SDLP: Deputy attacks Leader over ‘poverty’ pay campaign

Yesterday we reported how Alasdair McDonnell’s Save Politicians from Poverty Appeal had provoked the Mayor of Lisburn, Brian Heading, to publicly criticise his party leader. That provoked a stinging rebuttal by Alasdair McDonnell.

Today, the SDLP Deputy Leader, Dolores Kelly, has publicly criticised Alasdair McDonnell over the issue, stating that she was “astonished” and “deeply unhappy” with her party leader’s comments.

I am astonished with Alasdair’s comments given that they are not party policy and as someone who has been honoured and proud to be a public representative for almost 18 years, not for securing good pay and pension for myself, but to be an advocate for change.

As Mark Devenport notes, it might be a New Year, but it’s unlikely there’ll be a change to the Old Order any time soon….



  • michael-mcivor

    The political s.d.l.p knifes are out- its gut your leader time-
    surly they will not get rid of Alasdair so soon- that man is an ASSet to his party-

  • cynic2

    A party with a death wish

  • carnmoney.guy

    To repeat the challenge on air from Gregory Campbell last year, what do we thru the license fee pay Stephen nolan?
    I bet u its a large multiple of the infamous 43k for MLAs

  • CommentOnStats

    Alasdair McDonnell’s comments remind me of Alan Duncan’s statement (regarding the expenses issue) that:

    “No-one who has done anything in the outside world, or is capable of doing such a thing, will ever come into this place ever again, the way we are going.
    “Basically, it’s being nationalised, you have to live on rations and are treated like ****”–and-have-to-survive-on-rations.html

    The issue was discussed today at length on Nolan and there are arguments that can be put in support of Mr McDonnell. These are arguments that I think are valid although the way Mr McDonnell has presented his arguments went beyond them I thought:

    It argued that the salaries paid to MLAs allow for parliament to be open to everyone not just those rich enough (as may once have been the case many years ago). It is also argued that MLAs pay is well below MSPs and AMs. The point was also made on Nolan that MLAs pay is well below GPs or even BBC presenters/footballers for that matter. I believe that many heads of Health Trusts, schools etc can earn well above the typical MLA. Poverty is a word frequently cited but is often thought of as a relative concept. Put another way, a typical benefit recipient in Northern Ireland is wealthy compared with the unfortunates in Africa that may live by taking oil out of piplelines. So it is possible for an MLA to be considered poor compared to the Chief Executive of a Health Trust.

    However valid the arguments above are, the arguments made by Alasdair McDonnell MLA were not well framed. The reference to “starvation wages” is unfortunate because the comparison that might be made is less about someone in Africa or in parliament a long time ago but with the present status of MLA’s pay vs the constituents whom the MLA represents. And constituents are being asked to take pay freezes and pension reductions. Particularly relevant is if this is happening to public sector workers under control of the same MLAs who are suggesting pension increments for themselves.

    Moreover the argument about security of tenure wont wash. Many of the workers under the control of these MLAs are subject to performance targets including sickness targets and failure to perform can result in the boot. Mr Nolan pointed out that his failure to deliver could result in the boot. Performance targets (including constituency work) or the boot at shorter notice than next election time might be an idea in exchange for higher pensions for MLAs. I wonder how well that might go down?

    Obviously it is clear that MLAs deserve sufficient support both during and after their tenure to keep them off the street. But reasonably in my view this is already the case. To suggest that a pension increment is needed to avoid such a scenario, if that is indeed the suggestion, is just disingenuous in my view. I have yet to see an ex MLA on the street playing music for a living, and suspect I wont be seeing any doing so anytime soon.

  • Barnshee

    ” I believe that many heads of Health Trusts, schools etc can earn well above the typical MLA”

    Perhaps at least some of these are overpaid?

    I am unaware of number of MLA`s with 3 or more As at A level and higher degree qualifications which tend to lead to highly paid jobs. Perhaps they could enlighten us?

    The pool of those wanting to be MLA`s seems huge -with such a supply of candiates -(no formal qualifications other than sectarianism required) as in any oversubscribed “occupation” there is no need for the “employer” (you and me) to pay any salary premium

    In any event the solusion lies in the MLA`s own hands
    Raise the MLA salary in line with reductions in MLA numbers viz -50% cut in MLA numbers = 50% rise in salary

    Any takers?

  • Comrade Stalin

    Even more amazing, as I just mentioned on the other thread, is that the SDLP seem to be attempting to erase history – Alisdair’s press release on the salary business has been removed from the SDLP website.

    It’s not at all a good sign when the party culls press statements from its own leader. What a comedy of errors.

  • Delta Omega

    I once heard the comment that only 30% of our MLAs have a degree and about half of those were obtained while in prison. Personally I don’t have a problem paying the best wages to get the best people but I do have a problem with paying good wages and getting idiots, moron, cretins and lunatics

  • Chris Donnelly

    Considering the Irish Taoiseach until recently was better paid than all other political leaders in Europe, then I don’t think the argument that massive salaries will deliver the highest calibre political leadership holds much water….

  • Scáth Shéamais

    In any event the solusion lies in the MLA`s own hands
    Raise the MLA salary in line with reductions in MLA numbers viz -50% cut in MLA numbers = 50% rise in salary

    MSPs in Scotland get £56,671* and there’s 129 of them for a population of 5.2 million. (1 per 40,310 people.)

    AMs in Wales get £53,852* and there’s 60 of them for a population of 3 million. (1 per 50,000 people.)

    MLAs here get £43,101* and of course there’s 108 of them for a population of 1.8 million. (1 per 16,667 people.)

    (* they may have been updated since I last checked.)

  • Dewi

    I knows it sounds daft – but he might have to resign as leader.

  • chewnicked

    McDonnell should have had the gumption to know not to be the flag-bearer for the MLA pay rise issue. He should have realised that adoptingt such an unpopular position would be manna from heaven for the media and his enemies inside and outside of his party.Following on from his ‘blinded by the lights’ comedy routine and his share of the cake (nose in the trough) comments, McDonnell has had a calamitous start as leader. Durkan and Ritchie must be laughing their heads off at him and as for Sinn Fein….

  • J Kelly

    The pressure has finally got to Big Al he apologises and is going on both UTV and BBC at teatime to attempt to salvage some credibity.

  • Framer

    The News Letter reports today “The assembly’s register of members’ interests reveals that Mr McDonnell appears to have one of the largest land and property portfolios of any MLA.

    He lists ownership of a 24-acre farm in Dundrod, a terraced house in Stranmillis from which he receives rent, a health centre and adjacent property on Belfast’s Ormeau Road, a flat in London from which rental income is received and a residential property in Glenariffe which is currently being refurbished…The SDLP leader also lists his £64,766 salary from the House of Commons, a shareholding in Belfast medical research company Medevol (of which he is an unpaid director) and two pension schemes of which he is a member.”

    With his £43,000 Assembly salary, £75,000 Assembly expenses, plus Westminster staff expenses of £125,000 we are talking well over a quarter of a million being mopped up.

    He employs his niece and hopefully a fair number of other advisers whom he presumably does not listen to.

    Not quite starvation level or socialism. He can also fall back on his outside interests if he leaves his two parliamentary jobs, plus his £5k old age pension for pin money.

  • carnmoney.guy

    This issue has moved me to suggest we set up a slugger fund for politicians, give generously

  • Framer


    An MP doesn’t get an MLA salary so Al is £43k down but still controls over a quarter of a million.

  • Can this ugly thing possibly get any worse? They just had a leadership contest and now they’re tearing themselves apart.

  • mick mccann

    What a dreadful performance on newsline.

    How can he survive.

    Cllr Heading for leader!

  • Comrade Stalin

    The SDLP must have realized they were in trouble yesterday as they withdrew Al’s statement from the party website and today we see that Al is issuing a retraction. Unfortunately for him, the damage has been done – if he had not issued the statement yesterday he could have smoothed it all over as a misunderstanding.


    With his £43,000 Assembly salary, £75,000 Assembly expenses, plus Westminster staff expenses of £125,000 we are talking well over a quarter of a million being mopped up.

    MLAs who are also MPs do not receive a full Assembly salary, although they do receive full expenses.

  • Ulsterman

    Comrade Stalin
    Know your facts, Mcdonnell does not receive full MLA expenses and NO Pay.
    You are joining a witch hunt just because you can. You are no better than a hanging gang seeking blood.
    You would be better to look at context and reality and not rhetoric and blood lust.

    Too many threads here are jumping on political bandwagons without any sense of reality. When allegations are made which are wrong, and in a public arena like this, then they are actually libellous and may lead to further action. McDonnell gets one salary from Westminster. He receives no pay from the Assembly nor for being a Doctor – a profession from which he retired.

    Much of the criticism is warranted for being a bit clumsy in what he said and we must also accept that it was a reporter who contextualised the comments for a headline and the greatest showman in the country (AKA Nolan) used it to further miscontextualised it because we are in an ‘almost no decent media story situation’ and needed something to promote himself – something which he does at the expense of others and at the pretext of talking on behalf of the poor people of our little norn iron. The Fat Budda needs to stop using other people and especially politicians to feed his every increasing girth. His gut is filled with fake compassion which produces huge amount of verbal gas. Hence his size.

    Others should look more closely at why such comments were made in the first place.

    We have an Assembly full of incompentents (albeit not all) who have not delivered a single bill in all the years they have been there. We need to encourage a better calibre of MLA and indeed Councillor to ensure that our hard earned cash is spent to the benefit of society and not to excessively paid Permanent Secretaries, Council Officers and BBC Showmen. Nolan for exampe will hide behind a consultancy type contract, but is he giving us value for money? Let’s find out what he earns and let’s determine that for ourselves.

    He wants transparency from Politicians but refuses to give it himself. He does a good job occasionally, but are we getting value for money?

    He says that he is the person who will deliver for the public. He says he is the people’s champion. He does all this with OUR MONEY. Which is a hellovalot more than any politician would ever dream of earning. So, let’s have the opportunity to analyse just what we are getting for our hard earned taxes which we pay to the BBC!!!!

    I am not supporting McDonnell’s unfortunate comments, but let’s get real. Nolan needed a story and blew this up to keep himself relevant. He cynically used internal SDLP divisions to promote the story rather than actually do the work to understand the context. In fact, if I am right, he misrepresented the issue. Since when does anyone, especially in the media, accept any headline story without first assessing whether, 1. it was true, 2. whether the context of the reporting is correct, and 3. whether the message has been misinterpreted to sell a paper.

    Nolan took the lazy option and has fed this feeding frenzy.

    At Least McDonnell has not something unique. He has apologised. I would love to see those who have jumped all over this apologise as well for some of the misinformation and some of their more nasty comments.

    We need honest politicians, not politically correct politicians or those who don’t answer questions directly but tend to obfuscate and obscure.

    What a relief we have in our midst someone who speaks his mind truthfully and when wrong, admits it and apologises.

    Is this the new trend for 2012 for all our politicians???

    I hope so

  • I dont know who it was that first said that Alasdair is not so much a bull in a china shop as “the bull who brings his own china shop along with him”.
    Clearly this is the first of many china shops that Alasdair will bring along……..and at least thats refreshing.
    The important thing might be that he says things about real issues that effect real people.
    But it wont be the last “facepalm” moment the SDLP will have…….its part of the downside of having Alasdair at the helm. But the “upside” is that he will get more right than he will get wrong.

    If we establish that a MLA salary is £43,000 it might be interesting to know what his media critics salary is…..we pay licence fees dont we?
    Further if we accept that a MLA salary is £43,000 it follows….or should follow …that those advising them at Stormont are paid ……£20,000……£30,000.. tops £35,000.
    Which brings me to those bright young men and women with the history, politics degrees and six months experience in the media and IT who are in and around Stormont “advising” on press etc.
    What is the going rate?
    Im sure that some of them actually read Slugger and could possibly give me a definitive answer……….certainly they are elegantly turned out, nice suits, nice hair, nice teeth….nice blackberries………so how much do the DUP, SF, SDLP, UUP, Alliance pay them to monitor their rivals websites and post on Slugger?
    I declare an interest………I am a member of SDLP and do it free (unfortunately they are far to sensible to give me any cash) although God knows Ive never looked at another Party’s website….or indeed the SDLPs …..for seven months.
    Nor have I ever sought an Assembly or Westminster salary thru an advisory or (God help us) standing for office.
    Can we all say the same?

    Of course there is a real issue around Alasdairs leadership. He wasnt the first choice of many activists and in the end won comfortably but hardly a ringing endorsement.
    He is also handicapped by having a clear heir apparent……but it would be foolish to see the criticism of Alasdair as related to the fact that his critics supported other candidates.
    Alasdair is roughly two thirds of the way thru the first 100 days…and the key thing is talking and listening to Party members.
    Frankly he doesnt need the Media….politicians pay far too much attention to journalists, tinternet and the rest. McDonnell does not actually need to talk to anyone other than a Party member or constituent for the next two years.

  • Mick Fealty

    I don’t quite know where to start with Alasdair McDonnell’s fairly anodyne, but ill-judged call for a raise in politician’s pay… The best I can raise is that the policy making function in the back room does not appear to be working yet…

    As I said a few days ago, bleating about MLA pensions, or complaining about worthy fights you’ve already lost does not show the sharpest grip on what makes the electorate’s heart beat faster.

    The NI Assembly does not return till next week, so at least he’s given the press something chew in the absence of anything else political. Mr McDonnell so far has done a pretty good job of disrupting his own party.

    But it’s the performance of his deputy leader in his first ‘crisis’ that ought to give him and his party some serious cause for concern… Buckling publicly under such limited pressure does not augur well for the future.

    I imagine some kind of frank exchange of views will be required behind closed doors to help clear up this mess.

  • I dont see how Dolores Kelly can be accused of buckling under pressure.
    That view would only make sense if she agreed with Alasdair if she agreed with him on first hearing it.
    But like most SDLP people she probably thought “oh s*** thats a bull in the china shop moment”. She therefore had a duty as SDLP Deputy Leader to get out there and put it right…..not least because of texts she would have been getting from party members.
    Youve overlooked the fact that both Party Leader AND Deputy Leader are in office two months and there will be some working out of ground rules in the arrangement.
    And I think the Deputy Leader of a Party should be the conduit.
    The advantage and disadvantage that Dolores has is that she is not interested in leading the Party and clearly not the heir apparent. Thats Conall.
    It would have been more advantageous FOR Conall if he had been beaten by about forty more votes. As things stand he will inherit the Leadership because the probability is that the SDLP elected its current and NEXT Leader at the same Conference.
    Conall visibly matured during the Leadership Campaign and Id like to see how he develops over the next few years. I think thats the mood of the Party.

  • J Kelly

    Lets not blame nolan, bloggers and others for this mess it was all Big Als doing and the crap that he was misquoted by the Irish News is also crap remember he dug the hole deeper when he answered Brian HEading and stated that politicians were close to “starvation wages”. This is also the guy who spoke last week of sharing the cake. Maybe £43000 is starvation wages for Soliticitors Doctors Lawyers but not for ordinary People.

  • Mick Fealty


    You may have more of a handle on what went on inside the party, but if Dolores can’t confront the leader and get the line and the story right, that’s not good either.

    The DUP wrote the text book on this, under the pressure of a real crisis*. Everyone in a locked room and thrash it out man to man. Then face the media in lockstep.

    This, let it be said, was not worthy of a crisis. Spilt tea rather than broken delph. I would hate see this team in operation when it was *really* tested.

    * Irisgate, if you are asking…

    More later…

  • Lionel Hutz

    I have to say, I think that Kelly’s statement made this more embarrassing that anything else. Surely she should have made no comment to the media at all. After a leadership election which was successfully played out behind closed doors, the party look fractured again. That is more damaging that a bit of hyperbole

  • michael-mcivor


    ” Nolan blew this up to keep himself Relevant ”

    And why not – McDonnells mouth is a prize that keeps on giving-

    A degree is no good if you have not got the wit to go with it-
    I take it that McDonnell is one of those 30% of MLAs who has a degree-

  • Comrade Stalin


    Know your facts, Mcdonnell does not receive full MLA expenses and NO Pay.

    My source is this page on theAssembly website, which shows that Allistair claimed a total of £74,689.83 last year, which looks around about average.

    The following link shows that McDonnell a reduced salary.

    So now that you’re throwing allegations around about witch-hunts and people not getting their facts right, I’m sure you’ll step up to the plate to explain exactly why your version of reality appears to be at odds with what is being reported by the Assembly.

    You are joining a witch hunt just because you can. You are no better than a hanging gang seeking blood.

    That’s politics. If you can’t take the heat get the hell out of the kitchen.

    Nolan needed a story and blew this up to keep himself relevant. He cynically used internal SDLP divisions to promote the story rather than actually do the work to understand the context.

    The story was given to Nolan by Alisdair McDonnell who chose to raise it off his own bat in an Irish News interview earlier in the week. We are now hearing that this position wasn’t even SDLP policy, so McDonnell has been caught making up policy by himself. The media should of course expose this sort of incompetence and hypocrisy – they don’t do enough of it.

    Lionel, in a normally working party I don’t think Kelly would have gone to the media herself. Politicians don’t argue with each other through the media unless they’re having trouble arguing with each other in private.

  • CS McDonnell does seem to be gaffe prone already. Maybe we should draw the conclusion that he only won the election as he knew where the bodies were buried and pressured colleagues. He’s not known for his bedside manner after all.[only jesting]

  • Comrade Stalin


    This particular matter is the only really serious gaffe since he became leader. But a serious gaffe it is nonetheless, as it shows that the SDLP has not really embarked on a serious internal healing process.

    His acceptance speech was a disaster, but I don’t think it is really the kind of thing that swing voters one way or another. I would go so far to say that Alisdair’s gruff, no-nonsense style would appeal to quite a lot of people. People here respond well to politicians who show that they know where they stand (rightly or wrongly). It was also a sensible move to put to rest the notion that the SDLP would go into opposition.

    The real failure here would be if Alasdair did not learn a few lessons from this experience, in particular to make sure that he consults on policy properly before going to the press.

  • CS I’ve heard from more one SDLP voter that McDonnell’s arrogance gets up people’s noses and his failure to consult internally before going public in this case, seems in line with the truth in that claim.

  • Comrade Stalin

    CS I’ve heard from more one SDLP voter that McDonnell’s arrogance gets up people’s noses

    I know it may seem counter-intuitive, but arrogance is not a vote loser. The DUP have SF both have some incredibly arrogant public representatives, especially in their leadership, yet it does not do them any harm.

    Being right is more important than being polite.

  • FuturePhysicist

    What would doctors be without their nurses, I think this is an excellent exercise in building Team SDLP.

  • cynic2

    “I’ve heard from more one SDLP voter that McDonnell’s arrogance gets up people’s noses”

    ….then why elect him? But they do. Time and time again.

    There are other MLAs who have the personalities of angry stoats but still get elected.