Taoiseach: Civil servants' payouts 'not a bonus'
Taoiseach Brian Cowen denied today that civil servants were getting bonuses despite salary top-ups to reward "exceptional merit".
The payments were made last year to select staff in the Department of Finance but officials insisted the additional money was extra money owed under a wage deal.
Fine Gael claimed Finance Minister Brian Lenihan had presided over a bonus culture in the public sector, highlighting a €200,000 payout to the former head of the National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA) Dr Michael Somers.
Fergus O'Dowd TD, who uncovered the payments, said: "Brian Lenihan drafted the most unfair Budget ever seen in Ireland.
"Yet he has presided over and tolerated a bonus culture within certain sections of the public sector.
"Fianna Fail and the Greens already have an enormous credibility problem. But their standing, and that of Brian Lenihan, has taken a further blow with these revelations."
The Department of Finance said 27 of its officials last year received a total of €55,670 for work classed as "exceptional merit".
It said a 1pc pay increase was agreed in 1994 and some departments incorporated the hike into annual salaries. But the Department opted to pay it to long serving officials in bonuses.
Mr Cowen challenged Fine Gael insisting the payments were not the same as the controversial €40m bonuses to Allied Irish Banks executives.
"It's not a bonus actually, it's part of the overall paybill," the Taoiseach told the Dail.
But figures released to Mr O'Dowd revealed bosses of semi-state companies netted huge bonuses in 2009, including €40,539 for Horse Racing Ireland chief Brian Kavanagh and €9,628 for Waterways Ireland head John Martin. Dr Somers took home an extra €200,000.
Mr Cowen claimed the Government wants non commercial semi-state bonuses scrapped.
Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said the payments smacked of "club culture".
"The problem of credibility, Taoiseach, is that when the Budget was presented as fair and equitable, that ordinary public servants, be they teachers, gardai, nurses, cleaners, carers whatever... and yet they find in some areas there is a bonus culture apparently alive and well, as if a separate club exists," the Opposition leader said.
The Department of Finance said civil servants at Principal and Assistant Principal level have taken a 17pc pay cut over the last two years.
It said officials have been working long hours to deal with the economic situation.
"The payments made are a recognition of that effort - they are designed in effect to ensure that officials continue to make the exceptional contributions that we have seen over the last two years," the Department said.
Meanwhile, the Credit Institutions Bill, going through the Dail, underpins Mr Lenihan's pledge that state support will only be given to Allied Irish Banks if controversial €40m bankers' bonuses are scrapped.
Labour yesterday suggested the payouts could end up being given to 90 AIB staff who have begun court action over the bonuses, claiming the Government may not be legally able to intervene.