No increase for Coleraine MLA

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COLERAINE’S only independent Assembly member, David McClarty, has hit back at hype over a £5,000 pay hike for MLAs revealing he will now be £1,000 per year worse off.

The former UUP councillor, pictured, who enjoyed a landslide election victory last year after being dumped by his party, says the 11% increase will be offset against savage cuts to office expenses totalling £6,000.

And he is supported in his view by solo SDLP MLA for Coleraine and former councillor, John Dallat, who believes the smaller parties and individual members will be hit hardest by the salary changes - the first in 10 years.

“As a single MLA representing this constituency I have to have a presence in the two main population areas - Coleraine and Limavady - consequently I have rented offices in both towns. This is currently costing me £2,000 a year out of my own pocket which I can’t claim back,” said councillor McClarty.

“In 2013 an MLA’s salary rises from £43,000 to £48,000 roughly but then you factor in a £6,000 cut in office expenses and that’s an another loss to me of £1,000. I don’t employ any family members so I can’t make up the shortfall that way.

“I recognise people are struggling at the minute and frankly I am embarrassed that this has blown up the way it has with everyone believing we are benefiting from an extra £5,000 a year.

“I want to provide the best service I can for the people who elect me but that can’t be done on the cheap,” he added. “I don’t want this to affect the service I provide and the very people I set out to help.”

Mr Dallat, whose party fears the changes are an attack on constituency workers, was quick to dismiss any talk of remuneration and agreed with McClarty that working for his constituents should never be about money.

He told Coleraine Times: “I didn’t come into politics for the money and I can say with hand on heart I will be leaving with a pension which will be considerably less than I would have had from my teaching career had I stayed in it but it is better than many others have, so I am not complaining. I wasn’t attracted into politics for the money and I have accumulated no wealth as a result of being in politics. I have, however, got enormous satisfaction from working for people who very often are a great deal worse off than I am and I never forget that.

“I am really sorry the debate doesn’t include the wider issues affecting so many people who are struggling for survival on as little as £67.00 per week. For how long this can continue I don’t know but let us devote our energy to the impact Welfare Reform and effects these savage cuts will have on people who are at the margins. That is my interest, my only interest, he added.”

The East Londonderry constituency area which takes in Coleraine, is represented by no fewer than six MLAs or Members of the Legislative Assembly including Gregory Campbell MP (DUP), John Dallat (SDLP), David McClarty (Ind), Adrian McQuillan (DUP), Cathal Ó hOisín (Sinn Féin) and George Robinson (DUP).

The Democratic Unionist Party has the largest number of representatives in the area and issued a party-wide reaction to the independent salary review. In a statement, the DUP said it “fully supports” an independent body setting salaries and allowances. However, the proposition that MLAs should have a salary increase funded at the expense of their constituency service was said to be “totally unacceptable”.

“The DUP provides the largest number of advice centres and we want to maintain this vital frontline service,” said a spokesman. “DUP members’ priority will be to maintain their constituency service rather than benefiting themselves.”

Sinn Féin, whose party members pool their salaries and then are paid an “industry average” have rejected the pay deal claiming “it would be hypocritical for MLAs to be contemplating an increase in the current economic climate when everyone else is expected to cope with the effects of the recession.”

As well as a cut in general office costs, the Independent Financial Review Panel - the body charged with looking into MLA’s salaries - has also ruled that MLAs who are also councillors will have 100% of their basic councillor allowance progressively deducted from their MLA salary by 1 April, 2013.

They will also pay an extra 1% a year in pension contributions and the eight MLAs who are also MPs - including Coleraine’s Gregory Campbell - will have their Assembly Office Costs Expenses progressively reduced from £37,928 per year to £8,655 per year by 1 April, 2014.