The State should not abdicate its duty to care for our citizens to charities

Opinion: We are a rich society and can afford proper services, so why don’t we just get on with it?

Wed, Jan 22, 2014, 12:01

It is no surprise that board members of a charitable organisation would think it appropriate to allocate €700,000 of charitable funds to fund the retirement of one of its brethren. For that is the national culture: the elite gets looked after, ahead of the most needy and the most deserving.

As this newspaper reported last October, the market cost of pensions for the present Cabinet is in excess of €35 million were the Ministers to retire at the next election. Enda Kenny’s pension entitlement alone would cost almost €3.3 million and he will get a lump sum when he decides to go – or when others decide he must go – of €139,008. Eamon Gilmore’s pension cost is also more than €3 million, were he to retire at the next election or be retired, which is very possible. The market cost of the pensions of the serving Ministers of State is almost €20 million.

According to the report by Colm Keena on October 30th last, the pensions of every Minister – aside from Leo Varadkar, who is too young and in the Dáil for too short a time – would cost €1 million or more each if bought in the market. So why the furore over the pension provided to Bertie Ahern’s pal Paul Kiely?

It can’t be because Paul Kiely’s relatively modest pension arrangement comes from funds that could have gone to the provision of services to people who are disabled, for isn’t precisely the same true of the pensions of Cabinet Ministers?


Bankers’ pensions
Some of the bankers who drove the country virtually into insolvency had annual pensions of more than €500,000. One of these, Eugene Sheehy, who was head of AIB, agreed take a mere €250,000 annually in a pension and the Government enthused about this as though it was a patriotic act.

Our culture is such that the scale of income disparities here cause no indignation, no concern, not even a titter of interest. In a written answer to a Dáil question from Labour TD Derek Nolan on April 30th last, Michael Noonan revealed the following estimates for 2013 (married couples who submit tax returns jointly are regarded as one tax unit and the data refers to tax units): more than half of these income taxpayers have a taxable income of €30,000 or less – they have an average gross income of €14,712.

In contrast, nearly 110,000 income taxpayers were getting more than €100,000 in gross taxable income – they had an average income of €183,750. Our ministerial brethren are among this elite, as are the majority of TDs. More than 22,000 were getting more than €200,000 and they have, on average, a gross taxable income of €389,742. Then 141 are on more than €2 million a year have an average gross taxable income of €4.1 million.

Since nobody seems to think there is anything odd about this, is it any wonder than the well-heeled (in the main) Central Remedial Clinic (CRC) directors would think it was okay to give Paul Kiely a pension costing far less than ministerial pensions and a fraction of what the big boys get (very few big girls!)?


A further oddity
But there is a further oddity about this CRC controversy.

According to its website, “The Central Remedial Clinic is a non-residential national centre for the care, treatment and development of children and adults with physical disabilities. Services are provided for people with physical conditions ranging from the very rare to the more familiar, such as cerebral palsy, spina bifida, muscular dystrophy and arthrogryposis.

“Services at the clinic include clinical assessment, physiotherapy, hydrotherapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, social work, psychology, nursing, dietetics, orthotics, technical services, seating services, orthopaedics, paediatrics, parent support, vision and hearing specialists, transport and catering.”

Why should the provision of such services be dependent on the whimsical impulses of donors? Why should this be a charity at all? Why is this not something we would all want to subscribe to via the agency through which we co-operate in society, the State? Why is there now any apprehension that because of the recent controversy the funding for these vital services will dry up? Isn’t that the State’s function?

A corporatist State developed here whereby many vital services were provided by voluntary organisations, notably the Catholic Church. This suited several vested interests. It suited the State to subcontract welfare as much as it could; it suited the church, for the provision of educational and healthcare services gave it control over this society; and it suited private interests, including medical practitioners, who could profit from the arrangement.

We are a rich society. We can afford, through the agency of the State, to fund the treatment and development of people with physical disabilities. We should simply get on with it.

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