Northern Ireland news

Councils urged to stop funding trade union after Ian Paisley letter lobbying for councillors pay rise

DUP MP Ian Paisley, and inset, how The Irish News revealed Mr Paisley lobbied for councillors to receive a pay rise
Brendan Hughes

COUNCILS have been urged to stop using ratepayer cash to fund councillors' membership of a union body that's calling for wage "equality" with MLAs and MPs.

It comes after The Irish News on Monday revealed that DUP MP Ian Paisley lobbied Secretary of State Karen Bradley to give Northern Ireland councillors a 50 per cent pay rise.

He sent Ms Bradley proposals to increase councillors' basic annual wage from £14,485 to £21,727 following a meeting last year with the National Association of Councillors' Northern Ireland branch (NACNI).

The union body has been lobbying for councillors' allowances and benefits to be brought "closer to those received by other public representatives such as MLAs and MPs".

The basic salary for MPs is £77,379. MLAs usually receive £49,500 but this has been cut to £35,888 due to Stormont's collapse.

NACNI is funded by the north's 11 councils and is made up of councillors acting as delegates from each authority. Every councillor is automatically a member, with councils paying their membership fee of £80 per year.

Ulster Unionist councillor Stephen Nicholl, who opposes raising councillors' wages, yesterday said he is trying to make Mid and East Antrim council stop paying his NACNI membership fee.

"The idea that we are replacing MLAs or replacing their workload is simply not justifiable. It is a nonsense that councillors are worth 50 per cent more than the pay they are getting," he said.

"The council shouldn't be paying for me because I don't want to be a member of this organisation. It's one of these things where you're a member whether you like it or not."

Mr Nicholl said it is "not the ratepayers' responsibility to pay for the trade union membership for councillors".

"If councillors want to belong to a lobby organisation, they should be paying the membership themselves," he said.

UUP councillor Michael Henderson, chair of NACNI, said councils pay into various organisations including the Northern Ireland Local Government Association (Nilga), which represents the 11 councils.

He said it has not been discussed before but he would have "no objections" to councillors paying for their own membership.

Asked about the pay rise calls, Mr Henderson said they are seeking a "review" that would examine councillors' roles and pay conditions.

Stormont's other main parties were asked whether they support a pay rise for councillors.

A DUP spokesman said Stormont's absence "has been offered as one of the reasons to increase councillors' allowances", but he added that the party "wants to see the assembly and executive restored immediately".

Sinn Féin did not respond to requests for a comment.

An SDLP spokesman said there is "no substantial case for a 50 per cent increase".

An Alliance spokesman said the party "sees no grounds for further change at this time".

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