Pension pots drive TDs to distraction

Thu, Nov 8, 2012, 00:00

DÁIL SKETCH:The salaries and pensions of politicians and bankers continue to surface in the Dáil in these dark economic days.

They led to heated and bitter exchanges yesterday, prompting Ceann Comhairle Seán Barrett to warn deputies not to descend to the level of gurriers.

The verbal explosion was primed by retired banker Eugene Sheehy’s decision to don a pension hairshirt, admittedly with a silk collar.

On Tuesday, Taoiseach Enda Kenny had reminded Sheehy and some fellow bank retirees that they had a moral responsibility to take a reduced pension.

Sheehy, in a statement to The Irish Times, announced that he would accept a pension reduced to €250,000 from between €300,000 and €325,000.

Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald, for one, was not impressed when she tackled Kenny on the largesse enjoyed by some pensioners.

First, she congratulated Barack Obama on his second White House term, reminding the Taoiseach that the re-elected president earned an annual salary of $315,000. She did not refer to his free house.

Kenny, whose €200,000 salary is less than Sheehy’s pension, bristled.

McDonald observed that the retired banker had bowed to public pressure and accepted “a paltry €250,000’’.

It was the kind of money that the average citizen would only see if he or she was lucky enough to win the Lotto, she said.

She wanted to know if other retired bankers would take a cut.

She also asked about ministerial pensions, which were debated as part of the Technical Group’s Private Members’ motion on Tuesday and yesterday.

Kenny had an unlikely ally. Billy Kelleher of Fianna Fáil, competing for senior Opposition status with Sinn Féin, intervened.

“Why does Sinn Féin not go to the Northern Bank?’’ he declared. “What about Sinn Féin’s pensions from Westminster?’’

Labour’s Michael McCarthy added: “Some £26.5 million was stolen from the Northern Bank.’’

Barrett was on his feet, following repeated warnings to McDonald that her time was up and that the Taoiseach should be allowed answer her questions.

“I will not be bullied,’’ said Barrett. “Deputies should listen to me.’’

Sinn Féin’s Aengus Ó Snodaigh retorted: “We will not be bullied either.’’ This prompted shouts of derision from Government TDs.

Kenny accused McDonald of attempting to compete with the Technical Group’s “populism’’ on the pensions issue.

He went on to welcome Sheehy’s “personal decision’’, adding that the retired bankers were receiving their pensions under contractual arrangements he could not change.

And he rounded on his Sinn Féin persecutor. “It ill behoves Deputy McDonald to come in here and lecture everyone else when the leader of her own party was drawing an allowance for years for a parliament he did not recognise.’’

As the exchanges continued, an angry Ceann Comhairle reminded deputies that they were in a house of parliament.

“This is not a shouting match, like gurriers on a street shouting at each other,’’ he said. “Please behave properly.’’

As the ominous budget day draws nearer, the Ceann Comhairle’s advice is likely to go largely unheeded.

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