Northern Ireland Secretary threatens MLA pay ahead of party meetings

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris. Pic Presseye
Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris

The Northern Ireland Secretary is heading into talks with the Stormont parties following the collapse of the Assembly threatening he could cut MLA pay.

He said many people found it "unfair" MLAs continued to receive pay while government had not functioned properly since the last election in May.

Chris Heaton-Harris denied a U-turn in not calling an election on Friday after saying he could call a fresh return to the polls immediately after the deadline for the parties to form a new executive passed.

According to current legislation he must call an election within the next 12 weeks and it had been expected a December 15 election would be called.

Earlier on Sunday Sinn Fein Stormont leader Michelle O’Neill and DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson gave opposing viewpoints in separate interviews. Ms O’Neill blamed the DUP for refusing to work with the other parties, and said they do not want to re-enter the executive with the first non-unionist First Minister. Sinn Fein emerged as the largest party at Stormont for the first time following the last Assembly election in May. But Sir Jeffrey defended his position and urged the UK Government to address unionist issues with the Northern Ireland Protocol, which he said would allow his party to re-enter government. He denied Ms O’Neill’s claim and said that for his party, it is about the union, rather than who will be the next First Minister and deputy First Minister. Meanwhile, talks continue between the UK Government and the European Commission to address issues around the protocol. In a statement on Sunday evening, Mr Heaton-Harris confirmed he will meet Ms O’Neill and Sir Jeffrey as well as Alliance leader Naomi Long and UUP leader Doug Beattie on Tuesday. He described these meetings as being planned to “discuss next steps”, including how he will ensure public services continue to run, protect the public finances and consider options on MLA pay. Mr Heaton-Harris is also to meet the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, later in the week. He reiterated his disappointment that an executive was not formed. “The duty to call an election is not one I bear lightly, and I will be outlining to the parties that the people of Northern Ireland deserve a strong and accountable government,” he said. “In the meantime, I will work tirelessly to protect the interests of the citizens of Northern Ireland. “There are a number of things I could do, including taking action on MLA pay, which I know many people feel is deeply unfair while the Assembly is unable to function fully. “I am also concerned by the issues within the Stormont budget and will address these urgently with my officials and those from the Northern Ireland Civil Service.”

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