Saturday 22 July 2017

Senators see wages double to an average of ?112,500

SENATORS will pick up over ?1,300 on average for each day the Seanad sits this year. The salaries for members of the Seanad, who are all part-time, have more than doubled since Fianna Fail and the Progressive Democrats came to power.

Fionnan Sheahan

Political Correspondent

SENATORS will pick up over ?1,300 on average for each day the Seanad sits this year.

The salaries for members of the Seanad, who are all part-time, have more than doubled since Fianna Fail and the Progressive Democrats came to power.

Senators are in line for a wages and expenses payout of ?112,500 each on average in 2006.

Their wages have grown even faster than TDs, yet reform of the outdated upper house of parliament is highly unlikely to be delivered by the next general election.

Senator Mary O'Rourke, the leader of the Seanad, said last night senators were "well paid" but the taxpayer does get value for money.

The 'minimum wage' for senators now stands at ?62,000 - nearly twice the average industrial wage.

But only a third of the senators are on this rate as the rest benefit from long service bonuses, serving on committees and holding special positions.

When all the pay is added, the average wage of the 60 senators is just short of ?69,000. On top of that, they will pick up an average of ?43,500 in expenses this year, bringing the total financial package to ?112,500 each.

The Seanad has only sat for an average of less than 85 days each year over the past three years. That means senators will rake in over ?1,300 for each day the Upper House sits this year.

Senators argue that their work also includes serving on Oireachtas committees, examining legislation, helping members of the public and playing an international role.

The dramatic rise in salaries is identified in the first comprehensive study of all 60 senators' wages, conduced by the Irish Independent.

Senators' wages are now fixed at 70pc of a TD's salary, so they get all the same increases as paid to TDs.

TDs are the only public sector workers to benefit from two special pay awards, along with partnership deal pay rises, and senators have piggy-backed on these rises.

The salary and expenses details are based entirely upon documents released under the Freedom of Information Act from the Houses of the Oireachtas and figures from the Department of Finance.

Senators picked up an average of ?43,500 in expenses in 2005 and it is not unreasonable to estimate that this will be repeated in 2006 as the average claim in 2004 was ?44,400.

The basic rate of pay for a senator in July 1997, when the FF-PD coalition came to office, was just ?29,058. Today it is ?61,989 - a jump of 113pc over nine years. This doesn't even give the full picture of all the increases, however, as long service bonuses were introduced in the meantime and 60pc of all senators are entitled to benefit from these.

Senators with seven years service in either the Dail or Seanad are paid ?63,967 and those with 10 years service in Leinster House get ?65,944.

When the numbers entitled to the new long service bonuses are factored in, the average basic pay actually works out at ?64,000 - a rise of 120pc since 1997.

No matter what way the figures are interpreted, senators have done better than any other politicians in terms of pay rises.

Yet there are no guarantees that recommended reforms of the Seanad will be in place by the next general election.

Environment Minister Dick Roche is chairing yet another all-party group to come up with a plan for reform of the Seanad.

A reform package put together by the Seanad itself was published two years ago. Although the proposals will need changes to the Constitution and new laws to be passed, no referendum is planned and no legislation is being drafted yet.

Despite her efforts to raise the profile of the Seanad, Mrs O'Rourke does not even come in the top five highest paid members of the Upper House.

Last night, she said she hoped some of the reforms would be in place by the next election.

"I think we are well paid," she said.

"I think we have tried to up the profile of the Seanad, but it is quite difficult. I think the country does get good value for money.

"We are a legislative assembly. Usually the debates are good and quite searching and confident types of ministers, like Minister McDowell, will take amendments. I think it is a very good chamber. It's not as adversarial as the Dail," she added.

The opposition's leader in the Seanad, Fine Gael senator Brian Hayes, said being a senator is a full-time job.

"I don't know any senator who is part-time. I work as hard as I did when I was a TD," he said.

He acknowledged the delays in reforming the Seanad were damaging it in the public eye.

"I don't think anyone is saying there doesn't need to reform. The reform agenda is long overdue and it is now time to just get on with it," he said.

Finance Minister Brian Cowen argues that the setting of pay rates is an independent process.

Showing the slow pace of change in the Seanad, a referendum was passed in 1979 to allow a wider number of college third level graduates to elect the university senators.

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