Colette Browne

Tuesday 29 July 2014

Politicians wrote the rulebook on fleecing us so why all the outrage?

Published 22/01/2014|02:30

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11/12/2013 (L to r) David Martin of the CRC Chairm...11/12/2013 (L to r) David Martin of the CRC Chairman and current interim chief executive of the CRC, Jim Nugent Former CRC chief executive Paul Kiely following a Public Accounts Committee meeting (PAC) to examine top-up payments at the CRC in Leinster House, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Paul Kiely (far right)

Instead of berating the former head of the Central Remedial Clinic (CRC) for accepting his gargantuan golden handshake, politicians should doff their hats in deference to someone who has managed an impressive feat - legitimately playing the system almost as adeptly as themselves.

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The members of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) have professed themselves to be outraged at the CRC's raiding of charitable donations to give an obscene €742,000 payout to its former CEO Paul Kiely.

They have very short memories. Because one doesn't have to delve very far back in time to find similar egregious payments being made to a whole host of washed up politicians, who slunk away from Leinster House in 2011 just as the troika bailiffs were banging at the gates.

The country was suddenly bankrupt but they certainly weren't, as Cabinet members who presided over the ruination of the economy were rewarded with gilt-edged redundancy packages.

After he stepped down from office, former Taoiseach Brian Cowen pocketed €310,000.

As well as his Dail and ministerial pension, Mr Cowen was also handed a lump-sum pension payment, a termination lump sum and a termination payment.

He wasn't the only party member to get a windfall.

Bertie Ahern, Dermot Ahern, Noel Dempsey and former PD leader Mary Harney walked away with nearly €300,000. Former Tanaiste Mary Coughlan got a relatively miserly €242,000.

They, and other senior politicians, didn't just have their snouts in the trough, they dove right in and swam around in it.

And they're still doing it.

Under rules that pertained at the time, ministers were entitled to a pension of 60pc of their salary after just 10 years' service, payable even if they stepped down at the relatively young age of 50.

So while the rest of us will have to work until we're nearly 70 and then pray that our paltry private pensions pots haven't been decimated by the market or raided by the government, all of those former ministers hit the jackpot.

One pension company, in 2010, estimated that an equivalent pension in the private sector would require individual pension funds of €6.9m - or pension contributions of €35,149 per month.

"This figure is effectively what it costs the taxpayer to fund these ministerial pensions," said Tommy Nielsen, of Independent Trustee Company.

Think of that the next time you're looking incredulously at the rapidly diminishing figure at the bottom of your payslip and wondering where all of the additional tax has gone.

So listening to the faux outrage reverberating around the PAC last week, given politicians own proclivity for feathering their own nests, was a bit much.

Executives in the CRC may have played the game but they were taking their lead from the political establishment, who wrote the rulebook when it comes to fleecing the taxpayer.

It has ever been thus in this country, where no one seems to care that we perversely insist on rewarding failure instead of success.

No one is jailed, no one is censured, no one loses out and no one ever pays the money back.

Instead, politicians pontificate and moan about contract laws preventing them from doing anything - conveniently forgetting that they write the laws.

Strangely, contract law never seems to stop anyone in the private sector from having their wages gouged or their redundancy packages obliterated or their jobs made defunct.

Government ministers wailing about huge salaries in the charity sector should be reminded about whose salaries these payments are modelled on - their own.

According to Social Justice Ireland, between 1986 and 2011 the weekly take-home pay of government ministers rose by a staggering €1,533 a week while the pay of TDs rose by €846.

In contrast, unemployment benefit rose by just €135 and the take-home pay of the average industrial worker increased by €343 in the same period.

WHAT is clear from the CRC scandal is that this culture of entitlement at the top echelons has gone nowhere.

As services for disabled children and adults were being cut, no one in the CRC even thought to ask senior executives to take a pay cut.

That option was never even countenanced.

They had more entitlement to salaries that were in breach of HSE pay scales than children had to basic and essential services.

What went on in the CRC was almost GUBU - it was grotesque, unbelievable and bizarre but not unprecedented.

We've been here before. So much so that people have become inured to scandals and rip-offs and frauds.

It's hard to get too exercised about a scandal when there will almost certainly be no accountability and an identikit fiasco will dominate headlines in another couple of weeks.

If we have learned anything about our political culture in past couple of years it's that GUBU is our default setting, our favourite national pastime.

There's no reason to think that anything has changed.

Irish Independent

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