Taoiseach reassures judges over referendum

 

TAOISEACH ENDA Kenny moved last night to allay the concerns of the judiciary about the constitutional referendum in the autumn to reduce their salaries.

A spokesman for Mr Kenny said the referendum would go ahead but the proposed amendment would not diminish judicial independence.

“The referendum will ensure that the reductions in judges’ salaries are confined to circumstances where public service pay generally, especially at senior levels, is being revised in the public interest,” he told The Irish Times.

“The independence of the judiciary is essential to the working of all fair and democratic societies, and will not be diminished by this referendum,” the spokesman said.

He pointed out that the Review Body on Higher Remuneration in the Public Sector had wanted to reduce the pay of serving judges in line with the wider public service, but was precluded from doing so by the Constitution. “This referendum is designed to address the anomaly whereby judges are unable to contribute their fair share in the national interest on the same basis as other public servants.

“I am sure that the judges themselves recognise that this could impact on the public esteem in which they have traditionally been held and the public confidence which they enjoy,” Mr Kenny’s spokesman added.

Meanwhile, other high-level political sources said Mr Kenny had raised the issue himself towards the end of last Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting. They said a process of consultation on the issue had been initiated between the Taoiseach, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan, Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin and Minister for Justice Alan Shatter.

A senior Coalition source said it was essential to preserve “mutual respect” between the judiciary and the Government and that an arm’s-length “mechanism” was being set up to deal with judicial salaries.

However, this was rejected by sources in the Department of the Taoiseach who said: “There is no separate mechanism being contemplated.”

A memorandum from senior judges to Attorney General Máire Whelan last week insisted judicial independence required any decision on a reduction in pay to be taken by an independent body.

This was ruled out by Mr Shatter, who said: “The Government is proceeding to implement the decision already made. There is no need for an independent review.”