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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: February 3, 2010 @ 10:50 am

    Mattie McGrath and the spirit of 1968

    Harry McGee

    Fianna Fail’s claim as the great catch-all party can in a sense be personified by the two honourable members for Tipperary South.

    I don’t think there is any other constituency where the contrast between party colleagues is more glaring.

    Martin Mansergh is what you might describe as a toff, of Anglo-Irish background, privately educated, a PhD and a former Iveagh House mandarin to boot. But for all that, not precious nor superior. His entry to the lower house was via the Seanad and as a long-time adviser to Fianna Fail taoisigh on Northern Ireland.

    Mattie on the other hand is a product of bottom-up democracy, a politician who rose through the ranks and served his time on the county council before being elected to the Dail for the first time in 2007.

    McGrath is very much a man of the people. He has an unmistakable Tipp accent, and some say that Pat Shortt partly based his politician on the South Tipp TD. He supports coursing and rural pursuits and his views on planning and developmentin his consituency would be anathema to the Greens. I don’t regard any of this as a criticism of McGrath. He stands for what he stands for. You might not imagine McGrath as a possible Minister for Foreign Affairs but it would be a travesty to dismiss him as a backwoodsman or as a publicity-seeker.

    It is true that Mattie does garner more publicity than many of his colleagues (I was told he got a bit of a ribbing on that front when his motion failed last night with some guys heckling that he wouldn’t make it into the newspapers today).

    But Mattie McGrath deserves some credit for his stand. Last week some 15 Fianna Fail TDs and Senators spoke out against the moronic and inequitable decision of Brian Lenihan to reverse pay cuts for top civil servants. Inherent in that decision to restore their pay was the implicit acknowledgment that the so-called ‘bonus’ that this group of 600 received (which worked out at an average of 10 per cent, or €13,000 to €17,000 per year) was no such thing. It was a fiction. It was part and parcel of their salary. The criteria for paying the ‘bonus’ used that flabby horrible plastic language that means nothing setting out targetes and goals that were meaningless and unmeasurable. In reality, all they had to do was to show up for work.

    I have huge sympathy for low-paid public servants who have taken a hit of 5 per cent while these ‘decision-makers’ get off scot free.

    But the disclosure about the so-called ‘bonus’ reveals one of the dishonesties of public service unions when advancing their case. In many cases, the publicly-stated salary is a basic salary that nobody gets. What they didn’t show were all the bonuses and premium payments and extras and little side deals and days off and generous nod-and-a-wink arrangements that have been secured over the years. So when I see somebody say a garda earns €40,000, I know I can immediately add another ten grand to it without him or her breaking sweat… and then some!

    After the debate last night Mattie McGrath was almost the last one standing. Brian Lenihan addressed the meeting and the rest of the opposition melted away. The cut was no more right than it was last week.

    But the reality of Irish democracy is that a back bench rebellion is a dog barking from behind the safety of a locked front door.

    I had to laugh this morning when, on Morning Ireland, Mattie first accepted the nature of democracy. And soon afterwards did not demur from Cathal Mac Coille’s suggestion that he may abstain or vote against the Government next week on this issue.

    A one-man rebellion. Sure it will garner publicity. But there’s a bit of an independent republic to Mattie that must be admired. And he’s right on the issue. His colleagues know that he’s right. And he was the only one at the Fianna Fail parliamentary party last night to stand up and follow the courage of his convictions.

    Man the Barricades!

    • E says:

      But that’s just it though, thats what’s so frustratingly clever about this party. Whenever there’s a dodgy decision which they need to justify then some backbencher kicks up a fuss for a little while before it all suddenly fades away. It’s a typical Bertie move really, pretending to play both sides at the same time. McGrath’s opposition is a fiction too, he’s just playing to the gallery while knowing full well it won’t make the slightest bit of difference.

    • C says:

      Dear Harry, With all due respect, if you had any idea what an utterly self-serving gnome Mattie McGrath really is, supposedly serving ‘the peple’, you would not be heaping praise on him in your blog.

    • robespierre says:

      Great point Harry – see relevant section from the McCarthy report below. Basic or Net pay is no basis for examining actual remuneration levels within the public sector. €80m in overtime alone to detective and more junior ranks (approx 8,000 people) works out as you stated at approx 10k per head. Allowances – far more lucrative – are on top of this. My personal favourite is being paid overtime while on holidays to compensate for what you are missing while on annual leave.

      A.7 Review of Garda pay and allowances

      The overall Garda pay bill is around €940m a year (excluding employers PRSI contribution) of which €643m (or 68%) is regular pay with €217m on allowances and €80m on overtime. The overall Garda pay bill has increased from €530m in 2000. The Group notes the large number of allowances available to members of An Garda Síochána and that the majority of the allowances are pensionable. The wide range of pensionable allowances adds to the pay of Gardaí and increase the pension base for retirees. As a result of a general rule change, on retirement, Garda members can now select the most favourable 3 year period in the last 10 years, for the purpose of establishing a salary base for pension calculation rather than the final 3 years of service as has been the position.

      There are some 57 allowances in total, including the following:
      • Rent Allowance (€58.9m in 2008): whatever about the historical origins of this allowance, it is essentially treated as part of pay and is paid to every member up to and including Chief Superintendent;
      • Premium Payments (€9.07m in 2008): to members who are on leave, etc, and would ordinarily be entitled to claim unsocial hours allowance if they were not on leave;
      • Clerical Allowance (€2.07m in 2008): to officers engaged in clerical duties to compensate for loss of other allowances, particularly unsocial hours;
      • Gaeltacht Allowance and Aran Island Allowance (€1.2m in 2008): for members serving in defined Gaeltacht areas who perform their duties through the medium of Irish and whose knowledge of the language is certified as adequate for that purpose and to compensate members stationed on the Aran Islands for the special costs of travel to and from the mainland;
      • Change Management Allowance (€0.1m in 2008): paid to Garda Sergeants and Inspectors appointed to the Garda Change Management Unit for application of their policing knowledge and skills and to ensure retention of skilled police officers in this area;
      • Uniform Grant and Allowance and Boot Allowance (€50.4m in 2008): paid to members of An Garda Síochána for the maintenance of uniform;
      • Plain Clothes Allowance (€1.9m): paid in lieu of the uniform allowance for maintenance of plain clothes – clothes not provided; and
      • Non-Public Duty Allowances (€1.7m in 2008): to members of An Garda Síochána who perform a duty of a non-public nature (e.g. inside sports stadiums, race meetings). This liberal system of allowances on top of basic salary and a high overtime bill, is not in the public interest and should be revised with the aim of securing efficiencies in the delivery of policing services.

      The Group notes that consideration is being given to carrying out a VFM review of all payments made to members of An Garda Síochána ‘excluding salary’ in the next year or so. The Group urges that the Government carry out such a Review as soon as possible and examine the ongoing rationale for these allowances and their relevance at this time and to achieve greater transparency in pay costs. Against the background of the crisis in the national finances, the Group recommends that the review be conducted on a more thorough basis (to address all areas of Garda pay and related working conditions)

    • Dan Sullivan says:

      Robespierre, interesting illustration in the Times letter page yesterday


      “I am a low- to middle-ranking civil servant and I cannot afford these cuts to my remuneration.” but this low to middle ranking civil servant bought an apartment for €375,000. I know the banks were touched with lunacy but even they wouldn’t have lent someone 7 times their salary if it was say 50K resulting in 350K. (I’m allowing 25K for a deposit) So they must have be earning more than 50K and that in the public sector makes you low to middle ranking. What would make you straight up middle ranking when in the private sector under 40K is the average industrial wage.

    • Mark says:

      “But the disclosure about the so-called ‘bonus’ reveals one of the dishonesties of public service unions when advancing their case. In many cases, the publicly-stated salary is a basic salary that nobody gets. What they didn’t show were all the bonuses and premium payments and extras and little side deals and days off and generous nod-and-a-wink arrangements that have been secured over the years.”

      Harry, are you suggesting that the unions should have conceded that ‘performance-related’ bonuses ‘perks’ and ‘little-bonuses’ were part of salaries?

      Honest question…

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