Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLAs have been paid a total of approximately £78,000 since the Assembly Election on March 2, despite the fact the Assembly is dissolved and no legislative work is taking place.

The Impartial Reporter asked the five current MLAs (Arlene Foster, DUP; Rosemary Barton, UUP and Jemma Dolan, Sean Lynch and Colm Gildernew, Sinn Féin) to outline what they have achieved since they took their seats and whether they should continue to receive their MLA salary when the Assembly is not working.

Only one local MLA, Rosemary Barton, said she would “understand” a decision to reduce MLA salaries. All the parties pointed to the ongoing constituency work being carried out.

An MLA’s salary is £49,500 before tax and becomes effective the moment they sign the Assembly’s Roll of Membership, which they did on March 13, 11 days after the election. 

MLA means Member of the Legislative Assembly. They are elected by the people of Northern Ireland and their role is to represent those people by passing laws, examining policy on transferred matters such as health, education, the environment, social work and housing. However, the Assembly has been dissolved since January 26 when Martin McGuinness resigned as deputy First Minister after Arlene Foster refused to step aside as First Minister while an investigation into the botched Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme was carried out.

Prior to the dissolution of the Assembly, DUP leader Arlene Foster had commanded the First Minister’s salary of £121,500. She currently receives the normal MLA salary of £49,500. In the four months since the March Assembly election, she will have earned approximately £16,500. The same amount will have been earned by UUP MLA Rosemary Barton and Sinn Féin MLAs Jemma Dolan and Sean Lynch.

Sinn Féin’s Michelle Gildernew was elected as a Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA on March 2 and received her MLA salary until she was elected as MP on June 8. Her older brother Colm was co-opted into her MLA seat and signed the Roll of Membership on June 20, therefore, by the end of this month, he will have earned around £4,000. Responding to The Impartial Reporter’s questions, a DUP spokesman said: “Since the March Assembly election Arlene Foster negotiated a deal with the Conservative Party that has delivered £1 billion for Northern Ireland.” 

He added: “Arlene has committed herself to leading a DUP delegation through the process of restoring a devolved Government. In addition to this, Arlene has acted in her role as an MLA through her full time constituency service based in Enniskillen. Despite Sinn Fein collapsing the government, Arlene’s constituency services are continuing to provide help, support and representation to many constituents across Fermanagh and south Tyrone.”

Rosemary Barton stated: “While it is clear that MLAs have not been active in the Stormont chamber during the current impasse, we have been doing much of our work. Personally, I have continued to do my constituency work throughout Fermanagh and South Tyrone, liaising with government bodies, the Health and Social Care Trusts, Education Authority and other public bodies.”

She added: “As UUP education spokesperson, I am also working on policy development with the intention of being able to work effectively at Stormont as soon as a deal is reached.
“I would understand a decision to reduce MLA salaries to reflect the lack of legislative work at Stormont but I would be very disappointed if my staff were to lose their jobs. I intend to continue to work, along with my staff, for any constituent who comes to me with any issue. I will do this to the best of my ability regardless of the current state of the political process.”

Jemma Dolan, responding on behalf of herself, Sean Lynch and Colm Gildernew, said: “Sinn Féin MLAs continue to work to secure sustainable political institutions on the basis of equality, rights and respect, which deliver for all. We also continue to work hard to deliver the first-class constituency services for all citizens, which our party is renowned for.”

These figures do not include expenses. The total cost of NI’s 89 MLAs (salaries and expenses) currently stands at £1m each month.