Northern Ireland news

Funds agreed for group that lobbied Ian Paisley for councillor pay rise

How The Irish News revealed that DUP MP Ian Paisley lobbied for councillors to receive a pay rise
Brendan Hughes

A COUNCIL has re-approved ratepayer funding for a union body that lobbied Ian Paisley about giving councillors a pay rise.

Mid and East Antrim Borough Council had been reviewing its annual payment to the National Association of Councillors' Northern Ireland branch (NACNI).

It came after The Irish News revealed Mr Paisley encouraged the Secretary of State to consider giving councillors a 50 per cent wage increase.

The DUP North Antrim MP sent Ms Bradley proposals to increase councillors' basic annual wage from £14,485 to £21,727 following a meeting with NACNI.

It 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 £79,468. MLAs usually receive £49,500 but this has been cut to £35,888 due to Stormont's collapse.

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NACNI is funded by Northern Ireland'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 each per year.

DUP North Antrim MP Ian Paisley and Secretary of State Karen Bradley

But some councillors rejected NACNI's lobbying and said councillors should choose whether to pay their membership fee rather than ratepayers footing the bill.

In March, a query was raised at a Mid and East Antrim council meeting about whether the £3,200 fee could be paid for through special responsibility allowances and the chief executive Anne Donaghy agreed to examine the matter.

At a meeting last month, Ms Donaghy told councillors the fee would "sit outside" of special responsibility allowances and proposed continuing the annual payment, which councillors then agreed.

The UUP's Stephen Nicholl, who lost his council seat last month, had urged Mid and East Antrim council stop paying his NACNI membership fee.

He said he was "not surprised" by the decision against cutting the NACNI payment, saying that "nobody is pushing for it".

In his letter in March last year, Mr Paisley told Ms Bradley that councils "bear a considerable burden" in the absence of devolved government at Stormont.

He encouraged the Northern Ireland secretary to meet with NACNI "to hear from them first-hand the needs in regards to local government".

A Northern Ireland Office minister later replied saying that the British government's priority is restoring devolution.

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