Cutting MLA pay will not influence DUP boycott of Stormont, says Edwin Poots
A British government threat to cut MLA pay will have no influence on the DUP’s boycott of Stormont powersharing, a senior party figure has warned.
Secretary of State Brandon Lewis has signalled a move to reduce Assembly member wages if the institutions are not restored “soon”.
The DUP is using a veto to prevent the return of the Assembly and Executive after last month’s election.
The party has made clear it will only re-engage with powersharing when decisive action is taken to remove checks on Irish Sea trade created by Brexit’s contentious Northern Ireland Protocol.
The DUP has welcomed the government move to unilaterally scrap aspects of the protocol by way of domestic laws, but the party has made clear it needs to see progress with the legislation before it begins a “graduated” return to Stormont.
During the last powersharing impasse between 2017 and 2020, the British government reduced MLA pay 18 months after the institutions were pulled down by Sinn Féin.
On Sunday, Mr Lewis said the government will not wait that long this time.
“We can’t wait that long. I do require legislation to deal with that but, yes, if Stormont is not back up and running soon that is something we need to deal with,” he told the BBC’s Sunday Politics show.
“I will be looking to bring legislation in order to deal with MLA pay, absolutely.”
Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots said if Mr Lewis wants to cut pay he should “bring it on”.
Asked if he feels uncomfortable accepting his salary when the Assembly and Executive are not meeting, Mr Poots told BBC Radio Ulster: “I’m working six days a week most weeks, so personally I have no issue about taking pay, but if Brandon Lewis wants to cut pay, bring it on – that’s entirely up to him.
“That will have no bearing whatsoever on the position that we’re adopting. None whatsoever. We are standing on a principle. Therefore, pay will not be an issue that will detract us from achieving what we’ve set out to achieve.”
Asked if he feels Mr Lewis is issuing an empty threat, Mr Poots responded: “I don’t care, he can threaten all he likes – this is about a principle. Therefore, if Brandon Lewis wishes to do this, he can do it.”
Mr Poots also questioned why the British government is apparently taking a different approach to its stance on pay from the last collapse.
However, Sinn Féin MP John Finucane said Stormont Assembly members being paid for work they cannot do is “untenable”.
“In principle, I think it’s untenable for MLAs to be paid for the work that they are unable to do,” he told Radio Ulster.
“I think that what we hear from Brandon Lewis again is rather vague.”
He added: “It seems to be an announcement that there may well be an announcement in the future. But I don’t think we can look at the context of MLAs’ pay without looking at the reasons behind that.
“The British government have indulged and indeed rewarded one particular party here that holds everybody to ransom.
“MLAs that I listen to want to get in and do the job that they have been elected to do.”
Asked if cutting pay would make any difference, he said: “I don’t think that announcement yesterday changes a single thing because it doesn’t really say very much.”