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Former top civil servant may have to return part of pension

A FORMER top civil servant last night admitted he may have to repay about €10,000 to the public purse, amid questions about his €203,000 annual pay and pension package.

Tadhg O hEalaithe (63) has a pension of €101,000 arising from his former role as secretary general of the department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, from which he retired in January 2000.

He is also paid €102,000 in his full-time position at the Higher Education and Training Awards Council (HETAC), which he joined in 2001.

The Irish Independent last week highlighted how he was being paid a state salary and annual pension at the same time.

A question has now arisen over whether his combined pay and pension deal complies with public service rules.

These rules allow for former civil servants on pension to be re-employed by the State, but there are certain conditions attached.

Under 1965 legislation, if a former civil servant on pension is re-employed in the civil service, the combined pension and salary income must not exceed the salary payable in the original job. If it does, the person's pension is abated, or reduced, to ensure no such excess arises.

The current pay cap for the position of secretary general of a government department is €200,000.

HETAC said yesterday that it was examining issues relating to the pension reduction in the case of Mr O hEalaithe and that it was seeking legal advice.

Mr O hEalaithe later told the Irish Independent that the issues being examined related to 2010 and 2011, arising from changes to public service pay.

He said when the public service pay reductions were introduced in January 2010, there was no immediate change to pensions.

"My pension was always abated but because of recent changes in the pension thing, it has become slightly unclear".

Mr O hEalaithe said they were looking at the matter and he expected an adjustment would be made, and he would be paying back some money.

He said he would be retiring from his current position in the spring and would receive no second pension from HETAC.

Sinn Fein TD Mary Lou McDonald obtained information on Mr O hEalaithe's remuneration package in response to a parliamentary question.

She said, despite the economic crisis "a coterie of former taoisigh, ministers, judges, and secretaries general continue to benefit from massive pension payouts and what makes this even worse is the fact that some are still in employment".

"The Department of Education's admission that Mr O hEalaithe receives a salary of €100,000 from HETAC, on top of a pension for the same amount, would certainly make the writers of 'Yes Minister' rub their hands with glee."

Irish Independent