A few years ago, I was doing a little archive research on tribunals past, which included a trawl through the clippings on the tribunal into the Stardust tragedy in the 1980s. I recall noticing that the fees charged by lawyers at the time was obscene, and it seemed high even by the standards of two decades later. I can’t remember the exact details of the daily fee but they were massive.
Ireland is a small country with a small population but many of its elite have very big notions about themselves. In the private sector, chief executives and other senior executives are paid biblical sums that are a distortion of the company and the amount their ordinary workers earn.
In the public and semi-state sectors, the same L’Oreal mentality works. Are they worth it? Of course, they’re not. But their influence and disproportionate sway in society has allowed them feather their nests in the way that the private sector has. The CEO of semi-states. Senior civil servants and public servants. Judges. Lawyers (charging the State a couple of grand a day). Doctors (medical consultants). And, of course, politicians.
The only reasonable manner in which the political elite should have acted in the Budget was to lead by example and show that it was prepared to accept real pain. The Taoiseach trotted out statistics to the effect that he had taken a 95,000 euro cut in salary. Well, no he hadn’t. Because that outrageous increase to bring a taoiseach’s salary to €308,000 in 2007 was never implemented. And he’s still earning above €200,00 which is about twice the level he should be earning.
I did an exercise last week, trying to compare our leaders’ salary with that of his comparitors throughout Europe. You are not really comparing like with like, as other premiers get grace-and-favour privileges (like a free residence for example) that are not included in the overall package. Still, even after all the cuts, Cowen still compares well. His salary after the Budget is €214,000, a drop of €14,000.
Among the small group with higher pay are the leaders of two of the largest EU member states. The annual basic salary of French president Nicholas Sarkozy is €253,000 while that of German Chancellor Angela Merkel is €220,000 (or €242,000, if she merits her bonus).
But other prime minsters have smaller annual salaries than Mr Cowen. British prime minister David Cameron’s salary is €172,000. Politicians are also paid modestly in Scandanavian countries.
The salary of the Swedish prime minister is €138,000 while that of the Finnish prime minister was €129,000 in 2007 (according to a survey conducted by Hay consultants).
There is an ethical cap – expected but not legally enforceable – of €180,000 on the salary of the prime minister, and also for senior public servants in the Netherlands.
The pay for the prime minister in Belgium is €200,000 while that of Spanish prime minister Jose Luis Zapatero has recently fallen to a mere €92,000, after he imposed a cut of 15 per cent on the pay of all Ministers.
The lowest salaries within the European Union are paid to the prime ministers of the so-called accession States. The Hay survey from 2007 showed that the salaries of the Polish and Slovakian prime ministers were both under €50,000.
In relation to the salaries of members of parliament, Ireland remains one of the highest payers. The annual salary of a TD is now €92,000. This compares with €77,770 per annum for British MPs; €59,990 for members of the Scottish Parliament and €46,048 for members of the Northerna Assembly.
The salaries for members of other parliaments are €62,820 per annum in Italy; €62,160 in France; €88,068 in Germany; and 57,894 in Sweden. However, making direct comparisons is difficult as in some countries (with the exception of Sweden), parliamentarians are entitled to generous expenses that can more than double their salaries.