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Last Updated: Friday, 15 September 2006, 16:34 GMT 17:34 UK
Northern Ireland: A funding farce?
Robin Sheeran
Robin Sheeran
The Politics Show Northern Ireland

SDLP offices
SDLP offices

There is no Plan B for the Assembly when it comes to Peter Hain's deadline for a settlement on 24 November, or so we are told.

And failure to meet the target date could have serious consequences beyond the wallets of our 108 MLAs.

Funding for their constituency offices and the salaries of the staff that work there are both under threat.

Each MLA has an allowance of up to £47,000 to cover their costs.

This week on Politics Show from Northern Ireland, our reporter, Rosy Billingham, meets the constituency workers who could lose their jobs and the voters who could lose an important link with their public representatives.

The SDLP has 20 offices and 35 staff, all under threat.

The DUP has 40 offices and is partially cushioned by its nine MPs' allowances, but it may still have to lose some Stormont staff.

Sinn Fein has 27 advice centres, mostly staffed by volunteers.

Danny Kennedy
Danny Kennedy

The UUP lost considerable allowances for their local offices after their disastrous performance in the 1995 general election.

Danny Kennedy, the party's MLA for Newry and Armagh, expresses some of their frustration.

"The irony is that Sinn Fein MPs, who don't do their job at Westminster, will continue to receive their allowances."

Patricia Lewsley, the SDLP MLA for Lagan Valley, says she has been put in an impossible position and describes the Secretary of State's actions as "high-handed".

"It's an absolute and utter mess. There's no direction.

"We've been told we have to give our staff notice. But then if I give notice and then come November 24 there's a deal and there's still a job there, well, as employers we could be sued for unlawful dismissal."

And let us not forget the public who make use of the MLA's surgeries.

Rosy visits the offices of Thomas Burns, the SDLP South Antrim MLA.

One of Mr Burns' constituents tells how he arranged to have security locks fitted following a spate of burglaries.

With just nine weeks to go to the Hain deadline, constituency office workers could be forgiven for setting about their own Plan B rather than face a very glum Christmas.

Jim Fitzpatrick
Jim Fitzpatrick presents Politics Show from Northern Ireland

The Politics Show

Be sure to join presenter Jim Fitzpatrick for the first in the new series of the Politics Show from Northern Ireland - Sunday 17 September 2006 at 12:00 BST on BBC One.

You get a second chance to see the programme again that night, at 23:15 BST on BBC One.

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