Sunday 1 February 2015

All the President's pensions

After emails to Michael D Higgins were ignored, Mark O'Regan asks if he has caught a bad dose of Public Service Pension Political Guilt Syndrome

Nothing to sniff at: Michael D Higgins could be in line for a €240,000 combined retirement package when he leaves the presidency seven years from now
Nothing to sniff at: Michael D Higgins could be in line for a €240,000 combined retirement package when he leaves the presidency seven years from now

When Michael D Higgins was on the presidential campaign trail, transparency was one of his trump cards. So what happened?

Well, he seems to have contracted PSPPGS -- a contagious condition that's spreading like a virus among top politicians and civil servants.

It stands for Public Service Pension Political Guilt Syndrome. And one of the most obvious symptoms is a sudden shyness in people who have previously been the life and soul of the political party.

Why do we fear that the normally loquacious Michael D may have succumbed so early in his tenure? It's his strange reluctance to answer a very simple question that the million-plus people who voted for him would surely be interested in.

Over the past three weeks, I have submitted many verbal and written requests to the Michael D inner sanctum asking him this: "While he is serving as President, will he continue drawing the pension arising from his years as a lecturer in NUI Galway?"

So far, no answer has been forthcoming.

The basic facts surrounding the presidential salary-and-pensions package, were well aired during the bitterly fought campaign between the seven candidates.

Like others in the race, Michael D promised to accept the newly reduced salary for the office, which would drop from €325,507 to €249,014.

He also said he would not take his Oireachtas pensions, which add up to €87,928, during his period in office.

However, his pension from his years as a university lecturer received little attention during the campaign, and it was never clearly stated what his intentions were.

It is understood the pension is worth about €30,000 a year, but efforts to nail down the exact figure were parried by his spokesman, who insisted "this is a private matter for the President".

Michael D spent a number of years as a lecturer in political science and sociology. He resigned in 2001, having spent some time on unpaid leave.

It is understood he received a lump sum as part of this pension entitlement on reaching the age of 60, and has been drawing down this university pension from that time.

Another spokesman later rallied to the President's right to remain silent; he pointed out "he has no stocks or shares" and that apart from the family home in Galway, he has a mortgage on a Dublin apartment of about €240,000.

Of course, Michael D is legally entitled to accept any pension he has earned on top of what is still a very generous presidential salary by European standards.

And, in fairness, his decision to waive his Oireachtas pensions of €87,928 is laudable.

Therefore, taking everything into consideration, if he still wants his university pension on top of his presidential salary, so be it.

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