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Suspended assembly defends extra £38,000-a-year for speaker Robin Newton

Robin Newton continues to receive the speaker's salary of £87,000

THE Stormont authorities have defended paying speaker Robin Newton an additional salary more than six months after the assembly collapsed.

The East Belfast MLA, who previously faced criticism for his handling of key Stormont debates, is thought to have been paid an extra £20,000 since January.

On top of the £49,000 salary which all MLAs continue to receive, the speaker gets an extra £38,000-a-year.

Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson criticised the continued payments to Mr Newton.

"It is a farce that the speaker is continuing to be paid his speaker's wages despite the assembly not sitting for the vast majority of 2017," the East Antrim representative said.

He said it was "particularly galling", given in the last sitting term the speaker behaved in a manner which meant he lost the confidence of MLAs.

But the assembly authorities defended the payments.

"The speaker remains particularly focused on his responsibility to ensure the assembly is able to meet and resume full business immediately that a political resolution is reached," a spokesman said.

"He has indicated to members that he would like to see this happen as soon as possible and the arrangements set out for the assembly under legislation could then operate as intended."

The spokesman said that in the meantime the Mr Newton and members of the Assembly Commission had been "liaising with officials to manage some of the implications arising from the extended period of negotiations".

It has also emerged that former SDLP MLA Alex Attwood is seeking to repay the £55,000 salary he has been receiving as a member of the Assembly Commission.

Mr Attwood lost his West Belfast seat in March's election but because the institutions are suspended he remains a member of Stormont's cross-party administrative committee.

It is understood Mr Attwood wrote to the assembly chief executive Lesley Hogg asking that he be paid only that portion of his salary – £6,000 – that relates to his role on the commission.

However, he was told that for legal reasons the assembly is required to pay the full amount.

After contacting the Treasury in London, the former environment minister agreed to pay the money into a consolidated fund.

"He has subsequently returned the MLA allowance to the Treasury and confirmed to Treasury that he will continue to do so every month for such time as he is a member of the Assembly Commission," an SDLP spokesman told The Irish News.

"When the institutions are restored, another MLA will be appointed to the commission by the SDLP."

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