Scale of top-ups has ‘taken everyone by surprise’ , Quinn says

Minister for Education says extent of payments is ‘truly shocking’

Minister for Education, Ruairí Quinn today expressed his shock and surprise at the scale and amounts involved in the private top-up payments to a number senior hospital and health agency executives. Photograph: Cyril Byrne / The Irish Times

Minister for Education, Ruairí Quinn today expressed his shock and surprise at the scale and amounts involved in the private top-up payments to a number senior hospital and health agency executives. Photograph: Cyril Byrne / The Irish Times

Thu, Nov 21, 2013, 19:40

Minister for Education, Ruairí Quinn today expressed his shock and surprise at the scale and amounts involved in the private top-up payments to a number senior hospital and health agency executives

Mr Quinn said he fully supported his Cabinet colleague, Minister for Health Dr James Reilly, when he said such payments would have to cease while he also backed comments by both Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore criticising the practice.

“You can always make a case and cases have been made in different areas (for exemptions) but the scale and the extent of extra payments in the health service is truly shocking. It’s the amount and the scale as well as the breaching of the caps that’s taken everyone by surprise.”

Mr Quinn said that the introduction of capping levels for salaries at various levels in the public service had been for good sound reasons as the Government endeavoured to tackle the economic and financial problems left by the previous government.

“Both the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste have been very clear that in the context of the economic difficulties that we found ourselves in and particularly this Government when we came into office, there had to be a cap put on top level pay and that cap was applied to everybody

“Therefore the idea that in the health sector, some executives were able to get around the cap by accessing other kinds of funds, that broke and continues to break the entire spirit of the capping of people who, everything else considered, are well paid.”

Questioned about the fact that one senior hospital executive was in receipt of an annual salary of more than € 300,000 which included a € 20,000 privately funded allowance, Mr Quinn said it was understandable that the public would feel angry and aggrieved.

“A salary of € 300,000 is one and a half times what the Taoiseach is getting and it’s taxpayers’ money and taxpayers have had their salaries reduced, in some cases they have lost their jobs. It just not part and parcel of the solidarity that we need to get ourselves out of the mess in which we were left by the last government.

“People will take difficult decisions and will live with difficult outcomes if they feel it is fairly spread out amongst everyone and if no one is exempted. They will not accept, nor should they accept in my view if they feel a very small group are evading the same level of containment that the rest of us had to experience.”

Mr Quinn was also critical of hospitals which refused to divulge the sources of private top-up payments and he called for greater transparency and openness from hospitals as to where they were obtaining the funding to make such payments.

“That kind of behaviour from an institution that is substantially funded by the taxpayer at a time when the taxpayers have taken great hits themselves as we still struggle to restore our fortunes in the economy and society, that kind of behaviour of exemption simply is not acceptable.”

Mr Quinn was speaking at the official opening of a major new extension to Knockskeagh National School near Clonakilty in West Cork where he praised the commitment of the local community for ensuring the viability of the school which now caters for 109 pupils.