MLAs need better wages and pensions to avoid poverty- SDLP Leader

SDLP Leader Alasdair McDonnell would appear to believe that demanding a pay rise for politicians to help them avoid ‘poverty’ is a winner.

Having made a faltering start to his tenure as SDLP Leader, Alasdair McDonnell must have hoped that his New Year interview with the Irish News would provide him with the chance to make a fresh start as leader, announcing a number of strategic decisions including the decision to rotate the party’s sole Executive Minister over the course of the life of this Executive.

However, his decision to support a pay rise for local politicians- and better contributions for their pensions- on the basis that it could save them from “poverty” is not likely to endear him to many.

Here’s Alisdair in his own words in yesterday’s Irish News:

I do believe strongly that assembly members because of the volatile nature of the role, where they can be sacked in a month’s notice, that there is a need for generous pension provisions because you could find yourself at 57 or 58 years of age left on the street.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the system was that maybe the wages weren’t as good as they could be but at least if there was a reasonably generous sliding exit and some sort of a pension provision there that made sure they weren’t in poverty?” (my emphasis) 

In addition to the basic MLA salary of £43,101 many MLAs receive additional allowances depending on their status as Ministers, Committee Chairpersons etc.

As you will see from this page, Alasdair claimed £714 in travel expenses in the past year- by no means the largest claim made, but still a significant amount which many- if not all- of his constituents would welcome!

The Resettlement Grant paid out to politicans failing to be returned as MLAs varies according to time served, but it is still something which many actually facing real poverty would hardly scoff at. For instance, Reg Empey and Fred Cobain received £30,000 in resettlement grants, PJ Bradley over £21,000, Paul Butler and Wallace Browne over £14,000 and even those co-opted and serving as MLA for a matter of months (Pol Callaghan) received over £3,500.

For the record, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation provide the following definition of poverty (or, more accurately, ‘relative poverty’)

A household is defined as having a low income (‘poverty’ for short) if its income is less than 60% of the median UK household income for the year in question.


  • Michael Shilliday

    Not that any Sinn Fein MLAs took the seemingly disgraceful winding up allowance.

    Also, what relevance does a UK average have to Sinn Fein’s Ireland?

  • Chris Donnelly

    Perhaps you didn’t take the time to read the whole post above.

    If you had, you would’ve noted the reference to one Sinn Fein MLA.

    And, for the record, there is nothing wrong with the Winding Up Allowance, a compensatory scheme already in place for politicians who effectively ‘lose’ their job (the primary concern of Alasdair.)

    The reference to a UK average is within the context of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation paper.

    That might get you vexed for some bizarre reason, but let’s hope other contributors prove capable of focusing on the main issue at hand.

  • lover not a fighter

    Ah is’nt it great to see Alasdair fighting on behalf of the downtrodden and put upon !

    Sure the rest of us can only wait with bated breath for the mighty Alasdair to get around to us (poor deserving/un-deserving).

    I hope yeez have plenty of that bated breath to rely on.

  • ranger1640

    As the Sinn Fein rep here on slugger Chris, just how much is the average industrial wage??? And does this mean that wee Marty McGuinness gives nearly £50K to Sinn Fein from his wages every year???

    As a contrast to your piece, in 2010-2011 Alex Attwood took £460.40 in travailing expenses yet Sinn Fein’s Mitchel McLaughlin, took £11,403, sure gets about a bit does Mitchel.

  • DT123

    No doubt our MLA’s will be showing as much concern for the pensions of workers in the private sector and the self employed.

  • Nice one Alasdair, you want a better pension at the same time as everyone else is fighting to keep the ones we’ve got against a Government determined to cut their value and charge more for what is left? Get a grip on reality, because that sort of nonsense will lose you even more votes.

  • Michael Shilliday

    Interesting that you chose a former SF MLA who didn’t bow out quietly though isn’t it?

  • keano10

    Just wait until the public get a taste of his bad-tempered arrogance during any leaders debates whwn thw next election comes around. He was bad enough when he was’nt leader. God only knows what he will be like…

  • dwatch

    Alasdair McDonnell may as well try and get as much dosh as he can get until 2014, because he will be out of both offices he holds at present as the South Belfast constituency is to become defunct in the next MLA & MP’s election.

  • carnmoney.guy

    It is whispered in the halls of power, but Alasdair is correct. The MLA salary is very poor, they have not had a pay rise in years. They are paid middle management rates, yet are expected to handle and control multi million pound budgets.

    The bizarre part of this story is why has Alisdair decided to take up this cause?? It is such a hot potato in a time of pay freezes, cut pensions and job loses.

    Either he is being poorly advised – his fault
    or he decided to be drawn on this matter during the course of the interview – his fault
    or maybe this is the pressing issue of our time,
    meeting family and friends over Christmas it wasnt the topic we discussed

    The way things are going for him it wont be long before the SDLP starts to reminisce about Margaret Ritchie

  • Chris Donnelly

    As the Sinn Fein rep here on slugger Chris

    To my knowledge there aren’t any official party reps on Slugger, though I concede that any of the ridiculously titled anonymous unionist bloggers like yourself could actually be a fully paid DUP/UUP press officer.

    Furthermore, it is quite a surprise to find myself being labelled as a rep for a party I haven’t been a member of for several years….

  • john

    There is a simple solution – sack half of them and give the others a 5% pay rise – result!

  • michael-mcivor

    The new s.d.l.p election slogan- Give me more money –

    That will be put on there head-stone-

  • Turgon

    This is a complex one in some ways. Firstly McDonnell was foolish in the extreme to allow himself to be seen promoting a pay rise at a time of public (and private) sector pay freezes and even reductions and the continuing erosion of pension provision.

    However, as carnmoney.guy says MLAs are not especially well paid. We can argue about the limited powers of Stormont and that it is a glorified county council but the reality is that we have, rightly or wrongly, these people as our elected politicians and government.

    As such we are asking them to make complex decisions regarding millions of pounds and the majority do seem to work fairly hard representing their constituents. Hence, £40,000 is not that much. We are asking them to make the sorts of decisions which are at a pay grade of above where they are actually renumerated.

    Furthemore to gain advancement and more money the politicians need to be on committees or ministers: for that they need to keep in with their party. As such the relatively low rates of pay also potentially discourage dissent and independence within the parties.

    A further potential problem is that of corruption. Clearly corruption is wrong and some will do it no matter what but again a relatively low pay for a relatively powerful position may make people more attractive to potential corruptors and make them potentially more corruptable.

    It is worth noting that McDonnell is in real life a GP. The average GP now earns £100,000 or more. As such to him £40,000 is not much and might not attract people like him into being MLAs (though the attraction of power is probably significant) and I suspect McDonnell could probably go back to being a GP if he is a partner in a practice.

    After all that has been said though it still comes back to the fact that McDonnell was foolish in the extreme to raise this issue. The public may want top level decision makers but they do not want to pay them as such. Since the public are the ones who choose and in the current climate are far from proposing pay rises for politicians this was a politically “courageous” (ie stupid) comment.

  • cynic2


    Thnak you for exposing McDonnells slavering grasping of £715 in mileage. It is disgusting that anyone should claim so much. He claimed an amazing £715. Shame on him.

    But lets see here. There’s the boul Mitchel McLaughlin pulling in a cool £11403 just for car mileage. At £1.40 a litre and say 40mpg that ‘s enough to pay for the diesel to cover over 80,000 miles. Then there’s poor Pat Doherty – its a long way to Donegal but £11767 for mileage should help him get back and forth – bearing in mind that they are only in Stormont for about 120 days a year

    Now Ok, those two are in the West but they are claiming more than the average wage just in mileage claims. There’s a very good train from Derry and the ticket costs £173 for a Monthly Season Ticket. Given that they only work 8 months a year Mitchel could get back and forward for just £ 1384 – lets even say £1500 including the bus to Stormont – enough to stop some poor sod in the Assembly losing their job this year.

    So I am delighetd that you have opened thsi campaign.

  • cynic2

    “a rep for a party I haven’t been a member of for several years….”

    Kicked out or a sleeper?

  • DC

    The public may want top level decision makers but they do not want to pay them as such.

    But the public does pay.

    Think of the technocrats in Europe working in Brussels etc (and they do work on very complex things regardless of whether you like the EU or not) – then bear in mind the fact that even in Westminster 70% of the laws going through it are from Europe.

    Therefore – if much of the work is coming from – and being legislatively framed – elsewhere, what is the point paying increased salaries to *regional* MLAs whenever the work at Westminster itself is decreasing and drying up because of the EU gobbling it up?

    Surely the logic is that there should be pay reductions, not increases.

  • DC

    It is the same as councils, there are too many CEOs there on relatively high salaries – with expensive local bureacracies to boot – all costing too much, which is what is really driving this ‘reform’ of councils.

    Perhaps if management cost less or were paid less there would be less of a need to rationalise councils into ‘Super Councils’, it’s a pity to lose all this local identity because managers think they are running a profit spinning multi-national company, than actually a small taxpayer funded council.

    New public management hasn’t worked that well has it, really?

  • I don’t know what the rules are but I don’t think MLAs should be allowed to vote for a pay raise for themselves. The appropriate time would be at the end of the Assembly term when they could vote for a raise following the next election.

  • DC

    They are paid middle management rates, yet are expected to handle and control multi million pound budgets.

    The civil service does that – ministers decide which options to go with.

    Even take Conor Murphy over the performance of NI Water last winter – he didn’t resign or accept responsibility for the organisation, therefore paying increased salaries could be a waste of money anyway.

  • Chris Donnelly

    I’ve little problem with MLAs claiming travel expenses- and indeed you’ll note that the pattern for all political parties (logically enough) is for those residing the farthest from Stormont to be claiming the most.

    But my point is that this is not an option for most people who pay their way to their place of employment.

    And it is hardly consistent with a political line suggesting that politicians are facing poverty due to poor pay, expenses and pension rates.

    As for your other comments, my leaving Sinn Fein was simply a matter of not having sufficient time to commit to the party. I remain a strong supporter of the party though will criticise Sinn Fein reps as and when I see fit.

    Now, any more worthwhile comments regarding the actual topic of the thread?

  • thethoughtfulone

    “Alex Attwood took £460.40 in travailing expenses”

    Oh come on, his job’s not that bad!

  • ranger1640

    Here is a point of order for lapsed Sinn Fein member Chris? Can you confirm what an alleged industrial wage is? Is it 20K, £25K, £30K or whatever number that suites the shinner MLA, (non attending) MP or MEP that week??
    Also if the shinners MLA’s, MP’s or MEP’s (no mention of TD’s) are donating a large percentage of their wages to the party, should their pension contributions not be calculated on the part they keep the alleged industrial wage???
    This would then keep the shinners pension in line with the wage that they allegedly take??? After all it’s only fair that when a shinner retires they retire on the proportion that they allegedly took, rather than the amount they took along with the proportion they allegedly give away.
    Failure to so will mean that when they retire they will take more in pension contributions than in the alleged industrial wages, and that can’t be fair on the good old drone republican voter.

  • ranger1640


    Failure to do so will mean that when they retire they will take more in pension contributions than in the alleged industrial wage, and that can’t be fair on the good old drone republican pensioner voter.

  • RyanAdams

    Certainly at odds with what soon to be silenced Alex Attwood had to say about pay for ministers not so long ago.

  • jthree

    Carnmoney Guy
    “The MLA salary is very poor, they have not had a pay rise in years. They are paid middle management rates, yet are expected to handle and control multi million pound budgets.”

    “As carnmoney guy says MLAs are not especially well paid…£40,000 is not that much.”

    To which I say, very poor or not that much in comparison to what?

    Rather than the impressionistic stuff above let’s look at the data.

    MLAs get £43,101. Office holders allowances range from £5,667 for deputy chair of a committee to £71,434 for FM/ DFM.

    The 2011 Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (NISRA/ONS) shows that the mean salary for a Northern Ireland professional – excluding overtime – was £39,624.

    For a manager/ senior official it was £38,168.

    The best paid sector is electricity and gas (lots of skilled engineers and accountants) where the annual mean is £38,168.

    So even the most junior, dim-witted MLA (who controls no budget of note) is paid comfortably more than the average senior manager or professional in Northern Ireland. They are paid enormously more than most of their constituents.

    Do they realise this?

    Or are they comparing themselves to Perm Secs, top QCs, business owners? I would hate to think they are, given the preponderence of badly educated, not very skilled people among the ranks of the Assembly.

    Among actual decision makers at the FM/DFM level we are comfortably into ‘the 1%’ territory. In Northern Ireland you only need to earn £86k to be in the 1% and £55k (all ministers and junior ministers) puts you in the top 5% of wage earners.

    So by an objective local yard stick these dedicated public servants are not badly paid at all. They are in fact being well rewarded for their selfless service of the people.

  • Nothing really motivates the political underclass or overclass more than the salaries of politicians.
    Its stuff that we might expect to hear on a night out in the “Red Lion” (not the “Kneebreakers” or “Armalite and Ballt Box”,,,,,,apologies to Give My Head Peace).
    Or politicians salaries might vexate the man on top ofthe Clapham Omnibus……but unlikely to vexate the man on the Andersonstown Omnibus.

    Foolish the Politician who complains about his salary. Yet it seems to me that even the most public-spirited Doctor or Solicitor would be loathe to sit on the backbench of the Stormont Assembly for £43,000 per annum.
    Higher than “UK” average wage certainly.
    But not exactly a fortune.
    I dont know how many of Sinn Féins MLAs are doctors and solicitors………….but it seems to me that if there is none, they might have need of doctors, solicitors, accountants, economists, teachers etc to actually scrutinise legislation.
    How exactly do they do that? Put it out to tender.? Pay someone else to think for them?
    Which is effectively Sinn Féin redistributing money from THEIR community to ANOTHER community.
    It seems to me there is no-one more unemployable than an ex-MP. A politician of a “Conservative” bent at Westminster can fall back on The City. A Labour man/woman from (say) Merseyside or Tyneside is not exactly employable.

    I am (hopefully) unemployable myself. Yet it strikes me that even I am not as unemployable in polite society as some Sinn Féin folks. My optimistically entitled “CV” has impressed very few people in the past few years. Yet there are few decisions in my Youth that would put me on the back foot at an interview or force me into a self-help group to bemoan my lack of acceptance due to Societys misunderstanding of my youthful self.

    For defeated SF politicians, theres not a big demand …..except of course working as “advisors”, “office managers”, “back room boys and girls” …….indeed there often seems to be more ex-politicians in Stormont corridors than current politicians. All facilitated by that “average working wage thing” and the Collective.

    It seems rather absurd to ridicule politicians who are looking to their financial security.
    Havent we all done that?
    Are the politicians turned out of the Assembly not entitled to as much as “political” prisoners turned out of Long Kesh?
    Now in that very real sense…….the chattering classes on the Andersonstown Omnibus and the “white van men” phoning our chat shows can indulge the populism that MLAs are overpaid……….but on somewhat weaker ground if they think that “ex prisoners” deserve some more credit than the rest of us (blameless) individuals.
    Thats the problem with Populism… can bite you on the ass with its contradictions.

  • Chris Donnelly

    Here is a point of order for lapsed Sinn Fein member Chris?

    Whilst I’m afraid I can’t help you with regard to Sinn Fein salaries, I can confirm that the above example is an offence against punctuation, my dear ‘drone’ friend.

    Many of the points you make are indeed quite relevant to a discussion about the ‘type’ of elected representative we may benefit from having at Stormont (though I have to concede to believing that a higher calibre of advisors- as opposed to simply elected reps- would go much further in developing our political class and their collective awareness of policy matters.)

    But your missing the point with regard to Alasdair’s comments (though, given your background as a party loyalist, perhaps you’re not missing the point at all….;> )

    To suggest that our MLAs are earning so little through their wages, expenses and pensions that they may face poverty after office is utterly ridiculous, and in the current climate, a somewhat insensitive remark which will hardly endear him to an already wary electorate.

  • There is no evidence to suggest that politicians who are paid more make better decisions, and given that there is no shortage of electoral candidates in the queue why do we need to pay them more.

    SDLP “Supply and Demand Localised Pay” gets my vote.

  • The yokel

    Alasdair McDonnell – first complaining about the TV lights, then saying MLAs face poverty. He may or may not be right but there are certain things you don’t say and those are two of them.
    Are MLAs overpaid? Look at the Welsh Assembly – 3 million people, 60 assembly members, wage £53k pa, mileage rate HRMC advised 45p.
    Much cheaper per capita representation and what appears to be a functioning assembly. Maybe our MLAs need some Welch advisers

    On a completely separate subject, according to R4 this morning, writing with gaps between the words was an Irish innovation.

  • ranger1640

    Thanks Chris, on the English punctuation lesion. Did you ever consider teaching English?
    The next time I post on one of your posts and on the move. I will make sure I run a punctuation check, just for you.
    But anyway back at “drone HQ” Connelly house. Do you agree with me, that if the Sinn Fein MLA’s, MP’s or their MEP (no mention of TD’s). Are all donating a large percentage of their wages to the party, should their pension contributions be calculated on the part they keep, the alleged industrial wage???
    This would then keep the shinners pension in line with the wage that they allegedly took??? After all it’s only fair that when a shinner politico retires, they retire on the proportion of pension that they allegedly took? Rather than the amount they took along with the proportion they allegedly give away to Sinn Fein?
    I’m sure you will agree with me Chris, that failure to readjust the pension pay out to retiring shinner politicos, will mean that when they retire. They will take more in pension contributions, than the alleged industrial wage, they claim to take. That surely isn’t in the Sinn Fein Marxist ideology handbook, and can’t be fair on the ever reliable, drone republican pensioner voter?

  • cynic2

    If Shiners only want the average wage, why don’t they just draw that wage. What happens now is that they draw the lot then secretly donate some of the party

  • ranger1640

    Cynic, Chris started this thread on Alasdair McDonnell looking a pay rise, and therefore a rise in their pension. He goes on to berate McDonnell on this issue.

    I have given him a chance to address the fact that the shinners are taking more in pension contributions than the alleged industrial wage (whatever that is), they claim to take. As yet Chris has refused to condemn Sinn Fein for this act of greed. So the shinners are no better than McDonnell on this issue or pay rises.

    (comments edited.)

  • Chris Donnelly,
    Au contraire ………I am hardly a SDLP loyalist. Having been a member from 1973 to 1981/2 and since late August 2011.
    Thats hardly Party Loyalism.
    I voted SDLP from 1970 (before it actually existed thru Gerry Fitt in West Belfast) thru to 1993.
    And I voted Sinn Féin 1993-2009.
    And SDLP since.
    On any occasion I voted SDLP, I have voted SF as a second preference.
    On any occasion that I have voted SF, I have voted SDLP as a second preference.
    I have never ever exercised a third preference.
    I am of the firm belief that at this point in time SDLP needs a bit of support (and on occasions deserves it) but the SDLP is as much on probation with me as I am with them.
    The main reason is probably SF arrogance.
    The phrase “party loyalist” therefore hardly applies. I dont know if I will feel the same in six months or twelve months.

    But as Ive made clear, politicians talking about salary is not exactly a vote winner (even if there is merit in the argument).
    The balancing fact in my own post was that McDonnell was defending politicians who in raising their heads above a political parapet, are adversely affecting their career and future employment.
    The same might be said of SF folks……..who in raising their heads above a parapet……feel that the world owes them something for so doing.

    On this particular issue, you seem more a “party loyalist” than I do.
    A quick look thru my previous posts will indicate that I have often credited Sinn Féin when I believed credit was due……which funnily enough is a record not lost on my SDLP “colleagues”.