Assembly statement contradicts DUP salaries claim
THE DUP had no discussions with Stormont authorities about paying back salaries until after The Irish News revealed its 'in-out' ministers were being paid for the days they worked, the assembly has confirmed.
In the midst of the salaries storm that engulfed the DUP earlier this month, its part-time health minister Simon Hamilton told the media the party was making arrangements to return wages earned while ministers were briefly in office.
On the same day East Derry MP Gregory Campbell suggested salaries had been repaid by cheque, while a statement from DUP headquarters said discussions were taking place with assembly authorities.
However, the assembly has confirmed that there was no correspondence or record of discussions about repaying wages when Mr Hamilton, Mr Campbell or DUP headquarters made their respective claims.
The ministers have since paid the wages back.
Peter Robinson withdrew all but one of his ministers from the executive in September following the arrest of Sinn Féin northern chairman Bobby Storey.
In order to prevent other parties taking the vacant portfolios, the DUP was renominating its ministers after seven days, only for them to resign shortly afterwards.
Over the following month DUP ministers resigned no fewer than 25 times before they all rejoined the executive last week following the publication of the British government's paramilitary monitoring report.
When the DUP launched the policy after failing to get the assembly adjourned, the party's representatives insisted they would not be paid.
However, The Irish News revealed on October 7 that its ministers were receiving salaries for the days they worked.
Mr Campbell moved to quell criticism by suggesting the ministers' earnings for the days they were in office had been paid back by cheque.
On the same day Mr Hamilton said his party was making arrangements with the assembly to repay the money.
A further statement issued by the DUP on October 7 said: "As the money is paid under legislation by the assembly we have had discussions with the assembly finance authorities about not only stopping future payments but also the repayment of any payments previously made. As a result of those discussions appropriate arrangements are be made to ensure that happens."
But a response from the assembly to a Freedom of Information request submitted by The Irish News suggests that no such discussions had taken place.
The assembly response states: "As at the close of business on October 7 2015 the NI assembly has no correspondence or record of any discussions, nor have any meetings been arranged with the DUP regarding ministerial salaries."
The SDLP's Alban Maginness said the DUP's in-out strategy had been "utter chaos from the moment it was first revealed".
He claimed that by putting the party interest first, the DUP had abandoned their responsibility to people in the north.
"But more than that, it now appears that they were caught on the back foot in relation to their ministerial salaries and attempted to spin their way out," the North Belfast MLA said.
"It is imperative that we have crystal clear transparency and accountability around this issue – the public very were badly let down by the DUP, they cannot now also be misinformed."