Ministers at odds with Cowen in pension row
Third Cabinet member calls for commissioner to give up €108,000
Published 26/04/2010 | 05:00
TAOISEACH Brian Cowen is now at loggerheads with three cabinet ministers over whether EU Commissioner Maire Geoghegan-Quinn should give up her lucrative €108,000 Dail and ministerial pensions.
Divisions in the Cabinet came into sharp relief yesterday when Mr Cowen said it was a matter for Ms Geoghegan-Quinn to deal with herself.
But ministers Dermot Ahern and Mary Hanafin both suggested that she should consider relinquishing the €108,000 pensions -- which come on top of her €243,000 EU salary.
It came after Social Protection Minister Eamon O Cuiv had earlier made it clear that he wanted Ms Geoghegan-Quinn to address the issue, saying those in positions of responsibility had to show leadership.
The row is set to overshadow Mr Cowen's call for public sector workers to sign up to the peace deal agreed in Croke Park.
Justice Minister Dermot Ahern made his position clear when asked if Ms Geoghegan-Quinn should give up her ministerial pension of €64,000 and a TD's pension of €44,000.
"I think generally people who continue to be in public life have to accept there have to be some sacrifices, particularly in the context of having pensions," Mr Ahern said.
The Irish Independent revealed on Saturday that 16 sitting TDs, two senators, two MEPs and Ms Geoghegan-Quinn were still topping up their salaries with pensions that cost taxpayers more than €500,000 a year.
Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny, Labour leader Eamon Gilmore and Fianna Fail TD Mary O'Rourke are among the former ministers who have voluntarily given up their pensions.
At the Fianna Fail commemoration of 1916 at Arbour Hill yesterday, Mr Ahern pointed out that the Government could not force former ministers to give up their pensions because the Attorney General had found that pensions were part of their "property rights".
However, he added: "So ultimately, it's a matter for each individual. But I would think that somebody who continues in public life should make a sacrifice in some instances -- as have a number of existing TDs already."
At the same event, Tourism, Culture and Sport Minister Mary Hanafin said Ms Geoghegan-Quinn was being paid a salary by the EU, rather than by the Irish State.
"But in so far as she is a representative nominated by Ireland in Europe, at a time when she is earning €250,000, if she felt she could do without it, I think it would be a good gesture," she said.
Ms Hanafin said Ms Geoghegan-Quinn was a political leader "and at a time when people are looking to us all as political leaders to give guidance, perhaps that's something she might consider".
Green Party senator Dan Boyle also waded into the row last night, saying: "Serving politicians receiving pensions should be more than persuaded to surrender them. Legislation is needed as well."
Mr Cowen's Government nominated Ms Geoghegan-Quinn as European Commissioner last autumn to replace the previous Irish commissioner, former finance minister Charlie McCreevy.
Yesterday, Mr Cowen gave an oration at his party's commemoration of the 1916 Easter Rising, saying: "Each of us here today is proud to heed Pearse's call to once again remember the bravery and sacrifice of the men and women of Easter Week."
But when he was asked if Ms Geoghegan-Quinn should give up her pension, he refused to call on her to do so.
He referred instead to the decision to cut pensions for former ministers still serving in office by 25pc -- and to abolish them entirely after the next general election.
"What we have done in the Dail is legislate for existing Oireachtas members and office holders and that's where it stands," he said.
However, the Department of Finance has confirmed that Ms Geoghegan-Quinn's ministerial pension has not been cut by 25pc and that she will still be entitled to receive it after the next general election.
"The changes apply to members of the Oireachtas and in due course the European Parliament -- but excludes the commission," said a department spokesman.
Mr Cowen was also asked yesterday if the controversy over Ms Geoghegan-Quinn's pensions was similar to the furore over the €1.5m pension top-up provided to Bank of Ireland chief executive Richie Boucher -- which was later voluntarily handed back.
He replied: "It's a matter for people themselves as to how they wish to deal with that."