Northern Ireland

Stormont MLAs paid £9m since assembly suspended

Stormont's Parliament Buildings
Image caption Northern Ireland has been without a functioning executive since January 2017

MLA pay has cost the taxpayer more than £9m since Stormont was suspended 18 months ago.

The figure was revealed by a Northern Ireland Office official in the House of Commons

Secretary of State Karen Bradley was being questioned by MPs at the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee at Westminster.

North Down MP Lady Sylvia Hermon called it "absolutely outrageous."

Last December an independent report commissioned by the previous Secretary of State James Brokenshire recommended cutting the 90 MLAs' salaries by £13,612 in the absence of a sitting assembly at Stormont.

Northern Ireland has been without a functioning executive since January 2017.

Subsequent talks have failed to restore the power-sharing executive.

Image caption Karen Bradley accepted there was public anger about the situation

In March, Mrs Bradley, who succeeded James Brokenshire, said she was "minded" to implement the cut after the collapse of talks aimed at restoring devolution.

But on Wednesday, under tough questioning by Lady Hermon, she said she was still considering the situation.

The North Down MP asked her why she was "prevaricating" on the issue adding: "Have you any idea just how angry and fed up the general public are with the fact that MLAs are still receiving their full salary 18 months after the collapse of the assembly?"

Mrs Bradley accepted there was public anger about the situation saying she had messages about it on her Facebook page and "every day" she was in Northern Ireland.

The secretary of state was asked which political parties had opposed a pay cut but she said it would not be "appropriate" to do so.

Later, after a question from Labour MP Kate Hoey, Mrs Bradley said it would "not be helpful to put timelines or deadlines" on when she might consider bringing back direct rule to Northern Ireland.

Analysis by Jayne McCormack, BBC News NI Political Reporter

Today's revelation is likely to have members of the public rolling their eyes yet again about politics here.

The £9m figure does not include MLAs' pensions or expenses either, so the overall cost will be even higher.

Still, the dance between the parties and the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) about a pay cut continues.

While the dust has settled on Stormont in terms of a breakthrough any time soon, the NIO's strategy seems to be wait-and-see.

Some MLAs say they're embarrassed to be getting their full salary when they're not doing the full job, and have openly called for their pay to be reduced.

But despite Karen Bradley receiving expert advice for precisely that to happen, there are no signs she will heed it right now.

Border policing

Mrs Bradley also rejected a suggestion by the chair of the committee, Conservative MP Andrew Murrison, that there was serious difference of opinion between the NIO and Chief Constable George Hamilton over the level of guidance and assistance the PSNI is receiving over post-Brexit border security issues.

Mr Murrison said Mr Hamilton had told the committee he was getting "very little support from those he would ordinarily expect to get support from" and that he was "clearly in a very difficult position".

Mrs Bradley said: "We are making sure that he has appropriate people that he can liaise with both in the Home Office and the Department for Exiting the European Union and of course we do speak to him in a very regular basis."

Questioned by Lady Hermon, she denied that Mr Hamilton had been denied a request for additional resources for planning for policing the border post-Brexit.

"He has put a bid in, he has put a request in and we're looking at that request," Mrs Bradley said.

She also said the decision by an Old Bailey judge to free Hyde Park bomb suspect John Downey because he produced an On The Run letter "was the wrong decision".

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