Salary cap failure has cost Coalition moral authority
The Dáil expenses regime is another thing that got out of hand during the boom years. TDs claim their expenses under two headings. One is for travel and accommodation and the other is called a public representation allowance. Most of the payments are in the range of €30,000 to €60,000 a year with the Dublin TDs at the lower end and those in more remote parts of the country at the other.
There is a distinction between vouched and unvouched expenses but mysteriously TDs from the same constituency opting for vouched expenses usually end up claiming precisely the same amount.
Only one TD, Labour’s Eamonn Maloney, has declined to take any expenses. He has not made a song and dance about it but it is probably no coincidence that he is a newly elected TD who previously ran an aluminium can recycling centre and clearly has some idea about the kind of wages most people manage to live on.
Of course TDs are entitled to a decent salary. It is just 101 years since salaries were first introduced for MPs in the House of Commons. Before that it was very difficult for people without wealth or sponsorship to become politicians and it would be very retrograde to return to that position by paying politicians too little.
However, Irish politicians are still well paid by any international comparison, getting more than British MPs and counterparts in many other EU countries. When expenses and pension entitlements are taken into account they are extremely well paid as are the public servants who are on similar salaries.
Public sector pay and pensions ballooned out of control in the first decade of the 21st century precisely because the salaries of senior officials and politicians were irrevocably linked in the late 1990s. Both groups became detached from the reality that applied to the rest of society.
The level of delusion that gripped the policymakers was illustrated by the recommendation of the review body on high-level remuneration in late 2007 that the taoiseach should be paid €310,000, making him the highest-paid leader in the world.
The subsequent furore led to the deferral of the award for the taoiseach and ministers but all of the other recommended pay rises were implemented, giving a range of already well-paid public officials further increases on the very eve of the crash.
The Coalition started off as if it understood the nature of the problem. Enda Kenny cut the Taoiseach’s salary to €200,000 with pro rata reductions for Ministers and TDs. It still left them well paid but no longer embarrassingly so.
Since then impetus has been lost and the failure to enforce the salary cap on advisers has not helped the Government to retain the moral authority it requires to impose further cuts on others.