Leading article

Cut to MLA salaries an inevitable outcome of impasse

As we approach the first anniversary of the collapse of the Stormont institutions, there is an inevitability about a proposal that MLA salaries are reduced.

No one can accuse James Brokenshire of acting in haste on the issue of reducing pay to politicians who are elected to an assembly which has not sat for almost a year.

If anything, the secretary of state has shown considerable latitude towards the main parties as deadlines to restore the executive have come and gone with no real sense that the key players are facing any real pressure.

It was right to allow Sinn Féin and the DUP time and space to see if they could reach agreement but that sort of approach cannot go on indefinitely.

With no assembly sitting, no legislation being passed and no ministers making decisions, it is difficult to argue that MLAs are entitled to their full salaries.

They will, of course, point to the work that continues to be done in their constituencies but that does not justify an annual wage of £49,500, particularly at a time of financial constraint in public services and the prospect of further cuts to come.

A reduction by almost a third to £42,000 with immediate effect seems fair in the circumstances with a further cut after three months if the assembly is not restored.

Although this recommendation, contained in a report by former assembly chief executive Trevor Reaney, will affect all MLAs, it should be recognised that many of them are ready and willing to get back to work but are stymied by the lack of a deal between the two main parties.

There is also the wider issue of the impact of stalemate on a generation of elected representatives who may drift away from active politics.

Cutting salaries is a step that has to be taken but we all should be concerned about what the future holds for our political institutions.

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