Thursday, 28 January 2010
Dáil Eireann Debate
Deputy Richard Bruton: On 23 December, the Minister for Finance indicated he would introduce a measure under which senior public servants would not pay the levy applied to every other public servant. He decided that bonus payments, supposed to be for exceptional achievement, were effectively a part of standard pay. When will this motion be presented to the House? I have not yet seen it on the Order Paper. Will the Minister provide an opportunity for the House to debate it? There is substantial concern about this measure and substantial opposition because it is believed it is unfair to ask people on the lowest pay within the public service to pay their full due, but those up in high posts have slipped out of that position. When will the Minister make time for this?
While I am on my feet I refer to the issues of debt collection and people getting into difficulties with loans. Emergency legislation was introduced to try to deal with the banking situation. Where is the same urgency to update our bankruptcy laws, to regulate debt collectors and to provide a framework in which people can be treated fairly by those pursuing debts? Will we see legislative proposals from the Government, on foot of the group the Minister has stated he intends to establish, to protect consumers at a time of remarkable vulnerability for many families?
Deputy Brian Lenihan: In respect of the protection of homeowners, any required legislation will be brought forward. At this stage, the inter-departmental committee is doing its work and if legislation is required on foot of that work, it will be introduced as a matter of urgency.
I refer to the question of remuneration levels of certain categories of higher public servant. Without opening up the discussion in general terms, a statutory instrument was made in that regard and the decision was made by the Government and me. It was grounded on the fact that were we to have applied the full reduction recommended by the body to the particular group. It would have meant an effective reduction in their remuneration package of an average of 18% for assistant secretaries, well in excess of the reduction accepted by Members of this House and by principal officers at their equivalent grade and well in excess of the amount imposed on Ministers and in excess of the amount imposed on Secretaries General.
It is worth noting also that this group, unlike everyone else in the category, was benchmarked in the report on higher level salaries, which Deputies can examine for the precise arrangements applicable to this category.
Deputy Richard Bruton: My question, which was in order, was when will we see the order the Minister has made? As I understand, regulations under this Bill must be laid before the House and they can be annulled. Will the Minister make time for the Dáil to debate that order because there is substantial belief that bonuses, which should only be paid for exceptional achievement, should not be regarded, as the Minister has now done, as part of the core pay of those public servants? The way he got to that 18% was by pretending that they were entitled to bonus pay each year, regardless of performance. That was never the intention of a bonus scheme.
Deputy Brian Lenihan: As Deputy Bruton is well aware, this particular bonus arrangement was unique to this category of public servant. As I understand the position, the statutory instrument has been adopted and there are no proposals to make time available to discuss it.
Deputy Eamon Gilmore: Will the Minister clarify, or perhaps correct, something the Tánaiste told us yesterday? When I asked her about this yesterday, she effectively said that the inclusion of the bonus as part of salary was recommended by the review body on higher level remuneration. She told us the review body on higher level remuneration indicated that the bonus was indicatively part of the salary and, therefore, that justified the way in which the Minister and the Government handled it.
I have looked through the review body report and it says nothing of the kind — in fact, it clearly says the reverse. It makes clear that the Government had already decided that performance-related awards should be abolished and, therefore, the recommendations which it made in respect of the pay of this grade of civil servant had already taken that into account.
The Government has been justifying what it did by suggesting that the review body had somehow recommended that the bonus and basic pay should be consolidated for these purposes but it did not say anything of the kind. Will the Minister for Finance clarify that point?
Deputy Leo Varadkar: The commencement order for the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (No. 2) Act appeared on the Order Paper on Tuesday. That was a commencement order rather than a statutory instrument and did not include, if I am correct in my reading of it, any reference to the fact the Minister had used his powers under that Act to grant an exception to people in regard to bonuses.
The Minister said a statutory instrument does that. If that has occurred, it has not been on the Order Paper, or at least I have not seen it on it. It needs to go on the Order Paper and this House and the other one have the right to challenge that within 21 days. The Minister might clarify that.
Deputy Joan Burton: As the Tánaiste said yesterday, bonuses are indicative but all the literature previously available on bonuses state that they are performance-related and reward for outstanding performance and excellence and that they are not automatic.
Will the Minister clarify who, in the upper echelons of the public service, is affected by his and the Government’s approach? County managers, directors of services and senior executives in the Health Service Executive all have bonus arrangements. The Government indicated, when it introduced the various emergency financial arrangements, that the bonuses had been brought to an end and that, therefore, they had already been stopped by Government as surplus excess payments which would be made in good times to reward very good performance. That is what the reports and the replies to parliamentary questions on bonuses, since they were first introduced, suggest.
The Minister will understand that more junior public servants, many of them now taking home less than €500 per week, feel very aggrieved that special arrangements have been made for people who, although they are not necessarily hugely well paid, are certainly far better paid than people in the lower ranks of the public service who face big reductions as well as big tax hikes.
Deputy Brian Lenihan: Deputy Varadkar raised an issue on the Order of Business and I will communicate with him about the precise status of the statutory instrument in order that he and the House can consider their options in that regard.
A Civil Service clerical officer on the mid-point of the scale has suffered a net loss in the last three budgets since autumn 2008 of approximately 11.7% of pay. I accept that is a very significant loss. It should be compared to the net loss of those in the higher paid grades. In the same period, an Assistant Secretary has suffered a net loss of more than 24% of pay while a Deputy Secretary has suffered a net loss of more than 27% of pay. The highest paid civil servants, level one Secretaries General, who volunteered to take an additional pay reduction, have seen their net pay reduced by more than one third.
Deputy Kathleen Lynch: The original question, which is of interest to the entire House, including the Ceann Comhairle, concerns the misleading of the House yesterday by the Tánaiste. That was the original question asked by Deputy Gilmore, leader of the Labour Party. That is the question to which we need an answer and not the opinion on the other——
Deputy Kathleen Lynch: As the person responsible for the orderly running of this House, the Ceann Comhairle should insist the question be answered because the Dáil was misled and that needs to be put right.
Deputy Joan Burton: The Minister finally wrote to me the other day with a copy of the Government order in regard to this salary issue because, as Deputy Gilmore said, it was not available in the Library or in Iris Oifigiúil . He said there were difficulties with the printing——
Deputy Joan Burton: This has been raised by many Members of the Opposition. The Minister is in the House. He wrote to me the other day and said that there were difficulties with the printing of the circular but attaching a copy of the circular.
An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy is being disorderly on the Order of Business. We are moving on. To come back to Deputy Lynch’s point, any allegation against a Member must be made by way of formal motion in the House. If the Deputy wishes to take up that option, she may do so.
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