By the weird laws of the suspended Assembly an ex MLA continued *legally* taking her £55k salary…

It turns out the Principal Deputy Speaker (don’t ask about the title, it was the product of another wee DUP/SF deal) has been quietly taking money for a job she’s no longer in a position to do (she didn’t stand in March).

In contrast to her fellow (just ordinary, upper ‘caps’) Deputy Speaker Danny Kennedy, she chose not resign and to continue taking the money. [Nice work, if you can get it? – Ed]

Sinn Fein seemingly hung her out to dry: “Caitriona Ruane was no longer an MLA after March this year.
“Any arrangements she may have come to with the Assembly were her own affair.”

Bowing to pressure [Relax, it happens – Ed], Ms Ruane said last night she has resigned and…

…donated the salary to charities and community groups, including an Irish language group, a group for the elderly, an LGBT group and a charity for children with disabilities.

Alex Attwood of the SDLP is also paid the full amount, but routinely gives the bulk of it back [since it is public money isn’t that what Catriona should do? – Ed] and retains £5,500 for his role as an Assembly Commission member.

On The View last night, Colum Eastwood is reported:

Mr Attwood “wanted to resign” from the Assembly Commission but “couldn’t” step down from the role while Stormont is not functioning.

“He’s still doing the job as a commissioner, he still goes to the meetings and represents the party. If we could change that situation, we’d do it tomorrow and Alex would be very glad to do it.”

Ms Ruane, on the other hand, was clearly hoping no one noticed, sitting tight watching the money roll in from the magic money tree. That is until the press took a much closer interest:

“I never anticipated that the election of a new speaker and deputy speaker would be so protracted and I have come to the conclusion that now is the time to tender my resignation.”

How, you might ask, can the former South Down MLA afford to pay that salary back? [Good question! – Ed] Well, her party is currently the wealthiest on the island, so a wee sub might do the trick.

But the acquittal of a Sinn Fein councillor on charges of benefit fraud in 2015 after the court accepted that his expenses were paid directly to the party and not him, raises a question about just who was benefiting from Ms Ruane’s “decision” to keep the money.

However, since she’s also in “receipt” of an MLA’s contributory pension (1/50 of the yearly salary) going back to 2003, and which includes a term as Education Minister, she should, certainly in theory, have sufficient means to donate the money onwards.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

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