Northern Ireland

NI Politics: 15 Retiring MLAs in line for 'resettlement grant' worth almost £500k

Stormont
Image caption MLAs who stand but fail to be re-elected also qualify for the windfall payment

Fifteen retiring MLAs from Stormont are in line for a special one-off "resettlement grant" worth almost £500,000 between them.

The final bill from the public purse to meet the politicians' redundancy-type payments will be significantly higher.

MLAs who stand but fail to be re-elected also qualify for the payment.

The retiring MLAs will get between £16,000 and £44,000 each depending on their age and how many years they have been in the assembly.

"All resettlement payments are processed in the month following the election for both retiring MLAs and those not returned," an assembly spokesperson told BBC NI's The View, adding that a member does not have to apply. The grant is paid automatically.

The leaving payments come on top of an MLA's pension and the first £30,000 is tax free.

The current "resettlement grant" is being paid out at the higher rate which is due to change in the next assembly.

All but one retiring MLA - Gregory Campbell from the DUP - are entitled to the payments.

Mr Campbell does not qualify since he is on an MP's salary.

Final cost

The combined cost of paying the "resettlement allowance" to the retiring MLAs is £440,000.

The final cost to the taxpayer will be higher, as MLAs who are not re-elected are also eligible to receive it.

"As the numbers eligible for Resettlement Allowance will not be finalised until after the election results have been verified, it would not be possible to provide any information about its total cost," a spokesperson for the assembly said.

The DUP, Sinn Féin, Ulster Unionists, SDLP, Alliance, Greens and TUV all declined to give an interview on the topic but David McNarry from UKIP agreed.

Image caption Seamus Close also received the allowance when he bowed out of politics in 2007

Former Strangford MLA Mr McNarry qualifies for an allowance of just over £32,000, since he is not putting himself forward for election. He believes the grant is too high.

"It is far too generous and I think there is no point in it," he said. "But it is there.

"It is a rule and they seem to be happy with it. If politicians go into elected politics for money, they are the wrong reasons."

Former Alliance Party deputy leader Seamus Close also received the allowance when he bowed out of politics in 2007.

He said the resettlement grants were designed to give politicians financial security in the uncertain world of politics in the event that representatives suddenly find themselves unseated and without a job.

"I found it extremely useful," he added.

"It gave you a sense of financial stability.

"It's designed to help people less fortunate than me. I was able to go back as a company director.

"There are others who have no job, and will be faced with the immediate problem in regard to mortgages, repayments on their cars and putting food on the table. That was the purpose for which this system was devised."

Under the current payout system, a politician could get a maximum sum of 100% of their £48,000 annual salary. The percentage paid depends on age and the years spent at Stormont.

Image caption Pat McCartan said the new rates are similar to those in parliaments in Scotland, Wales and the Republic of Ireland

But under new rules brought in by the Independent Financial Review Panel on MLAs' wages, the payment has been cut to one month's pay for each year's service capped at £24,500. For this crop of outgoing MLAs, the older higher rates still apply.

The chair of the Independent Financial Review Panel Pat McCartan said: "The old system was one which we inherited from MLAs themselves and which was based on a fairly generous interpretation of the Westminster system and designed to attract and retain people into politics in a very very difficult time.

"That situation no longer pertains. It is time now to look at what we should have for the foreseeable future for comparison with other legislatures."

Mr McCartan said the new rates are similar to those in parliaments in Scotland, Wales and the Republic of Ireland.

"We have had a look at those and we think we have got it about right," he said.

"What we have actually done is cut the resettlement allowance in half for the new assembly".

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