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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: December 15, 2010 @ 2:56 pm

    Taoiseach’s salary

    Harry McGee

    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.

    Leader’s salary

    Ireland: €228,000

    UK: €172,000

    Holland: €180,000

    Belgium: €200,000

    Spain: €92,000

    Finland: €129,000

    Sweden €138,000

    France: €253,000

    Germany: €242,000

    • patrick hegarty says:

      If they are doing a good job pay them a good salery.If they are doing a great job ….a great salery ….a terrific job a terrific salery

    • Keith Martin says:

      The Economist did a chart (with a lot of pre-crash data still in it) on politicians’ salaries as a proportion of GDP per capita. http://www.economist.com/node/16525240

    • Ciaran says:


      Your figures for the UK are a bit garbled so I wonder about the others. ;-) . You say David Cameron gets € 172000 as Prime Minister. However, that does not take account of his € 77000 as an MP so his total package as PM and MP is just under € 250000. In the case of Cowen, his € 214000 includes his salary as a TD. I’m not in any way defending Cowen’s salary. I just think we need to be careful to be comparing like with like.

    • Eamon says:

      I would just like to point out that politicians and civil servants are two completely different class of government employee. While I agree that Mr Cowen’s salary is too large, I think that if questioning the salary of senior civil servants you should also be questioning what they could earn if they decided to work in the private sector.

      I am from Canada, and I am speaking from a Canadian perspective, but in general I would argue that despite popular opinion our civil servants are underpaid. Sure they make the equivalent of €200,000 per year, but they would be making ten times that amount in the private sector. In fact, one of the problems on our side of the pond is that we cannot attract the best candidates for those civil service positions because the best candidates routinely go for the higher paying private sector positions.

      I have taken a keen interest in the massive issues facing Ireland, and though we have never been in so dire a position, Canada has some experience dealing with insane levels of debt and deficit (in the early 1990s). I wish everyone in Ireland the best of luck.

    • Harry McGee says:

      My understanding is that Cameron’s salary includes his MPs salary. It’s £142,00 sterling (or about €172,000) in total.

    • Liam O'Mahony says:

      Cowen is unqualified and has proved himself inept and naive in the job. Not only is he obscenely overpaid he should be fired.
      Looking at the obscene salaries and fees of the insider-elite in Ireland reminds me of the lavishly obscene lifestyles of the filthy rich in pre-revolutionary France while the poor were ground into the earth. Let’s hope we can have a similar revolution here in Ireland but without the guillotine I suppose?

    • Ciaran says:


      It seems you are right and I was wrong! Cameron’s total package as PM and MP is indeed “only” £ 142000 (172000 euro) per year, which really puts Cowen’s inflated salary in perspective.

    • vinny says:

      None, and I repeat none, of the so-called senior public servants from state,semi-state or local goverment would last p……. time in the private sector.
      As for a shortage of potential candidates for senior or junior public sector jobs – the queue stretches from Malin Head to the Beara Peninsula!

    • Desmond FitzGerald says:

      Apparenlty Fine Gael are holding back on its ‘big’ announcement about political pay and perks until the first week of the actual election campaign. This the party which won’t even get it’s own reps to publish receipts for the expenses they claim.

      However, the country is bankrupt and all politiciand, be they in government or oppsitions are equally to blame – albeit for different reasons. Either they were in any of the Fianna Fáil/PD/Green/Ind governments which gave free reign to the cronies, or they were in the possition which failed so abjectly to make people see sense.

      The only ‘big’ announcement from FG worth anything is if Kenny announces there will be no increases in pay for anyone in a Kenny government. If after 5 years they have the country back up and running then we’ll stand them a nice meal.

      Those who are now TDs and who become ministers or ministers of state incur no extra personal expenses when they reach office, so there is simply no justification at all for any of them to be getting any extra pay. The honour of serving their country at one of its bleakest moments should be reward enough for them, if they want to make a start retoring the trust between politics and the people.

      When going through the millions of expendiature items on the States books, it is beyond disgusting that on one hand Fine Gael and Labour people would approve pay rises for themselves and in the next breath approve cuts to services for carers or the elderly or the sick.

      Then when the government tries to make out there have been cuts to pay and perks they conveniently forget to mention that their pensions are still based on the salaries they had BEFORE the modest cuts.

      Anything less than Fine Gael announcing there will be no extra pay for members of the government, there will be cut in the President’s salary to €100k and there will be an end of all expenses for all elected reps be they TD, Senator (they won’t be around long anyway), MEP or Councillor and massive reform of the pay system for judges and the senior public sector, is just not good enough.

      The most basic requirement and starting point is the publication of all receipts for expenses and all the rental agreements for offices they use and who works for them.

      By the way, don’t forget in the Fine Gael document on reforming goverment ‘New Politics’ on page 28, said it would publish audited account by 2010. Well, it’s Dec 14 now and still no sign of these accounts yet. Typical guff from Kenny – the man who said he took out a 30 year mortgage for a Dublin apartment when he became FG leader.

      Did anyone notice on the FG webiste – the Superdraw took place and in the top right hand corner of the photo there is a picture of Enda Kenny and the words ‘An Taoiseach’ written above it – are they designing the new letterhead already? A bit presumptuous?

    • A.Commenter says:

      Or even a good/great/terrific salary…no wonder Ireland has slipped in the OECD literacy rankings…!

    • michael maguire says:

      I think our taoiseach is overpaid like alot of people in ireland. Just compare our tiny island to say the usa and the uk:-

      1. Ireland – pop. 4,500,000 – taoiseach pay €214,000.00 = citizen pays 0.0475555 cent each
      2. usa – population 300,000,000 – president pay €300,000 – citizen pays 0.001 0r 1/10 of 1cent
      3. uk -population 60,000,000 – prime minister pay 300,000 – subject pays 0.005 or 1/2 cent

      this means that for every euro the usa citizen pays the usa president an irish citizen must pay our Taoiseach around €47 and the british has to pay €5.

      this is repeated time and time again so no wonder we are in a mess


    • vera cross says:

      the discussion is similar to arguing that prisoners in Mount Joy should be paid for their criminal activities.

      Destruction of soverignty and national economy and the raiding of the poor, the children and the pensioners rights to human dignity is criminal.

      Pay is not the issue .

    • barbraeile says:

      Harry, you really are trawling through an empty forest looking for a stick to beat the Taoiseach.

      The Budget is passed – Trojan work by Brian Lenihan and Brian Cowen
      Brian Cowen has his party’s support to lead FF into the next election
      The Government has won the crucial Dáil vote on the €85 billion EU-IMF package.
      The Banking Bill is passed.
      The present coalition government has never looked stronger and the opposition has never looked more inept and more foolish.
      The people of Ireland notice these things.

    • robespierre says:

      The sin here is and always was benchmarking. I know for certain that they cooked the books on it to drive salaries up – the base data was changed in 2002.

      How could you justify increasing salaries that on average were higher than the private sector????

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