Northern Ireland news

MLAs' relatives to benefit from bumper staff pay rises

Clockwise from top left, some of the MLAs who employ their relatives: Trevor Clarke, Edwin Poots, Steve Aiken, Jim Allister, Paula Bradley, Paula Bradshaw, Maolíosa McHugh and Joanne Bunting
Brendan Hughes

HUSBANDS and wives of MLAs are among the staff set to benefit from bumper pay rises awarded to constituency office workers.

MLAs last month gave their constituency office staff salary increases of up to around 60 per cent after abandoning having rules set by an independent panel.

One in six assembly members employs a relative among their staff, while some also employ councillors and party activists.

The changes to staff wages and constituency office expenses could cost taxpayers an additional £4.25 million a year.

Fifteen of the 90 assembly members employ a relative, according to the Stormont register of members' interests.

The DUP is the party with the most MLAs who employ relatives at 10.

The UUP have two, while Sinn Féin, Alliance and TUV each have one assembly member employing a relative.

Ulster Unionist leader Steve Aiken employs his wife as a policy, communications and research officer.

Environment minister Edwin Poots, a DUP MLA for Lagan Valley, employs his son as a part-time case worker.

TUV leader Jim Allister's daughter works as his part-time receptionist and constituency case worker.

Alliance South Belfast MLA Paula Bradshaw employs her husband Ian Parsley as a part-time parliamentary officer.

According to the register, Mr Parsley also works as a part-time researcher for independent MLA Trevor Lunn, who quit Alliance in March over "internal differences".

DUP MLA Trevor Clarke's wife, party councillor Linda Clarke, works as his office administrator.

The DUP's Alex Easton and Paul Frew and UUP MLA Roy Beggs also employ their wives in their constituency offices.

Sinn Féin MLA Maolíosa McHugh has since January employed his nephew on a temporary basis to cover for his office manager, who is on maternity leave.

DUP MLA Paula Bradley employs her cohabitee as a part-time constituency assistant, while party colleague Joanne Bunting employs her aunt as a part-time constituency assistant.

DUP former communities minister Paul Givan employs his father as a part-time research assistant.

DUP MLAs Gordon Dunne and George Robinson employ their sons in their offices.

DUP MLA William Irwin's daughter is employed as a secretarial case worker.

The register says former assembly speaker Robin Newton, a DUP MLA for East Belfast, employs his son as an office manager/researcher, but that he has been on a period of unpaid leave since 2018.

A DUP spokesman said the assembly has been informed Mr Newton's son, Belfast party councillor Adam Newton, is no longer employed in the constituency office.

The register also says that from 2017, the SDLP's Patsy McGlone temporarily employed as maternity cover for his office manager the daughter of the late party MLA John Dallat. An SDLP spokesman said this employment has since ceased.

The increases in staff pay were announced by the Assembly Commission, a body made up of MLAs from Stormont's five main parties.

Rules had previously been set by the Independent Financial Review Panel, but it was not reappointed after its term ended in 2016.

For Grade One staff, the top salary is now £23,490, up from £18,000. For a Grade Two the top salary has increased from £19,750 to £29,400.

Top-grade workers, whose salary was previously capped at £22,750, could now be paid above £36,000.

MLAs have also increased office expenses from £4,900 to £7,000 per year.

The commission has enhanced the workers' conditions, entitling them to six months sickness on full pay, in line with public sector workers.

People Before Profit's Gerry Carroll, who opposed allowing the Assembly Commission to set expenses, said there has been "absolutely no due process, nor accountability in this decision-making process".

However, the NI Assembly said the changes bring constituency staff wages into line with other civil service employees.

Sinn Féin's Alex Maskey, who chairs the Assembly Commission, said constituency office staff "should not be treated less favourably than assembly staff".

He also also insisted the changes "in no way diminish the scrutiny and oversight that the Assembly Commission applies to all allowances that are available to MLAs".

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