Miriam Lord: David Norris provides good value for money

Senator rails against dress code while Taoiseach conclusively does not outline plans

Senator David Norris has lashed out at the treatment of those elected to the Seanad, referring to their remuneration as 'demeaning'

 

Sometimes it’s too easy. Sometimes you should just walk away.

But it’s difficult, particularly when some Senators are complaining about not getting paid enough and enduring the humiliation of having to file meticulous expenses and clock in for work and have their sick notes scrutinised.

When David Norris takes up the cudgels following a measly €311 pay increase and cries: “It is time we stood up and asserted our dignity!,” it’s too hard to ignore.

Also, it would’ve been a long and worrisome day without the Seanad stepping in to provide some light relief and a welcome alternative to counting down the hours until the Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting.

It’s not an understatement to say Leinster House was in a boiling ferment of intrigue and anticipation over the future of Taoiseach Enda Kenny. It’s not because it’s a lie.

Leinster House was deeply unconcerned about his fate, at least for now. Enda has already declared he isn’t even thinking of going anywhere until the Council of Europe meets on April 29th. And by then, he may be considered too indispensable to dislodge.

On Tuesday, when Fianna Fáil’s Michael McGrath inquired about his intentions, Enda told him of his April deadline and after that, well, “you won’t be the first to find out”.

Which is very true. Enda will be the first to find out. When Fionnuala tells him.

Still, having promised to lay out a timeline for his departure on his return from Washington, there was some mild interest in what he might tell the troops.

“Effectively and conclusively” are the words he used when undertaking to clear everything up.

Would there be wigs on the green if he started stalling? Or might a new confidence emerge, egged on by that trip to Washington and a loyal chorus of supporters singing louder and louder about his necessary and experienced presence as Ireland’s leader at the Brexit table? In the national interest?

After waiting all day – with only that delicious interlude from the Upper House to ease the stress – the Taoiseach effectively and conclusively didn’t outline his plans. Instead, he said he would tell all after the European leaders hold their meeting. The troops didn’t even blink.

Incremental Taoiseach

Enda – now the Incremental Taoiseach – is smarter than the lot of them. They should hold on to him.

By April 29th, Enda will have reached his 66th birthday (April 24th) and a few days before that he will have bagged John A Costello’s record as the longest serving leader of Fine Gael.

There isn’t enough money in the world to pay the man for all he has done.

But then, politicians are rarely given the recognition they deserve, nor the remuneration.

Senators are shockingly badly paid for what they do – €65,000 a year plus expenses and plenty of free time for the self-employed, such as barristers, to toil away in tandem with their Seanad duties.

David Norris became very exercised on this front yesterday after Sinn Féin’s Paul Gavan highlighted an Ictu report that details some of the eye-watering salaries of chief executives in our public companies. Their pay contrasts with the 10 cent increase in the minimum wage this year.

Gavan hopes Minister for Finance Michael Noonan will come to the chamber to have a debate on the taxation and redistribution of wealth. Good luck with that.

But back to Norris, who began by booting out the proposal to introduce a new Oireachtas dress code. He feels this is an example of the “increasing bureaucracy” around Leinster House. (He’s right there.)

“People are not going to come in wearing a bikini. If they did, they’d be censured by the House and they would be expelled. I remember Cicciolina in the Italian parliament.”

Then he moved on to how times have changed in the Seanad during his 30 years in the place.

“Now we have to fob in, but the Ministers who started this, they don’t have to fob in,” fumed Norris. “It is demeaning to be treated like cattle.”

“Hear! hear!” shouted Senator Aidan Davitt, a former Fianna Fáil county councillor from Mullingar who was first elected to the Seanad last year, squeezing into the second last of nine seats on the Industrial and Commercial Panel.

The veteran Senator for Trinity College gave a litany of woes, from restrictions on allowances, and the abolition of the long service increment to sick notes.

“It is time we stood up and asserted our dignity,” he boomed, his fellow Trinity Senator Lynne Ruane sitting in the background, looking very bemused.

“We got €311 in wage restitution – oh jolly, gee, wonderful, sucks, boo, I hope we don’t all spend it on the same big bash. That’s less than €1 a day. Hear! Hear!

“It is time we stood up against this tide of populism and said we are professionals, we deserve the money we get; get rid of all the bloody allowances and give us the proper rate for the job.”

They have to send their chits off to the Sipo. Truly awful. “With our secretaries having to turn into accountants.”

That’s right. Their secretaries.

“It is utterly demeaning,” concluded Norris, as Fianna Fáil’s Terry Leyden and the little-known Davitt cheered him on.

“It is time we demanded respect,” quivered the Trinity man, as Leyden thumped the table.

Underpaid

Then first-timer Davitt, who clearly feels underpaid and doesn’t like to clock in, spoke in support of Norris “because he certainly makes a lot of sense. And he is speaking from the heart and he tells a lot of home truths. So well done, Senator – I fully concur with all your sentiments.”

Then he brought up the terrible condition of Edmonton National School in Westmeath.

Fine Gael’s Catherine Noone supported Norris “in his suggestion that the body politic has damaged the careers of many politicians in economic terms over the years”.

And in his round-up at the end of the Order of Business, House leader Jerry Buttimer also rowed in with his support for the Senator’s “fine contribution”. Though he is in favour of a dress code “for the decorum of the house”.

But he agreed “wholeheartedly” on the issue of pay and conditions

And as for having to “fob in” every day, “it’s ridiculous.”

They should organise immediately and march for their rights.

Poor lambs.