An honest day’s pay for an honest day’s toil

07 September 2018 - by Quintin Oliver

Finally, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Karen Bradley MP has bowed to public opinion and docked MLA pay-packets.

The popular view has clearly and overwhelmingly decided that if you’re not at work, you shouldn’t take home the reward. Bradley has succumbed to that pressure. 

For 18 months since our 90 public representatives were elected in March last year, reduced by popular demand from the original 108, the British government has felt that dismantling the political infrastructure was a risk. Now that will be tested. 

There are three challenges to the ‘punishment’ theory that MLAs will now redouble their efforts to secure a fresh devolved settlement and win back their £50k salaries:

1. Many don’t need the £14,000 that they will now lose in two tapered reductions. The very rich (farmers with land, barristers), the comfortably retired (we still have more 65+ members than many legislatures) and the compulsorily poor (industrial average wage Sinn Féin and People Before Profit MLAs) will not be ‘bought’ in this way. 

2. Some will genuinely struggle to pay mortgages, feed large families and heat their homes, or pay managers to run their farms, thus driving them out of politics and back to their professions. Their loyal staff (whose salaries are wisely protected) will do more citizens’ advice-type constituency work and less political advice and support. That represents a loss to democracy.  

3. Most importantly it undermines and weakens the political infrastructure that every society really needs. If they go back to the farm, or classroom, or take on part-time work, how will they concentrate on the very task of reconciling their differences? 

The public has its half-pound of flesh, but we deserve better from both Westminster and Kildare House to create the conditions for a meaningful all-party talks process.


An edited version of this article was first published in today's Daily Mirror