Restoration of former ministers’ pensions ‘disgraceful’

Brian Cowen on €134,000, Charlie McCreevy on €108,000, Ivor Callely on €62,000

Former taoiseach Brian Cowen arrives at Leinster House in this file photograph.

Former taoiseach Brian Cowen arrives at Leinster House in this file photograph.

 

Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald has condemned as “disgraceful” the restoration of pensions to former taoisigh and ministers.

She said up to €1,700 would be paid next year under a Bill that began the reversal of the cuts imposed under emergency legislation during the economic crisis.

Restoration would be made to former taoiseach Brian Cowen, “who is struggling manfully on a pension of €134,000 or (former taoiseach) John Bruton on a pension of €126,000”, she said.

She asked: “What of ‘we have it so we’ll spend it’ former finance minister Charlie McCreevy who is on €108,000?”

She said former minister of state Ivor Callely, “who has a conviction for mobile phone expenses fraud is on a pension of €62,000” and former minister Ray Burke “has a conviction for tax offences and yet he is has over €95,000”.

She hit out at Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin for the move to re-instate and “bump up those disgraceful pension levels”.

But Mr Howlin rounded on the Sinn Féin TD, accused her of “playing the politics of it” and said she knew well that emergency legislation “cannot selectively penalise a particular cohort of public service pensioners”.

He said she knew to stop the restoration of former taoisigh and ministers’ pensions “would collapse the Bill constitutionally”.

He said “the proposed amelioration will apply to all impacted public servants on a basis that is indifferent to the vocational background of the pensioner as it has to be because that is the constitutional advice we have”.

Stressing that the legislation to restore pension rights “will significantly favour lower paid public pensioners”, he said the maximum restoration would be €400 next year, €500 in 2017 and €708 in 2018.

He said there was a 28 per cent reduction for those on the top pension levels and “ it will not be touched by this legislation”.

Mr Howlin described the Government’s legislation as a “highly progressive programme of pension restoration”, he said former ministers will benefit only to the extent that all former public servants benefit.

He said the Government decided that Ministers and their special advisors should not avail of a pay and pension restoration provided for in the Bill.

But Ms McDonald pointed out that “the commitment in respect of serving Ministers is not set out in the legislation. It is voluntary in nature.”

And she claimed it was “laughable” for the Minister to describe the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Bill (Fempi)as progressive.

The Bill was introduced on the basis of the Haddington Road Agreement with trades unions, which included commitments to restore the pay of those serving public servants who took an additional pay cut in 2013 and was given effect through the later Lansdowne Road Agreement.

Ms McDonald said the advantage conferred on former taoisigh and ministers is “self evident in the eye watering levels of pension they enjoy”.

Those pensions are indefensible, were always indefensible, but particularly so given the era of austerity that has been visited on people by “some of the very same individuals who are on grossly excessive pensions”.

How could a pension of €134,000 be justified for the taoiseach who presided over calamity, crash and chaos, she asked.

“But by God how anybody could argue that that pension should be bumped up by a further €1,600 or €1,700 is truly demented”.

Mr Howlin said she would “peddle the political argument knowing it is fatally flawed constitutionally, having no regard for the constitution, for the decisions of the courts of the land, for anything but the narrow political advantage of trotting out names to hopefully accrue some advantage to her party.

“You cannot select one cohort of public sector pensioners and say ‘I’m going to remove yours’”.

He asked would she make a pre-election commitment to cut those pensions and to “turn the Constitution on its head”.

The Minister warned that “one day somebody will take a challenge in relation to the Fempi legislation and we have to be on robust constitutional ground”.