'Constitutional' barriers to pensions cut


There are constitutional barriers to reducing ministerial and public service pensions, Minister of State for Finance Brian Hayes has said.

He said a pension was generally taken to be deferred income and, therefore, covered by constitutional protections. Any move, even one based on statute law, to reduce a pension needed to be comprehensively founded.

“Otherwise the courts might find that a restriction, however it may be felt justified by the exigencies of the common good, amounts to an unjust attack by the State on the rights of individuals affected by the legislation in question,’’ he added.

Mr Hayes was replying in the Dáil last night to a Private Members’ motion from the Technical group calling on the Government to “end the current system of paying grossly overgenerous pensions and massive lump sums on retirement to office holders such as cabinet ministers, taoisigh, TDs and senators, senior public servants, State regulators, including the financial regulator’’.

Rejecting the motion, Mr Hayes agreed that large pensions paid from the public purse caused a great deal of concern. But it would be utterly wrong for people to believe or accept the premise that the Government had not addressed the issues since coming into office.

“Decisions to further reduce substantial pensions have been taken and this issue remains under constant review by the Government,’’ Mr Hayes added.

“But decisions can only be taken on a legal and constitutional basis. Devising pension policy based on the latest headline is a recipe for disaster.’’ Mr Hayes said over 2.5 billion euro had been saved to date in public service pay and pensions over a three-year period.

Moving the motion, Mattie McGrath (Ind) said an article in The Irish Times had outlined that it would take €36 million to fund the pensions of Cabinet members at the current rates.

He urged Ministers to think about the issue and reflect on it, adding that people could not and would not take any more.

Ordinary people had seen their pensions cut, while pensions of €230,000 could not be cut. “What is wrong?’’ he added. “How is this credible?’’

Mr McGrath said that €4.1 million was being spent on ministerial pensions and more than €1 million in severance payments.

He added that former taoisigh Bertie Ahern and John Bruton had pensions of €139,785 and €131,399 respectively, while former tánaiste Dick Spring received €114,806.

“And let’s wait for it, the reformer of all reformers, former minister, the great messiah Noel Dempsey . . . he did not know the troika was coming to Ireland . . . is in receipt of €112,530,’’ he added.

“The list is endless, but those people stick in my mind because they were prophets of everything.’’

Richard Boyd Barrett (People Before Profit) said working people, and the vulnerable sections of society, were being crushed with cuts in their income and services, levies, charges and taxes, which were pushing them into poverty and to the edge.

Mr Boyd Barrett said those receiving pensions included the former secretary general of the Department of Finance, “who was there on the infamous night of the bank guarantee’’ , and who walked away with €115,000 annually.