It's not the White House, but for €310,000 it'll do
TAOISEACH Bertie Ahern dragged his infamous house back into the public spotlight yesterday as he sought to justify a pay rise that is itself larger that the average industrial wage.
But Fine Gael who branded the pay rises as "disgusting and appalling" refused to commit to lower ministerial salaries should they get into power. "We said we wouldn't have taken it. I don't know what we will do in 18 months time."
Labour leader Eamon Gilmore said there was "an element of greed" about the hikes.
Mr Ahern said he didn't have a publicly-funded palace to live in -- apparently explaining why, at €310,000 a year, he should earn more President Sarkozy of France, British Premier Gordon Brown, and even President George Bush.
"I'm glad I don't own Chequers and I don't have No 10," Mr Ahern said, when asked why he should earn more than world leaders of more powerful nations. "I don't have the Elysee Palace -- if you want to build those in, then you know what the figures would be."
He went on: "I certainly don't want the White House. There is no comparison, and I think people know that."
Mr Ahern was speaking outside a dinner at which he told business leaders that arresting "cost competitiveness" would be the key to pay negotiations under Towards 2016. "That applies as much to the public sector as it does to the private sector," he claimed.
Mr Ahern's house at 44 Beresford Avenue, off Griffith Avenue, was bought by a man who appears to have lost a considerable sum in its subsequent sale to the Taoiseach.
Micheal Wall also gave Mr Ahern substantially more money in cash for "structural improvements" than was ever spent. Wall was never repaid the balance.
He also altered his will to leave the home to Mr Ahern in the event of his death.
Mr Ahern also enjoys the free use of the St Luke's constituency office as a declared benefit provided by his local FF constituency organisation.
The Taoiseach's increase of €38,000 a year, recommended by the Review Body on Higher Remuneration and accepted by the Cabinet, has been attacked by the Opposition and was yesterday criticised by ISME, the small firms association.
"This is the first independent review for higher civil servants in seven years.
"Politicians are five per cent of that overall review," Mr Ahern said.
"In the last one the increases weren't of a very high nature, but this time they've made their assessments.
"As far as the Government's concerned, that's it. We're going to go ahead and implement the report," he added
However, Labour Party spokeswoman Roisin Shortall said public anger was understandable, "given the warnings we have heard recently from both Mr Ahern and Minister Cowen about the need for belt-tightening all around."
It was difficult to understand what justified a salary level of €310,000.
It was hard "particularly when one looks at the shambolic state of the health service, the mounting crime problem and the failure of the Government to ensure school places for our children."
Mr Ahern's increase alone amounted to €734 per week. This is about four times the basic social welfare payment, she pointed out.
Under 'Towards 2016' PAYE workers will have to accept increases of just 10pc spread over 27 months, she added.
ISME chief executive, Mark Fielding echoed that Government ministers who were "constantly warning" about a high wage economy were now rewarding themselves with substantial pay hikes.
"It is appalling to think of the knock-on impact this will have on wage demands in the rest of public sector.
"This will ignite union demands right across the hard pressed wealth-generating sector," he added.
"With the threat of Benchmarking 2 facing us, this gives further ammunition to the public sector unions.
The unions in the past have shown themselves quite adept at draining the ATM machine," Mr Fielding said.