Inequality concerns after Derry & Strabane Councillors on £15K vote to reject own pay rise

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Derry City and Strabane District Council’s recent decision to reject a pay raise has led to dispute among Councillors about inequality.

It follows an earlier decision by the Council to reject the scheduled pay increase, which would see Councillors’ allowances rise from £15,071 per annum to a maximum of £17,030.

At a Full Council Meeting on Wednesday, January 31, independent Councillor Paul Gallagher said he was concerned that Councillors had created a “wide disparity” among Derry City and Strabane Councillors, Councillors in other districts, MLAs, and MPs.

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Colr. Gallagher said the Council was “constantly arguing around the lack of investment into the area”, particularly around the median wage in the West of Northern Ireland, and the decision to forgo a pay raise was “falling behind” inequality.

Independent Councillor Paul Gallagher.Independent Councillor Paul Gallagher.
Independent Councillor Paul Gallagher.

“We shouldn’t be reinforcing that principle in the West,” Colr. Gallagher added.

Listing the expenses of some MLAs in the region, he added: “That’s MLAs in this district, it’s more when we look at MPs’ allowances. If the parties in here who want to save money, that’s where they should be starting.

“If this Council continues to take this stance [to reject a pay raise], then there’s going to be a wide disparity and inequality across the North.”

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Mayor Patricia Logue, who chaired Wednesday’s meeting, clarified that MLAs’ and MPs’ expenses were used for staff wages and office rent, and any deduction could lead to “job cuts”.

Sinn Féin Councillor Christopher Jackson agreed that it was “only right and just” to scrutinise any public expenditure, but MLAs and MPs were expected to run offices and provide services for their constituents.

Colr. Jackson said: “No matter how much jumping up and down Cllr Gallagher does in this chamber, we will not deny the people we represent a first class constituency service.”

SDLP Councillor Brian Tierney said that, as a staff member at SDLP leader Colm Eastwood’s constituency office, he would invite Colr. Gallagher to “spend one day in our office to see the level and ability of the staff there and work they deal with daily.”

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He also said that he and other Councillors didn’t reject the pay raise to “save money”.

“I agree with Colr. Gallagher that it’s not a lot of money to save,” Colr. Tierney said. “But it’s the principle of elected representatives voting to increase their own wages. That’s why it was shot back last year, and the year before as well.”

He concluded: “I have no issue with anybody who feels they need or deserve a pay increase. What I do feel uncomfortable with is us voting to give ourselves a pay rise.”

Andrew Balfour,

Local Democracy Reporter