Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Arlene Foster has rejected “offensive” calls to cut MLAs’ pay in the absence of a power-sharing executive.
It follows comments by Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire that he would consider the issue if the deadlock cannot be broken.
The main parties have been unable to make progress since the Stormont executive collapsed in January.
Mrs Foster said pay was “not a stick” and could not be used as an incentive.
Anyone who thought that threatening a pay reduction would make a deal more likely did not understand the political process, she added.
‘Don’t understand me’
In a wide-ranging interview with BBC Radio Ulster’s Sunday News programme, Mrs Foster acknowledged the issue would have to be re-assessed if an agreement could not be reached.
But she rejected calls for MLAs’ salaries to be reduced.
“Pay will not determine the outcome of a political process,” she said.
“It is quite offensive, I have to say, to those of us who have stood for election, who want to get on with the job of government, that people think if they make a threat of pay reduction that it will act as some sort of incentive.
“I think people out there, whether it’s the BBC or anyone else, that think the threat of reducing my pay is in some way going to make an agreement more possible – they don’t really understand me and they don’t really understand the people that stand for election.”
On Thursday, Mr Brokenshire said Northern Ireland was on a “glide path” towards greater UK government intervention if a deal could not be struck by the parties in the next few weeks.
In response, Mrs Foster said the DUP did not want to be heading towards direct rule, but warned that “there needs to be an end point” to the talks process.
She said there had been a useful, intensive stage of talks since the end of August, but that there are still “significant issues” between the DUP and Sinn Féin.
“It is about trying to keep the focus – people elected us to do a job, they want to see us in government and that’s certainly where my focus is.”
This interview will be broadcast in full on The Sunday News programme on BBC Radio Ulster at 13:00 BST.