MLAs face more questions over latest pensions investments

Stormont politicians now benefit from a £17.3m pension pot.

Stormont politicians now benefit from a £17.3m pension pot.

Stormont MLAs have been challenged to defend their pension fund’s decision to invest in the nuclear weapons industry.

The call comes as an independent panel meets at Stormont today to review MLA salaries and their pensions.

Each year more than £1m in taxpayers’ money is pumped into a Stormont pension fund to ensure that MLAs receive substantial financial support following retirement.

The latest MLA pension fund report released last month reveals that Stormont politicians now benefit from a £17.3m pension pot.

However concerns have been expressed over fears that the fund has no proper guidelines to ensure that it does not invest in companies who have been implicated in human rights abuses in third world countries.

Earlier this year The Detail revealed details of how the fund has invested in a number of companies who have been accused of human rights abuses.

At that time Pension Trust chairman Trevor Lunn insisted that MLAs had no powers to restrict the nature of the companies which the fund invests with.

The fund also failed to provide the Detail with its investment guidelines.

Following the Detail’s story the fund revealed that it would review its pension policy in January.

However the Detail can today reveal that despite a large number of Stormont politicians publicly stating their opposition to nuclear weapons, the MLAs’ own pension trust is actually investing in a company heavily involved in the nuclear arms industry.

The Northern Ireland Annual Pension Fund Report 2010/2011 states that the fund currently invests in British company Redhall.

The company is described in the pension fund’s report as an “engineering services group”.

However the Detail can reveal that Redhall is also heavily involved in the nuclear weapons industry.

Redhall’s own website highlights its extensive multi-million pound contracts in the nuclear weapons industry, stating:

“Defence encompasses activities on behalf of the Ministry of Defence in particular the outfitting of Astute class submarines at Barrow, West Cumbria and the design, specialist equipment manufacture and mechanical and electrical engineering activities at the Atomic Weapons establishments at Aldermaston and Burghfield.”

As part of its investigation The Detail contacted all of the main political parties at Stormont and asked for their policies on the nuclear weapons industry.

None replied.

Expressing concern that the MLAs’ pension fund had failed to publicly admit that its decision to invest in the nuclear weapons industry, CND General Secretary Kate Hudson said:

“This is another example of politicians saying one thing publically and doing another privately.

“What are people to think when politicians claim to oppose nuclear weapons and yet apparently bolster their pensions by investing in companies profiting from the nuclear weapons industry?

“This runs contrary to the spirit of the UK’s obligations as a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), whereby the UK is obligated to actively pursue “negotiations in good faith” towards nuclear disarmament.

“Given William Hague’s recent reaffirmation of this commitment, the public will take a dim view of elected officials personally profiting from this industry.”

The Detail contacted the MLAs’ pension fund office to ask whether politicians had been made aware that they have invested in the nuclear weapons industry and whether politicians felt that such investments were ethically appropriate.

It provided us with a statement, saying:

“The Assembly Members Pension Scheme (NI) appoints an Investment Manager in accordance with the Scheme Rules and Pensions Legislation to manage the pension fund investment on a daily basis.

“The Trustees do not select the individual stocks in which the fund invests but rather invest in a pooled fund arrangement.

“The investment in the pooled fund is in the form of an insurance policy with the Prudential and not individual stocks owned by the Pension Fund.”

A spokeswoman said trustees planned to review its `Statement of Investment Principles’ and the performance of its investment manager at their next meeting in January.

“The Trustees will take whatever action they deem necessary following the review.”