Members of Northern Ireland’s legislative assembly (MLAs) have been paid a salary since their election to office and signing onto the roll of membership on 13th March 2017. But how much wage have they collected?
Progressive Politics NI claimed that MLAs were paid “nearly £2.2 million” in salaries up to 3rd September 2017. Is this accurate?
What is Progressive Politics NI?
According to its website, Progressive Politics NI (PPNI) is a campaign run by two activists: Scott Moore and Matthew Fulton. It was created on 15 January 2017 and has over 2,000 people following its Facebook Page. FactCheck NI spoke to Scott Moore via Facebook on 6 September. Scott explained to us that the objective of PPNI is to be a media platform that “promotes politics in Northern Ireland that is broadly socially liberal and economically left with a focus on cross-party cooperation”. The organisers have shared several posts to promote awareness about the cost of having a non-functioning Assembly in place. More specifically on 29 June and 3 September, they shared the following:
How much salary do MLAs receive?
FactCheckNI asked PPNI to explain how it calculated its estimate of “nearly £2.2 million”; it replied that it was based on MLAs earning a salary of £48,000 p.a. For the period of 13/3/2017-13/9/2017 (6 months), this equates to £2,160,000 (£4,000/month X 6 months X 90 MLAs).
However, this did not take into account that members received a pay rise on the 1st of April 2017.
In March 2016, the Independent Financial Review Panel approved a salary increase for MLAs, from £48,000 p.a. to £49,000 p.a., effective from May 2016. The panel also approved an annual increase of £500 that will take effect on the 1st of April each year, as a part of a new 5-year deal. The annual increase is dependent on the Consumer Price Index increasing by more than 1% in the previous year.
With the increase taking effect in April this year, MLAs now earn a salary of £49,500 p.a., or £4,125/month (NB the salary rate for 13-31/3/2017 was at £49,000 p.a.)
Are former office holders (Ministers, Speakers) still receiving pay?
As explained by the Northern Ireland Assembly website, in the absence of a newly elected Speaker and Deputy Speakers, or First Minister and deputy First Minister, those who held the following positions at the time of the previous election (unless they have resigned) continue to receive their salaries:
- the First and deputy First Ministers
- the Speaker and Deputy Speakers
- the members of the Assembly Commission
MLAs annual salary rates (including office holders) can be found here.
Thus, we calculate that the following office holders received the following salaries over the period examined:
- Robin Newton MLA (Speaker) (£87,500 p.a. = £7,292/month X 6 months): £43,750
- Patsy McGlone MLA (Deputy Speaker) (£55,500 p.a. = £4,625/month X 6 months): £27,750
- Caitriona Ruane (Principal Deputy Speaker; resigned 19/10/2017) (£55,500 p.a. = £4,625/month X 6 months): £27,750
- Danny Kennedy (Deputy Speaker; resigned 29/6/2017) (£55,500 p.a. = £4,625/month X 3.5 months): £16,188
- Jim Wells MLA (Member, Assembly Commission) (£55,500 p.a. = £4,625/month X 6 months): £27,750
- Alex Maskey MLA (Member, Assembly Commission) (£55,500 p.a. = £4,625/month X 6 months): £27,750
- Alex Attwood (Member, Assembly Commission) (£55,500 p.a. = £4,625/month X 6 months): £27,750
- Robin Swann MLA (Member, Assembly Commission) (£55,500 p.a. = £4,625/month X 6 months): £27,750
- Stewart Dickson MLA (Member, Assembly Commission) (£55,500 p.a. = £4,625/month X 6 months): £27,750
Note that the positions of First Minister and deputy First Minister have remained vacant since the resignation of Martin McGuinness MLA on 9/1/2017 (automatically resulting in the vacancy of the First Minister, under Standing Orders of the Assembly).
So what is the total estimation of the amount paid to MLAs?
Of the 90 MLAs elected to the Assembly on 2/3/2017, six were previous office holders eligible to receive higher salary rates.
Thus, 84 current MLAs received (£4,125/month X 6 months X 84 MLAs) a combined £2,079,000.
The sum of the eligible office holders above is £254,188.
The total is £2,333,188.
MLA income returned/donated
On 23 June 2017, the Belfast Telegraph reported that Alex Attwood, who was not re-elected to the Assembly, was retaining payments to him for his continued role as a member of the Assembly Commission, but would return the main portion of his salary (i.e. £55,500-£49,500 = £6,000 retained p.a.).
On 19 October 2017, Caitriona Ruane, also not re-elected to the Assembly, resigned her position of Principal Deputy Speaker. She stated that her salary was donated to charity.
This claim is broadly accurate: for the first six months of the new Assembly term, elected MLAs (and 3 non-returned office holders) received an estimated £2,333,188 in salaries (greater than claimed “nearly” £2.2 million). MLAs who signed the roll of membership at the Northern Ireland Assembly are receiving an annual salary of £49,500, regardless of whether the Assembly sits for business or not. (Eligible office holders are receiving a higher salary rate.)