Wednesday 29 March 2017

'Baby' presidents would get €125k a year for life

Yes vote to cut Aras age limit could cost taxpayers €10m - new figures

The youngest female TD, Helen McEntee
The youngest female TD, Helen McEntee
President Michael D Higgins
Jerome Reilly

Jerome Reilly

A BABY-FACED Irish president, elected at 21, would be eligible for a pension of €125,000 a year for the rest of their lives on "retirement" from the Aras at 28 years of age. The massive pension pot, to be met by the taxpayer, would arise if the May 22 referendum is passed to reduce the age a person can become president of Ireland from 35 years down to just 21.

A private sector pension of that magnitude would cost more than €9.37m to buy in the current market, a leading pensions actuary has confirmed.

New figures supplied to the Sunday Independent by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform confirm that a young Irish president would get 50pc of their presidential salary as a pension from the year they leave office - and for the rest of their lives.

Average life expectancy for Irish men is a shade over 78 years. Irish women live longer - on average, up to 83 years, based on current Central Statistics Office figures.

The pension rate remains the same whether the president serves one or two terms in the Phoenix Park - raising the possibility of a president leaving office before the age of 30 with a yearly pension worth three times the current average pre-tax industrial wage of €41,806 per annum.

The salary of the president is currently set at €250,000 having been cut under public pay cap legislation. As it stands, President Michael D Higgins will still earn €1.75m in salary during his seven-year term.

The taxpayer is currently meeting the pension entitlements of two former presidents, Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese. Mrs McAleese retired with an annual pension of €141,000. Her predecessor, Mary Robinson, is drawing down a yearly pension of €134,883.

Both were relatively young when they assumed office. Mrs Robinson was just 46 when she became the seventh Irish president in 1990. Mary McAleese was just 46 when she was elected president in 1997.

The sixth president, Patrick Hillery, was 53 when he became president in 1976, but served two seven-year terms, and so, was 67 when he picked up his presidential pension from late 1990. He died in 2008.

Because of the clamour over the same-sex marriage poll, the referendum on reducing the age that a person can become president has attracted little public attention.

Reducing the eligibility age for the president from 35 to 21 was one of a large number of recommendations made by the Convention on the Constitution, set up by the Government to review Bunracht na hEireann.

The Constitutional Constitution was a forum of 100 people representative of Irish society, with an independent chairman.

It was given the task of making recommendations on certain topics as possible future amendments to the Constitution. Proponents argue that 35 years was too high an age of eligibility given that the voting age is just 18, and the age at which a person becomes eligible to become a TD or senator is 21 years.

Opponents say that a person of 21 years of age could not possibly have the life experience, wisdom and maturity to be head of state, representing all the people of Ireland. On a more practical level, the specific constitutional powers bestowed on the president, which includes the power to dissolve the Dail and refer contentious legislation to the Supreme Court, requires solid political and legal experience.

A young person being elected president is not outlandish. Simon Harris, the Fine Gael Minister of State at the Department of Finance is the youngest member of the current Dail and is just 28 and would be considered a legitimate candidate if he chose to run for the Park. The youngest female TD is Helen McEntee, who was 26 when elected in a by-election in 2013.

Though the referendum is being backed by the Government, the Labour Party is not actively campaigning and instead concentrating on securing a Yes vote on the same-sex marriage referendum. Fine Gael is supporting the proposal.

The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform also confirmed to the Sunday Independent that a past president will receive a pension even if they quit office after just one year. They would get 7.14pc of the full €125,000-a-year pension for every year served.

Analysis: Colum Kenny,

Page 24

Sunday Independent

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