This week we have heard again how Sinn Féin MLAs and TDs “take the industrial wage”. It is time we had full transparency on exactly what they judge this to be, full clarity on how it happens, and full openness about where the rest of it goes.
Let me venture to suggest some answers…
Firstly, they judge the “average industrial wage” to be £24,000. But then, peculiarly for a left-wing party, they forget all about tax and other deductions – they in fact consider the average industrial wage to be £24,000 net (i.e. in the hand).
In fact, a net (after-tax, after-deductions) salary of £24,000 is 25%-40% above the average. Let us be quite clear about that.
Secondly, implicit in the notion that they “only take” this (25%-40% above) average is that the rest goes unclaimed – in other words, is returned to the public purse. This is not, of course, what actually happens. What happens is that Sinn Féin MLAs (for example) receive their full pay, and then hand some of it back to the party. So it is not really true to say they “only take” (25%-40% above) the average – in fact, they take it all but then donate some to the party.
It is quite common to donate money received as an elected representative back to the party. I donated some back to the Alliance Party as a Councillor. Many people on the average industrial wage (or indeed 25%-40% above it or double it) would donate to a Union, representative body or professional institute. So the notion of “giving up” part of a salary is far from unknown; it is in fact quite normal. Few people regard themselves not to have earned the money donated, however.
Thirdly, the money goes to Sinn Féin, and is allocated at least in part to said representative’s work and re-election. Not many people on the average industrial wage (or even 25%-40% above or double it) have that advantage.
Recent revelations that one Sinn Féin Councillor’s allowances were paid into a Sinn Féin account directly, or that relevant VAT was not paid by a research firm working for Sinn Féin, do make us wonder whether Sinn Féin representatives are paying the correct tax, insurance and deductions, however.
To be clear, Sinn Féin representatives receive exactly the same salary as any other representatives (or, if they do not, the public need to know why, as we need assurance that they are paying all the tax due – it would not do for Sinn Féin reps to complain about lack of funding for public services or voluntary groups and then be shirking their own contribution).
From that salary, in line with other parties’ representatives and indeed many employees, they contribute to a group which assists and supports them in their work. This is not extraordinary and does not indicate they are “only taking” half of what they say. They are in fact donating it to their own group, not to public funds.
Questions about this – given revelations concerning accounts welfare payments were put into, absence of VAT payments, and indeed the revelation that Sinn Féin reps seem to think £24,000 net is the same as £24,000 gross (and thus, perhaps, that they somehow should be exempt from the tax and deductions everyone else pays) – need to have a clear and transparent answer.