Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Amendment) Bill 2011: Committee and Remaining Stages

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 212 No. 2

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Section 1 agreed to.

Question proposed: “That section 2 stand part of the Bill.”

Senator Jim Walsh: Information on Jim Walsh  Zoom on Jim Walsh  While my party has agreed to support the Bill, I am not happy with it. Section 2 repeals the provision allowing for the automatic entitlement of newly appointed judges to an usher and a crier. If new judges can do without their criers, why do existing judges need them?

  2 o’clock

I ask the Minister of State to comment on the other staff put at judges’ disposal, such as drivers, and whether the regime applies to staff of the Circuit Court and District Court. I have come across complaints that solicitors making applications for licences intimated to their clients it would be prudent to make a contribution to certain staff of the Judiciary. I thought this was completely unethical and I raised the matter with previous Ministers for Justice and Equality. However, while they were aware of this practice I do not believe anything was done about it. I ask the Minister of State to outline to the House the staffing arrangements at different levels of the Judiciary. I see no reason we cannot abolish all the criers.

Acting Chairman (Senator Paul Coghlan): Information on Paul Coghlan  Zoom on Paul Coghlan  Is the Senator speaking to section 2?

Senator Jim Walsh: Information on Jim Walsh  Zoom on Jim Walsh  I ask the Minister of State why the provision is not being extended to existing judges. We face a financial and fiscal crisis and we should do all we can to address it, particularly in areas that will not impact on the provision of services.

Minister of State at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Brian Hayes): Information on Brian Hayes  Zoom on Brian Hayes  I thank the Senator for raising this important issue. I have considerable sympathy for his argument. The Bill providing for the establishment of the judicial council is important legislation because it will allow these matters to be addressed independently. It is not right that these Houses would encroach enormously on the independent functioning of the Judiciary.

The Senator asked a question about the total numbers. At present a majority of the judges of the Circuit Court and the Supreme Court are provided with an usher or a crier. A total of 44 ushers and 41 criers were employed by the Courts Service at a total cost of €3.3 million in 2010.

Senator Jim Walsh: Information on Jim Walsh  Zoom on Jim Walsh  How much?

Deputy Brian Hayes: Information on Brian Hayes  Zoom on Brian Hayes  Some €3.3 million.

[112]Senator Jim Walsh: Information on Jim Walsh  Zoom on Jim Walsh  That is nine times the saving we achieved by closing our embassy to the Vatican.

Deputy Brian Hayes: Information on Brian Hayes  Zoom on Brian Hayes  In the coming years, as judges retire, their replacements will not be automatically provided with an usher or crier. Instead, following consultation with the Judiciary and the Courts Service, and in addition to the general supports already in place, alternative support posts will be provided, most likely in the form of additional judicial researchers. It is important to note that these posts can be provided on a contract basis with reduced costs, as well as providing valuable experience for newly qualified legal people. The replacement of ushers and criers with an updated support structure was recommended in 2009 in the report of the special group on public service numbers and expenditure. This will not affect the supports currently available to serving judges.

My understanding is that this relates to section 43 of the Courts of Justice Act 1936, which allowed judges to have this facility. While it is important to note that new members of the Judiciary will not have automatic rights to these, Mr. McCarthy rightly pointed out a substantial expenditure on the part of the Courts Service. It is the view of the members of the Judiciary themselves that they would prefer to have a system of supports that they could call on individually. It is probably a more professional and less anachronistic way of dealing with these services. That is my understanding of the total number and cost of the ushers and criers.

Senator Jim Walsh: Information on Jim Walsh  Zoom on Jim Walsh  What about drivers?

Deputy Brian Hayes: Information on Brian Hayes  Zoom on Brian Hayes  I do not have a note on that issue, but I will find out and inform the Senator.

Senator John Gilroy: Information on John Gilroy  Zoom on John Gilroy  With regard to the figure of €3.3 million for ushers and criers, of which there are 44 and 41, respectively, the Minister of State is saying that that is a substantial cost to the courts system, but of course we must understand that this cannot be a saving, because even if we do abolish the posts of usher and crier, these pay costs will still accrue because the people involved will simply be relocated to another Department. They are surely permanent civil or public servants. Would the Minister of State be able to comment on that issue?

Deputy Brian Hayes: Information on Brian Hayes  Zoom on Brian Hayes  My understanding — I will check this — is that the positions are specific to the appointment of a member of the Judiciary. I do not think they are employed by the Courts Service, but I will have to check that. It is recognised that this issue must be addressed by virtue of the fact that any new member of the Judiciary is not entitled to these services automatically——

Senator John Gilroy: Information on John Gilroy  Zoom on John Gilroy  Rightly so.

Deputy Brian Hayes: Information on Brian Hayes  Zoom on Brian Hayes  ——rightly so. Senator Walsh has a valid point to make. There is still a substantial amount of expenditure there for last year, and, I presume, this year, in terms of those who remain. It is important, however, that we move on this in light of an agreement from members of the Judiciary. When the judicial council is established, we will have a much greater understanding of the views of members of that group. I do not want this to be seen as some kind of attack on the Judiciary by an automatic removal of these posts.

Senator Jim Walsh: Information on Jim Walsh  Zoom on Jim Walsh  I thank the Minister for his response in that regard, and I welcome the fact that he is moving in that direction. It strikes me that what we need to do throughout society is to attack abuses of privilege, of which there are many. Some of the cuts we are carrying out — I mentioned the closure of the embassy to the Vatican, but there are others on the social welfare side — will not yield €3.6 million. It comes down to what we regard as a priority. I welcome the appointment of the judicial council, but I am critical of the judges for [113]dragging their feet on its introduction. It is eight years since I started pushing this issue, following a visit of the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women’s Rights to Canada and Boston, where we saw the systems that were in place for checking judges. Of our judges, one deserved to be sacked, and another resigned and probably should have been penalised in a different way than having to concede his job, but there was no mechanism to do that. One resigned with integrity; the other did not. I urge the Minister to consider this. It should be done away with now. If it is not possible to do it for some reason, I suggest that at a minimum, as natural wastage occurs among the people who are there, they should not be replaced. That would be a minimum.

If one goes to the Four Courts and looks at the medieval regalia that our judges turn out in, one can see it is an anachronism. If one goes to a court in another country, the judge arrives in his suit and is dressed like everybody else. This is a republic, for goodness’ sake.

Senator John Gilroy: Information on John Gilroy  Zoom on John Gilroy  I agree.

Senator Jim Walsh: Information on Jim Walsh  Zoom on Jim Walsh  This is a throwback to the monarchy. These people may have their grand notions or whatever else. We need to tackle that and we need to do it in a fair and effective way. When we come to salaries, I will talk about that aspect of it also.

My understanding is that all of these people also have drivers. If one goes down to the Four Courts, one will see the crier walking with his staff in front of the judge through the hallways and so on. Why, I do not know. Let us say a judge wants that; why can his driver, for example, not do it? We need to combine a number of functions that can be combined, but all of these posts should be examined and pruned. There should be no area in which people classify themselves as being above everybody else, hanging on to their privileges. At a time of crisis for many families around the country, these things should be totally eradicated.

Deputy Brian Hayes: Information on Brian Hayes  Zoom on Brian Hayes  Without wanting to labour the point, I have a note here on the relevant section of the 1936 Act, which states: “There shall be attached to every judge travelling and sitting as a judge of the High Court on Circuit and to every Commissioner of the High Court on Circuit one servant to perform such duties...”. The language is historical and out of date. I will ask the Department of Justice and Equality to furnish the Senator with a note giving him the up-to-date briefing on this issue. He has rightly touched on an important matter. When the legislation was first passed in the 1930s, the moneys for the purpose of providing servants to judges came from the Oireachtas. There may well have been security issues at the time.

To answer the Senator’s question on drivers, I am not sure that applies to District and Circuit Court judges, although I may be wrong. However, it certainly does apply to judges in the higher courts.

Question put and agreed to.

Question proposed: “That section 3 stand part of the Bill.”

Senator Jim Walsh: Information on Jim Walsh  Zoom on Jim Walsh  I opposed this Bill on Second Stage, but as my party has decided to support it, obviously I am bound by that decision. Some time ago I carried out an exercise in which, as well as obtaining some information from independent sources, I asked the Oireachtas Library and Research Service — which is a very good service — to do a range of comparisons across many public service positions. I discovered, to my consternation, that our Supreme Court judges were paid €100,000 per year more than the Supreme Court judges of the United States, and our Chief Justice was paid €130,000 more than a US Supreme Court judge at that stage. I [114]might be going back two years or thereabouts, but I would say it has not changed dramatically. We are talking about a 10% cut, or whatever it is, for judges. This is insufficient. There is no reason in the wide earthly world, particularly in our current crisis, we should be paying anybody in any part of our public service this much. I admit the members of the Judiciary are very important functionaries within our system and play an important role in underpinning society and the State. I do not want anything I say to diminish that. However, that does not mean the salaries they are being paid should be anything like the magnitude they are, even after the correction. I suggest that in all probability, judges’ salaries will still be too large by around €60,000 or €70,000, based on my recollection of what the figures were at the time. That is not sustainable for a small island which is struggling and borrowing money and which is putting the cost of that, through our austerity measures, on the ordinary humble citizen who is struggling to make ends meet for himself or herself. I imagine there is probably nothing he can do about it at this stage but it should be examined.

I understand the main reason for the measure is to attract people to the position. Exorbitant legal fees and costs have been charged and they have been lumped on to the public and private sectors. This is the reason for having to pay the Judiciary such exorbitant figures. I call on the Minister of State to consider the points I am making and to bear them in mind for the future if he can do nothing in this Bill.

Let us consider the case of judges. A cap in pay of €250,000 has been imposed on some of the chief executives of our banks and important semi-State companies. Their performance and the quality of these individuals is so fundamentally important to us that I disagree with the placing of such a cap. We need to attract the best and brightest into these positions. They should be at the top of the pile when it comes to pay scales throughout the semi-State bodies and public service. There are far greater and onerous demands on them than on any others in our public service, including the Judiciary.

Deputy Brian Hayes: Information on Brian Hayes  Zoom on Brian Hayes  It is fair to make the point that the reason we are here today following the people’s decision is to ensure we do what we must do. I remember debating this issue on the other side of the other House some years ago. Rightly, everyone highlighted the fact that we could not take action because of the constitutional lacuna. Therefore, the Government’s absolute commitment, supported by all parties in this House and the other House, was to hold the referendum and to follow it with a positive decision in terms of changing the law that would allow us to take this action on the pensions side.

The 2007 document of the review body on higher remuneration in the public sector was referred to. This set out new pay rates for members of the Judiciary. I gather that at the time one driver behind the proposals was that members of the Judiciary should be, by definition, close to the top of the tree among the lawyers. They would have built up a significant private practice and their total earnings in a year were significant. The point was to try to attract qualified, well-experienced counsel for the purposes of having these people as judges throughout the system. That was reflected in the 2007 report.

Following this, the 2009 report recommended a scaling back in this regard. However, we could not do so by virtue of the fact of the constitutional position on members of the Judiciary. This has changed dramatically now. In addition, we are in a totally new position given the entire fiscal crisis that afflicts the country and this has been reflected on the pay and pensions sides. However, if we are to attract well qualified, experienced counsel to the Judiciary to perform the functions we call on them to perform in the Courts Service, we must have fair and competitive rates of salary. It is correct to say that given the collapse in the property market and in other sectors, members of the legal profession have seen a radical reduction in their pay [115]in recent years. This has been reflected in other reports but it is worth noting that the purpose of our work today and in the other House some weeks ago is and has been to put in place the legislative powers to do what we always sought to do, that is, to ensure the pay and conditions of members of the Judiciary are fair and, equally important, in line with the times. The objective of the Bill is precisely to do so.

Senator Jim Walsh: Information on Jim Walsh  Zoom on Jim Walsh  I will be brief because I have no wish to cut across others. Sinn Féin Members have tabled several amendments and I have no wish to delay. However, I will put three points to the Minister. I have argued these points with my party in the past decade or more. We need to tackle exorbitant legal fees, which amount to profiteering on an alarming scale. This must be done because it is part of the reason that judges are paid as they are.

One thing the Minister of State might consider is to change from a system whereby retired barristers who have built up millions of euro in wealth during their practice period are appointed to the Bench on a good salary for short periods. Then, as soon as they finish, they get 50% of that salary as a pension. Most of them take it for the pension. The Minister of State should consider a newer system such as that operated in other countries whereby if one wishes to be a member of the Judiciary, it is considered a profession in its own right and people come in at a younger age and have a career. Some people spend 40 years as a judge and build up service and, therefore, when they get their pension at the end of it, it has been accrued over a longer period rather than over ten or 15 years as is the case with the Judiciary now. The Minister of State could usefully consider a whole new system in this regard and I encourage him or the Minister for Justice and Equality to do so.

Deputy Brian Hayes: Information on Brian Hayes  Zoom on Brian Hayes  To use a legal term, I have no locus standi here because I have no competence in this area.

Senator Jim Walsh: Information on Jim Walsh  Zoom on Jim Walsh  The Minister of State might have some influence.

Deputy Brian Hayes: Information on Brian Hayes  Zoom on Brian Hayes  I doubt that very much but it is a useful suggestion and I will pass it on to my colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality.

Question put and agreed to.

Sections 4 and 5 agreed to.

Senator David Cullinane: Information on David Cullinane  Zoom on David Cullinane  I move amendment No. 1:

[116]

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. The amendment has the effect of reducing the wages of the officeholders listed to €100,000. On Second Stage, mention was made of this Bill not dealing with pay. It deals with the outworking of the referendum, which my party supported, and the current pay of judges but it also introduces a pay scale for new entrants to the Judiciary and legislates for the voluntary reductions in the salaries of the Government officeholders referred to.

Let us consider the amendment and what would be necessary to reduce the pay of some of the more senior Government representatives and civil servants in the State to a salary of €100,000. It would amount to a 64% reduction in the pay of the Taoiseach, a 59% reduction in the pay of the Tánaiste, a 55% reduction for a Minister, a 35% reduction for a Minister of State, a 55% reduction for a Ceann Comhairle, a 35% reduction for a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, a 55% reduction for an Attorney General and a 60% reduction for the Comptroller and Auditor General.

Senator Walsh referred to privilege. We must deal with privilege in the State. Many people will be waking up today in the wake of two days of cuts in social welfare, health, education and throughout public spending. The will be asking themselves what pain was taken by those at the top. The notion of capping pay at €100,000 seems to trouble some people in Government. It is as if we are asking people to live on the bread line or to take a massive hit. In reality, we are asking people to survive on €2,000 per week.

Vast numbers of people are living on the average industrial wage, below it or on social welfare entitlements. They see people at the top of the public service with their salaries and pensions earning vast amounts of money. They wonder what planet those of us in public life live on. We live in a country that is insolvent, broke and in which we must borrow vast amounts of money. We are informed that in these difficult times we must borrow money, we cannot afford to pay child benefit as before, we cannot afford to pay all the welfare payments, such as rent supplement, which have been cut in the budget, we cannot afford to pay low or middle income families the income they had received, people must pay a €100 flat household charge and VAT must go up despite the subsequent impact on businesses. We are informed that such decisions are being made, that the pain must be shared and that people must take some of the pain. In this State the Taoiseach earns €200,000, the Chief Justice earns €226,376, a High Court judge earns €210,206 and a Minister of State earns €130,000. We have a P. Flynn moment from a lot of Government representatives when it is put to them those amounts of money are not realistic and should not be paid to people in these very difficult times.

I do not believe that it is radical to ask people in the public sector, in these very difficult times, to survive on a salary of €100,000 when one considers what many people are surviving on. Sinn Féin has proposed that we set up a commission to examine the pay of people at the top of the public service and what we should pay. I accept that we need to pay adequate and [117]appropriate salaries, but we should not pay excessive salaries. When the country is insolvent it is entirely reasonable to cap the pay of all Government representatives and those who work in the public sector and judges at €2,000 a week.

Senator John Gilroy: Information on John Gilroy  Zoom on John Gilroy  Senator Cullinane is attempting to insert this amendment into the Bill which I find a little peculiar. It is an obvious and blatant attempt at political point scoring and to be seen to be raising issues which are totally irrelevant to the Bill, which is dealing with a referendum. Any of these issues can be dealt with in another manner.

Senator David Cullinane: Information on David Cullinane  Zoom on David Cullinane  It would have an impact. We are entitled to table amendments.

Acting Chairman (Senator Feargal Quinn): Information on Fergal Quinn  Zoom on Fergal Quinn  It is relevant.

Senator John Gilroy: Information on John Gilroy  Zoom on John Gilroy  I understand that.

Senator David Cullinane: Information on David Cullinane  Zoom on David Cullinane  If it was irrelevant it would have been ruled out of order.

Senator John Gilroy: Information on John Gilroy  Zoom on John Gilroy  I am not in any way questioning the legitimacy of the amendment, rather I am questioning its relevance. There is a difference.

Restating the entire argument proposed by the Senator for the budget, another piece of legislation, almost word for word hints at the real motivation. It is not appropriate. Everyone shares the sentiment that we should reduce costs wherever we can. I agree with reducing the salaries of Ministers, the Taoiseach, Senators and Deputies. I do not think many people would have any difficulty with that. This is not the place for such an amendment. I understand what the Senator is trying to do but legislation does not need to be introduced through a referendum to do that. All it is is ordinary point scoring.

Senator Tom Sheahan: Information on Tom Sheahan  Zoom on Tom Sheahan  In the interest of brevity I will use some of Senator Cullinane’s language, such as the terms “reasonable” and “appropriate.” I put it to him that it is neither reasonable nor appropriate that his party leader drew over £1 million from a parliament in which he never sat in pay and expenses. He had staff which drew £1 million in pay and expenses for Deputy Adams.

Senator David Cullinane: Information on David Cullinane  Zoom on David Cullinane  People talk about point scoring and then refer to the salary of a Deputy and former MP. Sinn Féin is the largest party in the North of Ireland because we are abstentionist. People vote for us on that basis. Deputy Sheahan is factually wrong——

Acting Chairman (Senator Feargal Quinn): Information on Fergal Quinn  Zoom on Fergal Quinn  This is not relevant.

Senator David Cullinane: Information on David Cullinane  Zoom on David Cullinane  If somebody puts something on the record it should be corrected. No Sinn Féin MP gets a salary, rather they get allowances. All of the allowances are spent on their constituencies to employ people and have offices. The Senator should at least get his facts right when he comes into the House. Senator Gilroy said the Bill was not appropriate.

Senator John Gilroy: Information on John Gilroy  Zoom on John Gilroy  The Senator’s amendment was not appropriate.

Senator David Cullinane: Information on David Cullinane  Zoom on David Cullinane  The amendment is appropriate. Where is it appropriate to deal with these issues?

The purpose of the Bill is to legislate for some of the voluntary contributions which are being made by government officeholders. We are saying quite clearly that it does not go far enough. It is entirely reasonable for us to make that point and table an amendment. It might be [118]uncomfortable for a member of the Labour Party to have to support what he or she is supporting, but we are entitled to table amendments and not point score.

We genuinely believe that people at the top should shoulder their fair share of what is happening in this country. We are told day in and day out by the Leader when he answers questions and when we all raise very important issues that the country is insolvent and the IMF and ECB are in town. We all know that and that significant adjustments in our fiscalsituation have to be made. It is the kind of adjustments that are being made which we do not support.

It is entirely reasonable for my party to table an amendment which calls on the Government to accept that it is not acceptable for people to earn €200,000 or €220,000, or €4,000 or €5,000 a week. How could anybody on the Government benches accept such salaries? The Minister of State referred to net income. We deal in gross income because that is what all workers deal in. Different figures are used when it suits Ministers. When they want to quote what middle and low income families earn they give gross amounts but when it comes to Ministers they talk about the tax they pay.

Everybody pays tax. We want to address the big salaries which Ministers and senior officials in the Civil Service are getting, not to mention the Rolls-Royce gold-plated pensions which low and middle income workers in the public sector do not get, and the huge lump sum payments which people have walked away with which our party opposed when the Labour Party was in opposition.

We will not accept criticism from the Labour Party or anybody else to the effect that what we are doing is not appropriate. It is entirely appropriate. It is inappropriate that the Labour Party has abandoned everything it stood for. I agree with the Senator that is inappropriate. It is inappropriate that we would cut child benefit and do all of the other things the Government did in the budget. It is inappropriate that a flat regressive charge of €100 is introduced. It is entirely appropriate for us to say that given the difficult times we are in the pay of everybody who works for the State should be capped at €2,000 a week. I do not see how anybody in this State does not consider €2,000 a week to be a very good wage.

Senator Tom Sheahan: Information on Tom Sheahan  Zoom on Tom Sheahan  Is it appropriate that he accepted £1 million for not going to work?

(Interruptions).

Senator David Cullinane: Information on David Cullinane  Zoom on David Cullinane  We will not take the oath of allegiance to a foreign parliament. Your party might do it but my party will not. We will take whatever allowances we are entitled to. Sinn Féin representatives take the average industrial wage and the rest of the moneygoes back into the party. That is where the allowances of Deputy Adams go, as the Senator knows.

(Interruptions).

Senator David Cullinane: Information on David Cullinane  Zoom on David Cullinane  As you cannot stand over your policies, you come in here peddling mistruths about other people’s salaries and allowances.

Acting Chairman (Senator Feargal Quinn): Information on Fergal Quinn  Zoom on Fergal Quinn  Senator Cullinane, please sit down.

Senator Jim Walsh: Information on Jim Walsh  Zoom on Jim Walsh  I support the right of Senator Cullinane to table an amendment such as this and it is appropriate that we discuss it. He is correct in focusing on issues of privilege. [119] Those of us in this House are fortunate enough to have jobs which are fairly decently paid. Equally, we have to be balanced in what we say. The crisis means people have lost their jobs. Their livelihoods have been decimated. Those in political life have given a lead. The then Taoiseach and former Deputy, Mr. Brian Cowen, reduced his pay by 25%, the Taoiseach, reduced the salary of a Taoiseach by 30% on taking office. The salary of the Tánaiste and Ministers was reduced likewise. We have taken a very significant drop in salary.

The issue of suspending the payment of increments in the public service has given rise to a great deal of discussion. I fully agree with that. We lost our increments and did not have a say in the matter. They were abolished and were taken from those who had accrued them. Politicians have played their part. It is a mistake to drive things into the ground. We must be fair and balanced. A significant correction has been made to the salary of politicians. Senior staff in the public service have not suffered anything to compare with the decrease that politicians at the senior level have, that is, Ministers, the Tánaiste and the Taoiseach. That should be recognised.

It should be acknowledged that some in the public service, such as some judges, are paid in excess of the Taoiseach. That is wrong. In considering the pecking order, in terms of importance to our society, the leadership of the Taoiseach — I might have a view on that issue — has the most important position and I do not think others should be paid in excess of the Taoiseach’s salary. I have raised this point on a number of occasions on the Order of Business.

I acknowledge the fact that reductions have been made and it is correct that it has been done. If we drive down the salaries of politicians to the extent that they must have an outside income in order to do their jobs, one would then have a system that is very susceptible to influence and so on. Politicians should be paid commensurate with their duties and responsibilities, and compared to and benchmarked against the rest of society.

The late Deputy Brian Lenihan, when Minister for Finance undertook a process in the second half of 2010 of benchmarking all senior office holders in the State across a range of other similar countries. I have no recollection of seeing the outcome of that benchmarking publicised. It should be published. I went to the trouble of urging the then Minister for Finance and the then Taoiseach to make corrections across all of the public service, based on an analysis l had done of public service pay in western European countries. If we do not recognise these issues, we will not make the necessary correction.

The reason I am so critical of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, is because of his failure to do his job and get the essential savings and make the corrections in our fiscal position. If we fail to do that we will not be able to rescue this economy. It is a very serious matter. Having said that, we must acknowledge what has been done.

Deputy Brian Hayes: Information on Brian Hayes  Zoom on Brian Hayes  I have a fair degree of sympathy with Senator Cullinane’s amendment. Under it, my salary would go down but it would be higher than that of a Cabinet Minister. In fairness, he is doing his best to hike up the salary of Ministers of State.

Senator David Cullinane: Information on David Cullinane  Zoom on David Cullinane  We are in favour of pay parity.

Deputy Brian Hayes: Information on Brian Hayes  Zoom on Brian Hayes  I note under his amendment, my new salary would be €2 below that of the Tánaiste. I am sure the Tánaiste would have a view on that.

Senator John Gilroy: Information on John Gilroy  Zoom on John Gilroy  The Minister of State is worth it.

[120]Deputy Brian Hayes: Information on Brian Hayes  Zoom on Brian Hayes  Thank you, Senator. My second point on the amendment is that Senator Cullinane has excluded the Cathaoirleach, which is probably sensible on his part but it means that the Cathaoirleach would have a larger salary than the Ceann Comhairle. The Ceann Comhairle is a very reasonable man but I wonder would it go that far?

In regard to the internal consistencies in the proposed amendment, because the Senator has not referred to Secretaries General, it means that their pay would be twice that of the Taoiseach’s. Their pay would remain at €200,000, whereas that of the Taoiseach would be €100,000. I am pointing out the problem with the amendment. It is not well thought out. It is not consistent and others will determine why it was tabled, but I am not going to go there.

The point made by Senator Walsh is very sensible in this regard. Like the previous Government, Members of the Government have taken substantial reductions in pay. The greatest reductions in pay in the Civil Service have also been across the Secretaries General grade where on a voluntary and on a real basis, significant reductions have been seen in their gross pay. The first decision this Government implemented on taking office was to reduce the salary of the Taoiseach to €200,000, with a proportionate reduction across the Cabinet and those at the rank of Minister of State. The decision we took on day one was the right decision. Will that issue be reviewed again? I do not think anybody can say with consistency that the issue is off the table, it depends on where things are. The salary of a Taoiseach has fallen from €280,000 when the former Taoiseach, Mr. Brian Cowen, reduced it and it was further reduced by Deputy Enda Kenny on taking office to €200,000 with an appropriate reduction across the other grades.

There have been very significant reductions in salary and that is appropriate. When I put forward the argument of take home pay, most workers do not look at gross pay because we have such a high marginal tax rate. I know that in the view of Sinn Féin, 75% of the adjustment should be by way of further taxes——

Senator David Cullinane: Information on David Cullinane  Zoom on David Cullinane  ——on high earners.

Deputy Brian Hayes: Information on Brian Hayes  Zoom on Brian Hayes  On high earners but that does not bring in the money because the numbers are——

Senator David Cullinane: Information on David Cullinane  Zoom on David Cullinane  The Department of Finance supplied the figures.

Deputy Brian Hayes: Information on Brian Hayes  Zoom on Brian Hayes  I know, but the model is based on salaries in 2009 because we do not have the most recent up-to-date figures.

Senator David Cullinane: Information on David Cullinane  Zoom on David Cullinane  We got the most recent figures.

Deputy Brian Hayes: Information on Brian Hayes  Zoom on Brian Hayes  It does not get the money in. The idea that this adjustment can be done simply by way of increasing taxation rather than by increasing tax in addition to reducing expenditure is not honest. Let anyone look at it.

Let me make another point to Senator Cullinane, because his own party has put in a pre-budget submission. We now have an independent fiscal council, comprising eminent economists who are not attached to the Government. The Government will put this budget to the fiscal council and it will submit a view on it at some point in the next few months. I ask other Opposition parties, the Sinn Féin Party, the Fianna Fáil Party and others to do the same and then let us hear how well those numbers stack up from the independent fiscal council. How credible is it for politicians to claim credit for their own statistics? I will wait and see what the independent fiscal council has to say about our budget and I ask the Senator to put his party’s budget to it.

[121]The point has been made that very substantial reductions have been implemented. That is right and proper. I am not precluding further reductions in the future but we must be proportionate and fair in terms of what has happened since 2008; also, on what has happened on the tax side since 2008, where very substantial reductions in real take home pay have occurred across the public sector, with the introduction of the universal social charge and the pension levy, the reduction in pay plus the increase in tax. When taken together, these add up to a very substantial reduction in take home pay.

Senator John Gilroy: Information on John Gilroy  Zoom on John Gilroy  The Minister of State pre-empted me. I was going to draw attention to one or two of the smaller internal anomalies but the Minister of State did it in a much more extensive manner than I was able. My party is a comfort to me.

The record of the House will show that Sinn Féin attempted to oppose the entire Bill and is opposed to the reduction of judges’ pay.

Senator David Cullinane: Information on David Cullinane  Zoom on David Cullinane  The record of the House will not show that because people will be able to read the transcripts of what we said. All we are getting from the Government representatives is nonsense. They are not dealing with the real issues, they are making disparaging comments on the amendments we have tabled.

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins  Zoom on Maurice Cummins  Flawed amendments.

Senator David Cullinane: Information on David Cullinane  Zoom on David Cullinane  I will deal with that later. The Minister of State claimed that our amendment omitted several people, such as the Ceann Comhairle. We are working off page 6 of the Bill, which refers to a 29.96% reduction for the Taoiseach. Our amendment proposes that the reduction be 64%. The Bill refers to a 24.83% reduction for the Tánaiste; our amendment proposes a 59% cut. The Bill provides for a 24.83% reduction for Ministers; we propose a reduction of 55.5%. While the Bill provides for a reduction of 15.96% for Ministers of State, our amendment proposes a reduction 35%.

Deputy Brian Hayes: Information on Brian Hayes  Zoom on Brian Hayes  My reference was to the earlier Act.

Senator David Cullinane: Information on David Cullinane  Zoom on David Cullinane  The point is that I am reading from the Government’s Bill.

Senator John Gilroy: Information on John Gilroy  Zoom on John Gilroy  The point is that Senator Cullinane is not very sure what he is talking about.

Senator David Cullinane: Information on David Cullinane  Zoom on David Cullinane  The Government proposes a reduction of 24.83% for the Ceann Comhairle; we propose a reduction of 55.5%. How then can it be said that we omitted the Ceann Comhairle?

Deputy Brian Hayes: Information on Brian Hayes  Zoom on Brian Hayes  It is an amendment to the original Act.

Senator David Cullinane: Information on David Cullinane  Zoom on David Cullinane  As the Minister of State knows, we are trying to be consistent in this. Our position is that the salaries of those at the top of the public sector should be capped at €100,000. If he read our pre-budget submission, which I am sure he did, the Minister of State will know we have also called for a reduction in the pay of Deputies and Senators. In addition, we are seeking the establishment of a commission to examine public sector pay in order to ensure it is appropriate.

I am in favour of balance. However, there is little evidence of balance in recent days in terms of how families will struggle to cope with Government measures. The Minister of State saw evidence of that last night on the television programme in which he participated. We are talking about serious impacts for the communities and individuals most affected by the cuts, whether [122]they be carers or people requiring care, older people, students or whatever. There is no balance for the people concerned. All they see is cut after cut, with four austerity budgets by the previous Government followed now by the first austerity budget under the Government.

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway  Zoom on Martin Conway  There will be another two or three.

Senator David Cullinane: Information on David Cullinane  Zoom on David Cullinane  Despite all the promises made, we are simply getting more of the same. People do not see any balance or fairness in what is proposed. Despite the nonsense from Government Members about the motivations of my party in tabling these amendments——

Senator John Gilroy: Information on John Gilroy  Zoom on John Gilroy  The motivation is clear.

Senator David Cullinane: Information on David Cullinane  Zoom on David Cullinane  ——many Senators, on both the Government and Opposition side, have, over the course of many years in this House and outside it, spoken about high salaries for people in the public sector. The Minister of State’s party opposed benchmarking, for example, which served to drive up pay for those at the top of the public sector.

I make no apology for seeking pay parity and insisting that those on low to middle incomes should be protected first. Instead, however, the Government is pampering those at the top, who are walking away with Rolls Royce pensions and lump sum payments. Some are retiring with lottery sums of money which most people can only dream of. That is the world in which many people inside the political system and at the top of the public sector live. It is an entirely different world for all of the people who will be affected by the budget introduced yesterday by the Minister of State’s party.

Senator Tom Sheahan: Information on Tom Sheahan  Zoom on Tom Sheahan  I agree with much of what my colleague, Senator Jim Walsh, said in regard to pay structures. There are chief executive officers of semi-State companies, many of whom are merely running a cog in the wheel of the semi-State sector, in receipt of €500,000 or more per year. The Taoiseach — the person responsible for the running of the country — is paid only half or even one third of what some of these people receive. Has an analysis ever been done of how much Ministers and Ministers of State are costing the State? The Minister of State, Deputy Hayes, must have done 120 hours in the last week. I saw him last night on Vincent Browne’s programme and he looked ready to fall asleep.

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway  Zoom on Martin Conway  Vincent Browne would put anybody to sleep.

Senator Tom Sheahan: Information on Tom Sheahan  Zoom on Tom Sheahan  Has there ever been an analysis done of the effort and hours put in by politicians?

Senator David Cullinane: Information on David Cullinane  Zoom on David Cullinane  Senator Sheahan might get to go on Vincent Browne’s programme himself after this. We will see how he gets on.

(Interruptions).

Deputy Brian Hayes: Information on Brian Hayes  Zoom on Brian Hayes  A time and motion analysis of Ministers of State might be a task too far. The public will ultimately decide these matters.

The serious issue here is that those of us who are privileged, and still enjoying very good pay and conditions even after the reductions, must lead from the front. In fairness to all politicians, there have been significant reductions in their pay in recent years. As I said, I am not ruling out the prospect of further reductions at some point in the future. The Government was [123]very clear on coming into office of its intent to set out a clear strategy and to lead from the front in terms of pay reductions for Ministers, the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste.

  3 o’clock

We must be very conscious of the difficulties so many people are experiencing. As I said last night, the great inequality in Ireland at this time is the difference between people who are working and those who are not. All of our efforts must be focused on giving people the opportunity to get back to work, to have the dignity of employment and the opportunity of income generation for themselves and their families. That is our task. Petty point scoring by one side or the other, even if people feel it will give them a cheap advantage, will not solve our problems. We must be far more realistic in terms of what we can achieve.

Question put: “That the words and figures proposed to be deleted stand.”

Senators:  Votáil.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke  Zoom on Paddy Burke  Will the Senators claiming a division please rise?

Senators David Cullinane, Trevor Ó Clochartaigh and Kathryn Reilly rose.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke  Zoom on Paddy Burke  As fewer than five Senators have risen, I declare the question carried and the amendment is lost. The names of the Senators dissenting will be recorded in the Journal of Proceedings of the Seanad.

Question declared carried.

Amendment declared lost.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke  Zoom on Paddy Burke  As it is now past 3 p.m., I am required to put the following question in accordance with the order of the Seanad of this day: “That Government amendment No. 2 is hereby made to the Bill; that in respect of each of the sections undisposed of, the section or, as appropriate, the section, as amended, and the Title are hereby agreed to in committee; that the Bill, as amended, is hereby reported to the House; that the Bill is hereby received for final consideration, and that the Bill is hereby passed.”

Question put.

Senators:  Votáil.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke  Zoom on Paddy Burke  Will the Senators claiming a division please rise?

Senators David Cullinane, David Norris, Trevor Ó Clochartaigh and Kathryn Reilly rose.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke  Zoom on Paddy Burke  As fewer than five Senators have risen, I declare the question carried. The names of the Senators dissenting will be recorded in the Journal of Proceedings of the Seanad.

Question declared carried.

Sitting suspended at 3.10 p.m. and resumed at 3.30 p.m.


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