Media rage at pensions is hugely hypocritical


What gives highly paid journalists the right to accuse politicians of being far removed from normal income levels?

THIS HAS has been one of the most unedifying weeks in Irish political life for a long time, achieving its nadir on Tuesday, when Emmet Stagg was hauled before The People on Morning Irelandto explain why he had not given up his €56-a-week ministerial pension before he was compelled to do so.

Did Stagg think he had been “right” to take his €56-a-week pension until now? Did he think it was “right” a serving member of the Oireachtas should be paid a pension? Could he “understand” that people were angered because they thought a pension was something you got when you stopped working?

This show-trial was introduced by Áine Lawlor with a low bow towards “public fury”, which, she told us, showed “no sign of abating”. Later, in a conversation with an audibly queasy David Davin-Power, she said: “But I suppose equally there are a lot of people listening, and €56 a week, while €56 may not be a huge sum of money to the State, it’s a very big sum of money in their family’s incomes.” On such platitudes have been launched a dozen lynchings.

Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, who took a job on certain terms and conditions, bowed to an overnight income-reduction of 40 per cent. Stagg gave up his €56 a week. One by one, the guilty were forced to admit their sins. Terry Leyden, on being sentenced, tried to expand the discussion, but was told to shut up.

Highly paid broadcast journalists – some of whose colleagues earn far more than Quinn and Stagg put together – employed a combination of stomach-churning piety and spectacular hypocrisy, and lined each one up for the rope. Other politicians, fearful of being lynched as collaborators, sold their colleagues down the river.

“Are you now or have you ever been someone who does not understand that €56 is a very big sum of money in the family incomes of the furious public?”

This is becoming an altogether ugly little country, in which rage, envy and spite are increasingly the dominant chords. The day may dawn when we will look back on recent years and realise that, whatever about the recession and banking crisis, the mindless kow-towing to “public fury” is a phenomenon from which it will take much longer to recover.

Is it just a matter or punishing politicians – the nearest available ones – for the alleged sins of other politicians, or is there indeed a principle at stake? If a principle, what is it? That nobody should continue working while receiving a pension? That nobody should continue working for the State while receiving a State pension? In what sense does it matter whether the pension or other income comes from the State or otherwise? Does this mean broadcasters, when they retire from their roles as public prosecutors, will be prohibited from taking up weekend nixers on Lyric FM? Or perhaps the “principle” relates to double incomes? If so, there are many more lynchings to come. Soon it may be your turn or mine.

“I don’t have a great stomach for the targeting game,” Pat Rabbitte on Monday told a broadcaster who is paid several times the Taoiseach’s salary. Neither do I.

In his Irish Timescolumn on Wednesday, Vincent Browne wondered: if we all had started out on a desert island and were asked to decide on how the wealth “accumulated by our collective efforts” should be distributed, is it likely we would have agreed to a dispersal of income and wealth the way our society does it? “If anyone suggested that bookies, oil magnates extracting resources from some of the poorest countries in the world and concrete manufacturers would be paid at multiples of thousands what those keeping the peace, caring for children and old people, looking after the sick and educating people were paid,” he asked, “wouldn’t we think they were bonkers?”

This is an interesting philosophical question. Here’s another: why should someone who sits snarling, sneering and spitting fury in a television studio be paid more than a taxi driver who does essentially the same job while also managing to keep his vehicle on the road?

But this has given me a great idea. To avoid even the whiff of hypocrisy arising from the fulminations of journalists about the incomes of others, I propose we introduce a Standard Proletarian Wage (SPW) of €30,000 a year. All citizens, including journalists, would be free to opt for this, “gifting” the remainder of their salaries to the State. Everyone would be free to retain their existing incomes, but those who failed to sign up to the SPW would not be entitled to denounce others on the basis of their incomes or possessions.

It might not solve our financial problems, but it would do wonders for our stomachs.

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