Wednesday, 12 March 1986
Seanad Eireann Debate
“That Seanad Éireann, mindful of the constant exhortations of successive Governments for pay restraint from all sections of the population, calls on the Government to introduce legislation to ensure that neither the President nor any member of the Judiciary nor any member of the Oireachtas, nor any member of the European Parliament, receives a pension by virtue of having held office, either as Ceann Comhairle or Leas-Cheann Comhairle of the Dáil, or as Cathaoirleach or Leas-Chathaoirleach of the Seanad or as a member of the Government or Minister of State.”
Mr. O'Leary: This motion presents considerable difficulty for some Members of the House who are conscious of the public mood in relation to the payment of pensions to Members of the Oireachtas and others who hold office in respect of periods of time when they held previous and nore exalted office. It would be foolhardy not to accept that there is a general  feeling in the country that this creature of legislation which was introduced as a result of an independent review procedure has outlived its usefulness and that a re-examination of the provisions of the appropriate legislation would be proper. However, it is also important to point out that we are not being asked in this motion to decide on the principles of pensions. That is not what this motion is about. This motion is about a very specific proposal calling upon the Government to introduce legislation to ensure that neither the President — they are not talking about future Presidents or past Presidents but the present President — nor any member of the Judiciary, nor any Member of the Houses of the Oireachtas, nor any member of the European Parliament shall receive a pension by virtue of having held office in the series of offices which are listed.
Seanad Éireann and, indeed, the Government lack the capacity to pass such legislation. I do not think it is feasible; I do not think it is possible or constitutional. It is a denial of the rights of those people who already have those pensions to suggest that legislation should be introduced to do away with them. I will deal with the principle later, a principle with which I have considerable sympathy and I think that certain things should be done along those lines but to suggest that the President of the country at the present time and members of the Judiciary and other Members of the Oireachtas at present in receipt of pensions should have these pensions taken from them, is beyond the capacity of this House and is merely gallery play, is merely an attempt by the mover of the motion and his seconder to get certain political kudos for suggesting this reform.
Let us consider the position of a Member of this House or the other House who has held ministerial office or a person who has held ministerial office and is now a judge. If you pass legislation denying them the continuation of the pension which they at present enjoy, does anyone in this House seriously think that that is incapable of being challenged. Do you think you can just take away a person's  pension and take away the rights they have accumulated as a result of a contract between them and the State? Do you think you can do that just by an act of the Oireachtas? That is totally unrealistic and it shows the shallowness of the knowledge of those people who put down the motion on the one hand or else their lack of principle in putting down a motion which they must have known on mature examination was so seriously and substantially flawed. How can you expect us to take seriously a motion which suggests that rights which people have already accumulated should be taken from them?
The very important reforms in this area which are necessary are being held back by this kind of pandering to the baser instincts of publicity and the baser instincts of the general feeling that is abroad about politicians. If we are not going to base our opposition to these matters on logic and reason and common sense then I think we are going to do a disservice to the cause which we espouse, the cause of bringing some rationality into this situation. For that reason I could not support in any way this motion because by doing so I am putting some responsibility on the Government and on this House and expressing it as the view of this House that in some way I can pass legislation to remove a statutory pension entitlement which somebody has. Imagine the person going into court and saying, “I was a practising barrister or I was an accountant or I was a solicitor or I was working in a trade union in the mid-1970s or the mid-1960s and I was offered a position as a Minister of a Government and one of the conditions on which I was offered that job was that after a certain number of years I would get a pension. So I gave up my job as a trade union official or as a solicitor or as a barrister or as a university lecturer and I fulfilled my duties to the best of my ability as a minister and now 15 or 20 years later a part of the agreement, which as far as I was concerned was a very important part, that I would have financial security in the future has been changed by an Act of the Oireachtas”. Such an attempt at legislating  would not survive a constitutional challenge for more than ten minutes. It is only hypocrisy for us to consider the suggestion seriously.
There is a feeling abroad among the general public that there are circumstances in which pensions accrue to people who are in ministerial office which are incorrect. I am in favour of a reform in that area. I do not see much sense in a person of 27, 28 years or 29 years of age being appointed a Minister of State and after three years acquiring a right to a pension as a result of that period of time. I have no objection to whatever rights are acquired being delayed for an appropriate period of time.
However, we should not restrict the matter to that narrow field. If we are going to look at the matter in that way we would also have to give some serious consideration to those people who are drawing other pensions from the public service area and who acquire membership of either of the two Houses. In those cases some adjustment of their pension might be appropriate in certain circumstances. For example, if a person was working in the ESB for quite a considerable length of time and acquired pension rights, and if rather late in their life they acquired membership of one or other House of the Oireachtas, in those circumstances an appropriate adjustment to their pension arrangements might also be appropriate in the review which we would undertake as a result of that.
What is necessary is a much wider review than just merely membership of Houses of the Oireachtas and ministerial pensions. There is a good point to be made in that no person should be entitled to draw more than one pension from what is ultimately the public purse except in so far as one of those pensions is of a reduced kind that represents an increment of a pension rather than a pension in its own right. There are certain important things to be done along that line. I hope the Minister will be able to help us in that regard. A much wider review of the whole area of pensions is necessary than merely seeking to use a sledge hammer to crack a nut and trying to pretend that  by passing resolutions like this we can abolish the deeds of misdeeds of the last 40 years since these ministerial pensions were first introduced.
We should express our views in debate but I would ask my fellow Senators not seriously to consider passing this resolution. I regret that we did not on an all-party basis get together and amend the resolution in such a way as would reflect properly the widely held view that, on the one hand, we have to have adequate pensions for those people who are there and, on the other hand, that there are circumstances in which pensions should not accrue at such an early age or queues of pensions should not be payable. Because an amendment, regrettably is not before the House, we have to judge the motion on the pure content of the motion itself. As I have already pointed out, in my view the motion as drafted fails adequately to deal with the problem of the transitional phase. The failure to do that is fatal to the motion. As a result, I could not support it if it is put to a vote here this evening. I will be forced, because of the high regard I have for my responsibilities as a Member of Seanad Éireann, to vote against the motion, which I consider is trying to impose on the Seanad and on the Government an illegal responsibility, one which could not be done under our present constitutional arrangements. I ask the House to consider and to express our view with regard to the question of pensions.
That Seanad Éireann, mindful of the constant exhortations of successive Governments for pay restraint from all sections of the population, calls on the Government to introduce legislation to ensure that neither the President nor any member of the Judiciary nor any member of the Oireachtas, nor any member of the European Parliament, receives a pension by virtue of having held office, either as Ceann Comhairle or Leas-Cheann Comhairle of the Dáil,  or as Cathaoirleach or Leas-Chathaoirleach of the Seanad or as a member of the Government or Minister of State.
In the circumstances, the fact that that is not limited to future holders of the office but seeks to include in its language the present holders of the office of President and members of the Judiciary, Members of the Oireachtas who have previously held the other posts which are referred to in a second portion of the motion, is a fatal flaw in this motion and I would request and recommend to the House that it would be rejected.
Mr. Fitzsimons: I overheard a radio programme in which Senator Ross was interviewed. He said something to the effect that it would get the Fianna Fáil Members to stand up and give their views. It seemed to me that he was talking in the rural terms of “smoking them out”. I resented that. It has never been any problem for me in this House to stand up and give my views. They may not have been very impressive or convincing and I am not all that enthusiastic about entering into discussion on this motion. Nevertheless, I have never found any problem about giving my views. I do not think I have ever been behind in giving my views one way or another.
In this country we are very good at stone-walling and knocking. We are very good at criticising. It is very easy to be critical. There is no harm, in passing, to refer to another radio programme I heard where Deputy Hugh Coveney referred to this House as “a farce”. I thought it was rather an extraordinary statement, a bland statement without any following argument. It would not be my view of this House. I resent that as well. Overall in this area I feel that there is a general approach of shooting from the hips—Roy Rogers, two guns blazing, bang bang into the target and then riding off into the sunset.
Mr. Fitzsimons: Yes, there is that  aspect to it. I do not deny that it is a very serious area, a sensitive area. Questions are being asked and questions should be answered, not in terms of a very short debate as we have here in this House but by going into the whole matter in depth. That is necessary to do justice to a motion of this kind.
The Members who tabled this motion are getting on a popular bandwagon. I am not saying that that was the particular reason for tabling it. There is this criticism of pensions and there is this criticism of the Seanad. For my part and the way it will affect me, I feel like the people who fought and died for Ireland in the early part of the century. Who were the people who fought and died for Ireland? Many of them were labourers and people who were not even regarded as labourers who had nothing to fight for. The history books tell us they fought and died for their country, the country that the landlords exploited and that the wealthy people exploited. In defending this I am defending something that will never affect me. I could say, perhaps not very elegantly, it is no skin off my nose.
I would like to make reference to one area which Senator Killilea intended to raise. Of course, time was a problem and he did not get the opportunity. This is with regard to other public representatives such as county councillors. All Members of this House know that county councillors, by and large, are full time. They are committed people and for attendance at meetings they get a pittance. It is practically a full time occupation. They do not get any refund for postage or phones, which they should. I, and I am sure other Members of the House, have been approached to make a case from them. I am sure every Member would agree with that case to acknowledge the important work that county councillors, urban councillors and all public representatives are doing, in a tangible way by giving them an allowance for phone calls and postage which they do not receive.
Criticism of county councillors is carried on weekly in the media. This is in particular with regard to councillors who  go abroad to seminars which are referred to as junkets. I have attended one seminar abroad, some in Ireland, many of them at my own expense.
The five year development plan is a decision of the elected representatives. To be able to make a meaningful contribution and not to be inlooking, it is only right that public representatives should get the opportunity of going abroad to see what is happening in other countries, so that when they come back they can make a meaningful contribution. I am quite sure that every Member of the House would agree with me on that point.
When we talk about public representatives, there are working TDs and working Senators. I can stand up and say that I try to play my part and that the people who voted for me and put me here need not hold their heads. I may not be very elegant but I make an honest attempt to do what I am supposed to do and to contribute as I should.
Some mornings I get up at 6 o'clock to work at whatever contribution I make when this House is sitting. My contribution may not reflect that. The question I would ask is, if I have to do that for a rather unimportant role, what has a hardworking TD or a Minister to do? What time have they to give to their work? What time do they go to bed at? What time do they get up? I do not envy their task. While we may not agree, by and large, with Ministers and Ministers of State, nevertheless, I would have to say that in my experience that they are able people. While I would criticise them in various ways, I do not take that from them. We must remember that many Members of this House, and I am sure also of the other House, would be losing business by coming here. I have lost business, which cannot be made up for. Everybody else who has a business or a profession has lost out in some way. There was a very wise man who lived close to my home when I was a young boy who had many quaint phrases. One of his phrases was: “He who by the plough must live himself must either lead or drive”. It is very important. People coming to a business place want to see  the boss. I want to make the case that in that way we lose out. There are no increments as far as a Deputy or Senator is concerned. In every other area of public service there are increments. A new Member coming into this House will get the same remuneration as one who has been a Member for 25 years.
If we are to carry this motion to its logical conclusion, we could say, why not get rid of the Presidency? We would save money. Why not go that far? I would not go with the motion at all for the reasons I have given. At present, there is some resentment against working wives. We could go into that area. I have never subscribed to that notion. In the present situation it is very important where people are concerned to pay their mortgage, even though we are in very difficult circumstances regarding employment. Nevertheless, people who have talents should not be denied the opportunity of developing them.
Pensions were brought in when there was no other method whereby people who had worked for a long time could be remunerated and there were no increments. We want to continue to have able Ministers and able people representing us. The question should be examined in the area of reform. I would have no qualms about that. We must not try to cure cancer by removing a pimple; we must start at the bottom and work through the whole system, consider the type of work people do, the home life, the disruptions, how individuals suffer, how their families suffer, and bearing in mind that this is something which will never be compensated for. Their children suffer. Then, of course, there are callers all the time, even when one is sitting down to tea or dinner and they will not understand if one does not respond. All these things should be taken into consideration. There is the work that a Deputy has to do. It may be in a five-seat or a four-seat or three-seat constituency. The question is asked, should there be a single-seat constituency. A case has been made for this. All this should be examined. This would be important.
 I would like to have statistics and to see the situation vis-a-vis the UK, although what is right in the UK or any other country might not be best for us. I would like to know what tax these people pay, what amount is deducted from their income by way of tax? It is very important to know that.
As Senator O'Leary rightly said, the people concerned in the motion took up their positions on the promise and the expectation that they would get this pension. They made many sacrifices to do that. It would be wrong in that case to promise something and then to change the law and take it away.
I realise there is a concern for equity. I would be totally in favour of that taking the changes that have occurred since 1937 into consideration when the first report on this question was brought forward. It is important that we have and keep the best brains. It is essential that we make conditions attractive for these people.
Mr. Fitzsimons: ——there is not any great time to go into it in depth. A serious motion like this should give us all an opportunity of researching the situation and going into it in depth. In conclusion, may I give a short quotation from the Irish Independent of Wednesday, 25 September 1985:
The ministerial pension system was introduced in 1938 on the recommendation of the Shanley report. It noted that Ministers were obliged to cease other employments and that many persons of calibre might — without this perk — turn down office on the grounds that it might interfere with their other sources of income.
 It agrees with submissions from parliamentarians that under a special convention they must drop other forms of remuneration “incompatible with the discharge of ministerial duties” on taking office and that this can pretty well scuttle many a lucrative sideline.
It also makes the point that Ministers hold office literally at the pleasure of the Taoiseach. In one way I would put a question mark after that and perhaps in other ways I would agree with that. I would just say that in passing.
Mr. Fitzsimons: They also hold office, as they do their seats, at the pleasure of the electorate, so there is no security of tenure as in some other employments. Then of course, there is the problem of a TD or a Senator not getting elected. I agree that a question has to be asked. There is a necessity for an in-depth investigation and perhaps a committee to go into this matter to give us an opportunity again in this House to discuss it but where we will not have the constraints of the time limit.
Minister of State at the Department of the Public Service (Mr. J. O'Keeffe): We have had so far a very interesting and very searching debate on this motion. It is fair to say that the contributions of the Senators who spoke were of a very high quality. The fact that the motion has been debated in such an open and objective way will, I think, help to dispel some of the feelings of public doubt and mistrust which may surround the general topic of the remuneration of Members of the Oireachtas.
At certain points, the debate has touched upon various aspects of the terms and conditions applying to Senators. However, I propose to concentrate my remarks primarily on the specific subject of the motion. A motion of this kind poses an obvious difficulty not just for myself as an office holder but for all Members of the Oireachtas who could be  affected by its terms. That however is a difficulty which must be faced.
I think it might help if I were to recall the history leading up to the present situation which the motion in the names of Senators Ross and Ryan is trying to change. The pension arrangements for holders of ministerial and parliamentary offices are provided for under the Ministerial and Parliamentary Offices Act, 1938, as amended by subsequent legislation. The 1938 legislation was enacted following consideration of the recommendations of a committee of inquiry into ministerial and other salaries, etc., under the chairmanship of Dr. John Shanley.
attains Ministerial rank is obliged to cut himself adrift more or less completely from his former occupation or profession. If his tenure of office becomes protracted it may be extremely difficult for him on retirement to take up the threads of his former business. The severance from his former means of livelihood will often be irremediable and he will be left with no assurance whatever as to the future, although his high position, unlike that attained in other walks of life, is due to concentration on matters concerned with the public interest and public affairs. Experience has shown that the sacrifices involved in taking office as a Minister have been such that unless some remedy be found many persons who might otherwise have been attracted to a political career and whose services would have been most useful to the nation in that sphere may be deterred from accepting office unless provision is made to ensure that their future position is safe-guarded. Another consideration that arises is the desirability of retaining ex-Ministers in political life, as their knowledge of affairs and experience of administration  must be of great value to the community in the examination and criticism of legislative proposals in the Dáil.
It is worthy to note that, while the Shanley Committee recommended that ministerial pensions should be abated where the person concerned was receiving other remuneration or pension, they specifically recommended that a parliamentary allowance as Deputy or Senator should not give rise to abatement.
On foot of this recommendation the 1938 legislation which followed the committee's report provided for the exclusion of parliamentary allowances from reckoning under the abatement rules. However, that legislation — specifically, section 23 of the Ministerial and Parliamentary Offices Act, 1938 — provided that ministerial pensions should be abated, on a sliding scale, where the holder received payments other than parliamentary allowances from public funds.
These abatement provisions were later abolished under the terms of the Pensions Abatement Act, 1965. That Act was of general application to the public service as a whole, not just to Members of the Oireachtas. Up to that time a public service pensioner would normally have his pension abated if he or she were re-employed anywhere in the public service and if the total of pension plus the new salary exceeded the amount of the retirement salary suitably up-dated.
The 1965 Act limited the application of abatement to cases where the pensioner was re-employed in the same service as that from which he or she had retired. The philosophy behind the Act would appear to have been that pensions should normally be regarded as having been earned by past service and should, therefore, be abated only where the pensioner was re-employed in the service from which he or she had retired.
Accordingly, it will now be found that in, say, the Civil Service, a number of posts are held by retired Army personnel and gardaí and these continue to draw their full pension in addition to their Civil  Service salary. Members will no doubt be aware from their own experience of similar cases of that type in other parts of the public sector, whether it concerns pensioners from the local authority service, health or educational areas or the various State-sponsored bodies.
I have recalled these details, first, to show how the situation which the motion seeks to change has arisen and, second, to bring out the fact that the full exclusion of parliamentary allowances from reckoning as regards ministerial pensions has been in operation since the inception of the ministerial pension system 47 years ago.
Furthermore, on two occasions — in their 1972 and 1979 reports — the members of the independent Review Body on Higher Remuneration in the Public Sector have examined the remuneration of parliamentary office holders and on both occasions have said that they had regard to the superannuation provisions for office holders in making recommendations on their remuneration.
The foregoing are all factors which should be taken into account in considering the arguments advanced by the proposers of the present motion. The matter is clearly a complex one. On the one hand there are the points made by the proposers of the motion. I do not need to repeat then all here. They were made with considerable force and need careful consideration. Particularly important in my opinion — and also in that of most of the Senators who have contributed to this debate — is the way in which the public views the pay and conditions of Deputies and Senators since this can have a substantial effect on the esteem in which our democratic institutions are held. Undoubtedly Members of the Oireachtas must, in dealing with a matter of this kind affecting themselves, be conscious of the degree of restraint which the community as a whole is being asked to exercise at present. But in this regard it is fair to remember that, on quite a number of occasions in the not so distant past, parliamentarians found themselves lagging seriously behind in national wage rounds  and then having to face criticism when they were eventually brought in line.
However, the position now is that since the enactment of the Oireachtas (Allowances to Members) and Ministerial, Parliamentary and Judicial Offices (Amendment) Act, 1983 the pay of parliamentarians has been directly linked to the pay of civil servants. The arrangement now is that any general pay round applied to Civil Service salaries is automatically applied also to the remuneration of parliamentarians and members of the Judiciary. In these circumstances, as has been pointed out in the debate, appeals by Government for restraint have direct implications for the pay of parliamentarians. This fact appears to have been ignored by Senator Ross in his opening speech.
I would like at this point to refer briefly to the dual mandate, which was particularly mentioned by Senators Ross and Dooge. As Senators are aware, this matter is before the Joint Committee on the Secondary Legislation of the European Communities. The wording of the resolutions of both the Dáil and Seanad asked the joint committee to examine the question of dual membership and to consider the relations between Irish representatives in the European Assembly and Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann and to report thereon to both Houses of the Oireachtas.
When all the arguments in favour of the motion have been made, there are, as will be evident from the debate, many factors which have to be taken into account on the other side. The Oireachtas must, if it is to retain a healthy democratic character, be able to attract people of high quality and ability from all walks of life. It should not become the preserve of the rich — as Senator Dooge said, we do not want to go back to the days when party leaders were chosen on the basis of their private means. Those thinking of entering public life have to consider the damage that may be done to their business or profession if they have to cut themselves off from it to a large extent for a period of years. They have to take into account the uncertainties  of political life and the lack of assurances about the future. The difficulty of picking up again the threads of a career or business after a long absence is something they must weigh carefully. These and similar points were made and developed in some detail by Senators Dooge, Killilea, Ferris and Eoin Ryan. Certain legal aspects were argued by Senator O'Leary and these of course also need to be seriously considered.
Given such conflicting factors it is essential, in the Government's view, that the subject of the motion be dealt with on as objective a basis as possible. The issues involved are of direct concern to all Members of the Oireachtas. In fairness to them and to the public it is desirable that there should be an independent and objective examination of the matter before a final decision is taken. As far as possible we should try to avoid being judge and jury in our own case.
In this connection Senators may be aware that in the course of the recent public service pay negotiations the staff side raised the question of making a further general reference to the Review Body on Higher Remuneration in the Public Sector.
The review body has functioned for many years as a standing body whose purpose has been to advise the Government on the general level of remuneration of the Judiciary, higher civil servants, higher local authority and health body officers, chief executives of State-sponsored bodies and other high-level staff, as well as on the remuneration of office holders and the allowances of Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas. It has always consisted of persons of the highest standing in the community who would be generally accepted as having no commitments in respect of, or significant affiliations with, any of the groups coming within its remit. It has usually comprised a member drawn from private business, an accountant and a private individual such as a professional person or a farmer, together with two nominees of the Labour Court who facilitate  consistency with pay developments generally.
Members of the group, apart from the Labour Court nominees, have included such well-known individuals as Dr. Liam St. J. Devlin, Mr. Joseph Charleton, accountant; the late Mr. Jimmy O'Keeffe, then president of the ICMSA; and Mr. Frank Hardy, former president of the Federated Union of Employers. Their wide remit, extending across the public service, their broad experience and the carefully researched nature of their reports have given their recommendations particular authority and weight.
I have already mentioned that the review body made special studies in 1972 and 1979 of the position of office holders and Oireachtas Members. These studies covered the historical and the then current arrangements applying to such aspects as the payment of income tax and surtax on salaries and allowances, the travelling and subsistence facilities allowed, the overnight allowances and other benefits, and the superannuation arrangements applicable. Thus, a great body of factual information is available in this area on which previous assessments were based and which can readily be brought up-to-date for the purpose of a further review.
In response to the question from the staff side to which I referred a moment ago, an undertaking in regard to a general reference to the review body was included in the pay proposals at present being considered by public service groups. Such a reference would, in accordance with practice, cover parliamentarians as well as higher public servants generally. The reference would facilitate consideration of a number of aspects of parliamentarians' pay and pensions which have been mentioned during this debate.
The Government intend that when such general reference is being made, the review body will be asked specifically to consider the whole question of parliamentary office holders' pensions. The Government consider that this is the fairest and most positive way in which to  balance the interests of the Oireachtas as a whole, individual Members and the general public and taxpayer.
The approach I have outlined is one which I suggest is reasonable and sensible. It will allow the issue to be discussed in a totally dispassionate manner free from hysteria and emotion. It will enable the facts to be fully established and the fiction to be discarded. It will result in recommendations made in a completely independent and objective fashion.
Mr. Howlin: I shall try to facilitate you, a Leas-Chathaoirleach, in order to allow as many people as possible to contribute. It is important that we have as broad a cross-section of views expressed on this issue as possible. Unlike some previous speakers, I welcome the motion in that it does afford the various Members of the House the opportunity to discuss an issue which undoubtedly is relevant to public discussion. Whether we like it or not, the whole area of remuneration, of salaries and pensions for Members of these Houses is something that has captured the public's imagination and is a matter of public debate. It impinges both on the regard that the public have for each of us as parliamentarians and ultimately the democratic institutions of the State. I welcome the opportunity, too, because it affords me the opportunity to re-echo the sentiments of the leader of the Labour group in the Seanad, Senator Ferris, who last week put the Labour Party perspective clearly on the record of the House.
This motion has not emerged at the whim of an individual; it has been an ongoing discussion. From the Labour Party perspective, at our annual conference in May 1985 we had a very long  debate on this matter. Strong views were expressed and a resolution was carried that would in large measure agree with the sentiments encompassed in the motion before the House tonight. Acting on that resolution the Parliamentary Labour Party in the intervening period have discussed it. Representatives of the Parliamentary Party on the Committee on Procedure and Privileges have brought before it the views of the Labour Party and the need, as we saw it, for change in this regard. Unfortunately, the Labour Party's efforts in this regard did not receive broad support and came to nought.
It is therefore relevant to examine exactly what procedure can next be taken to advance what is obviously a serious anomaly and to establish a mechanism to allay public disquiet, which is real and genuine. I would like to state that the Labour Party intend to formulate a Bill to do that, and to address, as the Minister has stated, not only the narrow confines of the categories of people mentioned in the motion before the House tonight but the broad spectrum of public servants and the many anomalies that exist in relation to them including, but not exclusively dealing with, Members of these Houses who receive pensions while maintaining employment in the public service. The preparation and ground work for that comprehensive legislation within the Labour Party is under way.
Senator O'Leary, in his contribution earlier, talked of the shallowness of knowledge of the movers of the resolution. I acknowledge, as the Labour Party do, that the implications of change in this area are very broad and there will obviously be constitutional difficulties which will have to be addressed. People have contractual undertakings which will have to be looked at and preserved, so it is not going to be easy to legislate for the provisions and the sentiments encompassed in the resolution. That should not deter us from speaking about it. The Labour Party Bill will be a long time in formulation. Let us not pretend it is an easy issue. It will be many months before we can have a satisfactory piece of legislation  that will address this problem.
The movers of the motion talked of the different categories of Members. I found that of certain interest. As Members we all receive the same salary. Senator Killilea last week referred to that. He, who has served for 17 years, and I, serving for the first time, receive the same salary. There is no increment. That is something that should be addressed. There is a broad spectrum of issues that are at stake. The remuneration for a full time Senator with no other income whatsoever, like myself, is not something that we could exactly write home about. There is a valid case for looking at parliamentary incomes on that basis.
Mr. Howlin: Some people have a considerable external supplement which obviously puts them into a certain privileged category. The movers of the motion also referred to the average industrial wage and I, for one, would be very happy if that was the criterion used to estimate the remuneration for serving Members. If we were given the average industrial wage for a 40 hour week and the hours we work above that calculated at overtime rates—normal time and a half or double time for Sundays and holidays—most Members in this House who take their duty seriously would have a very reasonable return for their efforts.
There are fundamental principles involved in this issue. They impinge on things like public perception: public perception of each of us, public perception of these Houses, public perception of the way the Government do business. We must not be seen to use that phrase, as was used last week, “to feather our own nests”. We must not use the Minister's phrase “to be judge and jury in our own cases” where we set our own salary levels and award ourselves privileges that are not awarded to the general citizenry. There is also a fundamental point of leadership. It is a fair point to say that people do expect example from these Houses. God knows, much has been said about the difficult times that are in it and the  need for restraint and moderation and all these words that are barbed in terms of pay negotiations. We have a responsibility to answer the call of public disquiet and to address ourselves to the obvious disquiet that exists whether we like it or not.
In my view, despite what many Senators and the Minister, quoting from the original legislation, have stated it is a unique and distinct privilege to serve as a Minister. I honestly do not believe that giving up opportunities or surrendering future opportunities to earn money will prevent people of calibre from taking up office. The remuneration for office holders is fair and reasonable. There is a anomaly where there is a pension paid to somebody after three years service while still in full time employment in the public sector in these Houses. There is an obvious anomaly there that should, in my view, be addressed. I have not heard a reasonable answer to that public disquiet voiced around the country. The people who make it to high office either as a Minister of State, as a Cabinet Minister, as Cathaoirleach or Leas-Chathaoirleach of the Seanad or as Ceann Comhairle or Leas-Ceann Comhairle of the Dáil or as Uachtarán na hÉireann are not motivated by gain because their calibre is of such merit that they would make it in any field of endeavour. The people who obviously have put self-interest aside to serve the public should not have the whole status of their position impugned by unnecessary anomalies that exist within the pension system.
I welcome the review and the Minister's comments in that regard. I welcome the fact that there is a discussion in this House tonight on the whole area of remuneration for serving and former Members of these Houses. I confidently expect that the legislation the Labour Party are currently putting together, which will be carefully researched and analysed with the constitutional provisions, will in the end result in fairness to all concerned and ally the public disquiet that is real and genuine and which we have an obligation to address.
Mrs. McGuinness: I intend to speak very briefly on this motion because many other Senators have dealt fairly fully with the issue which are raised. I understand that there are a number of Senators who wish to speak in the debate before my colleague Senator Ross replies. It is very interesting, in view of the remarks that have been made in the last week to the effect that this House is a farce and should be abolished, that this motion has sparked off such a wide-ranging, understanding and sensible debate on this subject which has not been run along party lines or in a party political fashion. One of the duties which the Independent Members of this House have, is to put before the House motions of this type which can be dealt with in this way. I have been struck by the quality of the contributions which have been made by both sides of the House and how they have looked at the whole area of remuneration for public service through the parliament rather than simply the one issue of people drawing pensions while serving in other capacities. Those who are trying to abolish this House are moving too fast and should look at what has been said in this debate on an issue which does seem to cause considerable public disquiet.
When I talk about public disquiet I do feel, with Senator Fitzsimons, that sometimes there can be too much public disquiet about a thing like this. In some ways we can be a terrible nation of begrudgers rather than going out and working, in doing and achieving something for ourselves. It is great fun to sit back and say “there is X, Y or Z. Look at him, he is a member of the European Parliament. He is getting a pension”. There may be anomalies and there may be wrong things about this situation but it is not such an enormous issue that people should create a great amount of public disquiet about it as opposed to trying to do something positive about our economic situation and so on. However, it is an area that needs to be looked at and I welcome the Minister's attitude in that, rather than rejecting the motion which has been put forward, he shows  sufficient openness to refer the matter to the review group and see what can be done to iron out the anomalies which exist at present. This motion exists in the background of the whole question about how one finances parliament, how one attracts people of the highest calibre both to be Members of the Houses and Ministers in the Government. While, as Senator Howlin has said, people do not necessarily seek to become Government Ministers for gain — indeed if people were looking solely for gain, politics is not the career they would follow nevertheless, even though they are not primarily seeking financial gain, that is no reason for saying that people who enter political life should be financially punished for doing and for saying that they should expect to live on a pittance. We must look at parliamentary salaries, pensions and so on in this light; and, if we want to attract people of reasonably high calibre and the best sort of people in the country to be Members of either Houses or Ministers in the Government, we must be prepared to finance this. While we want to iron out certain anomalies that exist at the moment, we should not lose sight of the importance of proper remuneration for parliamentarians.
It is necessary to give a certain amount of financial security to someone who takes on a full-time commitment such as being a Government Minister and gives up another career. Such a full-time commitment is a very insecure position, where one may lose that position at any moment. It is interesting that in other countries in Europe, when parliamentarians lose their seats or lose office, there is something which one might describe as the equivalent of the redundancy money which is paid to persons who lose their jobs in other fields of life. If one loses one's seat and cannot immediately return to a reasonable remunerative profession there should be some kind of interim payment that would enable one to settle back into private life. That, too, is something the review group could look at. It can be a very difficult situation for someone who is totally dependent on a parliamentary salary and loses it overnight  to get back into ordinary private earning.
The motion highlights a situation which has caused public disquiet. I do not think it is quite so simple as just getting rid of this pension situation. There are a number of other issues in regard to remuneration for this form of public service which needs to be looked at. Therefore, while I support Senator Ross's right to bring this motion before the House and I am grateful for the fact that it has sparked so much debate, I would also welcome the idea that the whole situation be reviewed, as suggested by the Minister.
Mr. Robb: Listening to the Minister I felt that he had come to the kernel of the matter in two of his paragraphs. The first was the one in which he emphasised the way in which the public perceive pay and pensions for Deputies and Senators. He went on to say:
This is undoubtedly so and was never more so than at this time. Further on, the Minister mentions the review body, which he states will specifically consider the whole question of parliamentary office holders' pensions. If we wait as long as we have waited for marriage reform to come to some conclusion through these Houses and the committees which have been set up to study it, we will wait a very long time before anyone's pension is altered here.
Before I go any further I would agree with Senators who have said that there are many anomalies that need to be looked at and that the whole area needs to be studied in depth in relation to what is going on in the country and in relation to what is right for Deputies and Senators. Straightaway, I would say that I think it is utterly wrong that a nominated Senator such as myself, without constituency duties, should even be considered as appropriate for a pension. I understand that, were I in this House for long enough, I would be eligible for a pension. I cannot speak for Senator Rogers, but I  certainly can say I believe, with the state of this country at this time, that is wrong. There is one example of something that needs to be looked at and studied by this committee. If I were to feel that the review body is not to sit and study this very quickly and to come up with some very quick answers, then I would vote for this motion in order to stimulate more public concern and debate about it. But I am not convinced that the motion is correctly worded for what I would like to see take place and I have yet to feel insufficient confidence in what the Minister has said to believe that there will not be adequate review.
There was some debate on the last day we discussed this between people who entered politics for idealistic reasons and those who entered to do the hard day-to-day slog. We heard points being made in favour of each. Let me say here and now that in this island there is a political party that has refused any remuneration for carrying on service to its constituencies, because on principle it refused to go into an assembly with which it did not agree. Of course, I speak of the SDLP. Do not let us forget that politicians, particularly in times of crises, if they are going to give leadership, if they are going to stand for principle, must also be prepared to make sacrifice. Not all of us are as willing as the SDLP to make that type of sacrifice. It is something that needs to be mentioned and I do not think it has been mentioned in this debate before.
Let us now very briefly look at the problem of the Senator and the Deputy. Points have been made about the enormous amount of constituency work which they have to do, the early hours at which they get up, the hard nights of slog, the clinics that are held. Certainly, that is so. I have been most impressed since coming here by how much pressure is put on a Senator and a Deputy in his local constituency for survival. The question I would ask is: how much of this work is actually relevant to the needs of the people at this time where they live? There are county councillors and there are local councillors. I wonder if we need to have  in every constituency local councillors, county councillors, TDs from various parties, and even competition within the parties, and, on top of that, Senators whizzing around seeking to give service in the clientalistic way in which it is given in the hope of re-election the next time around. Before we get too worked up about the amount of work that is undoubtedly done, let us, in that context, again express concern for the pressures put on the TD and Senator and his family, the psychological pressures he has to cope with, the economic pressures, particularly if he fails to be re-elected. Let us ask the question: have we structured our political system to give the best service in relation to the talents available and the numbers of people involved, to bring about a better society?
Some of us are in a much better position than others. I am a fulltime consultant surgeon. I do not do private practice and therefore I can challenge Senator Shane Ross to a means test. You only have to write to the Northern Area Board to find out what my salary is, you can add to it what I get from the Seanad and you can subtract whatever I have to pay for locums and days of holiday for any excursions to Dublin.
Mr. Robb: Too many figures. Well, you are quite at liberty to find out. I feel that there has been too much secrecy about salaries in this country. If we are talking about giving examples, then the people, particularly those who would mount a motion such as this, should have their total situation exposed to public gaze. Having said that, I would then make a suggestion to the Minister. Our salaries are so worked out that you get one-eightieth of the average of the last three years, earnings for each year served. Why not make it one-eightieth of the best three years' earnings for the number of years served and give the pension on that basis so that it would be fair and would not result in a situation where a young, talented man of 30 years comes  in and serves three to five years as Minister and then he can rest on his laurels and get a pension until he has reached his three score and ten, whereas a hardworking, old cart-horse at the age of 62 years gets a ministerial office for his last three years. Do you say his service is only worth a pension for the rest of his life compared with a man who has rested on his laurels since he was aged 30 years and reaped the rewards of early service?
It is similar to a situation in general practice in the United Kingdom where the GP can retire and spend one day out of business and go back into the same practice as a locum and earn his salary plus his pension. He is better off rather than worse off than he was before. It is an outrage in my profession. It is similar to the situation which existed until recently in the medical profession in the United Kingdom where there were secret merit awards given out to consultant A, B or C. The whole thing was shrouded in secrecy and everyone who got one was sworn to secrecy. It is not dissimilar to the situation that I have seen in which a prominent member of my profession charges £100 for attending at a High Court action, will probably charge at least £50 for the report and yet will refuse to stand on the picket line at the hospital gate when the domestic staff are looking for a small increase in their weekly wage packets. There is a fantastic amount of hypocrisy in relation to pensions and salaries. This is why I would welcome an indepth inquiry not only into this, but into the whole area of payments. When I travelled by train, I received £20; when I travelled by plane, I received £50. When because of emergencies in the hospital — a man almost died last summer — I began to travel by car and I received £150.
Mr. Robb: I will conclude by stating that if I felt that nothing was going to be done, I would certainly vote with the motion in order to stimulate much more awareness of the need for action. It is  because I trust the Minister, I appeal to him, and I hope he is responding, to have this looked into very seriously, this whole area of pay, travel expenses, pensions and so on and come up with something that is equitable and fair and makes sense, something that can be presented to the public and that we can stand over as public servants.
Mr. M. O'Toole: I shall be brief. I am totally against the motion. First of all it is not properly worded. The independent Senators who submitted the motion are the best qualified to do so as most of them will never qualify for a pension. Their tenure in the Seanad is short lived. Since I came to Seanad Éireann I have never seen any of the independent Senators qualifying for any pension.
There is no public disquiet in relation to pensions: the only public disquiet there is is coming from the media. This is a contributory pension scheme, to which Members have contributed. Members of the House will not qualify for the contributory pension scheme unless they have been here as a Senator or a TD for eight years. This is the reason why I refer to the independent Senators. The pension will not be index-linked until the Member has spent 12 years in the House. In order to qualify for a maximum pension, a Member has to be here about 26 years. In political life there is constant uncertainty in being a Senator, a TD or a Minister. For this reason a politician may be out of a job whenever the Dáil is dissolved. This has happened many prominent and able men that had devoted their time down through the years to giving a democratic service to the public. County councillors give a full service in local government for no pay or pension at all.
I should like to comment on Senator Killilea's contribution this morning on  the Order of Business. A Senator is not entitled to send a telegram from this House no matter what urgency it may demand; neither is he entitled to make a telephone call. Recently Senators received telephone bills. A Member coming into the House for the first day gets the same salary as a Member that has served here for 20 or 25 years. There is no increments for service. Surely seniority, experience and service should be the criteria for salary? This is the case in the public and private sectors. There is an imbalance. I would welcome a review of this whole area. I would welcome the Devlin Review Body to look into the anomalies in both Houses of the Oireachtas regarding salaries and pensions. We are not in line with the rest of the public sector and State agencies. This is not the proper way to do this.
Over the last two or three years public representatives have been harassed by the press in relation to pay. One would imagine that we were not giving a service to the people. The degrading headlines in the press are tantamount to doing away with the Seanad and bringing down the standards of public representatives. There are Members in this House and in the Lower House that would be better off if they had never seen the gates of Leinster House in any field of activity that they would pursue. Public representatives give a 12-hour day, seven-day week service to the people.
I could speak at length on this subject, but in fairness to Senator Ross I will not take up any more of his time. I will be voting against this motion if there is a vote. I make no apologies for doing so. This motion should not have come before the House. I hope the press publish some of the facts that have come out in this debate and the public will realise that there are two sides to this question. I think that the debates in this House are of a very high level but we get very little media coverage for the amount of work we put into the Seanad.
Mr. Ross: I am very glad that I gave up some time to listen to Senator O'Toole's  speech because I welcome the stance which has been taken on this side of the House in this debate. I welcome it more than I welcome the stance which has been taken by the Fine Gael Party. Senator Killilea last week and Senator O'Toole today have stood up and said quite straightforwardly that they oppose this motion. They have every right to oppose this motion and they have every right to make that case. I admire them for saying so and for saying so in public. There is a case to be made against it. I do not believe it, but there is a case to be made. There is also a case to be made for the fact that politicians are held in low esteem by the public for all the wrong reasons and it is our own fault and this motion contributes to that.
I welcome the Fianna Fáil attitude in that they are prepared to stand up and say that. I do not welcome the attitude which has been taken by some members of the Government towards this motion. I resent it enormously. Senator O'Leary made a very peculiar speech indeed in which he said that the wording was wrong. There were two things wrong with it. One was the wording. What was wrong with the wording was that it was retrospective. Well, it is open to Senator O'Leary and his party at any time to amend the wording of this motion. They did not bother to do it and the reason, I suggest, is that they could not carry the party with them on this issue. It could have been amended at any stage and I do not know why it was not but I am extremely cynical about it.
Senator O'Leary criticised this motion also because he said those who were putting it forward were doing so for a cheap headline. I make no apology whatsoever to anybody in this House for tackling an issue which is of public interest and of public concern. I do it because nobody else and no party in this House ever tackles these issues because they are too sensitive for them. When I raised the issue of extradition in this House I was told I was headline-seeking. Nobody else would touch it. When I raised the issue of divorce in this House twice or three times, I was told I was headline-seeking.  Certainly, I welcome the publicity that I get from this and from divorce and from other sensitive issues. The reason why the Government do not like it is that it makes them feel uncomfortable. They have to take a stand on an issue they would rather bury. I am sorry to have to say, though I liked the tenour and the moderation of the Minister's speech, that I do not accept what he says about referring this to a review body.
I am tired of issues like this being referred to all-party committees or review bodies. This Government, whether we like it or not, was elected to govern and this Government was elected to take a stance on issues like this and not to avoid them. I am sorry to hear that this is going to a review body. I am sorry that the Government cannot take a stand in principle on this. We do not know when the review body is going to report. We do not know if the review body is going to take a stance in principle on it.
I do not understand why the Government could not have put down their own amendment because everybody in this debate has said that there is a need for it. Everybody has in some sense welcomed it. Everybody has acknowledged that there is a need for a review of the whole spectrum of Oireachtas salaries, Ministers' salaries and Ministers' pensions. Everybody on the Government side has admitted this. Many said that it should have been wider. It was open to the Government to put down an amendment to broaden the debate. The debate was specific because it is about a specific principle. It appears that we are going to be asked to refer this to a review body. I do not accept this and the principle is this: whether those in political life should be paid pensions when they are still drawing money from the State and while they are still in political life; in other words whether they should be getting pensions while they are still being paid by the State for being active in politics. It is as simple as that. That is what the public disquiet is about. The public disquiet is about what they see—politicians paying themselves  twice—politicians getting preferential treatment over other people and politicians being utterly hypocritical by asking people to pull in their belts, to accept wage restraints and yet, at the same time, allowing politicians to be privileged because they have some God-given right to do this.
I do not accept this review either, because it should have happened a long time ago. Independent Senators are continually raising issues like this which, towards the end of this Government's life, is being referred to a review body. I welcome the Labour Party's decision to introduce a Bill to this effect. But I think it is a bit late in the day for them as well. The Labour Party have been in Government for four years. They could have put down this Bill on day one. They could have had it ready for Government, but they did not.
Mr. Harte: We could not. We had an agreement. It is only when we find that somebody else raises party policy we deal with the circumstances in which we find ourselves and if Senator Ross thinks he is dragging the Labour Party down the same road as himself, he is mistaken.
Mr. Ross: It was not raised by the Government. Yet the Government said we should look at it. I think there is a principle involved. There is a matter of great public concern and public disquiet involved and I would like the House——
Mr. Ross: Why did the Labour Party not raise it in the House and put down a Bill in this House as they did in the Dáil over another issue? This course was open to the Labour Party and they did not take it. This course was open to the Government  and they did not take it, I ask the House to support this motion.
Higgins, Michael D.
|McGuinness, Catherine I.B.
Robb, John D.A.
Ross, Shane P.N.
Cregan, Denis (Dino).
de Brún, Séamus.
FitzGerald, Alexis J.G.
Hourigan, Richard V.
O'Toole, Martin J.
Question declared lost.
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