CIARAN BYRNE IRISH TIMES editor Geraldine Kennedy is struggling to quell a major staff rebellion over the perks and lavish salaries she and senior management figures enjoy.
The paper's employees are preparing an extraordinary letter of protest to be sent to the chairman and governors of the Irish Times Trust.
Already signed by more than 50 senior staff, it describes as "extravagant, disproportionate and indefensible" the salary and bonuses paid to the editor and four other directors.
Along with managing director Maeve Donovan, figures show that Geraldine Kennedy now receives a basic salary of ?323,000 - almost ?15,000 a month after tax - putting her among the best-paid newspaper editors in the world.
The mood within the normally gentle cocoon of D'Olier Street has been further darkened by a management plan to seek between 35 and 40 redundancies among a workforce where some reporters and administrative staff earn less than ?35,000 a year.
Some of the paper's most senior writers believe it is now not possible for the paper to criticise the pay and conditions of corporate "fat cats" and government ministers when its own management team is earning up to 12 times the average industrial wage.
The denunciation is a heavy blow to Geraldine Kennedy's editorship and she will be rattled by the unconcealed fury among her staff, who say "morale is on the floor" over the executive windfalls. She and five other directors were paid a total of ?2.6m last year - an extraordinary 20.5 per cent cut of the paper's total profits. The rest of the 544 staff shared just four per cent of Irish Times profits among them.
To put it in context, Kennedy is paid almost as much as some UK tabloid editors and more than the editor of the market leader, the Daily Telegraph, in the UK. That title sells almost one million copies a day compared to the modest 115,000 sold by the Irish Times each morning.
The disclosures have prompted much disquiet among staff at the famously self-regarding title where there is concern that it will no longer have a right to speak for the "downtrodden".
Operating as a trust, the paper is a private company but has no single proprietor. It controls its spending and editorial direction through the six members of the Irish Times board and its Trust.
Just a month ago, Geraldine Kennedy and Maeve Donovan warned staff of the need for "rigorous cost management" - saying that it was their responsibility to "ensure that high costs are not allowed to threaten the future of the newspaper".
Staff hope that the letter - which they say is not part of any industrial action but simply an expression of "moral outrage" - will be acted on by Irish Times Trust members including David Begg, who is also general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. Two years ago, the Irish Times was forced to shed 250 jobs - almost a third of its workforce - in a brutal round of cost-cutting designed to haul the paper out of a multi-million black hole.
Journalists were then further enraged to discover that the newspaper's former editor Conor Brady had been given a non-compete deal lasting an astonishing 12 years and said to be worth ?850,000. Some of the paper's most senior journalists, including columnist Fintan O'Toole, have urged staff to sign the letter which says that the "inflated salaries being paid to those at the top make a mockery of the paper's very identity".
Mr O'Toole told the Sunday Independent: "We as a paper are not shy of preaching about corporate pay and fat cats but with this there is a sense of excess. Some of the sums mentioned are disturbing. This is not an attack on Ms Kennedy, it is an attack on the executive level of pay. There is double-standard of seeking more job cuts while paying these vast salaries."
As anger grows over the pay scales, the paper's journalists have made clear they want any future redundancies or cutbacks funded by cuts to executive perks and salaries in the first instance.
The letter adds: "This raises serious doubts in our minds as to whether those who approved such outrageous salary levels either know or understand what the Irish Times represents and what is itspurpose and meaning.
"While it must make profits to exist, it does not exist to make profits and we feel that the whole thrust and meaning of the enterprise has now been turned upside down and that our work and standing as journalists have been seriously undermined."
Staff have compared Ms Kennedy's and Ms Donovan's terms and conditions with those enjoyed by public figures such as the Taoiseach and Professor Brendan Drumm who has taken over as chief executive of the Health Services Executive.
He will earn a salary of ?320,000 and a potential annual bonus of ?80,000, but Irish Times staff point out this is in return for presiding over 98,000 employees and an annual turnover about ?11bn.
Their letter states: "Contrast that with the Irish Times, which had 544 staff at the end of last year and a turnover of ?104.4m. We would ask you how this huge discrepancy can be reconciled, let alone justified."
It also points out that Taoiseach Bertie Ahern gets paid ?250,000 for "administering the State", "while the managing director and editor of the Irish Times are jointly responsible for running a relatively modest enterprise.
"We invite you to comment on this glaring discrepancy and offer a credible explanation for it. In our view, it is utterly insupportable - even more so when the newspaper is called upon to report, andto comment on, the pay of politicians."
The letter has already received the backing of senior reporters, with North America editor Conor O'Clery, cartoonist Martyn Turner and columnist John Waters all expressing support.
The six executive directors of the Irish Times were paid more than ?2.6.m last year. Geraldine Kennedy and MD Maeve Donovan both earned salaries of ?323,000, up from ?308,000 in 2003.
The pair and four others also shared ?397,000 in performance-related bonuses, which were not broken down, as well as benefits in kind and pension contributions.
In the proposed letter to the Trust, the staff state: "We regard this level of payment to the executive directors as extravagant, disproportionate and indefensible. In particular, we take issue with the enormous sums of money paid to the Editor and MD."
The Irish Times did not return calls seeking comment.