By Liam Clarke
Belfast Telegraph
Friday, 16 March 2012
**Via Newshound

The findings of an independent review body on MLAs’ pay were released yesterday, giving members an inflation-busting rise of £5,000 and sparking a storm of controversy.

The body, headed by health trust chief Pat McCartan, awarded the 108 MLAs an 11% increase which, if implemented, would bring their total pay to £48,000.

The rise has caused consternation at a time when MLAs are freezing public sector pay and the median wage here is given in the report as £18,720.

However, the review team say that the increase is self-financing and will show a profit of £3.16m, or £29,000 per MLA, between now and 2015.

This is achieved largely through cuts in offices allowances which will fall from £75,857 a year to £69,238 by 2012, saving £1.8m.

The results of the review were rejected by the two major parties last night. Both Sinn Fein and the DUP rejected the review’s recommendation that above inflation pay increases be funded mainly by cuts to office allowance.

Mr McCartan defended the panel’s findings.

He said: “We encourage everyone to look at this package as a whole,” he said. “We believe that our report is good for politics and good for Northern Ireland.”

MLAs who are also councillors will have 100% of their basic councillor allowance progressively deducted from their MLA salary by April 1 next year.

Eight MLAs who are also MPs will have their Assembly Office Costs Expenses progressively reduced from £37,928 per year to £8,655 per year by April 1, 2014.

Automatic cost of living increases for expenses have been stopped and a ban slapped on employing more than one family member or purchasing goods and services from “connected parties” including family members, political donors and political parties.

Mr McCartan also said that the pay increases would be voluntary.

He stated that if any MLA didn’t want it all they have to do is pick up the phone to the clerk of the assembly and send him a message saying what salary they do want to accept.

“If they do that money goes back into the public purse,” he said.

The biggest proposed rise of all goes to the Speaker Willie Hay who gets a 16% rise. From April 1, 2013, he will get a £44,000 allowance on top of his MLA’s pay.

Another recommendation which could prove contentious effectively ends the practice whereby Sinn Fein MLAs pay their wages into a “pooled account held by the party” and then receive allowances set by the party.

The report says that legally the money must be paid to the individual member’s bank account so that there is a clear audit trail.

It adds: “The primary responsibility of individual MLAs is to their constituents and the people of Northern Ireland and not to their party.”

This will hit at a major source of Sinn Fein party funding which, under the donor confidentiality rules in Northern Ireland, has not been subjected to scrutiny up until now.

Sinn Fein will also be disproportionately affected by a provision which cuts the allowances of MLAs who are also MPs.

Five out of eight members affected sit on the Sinn Fein benches.

I haven’t had a pay rise in three years

My View: Eoin Stewart, nurse

I am lost for words really.

I’m a charge nurse at the Mater Hospital’s A&E and if you look at the cost of living nowadays and the fact I haven’t had a pay rise in three years, just getting by is extremely difficult.

The cost of milk, bread, all the basics, are getting so high, that every nurse is struggling.

I am married to a nurse and have three children and we’re both working full-time but still struggling to pay the mortgage and put food on the table every month.

So to hear that MLAs are getting such a massive pay rise is absolutely disgusting and I know every one of my colleagues will agree with me.

I love my job and I am not complaining about the work I do but I am complaining because I don’t believe I get paid properly for the work I do.

After tax I bring home about £1,500 a month.

Nurses don’t get breaks, they never get to finish on time. The health service survives on the goodwill of the staff and without that goodwill the NHS would collapse.

I’m not saying our MLAs don’t work hard, I am sure they do, but I’m also sure they get lunch and dinner breaks.

We don’t get paid to keep working after our shift finishes but we do it to make sure the job gets done, but it’s getting harder because of the all the cuts to the budget.

Every department in the hospital is struggling with the budget cuts. Jobs aren’t being filled when someone leaves and we’re expected to pick up the slack. The health service is being run according to money and putting patients at risk.

For these MLAs to accept a pay rise at this time is just disgusting.

Eoin is a charge nurse at Belfast’s Mater Hospital

I’m not doing this job for the money

My View: Sandra Overend, MLA

Life as an MLA is pretty intense.

Generally I am not home until 7pm or 8pm — just in time to tuck my youngest child into bed.

As soon as all my three children are in bed I will be back reading folders of notes, writing speeches or looking at questions to raise issues. I sit up quite late at night preparing for the next day.

I am in my constituency office on Wednesday and will be dealing with the issues that people bring to me.

I am back in the Assembly on Thursdays because I sit on the Enterprise, Trade and Investment committee. On Fridays I am back in the constituency office.

It is demanding being an elected representative.

The UUP was a large part of my life before I became an MLA but since being elected it does really just take over your whole thinking — almost 24-hours a day.

Even when you go to bed you are still thinking about people who you need to get back to or to help.

I do try to switch off on Saturdays and Sundays and commit that time to my family.

I think any reduction in the office cost allowance would be detrimental. The service that I can provide in my constituency is of paramount importance and I would be very disappointed to hear it is being reduced.

I am not in this job for the money. I am here because to be able to provide service to my constituents in the work that I do both on the plenary floor and through my constituency office.

I do not think that any cut in office cost expenditure will help me do that job.

Sandra is a UUP Assembly member and mother of three who lives in Moneymore