Almost nine months into Northern Ireland’s fourth political impasse since the Good Friday Agreement, much debate has centred around MLAs continuing to receive there full wage packet (£48,000 per annum), despite not fulfilling their legislative roll, in the absence of an Executive and subsequently the suspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly.
According to LucidTalk’s latest Tracker poll, the remuneration of MLAs has gone down less flavourbly with unionists and even less favourably with ‘centrist’ voters. The results showed that nationalists were less opposed to docking wages, as 20% believed that salaries, benefits, and office allowances should remain at full level, unlike just 6% of unionist voters and 4% of centre party voters. This in and of itself shows that there is perhaps a greater tolerance within Nationalism towards the current stand-off.
That said, the overwhelming feeling across communal lines, as shown above, is that MLA salaries should be terminated completely and immediately. Aside from saving the tax-payer money it is important to flesh out what the advantages of stopping wages will be.
An incentive like no other
Last week, DUP leader, Arlene Foster said that MLA pay cuts should not be used as ‘the stick’ by the Secretary of State to force the two big parties to come to an agreement and get Stormont back up and running. Whilst wage cuts on the surface may seem extortive, the use of ‘the carrot’ has be rendered ineffective thus far. Given the fast unravelling of the situation and the need for a government with Brexit, and welfare cuts hurtling down the track, the time for creative incentives has passed.
Politics should mirror wider society
In no other profession would it be acceptable to not turn up for work, regardless of your grievances with other colleagues or employers, and still expect to get paid in full at the end of the month. When it is comes down to it, this is exactly the situation with our MLAs. As Stormont continues to remain vacant and the chamber seats continue to collect dust, our legislators, despite not legislating, continue to benefit of the back of tax-payers, many of which did not vote for this shameful state of affairs. More than this, it is tax-payers who are feeling the strain of the absence of government, whilst unelected civil servants make cut after cut to our vital services, leaving the electorate to pay the price. It is time our politicians feel the financial consequences of their actions or more befitting, inaction.
Yet there may be some harmful consequences of terminating MLA salaries in the midst of political stalemate:
The depletion of the political class
Our MLAs, like the rest of us, have bills to pay and families to feed. Should the Secretary of State decide that the best form of applying pressure to the process is to cut wages, then aside from our most affluent MLAs, the majority would have to seek employment elsewhere. Despite popular opinion, there is no denying that we have some first class public servants in the halls of Stormont, many of whom have dedicated much of their lives to reforming our society in a post-conflict era. There is some extremely able MLAs that would be a real loss for Northern Ireland, case and point being the ability of the 10 DUP MPs to strike a deal with the Conservative Party in return for economic gain. The replacement of the political class in the event of the return of power-sharing could hinder the process greatly, and would be an added wave of instability Northern Ireland could do without.
Many MLAs provide a community service we cannot do without
The absence of government, and therefore high politics is felt at all levels in society. Yet the absence of MLAs will be felt in certain pockets of society more than others. Should MLAs lose salaries, office allowances and staff, constituency services will be no more. With the imminent ruckus of Universal Credit, the plight of drugs in many areas of high deprivation across Northern Ireland, and cuts to vital services, MLAs are often the last port of call for many constituents in need of help. MLAs aren’t simply legislators but service providers we cannot do without.
At Northern Slant, we are keen to hear your views on this. Should MLAs continue to receive their wages in full, or should they be terminated? Is it really as simple as that?