Cabinet rules out independent review panel on judges' salaries
THE GOVERNMENT says it has no intention at present of making provision for an independent review panel in the referendum to cut judges’ pay which is due to be held in late October.
However, unofficial sources conceded there was “pressure coming on” from incumbent judges to have their salaries determined independently rather than by the Oireachtas.
A memorandum from senior judges to Attorney General Máire Whelan SC last Thursday argued that the principles of judicial independence required any decision on a reduction in pay to be taken by an independent body.
This approach has been ruled out by Minister for Justice Alan Shatter who said last night: “The Government is proceeding to implement the decision already made. There is no need for an independent review.”
At the weekend, he said the use of an outside body was not relevant because judges were not being subjected to different treatment from anyone else in the public service.
Mr Shatter again briefed the Cabinet on the referendum yesterday and a Government spokesman said afterwards: “We are where we were, the referendum will be held.”
When asked if the Government would make provision for an independent panel, the spokesman said: “That is not the Government’s intention at this point.” Asked if the Minister’s decision to raise the matter at Cabinet was prompted by media coverage of the judges’ objections, the spokesman said: “That is not the context as far as the Minister is concerned.”
On the issue of an independent review body, the spokesman repeated: “There is no intention of Government to pursue that particular route at present.”
Government sources said last night that popular opinion favoured the Minister’s stance: The referendum is to be held on the same day as the presidential election, which is expected to take place on October 20th although no date has been officially set for it.
“This Government is not going to shy away from the tough decisions needed to get our public finances in order but we are going to ensure that these actions are taken in a fair and equitable manner,” a spokeswoman for the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform said.
She added that, the amendment, if passed, “will result in salary reductions impacting on serving judges salaries to the same extent as others on similar salary levels in the public service”.
Labour MEP Phil Prendergast said: “The judiciary’s claim that a cut in their pay would affect Ireland’s international reputation and compromise their independence is dubious to say the least.”