Proposals to increase the Garda commissioner’s salary to €300,000 will result in the judiciary and senior civil servants also demanding higher pay, the Government has been warned.
The “ripple effect” would then continue across all grades, Labour leader Brendan Howlin said.
He cautioned the Cabinet to seriously rethink proposals to offer a salary higher than that of the Taoiseach and the most senior Secretaries General, in a bid to attract more qualified outside candidates for the policing role.
The Wexford TD said such a move would “exacerbate the debate about high pay levels in the public service and impact on public sector pay policy generally at a particularly delicate time”.
During leaders’ questions in the Dáil Mr Howlin raised concerns about Government sources indicating that a salary of up to €300,000 is being considered for the next Garda commissioner.
It was, he said, well above the current salary of €180,409 for the position, “which most people would consider a high one”.
The job was graded at general secretary level 3, “while the top-level service payable to anybody in the public service is currently €190,000, which is the salary the most senior Secretaries General and the Taoiseach enjoy,” said Mr Howlin.
If the salary for the next commissioner was increased substantially, “it is certain that the judiciary would demand a similar increase for the Chief Justice or members of the Supreme Court and that would spread across the ranks of the senior civil service.”
No review of top-level pay in the public sector is currently under way, as the priority is the unwinding of the Fempi (Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) legislation.
But Mr Howlin warned that the ripple effect of such a substantial increase in salary for the next commissioner would move across all grades.
“Conceding an increase of this magnitude to the new Garda commissioner would completely undermine arguments that might be made for all the other sectors who are in a queue to have significant pay increases.”
Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald insisted, however, that “certainly there is no decision by the Government regarding that figure, regardless of what reports may have indicated in that respect”.
She stressed there was no question of abandoning the structured mechanisms in place. But she said there was an issue with some jobs and “there is some flexibility to attract the right candidate”.
She acknowledged the “danger of setting precedents” but said “more and more we are seeing gaps in services because of the difficulties in recruitment. This issue needs to be considered because we want the very best people to run our services.”
But Mr Howlin said if the Government was going to consider the issue in each case, did that mean the head of the HSE or the Chief Justice or the head of any service could “make a business case for a salary level or is there is a coherent approach to top level pay?”
Ms Fitzgerald insisted the Government favoured a structured approach but she said there were difficulties in recruitment and on occasion “these may lead to a decision in specific circumstances where the issue of pay may have to be reconsidered, but the overall approach is absolutely one of a system being in place under an agreement that is being implemented in respect of top-level pay”.