Monday 5 December 2016

Lavish public pensions are 'sheer lunacy' as cuts loom

Retired Bord Pleanala boss gets almost €500,000 golden handshake

DANIEL McCONNELL Chief Reporter

Published 27/11/2011 | 05:00

The recently retired boss of An Bord Pleanala, John O'Connor, received a golden handshake pension package worth almost €500,000 -- all paid for by the taxpayer.

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The revelation of his payout is the latest in a succession of such bonanzas which have caused public outrage at a time when €3.8bn in spending cuts and tax increases loom large in the upcoming Budget.

Today we reveal new figures which detail the extraordinary level of pension payments being provided to a host of recently retired semistate bosses, top civil servants and former office holders. The series of payments to semi-state bosses has been branded as "sheer lunacy" by government TD Pat Deering who has called for such excessive payments to be taxed.

Mr O'Connor stood down from his post at An Bord Pleanala earlier this year, after admitting he regretted the board did not, in recent years, take a stronger stand against the worst excesses of the building boom.

He said the zoning of land for housing estates, apartment blocks and shopping complexes that were too large and too remote was one of the greatest failures in Irish planning.

Before his retirement, Mr O'Connor was paid at the same level as a High Court judge and his pension payout is in line with "public sector norms".

Such norms dictate that a person retiring receives a large tax-free lump sum of one-and-a-half times their final salary, plus an annual pension worth half of that salary.

In Mr O'Connor's case, he received a lump sum payout of €364,617 when he stepped down and will receive an annual pension of €121,539 for the rest of his life.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent, Pat Deering, Fine Gael TD for Carlow-Kilkenny, said such a payout to the head of a faceless organisation that is badly in need of reform was "totally startling".

"I have a big problem with An Bord Pleanala and these payout figures are startling. They are totally out of synch of where the country is," he said.

Figures released by various government departments reveal that -- despite the country's economic demise -- a procession of semi-State bosses have received large retirement packages and will enjoy substantial pensions for the rest of their lives, all funded by the taxpayer.

Other major payouts include a €207,585 pension payout to former Udaras na Gaeltachta boss Padraig O hAolain. He will receive an annual lifelong pension worth €64,118.

Leonie Lunny, the former boss of the Citizens Information Board, received a pension lump sum worth €185,370 and is in receipt of an annual pension of €51,518.

The latest shocking figures come as forestry body Coillte continues to resist the Government's request for its chief executive to take a 15 per cent pay cut.

Five months ago Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin asked the chief executives of commercial semi-states to take a 15 per cent pay cut where their salary was above €250,000.

Eight agencies came in above the pay ceiling. Of these, seven have agreed to take a 15 per cent cut with Coillte the only agency to refuse. Its CEO, David Gunning, was paid a salary of €297,000 in 2010.

It has also emerged that a host of former judicial and political office holders are in receipt of substantial payouts, despite many of them still being of working age.

Former Tanaiste Michael McDowell, who is one of the country's most successful senior counsels, received €104,526 including a pension of €74,281 for his time as Attorney General, Tanaiste, Minister and a Dail member.

Former AG Anthony Hederman, whose term in office went from July 1977 to June 1981, received an annual pension of €152,806, according to the figures released.

And despite his €80m personal fortune, the chairman of Goldman Sachs International Peter Sutherland still gets a pension of €49,500.

Dermot Gleeson, who was AIB chairman during the 2008 crash and one of the bankers who went to Government Buildings on the night of the bank guarantee in September 2008, received a pension of €47,918 from his time as AG.

And controversial AG Harry Whelehan received a pension worth €54,025.

The revelations come only two weeks after pensions to former political leaders were revealed. Former Taoisigh Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen headed a list of the top 10 biggest political pensions, receiving more than €150,000 each a year. In total, more than 30 former ministers will get over €100,000 this year -- Bertie Ahern leads the pack with a €152,331 annual pension.

Sunday Independent

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