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23 May 2016

Reality bites as Assembly puts spanner in the works of Sinn Fein's equal pay mechanism

Republican MLAs gave slice of salary to party so support staff's wages were boosted, but cuts are on the way and the grumbling has started, says Ruth Dudley Edwards

Apparently the Sinn Fein experiment with equal pay has hit the human-nature buffers.

You might remember that its elected representatives have boasted early and often that they take home only the average industrial wage, which is estimated at £26,000 a year.

And they are not allowed to keep any profit they make on expenses.

Perish the thought that this is to save the State money.

That's not what its does, for on planet Sinn Fein both the United Kingdom and the Republic deserve no loyalty and money is manna that should be freely available to all and is in short supply only because evil governments in Dublin and London withhold it out of sheer spite.

Because Sinn Fein public representatives are so badly paid, they don't have much contact with the taxman, so there's little to remind them of reality.

They take everything they can get - whichever State pays them - and pass the decreed surplus on to the party, which, apparently, has used it to boost the income of support staff to the same level as the representatives they work for.

To remind you how cavalier it is with public money, I refer you to the 2012 story of Aengus O Snodaigh TD, who over two years took 434 free print cartridges (cost estimated at £50,600) from Dail supplies, and claimed it was because he was a conscientious communicator with his constituents about legislative changes and protests.

To call Sinn Fein's arrangements lacking in transparency is a serious understatement, but apparently support staff in Northern Ireland were paid from MLAs' office costs allowances, but now salaries will come directly from the Assembly.

And the beastly Stormont Independent Review Panel has concluded that some support staff are overpaid, and has introduced three pay grades (£16,000, £19,750 and £22,750).

Sinn Fein is used to being rich, but benefactor Thomas 'Slab' Murphy is in jail, and many of its more unorthodox ways of raising money have anyway been drying up, so it's using the panel's determination to blame the Brits for having to impose pay cuts.

But, North and South, the party has been under increasing pressure about the imposed financial equality.

A renegade - now retired - Sinn Fein TD, Sandra McLellan, complained during the last Dail that she couldn't even afford make-up and hairdos, which was tough since Sinn Fein's women are required to be smartly turned out at all times.

A low income hasn't been a worry for Martin McGuinness, whose tastes seem genuinely frugal, whose children are grown up, and who is ferried to and from his modest home by a driver paid by the State.

It would have been more of a problem for Gerry Adams, who has at least two houses and expensive hair to support, but he has the advantage of income from his books and kind friends in America who satisfy his more expensive medical and dental needs.

Some are, indeed, more equal that others: it is widely believed that certain favoured representatives have many incidental expenses covered. It's reminiscent of the period in China when to demonstrate proletarian unity all public figures wore Mao suits, but, allegedly, the more senior you were, the better the cloth.

The leadership are not stupid, and some grasp that Sinn Fein supporters who could make a successful career outside politics are deterred by poor pay from standing for election or joining the staff.

Unless they have rich spouses, they're hard put to give their families a decent standard of living. Indeed, in the South, as their take-home pay is so much lower than their actual salary, apparently they're disadvantaged when it comes to income-related education grants. And many of them are fed up that junior support staff are overpaid for the work they do.

The result, as anyone sensible could have foretold, is that the party is represented and served by many untalented people.

Kevin O'Connell, the Sinn Fein political director in the Republic, has gone so far as to say the "one size fits all" policy is not working.

In Northern Ireland, Sinn Fein will be implementing pay cuts for some staff, and enquiries are being made to trade union officials and grumbles at "huge ideological change".

Welcome to the real world, guys.

Ruth Dudley Edwards’ The Seven: The Lives And Legacies Of The Founding Fathers Of The Irish Republic, was published by Oneworld Publications on March 22.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards