Sunday 21 December 2014

Martina Devlin: What a relief, it turns out we've got cash to burn

Published 06/09/2012 | 17:00

False alarm, my friends. No need to make any health service cuts, let alone that alarming €130m-worth we keep hearing about. On the contrary, so much money must have cluttered up the state coffers last year, our leaders were at a loss how to dispose of it.

Fortunately, they devised a plan. Rather than fritter it on public services -- which, frankly, are a bit of an indulgence -- they had the cash surplus distributed to some worthy causes. No, not to charities, that's ridiculously obvious.

Instead, certain TDs and senators received a windfall. I know, it's counter-intuitive, but that's the genius of the scheme.

It meant 22 politicians, from across the party spectrum, collected a gratuity. Politicians may tear strips off each other in public, but that's just for larks: in private, you'll be relieved to hear, they promote their common interests.

The proof lies in those lump sums, which we understand had to be forced on them. Anyone attempting to decline was told the payment was theirs by law, and they had an obligation to consent to it. After all, breaking ranks would be unpatriotic.

And what would happen to democracy if people started turning down extra jam, just because they suspected taking it might cause hardship elsewhere in the system?

Rules are rules. Back in 2002, politicians decided their councillor colleagues needed some additional income and made the necessary arrangements. It would be discourteous to turn it down now, simply because of a few setbacks to the national finances.

Besides, it's not as if the €750,000 shared out between 17 TDs and five senators could have been put to better use. Sending carers into the homes of elderly people, say, or putting teachers into classrooms, or keeping hospitals open. Every child, every sick and vulnerable person in our society, has everything they need already.

Under the circumstances, we may as well tip a little reward in the direction of those men and women who abdicated their council seats last year, with nothing to gain except promotion into lucrative and prestigious work in the Oireachtas. Nobody deserves a golden handshake more.

Granted, it's somewhat unfortunate the payments are, technically, recompense for retirement, since they haven't actually left the public payroll. But let's celebrate the fact we aren't losing 22 talented members of the body politic, rather than quibble about financial details.

The main thing is that citizens want them to have this allowance. We weren't consulted, but if we had been asked, we'd have cried out with one voice: "Yes! Take our money! Please!"

Any suggestion that €750,000 could have been spent on services is contemptible. What do services compare with making our public representatives feel valued?

Besides, if they suspected for one moment that their extra payments, which average out at €34,300 per capita, could mean hardship or deprivation elsewhere, they'd be appalled. Every last one of them would feel contaminated by the money, and insist on handing it back immediately. The principle of leading by example is dear to them.

Now, as to how the €750,000 was raised. Obviously the banknotes were lying idle in the Exchequer, because our leaders would never have dreamed of borrowing it; nor of tapping the troika to cover the cost of other political class sweeteners -- unvouched expenses and the like.

After all, nobody in the Oireachtas would put self-interest above the national interest, would they? So that's all right then.

I, for one, refuse to believe the attitude to perks and pay-offs associated with the Bertie Ahern era rolled over automatically to the Fine Gael-Labour administration -- accepted without a murmur.

By the way, wasn't it heart-warming to spot the Bert at the Dublin-Mayo game on Sunday, getting out and about as usual? Bless him, that track record of his -- running the economy into the ground -- isn't going to stand between him and his hobbies. He's a lesson to everyone in putting the past behind us.

Incidentally, that track record has earned him a six-figure pension ad infinitum, but it seems downright piffling compared with his contribution to the quality of Irish life.

Speaking of which, it gives me a warm glow to count up how many of the talented politicians who surrounded the Bert in Cabinet are also collecting fittingly massive pensions.

It would be a sorry day if we didn't know how to reward those who served the State. The least we can do is make sure they never do a hand's turn again. Unless, obviously, they fancy a spot of lecturing and consulting, in which case I'd pay money to hang on the wisdom of their words. Who wouldn't?

Yes, there's no end of reasons to feel confident about the future. The health service must have shaken off its troubles, because consultants are showing no qualms about their €200,000 salaries. They'd never agree to continue those pay rates if hospital services were disappearing down a black hole.

The same goes for public service union chiefs. They couldn't possibly insist on retaining all those supplements negotiated for their members (an underwear allowance for women in the defence forces lingers in the mind) if Ireland was borrowing €18bn this year to stay afloat.

Actually, I feel enormously relieved to hear about this retirement allowance to compensate TDs and senators for the disappointment of losing their council seats. Members of the Oireachtas have the inside track on the state we're in. And if their attitude to whoopee payments is indistinguishable from previous administrations, then we must be in better shape than anyone suspected.

Any day now, the Finance Minister is going to appear on the TV news telling us Ireland has exited the EU-IMF programme early, with gold stars all round.

Since we're all equal in this Republic, it stands to reason that everyone who changes jobs -- not just TDs and senators -- will soon be receiving a cheque to compensate for the inconvenience of undertaking a higher-paid post.

No doubt about it, life gets rosier by the day. Any suggestion to the contrary would be the height of nonsense.

And nonsense, as we all know, would never be tolerated here.

www.martinadevlin.com

Irish Independent

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