Northern Ireland

James Brokenshire says MLA pay must be examined

JAMES BROKENSHIRE Image copyright PA
Image caption James Brokenshire was speaking at the British-Irish Association (BIA) Conference at the University of Cambridge on Friday

The secretary of state has said that in the absence of devolution, assembly members' pay needs to be examined.

James Brokenshire was speaking at the British-Irish Association (BIA) Conference in Cambridge on Friday.

He said continuing to pay MLA wages needs to be considered as the assembly has not met for several months.

Northern Ireland has been without a functioning devolved government since January, when the coalition led by the DUP and Sinn Féin collapsed.

Mr Brokenshire said: "We will need to consider carefully a range of other issues reflecting public concern, including whether it can continue to be justified to pay assembly members who have not met for several months now."

He added that in Northern Ireland the areas of health, education and transport were under increasing strain and said it would be a massive setback if there was greater political decision making from Westminster.

He said such a development would be "a hugely retrograde step, a massive setback after so many years of progress and hope".

Mr Brokenshire also said civil servants cannot provide political direction in Northern Ireland in the absence of devolution.

He said the current situation was "not sustainable".

Mr Brokenshire also touched on talks between parties. He said that he had been "keen" to support the exchanges that have taken place in recent days.

Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) had been engaged in "intensified dialogue" in the last week.

He said that he would holding further bilateral talks with the parties on Monday and for the rest of the week "intensive dialogue" between the DUP and Sinn Féin would continue.

He said "the issues remain relatively small in number and are clearly defined".

"Both the Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney and I believe that a resolution is possible and that with political leadership it can be achieved.

"But there is still work to do. For our part the UK and Irish governments can support and work with the parties towards that end, in accordance with and fully respecting the three stranded approach.

"But ultimately we cannot force an agreement," he said.

'Brexit'

He pointed to the fact that without devolution, "there is no Northern Ireland Executive to put its views directly on Brexit".

Mr Brokenshire also touched on legacy issues in his speech and highlighted the importance of addressing the needs and wishes of victims and survivors of the Troubles as soon as possible.

"We increasingly hear that victims want us to get on with it - to move debate out from behind closed doors and into a public discussion with the people who will be most affected by how we address the past.

"So I intend to be in a position to bring forward a formal consultation as soon as possible.

"Victims and survivors have waited too long and as a Government we have a duty to do what we can to support them," he added.

Simon Coveney was also in attendance at the conference.

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