively mothballing the Assembly - and in that scenario MLAs would continue to be paid.

Read more: The key issues you need to know as voting comes to a close in Northern Ireland Assembly election

Stormonts' most senior former spin doctor, however, hinted that the government could use the threat of stopping MLAs' pay to boost the prospects of agreement between the parties.

Ex-Executive press secretary David Gordon, who lost his job just over six months after being appointed in controversial circumstances by Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness, said there would be no protests in the streets if MLAs' pay was stopped.

The speculation over salaries comes on top of the revelation that the MLAs who lose their seats today will receive substantial payouts.

Among them are several MLAs who had already announced they were not be seeking re-election, including the DUP's Alistair Ross; Sinn Féin's Caitriona Ruane and Catherine Seeley; and Ulster Unionist Ross Hussey.

The so-called 'resettlement' payments shared among 32 departing MLAs following last May's Assembly election totalled £696,331 (€812,823) with further winding-up allowances of £471,151 (€549,972).

Yesterday, MPs made sure to cast their vote. DUP leader Arlene Foster voted at Brookeborough Primary School in the heart of her Fermanagh and South Tyrone constituency.

The former first minister chatted with local people outside and said hello to the gathered media.

Forty miles away, Sinn Féin's northern leader Michelle O'Neill filled out her ballot paper in St Patrick's Primary School in her home village of Clonoe, Co Tyrone.

She was joined by her daughter Saoirse and son Ryan. He has just turned 18 and was voting for the first time.

"It's great that so many people are coming out to vote," said Ms O'Neill.

If the former partners in government are again returned as the main players, they will have three weeks to resolve their multiple differences and form a new administration.

The re-imposition of direct rule from London is on the cards if the post-election talks fail to mend tensions.

Irish Independent

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