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Spads' Pay Bill Shames Folks On The Hill

(Suzanne Breen, Sunday Life)

The DUP and Sinn Féin made their names as parties of the people. Unlike their respective rivals, they prided themselves on being in touch with the mood on the streets. Their grassroots credentials were second to none.

The UUP was the voice of the Protestant establishment, the DUP told us for decades. It was Big House unionism, representing power, position, and privilege.

Sinn Féin portrayed the SDLP in the same light. It was the political proponent of Castle Catholics. The School-teachers, Doctors, and Lawyers Party was the jibe commonly circulated.

The DUP and Sinn Féin presented themselves as the antithesis of their political rivals. They were parties of, and for, the ordinary man and woman.

That myth was blown apart last week as the self-proclaimed orange and green proletarian parties united to oppose legislation reducing the number of special advisors (Spads) and their salaries.

I haven't met one person – and that includes many who oppose Jim Allister's politics tooth-and-nail – who doesn't think that he's right on this one.

At a time of sweeping public sector cuts, the salaries paid to Spads isn't just wrong, it's obscene.

We're spending £2million a year of taxpayers' money on jobs for our political parties favourite guys and girls while frontline services are slashed.

Those who are life savers for the elderly, sick and vulnerable have suffered job losses and pay freezes while Stormont Spads received salary hikes.

Jim Allister's bill wasn't even that radical. The proposal was to cut Spad salaries from a maximum of £92,000 to around £78,000. That would hardly have sent any of them to food banks.

Neither the DUP nor Sinn Féin have explained why we need an army of aides for our politicians that other devolved administrations don't.

With a population of 5.3 million, Scotland has 14 Spads. Wales – population 3.1 million – has eight Spads. Northern Ireland, with a population of 1.8 million has 19.

That neither the DUP nor Sinn Féin has chosen to curb their excesses in an era of savage public sector cuts shows us just how greedy they are. They don't even care how bad this looks to the public.

Surely even their most loyal supporters must now wake up and see how shockingly shameless they are?

October 23, 2015

This article appeared in the October 18, 2015 edition of the Sunday Life.

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