WITH the deadline to form a new Executive passed without agreement, Fermanagh MLAs have refused to accept they should have their salaries stopped until a new Assembly is formed.
On Sunday Sinn Fein pulled out of the talks to end the current political impasse, stating negotiations had broken down. With the deadline passing on Monday afternoon without a deal being reached, Secretary of State James Brokenshire has given the parties several more weeks to form a powersharing Executive.
In light of the ongoing political crisis, which has seen top civil servants given responsibility for the running of the budget and the public service in the interim, there have been growing calls for MLAs to have their £48,000 salaries, and associated expenses, suspended until they can take their seats in the new Assembly.
Speaking yesterday, Mr Brokenshire warned of a return to direct rule if the impasse continued, and when asked if in that scenario Stormont MLAs could have their salaries suspended he said “all options are under consideration.”
The Herald caught up with two of Fermanagh South Tyrone’s five MLAs yesterday, the UUP’s Rosemary Barton, pictured left, and Sinn Fein’s Sean Lynch.
Ms Barton said it was “a difficult question to answer.”
“While it is clear that MLAs have a reduced role during any period of direct rule, we still have a role,” she said, citing the continued negotiations, constituency work, and liaising with various agencies as the continued work MLAs had to carry out.
“My main concern with stopping all MLA salaries and expenses is that this would mean my staff lose their jobs, I would have to close my office and it would make restoring the service I provide after Stormont gets back up and running much slower and more difficult.”
Ms Barton suggested a compromise could be to keep office expenses protected, while MLAs had their salaries reduced “to take into account the lack of progress at Stormont.”
Meanwhile, Mr Lynch did not answer the question of whether the salaries and expenses should be stopped, stating the question wasn’t relevant.
“From Sinn Fein’s position, we were never in Stormont for the salary,” he said, adding SF MLAs only received the industrial wage. “We feel that shouldn’t be the issue. We feel it should be about equality, rights, those are what the issues are, issues that should be implemented.
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