Salary cap failure has cost Coalition moral authority
INSIDE POLITICS: Voters recently voiced their resentment over well-paid politicians’ expenses and advisers’ salaries
THE FOCUS on the pay and perks of politicians just won’t go away and neither will the controversy over the salaries paid to Government advisers.
Politicians attribute this to the media’s thirst for sensation but the issue actually goes to the heart of the crisis in the public finances.
It is not just that politicians should be seen to give a good example when sacrifices are being made by so many others. The more serious point is that they are so well looked after in terms of pay, pensions and expenses that they often appear to have no idea of what is happening in the real world.
One example of the cocoon effect is that Ministers and senior officials have made decisions about funding requirements that could well collapse what remains of the pensions industry. This had happened because they can’t grasp what conditions are like for people in the private sector.
The jaw-dropping pensions paid to former politicians and senior public servants is just one indication of how removed our political elite has become from the hardships faced by so many others.
What is really astonishing is how almost everybody in Leinster House, of all parties and none, adapt so quickly to maximising the perks of office, regardless of their political rhetoric.
It emerged during the week that Labour Party TDs were taken aback that people on the doorsteps in the recent referendum campaign expressed resentment at the big salaries paid to Government advisers.
That resentment was fuelled by the fact that on taking office the Coalition promised to cap the advisers’ salaries.
It is not just the Government that has shown itself to be out of touch. In recent weeks it has emerged that Sinn Féin is breaking the rules on declaring the use being made by the party of a big chunk of its TDs’ salaries.
Sinn Féin makes a virtue of the fact that it insists on its TDs making a big contribution from their salary to help the party but why that is necessary, given that it is in receipt of about €2.2 million a year in taxpayers’ money, is a moot point.
In recent days it emerged that United Left Alliance TDs were misusing their Dáil travel expenses to fund their campaign against the household charge. Using taxpayers’ money clearly designed to cover their own travel to and from the Dáil in a campaign designed to undermine the tax system took some effrontery.
It is not as if the TDs in question don’t have enormous sums of taxpayers’ money allocated for their use for political purposes in the first place. On top of their Dáil salary of €92,000 and their tax-free expenses of at least €30,000 a year, Independent TDs also get a tax-free leader’s allowance of more than €40,000.
As leaders of small parties both Joe Higgins and Richard Boyd Barrett get a considerably higher leader’s allowance. The Socialist Party and People Before Profit got €120,000 each for 10 months in 2011 and will get more this year. They have plenty of public money at their disposal for political campaigns without claiming personal Dáil expenses for the purpose.