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One in five judges yet to volunteer for pay cut

UP to a fifth of the judiciary are yet to offer up a voluntary pay reduction this weekend, more than 18 months after the idea was first mooted, the Sunday Independent has learned.

News of the failure to offer up a reduction comes in the week that a dispute arose between the Department of Environment and the Courts Service over the expenses of three judges involved in the Mahon Tribunal, concerning more than €500,000 in travel and subsisistence claims over the past eight years.

Under travel and subsistence rules, the judges (who each get a €177,554 salary) are entitled to payments for travelling to work where those journeys are over six miles. The three are Judge Alan Mahon, Judge Mary Faherty and Judge Gerald Keyes.

The dispute arose when the Courts Service sought more than €500,000 in travel allowances for the judges from the Dept of the Environment. However, the Department refused to pay the outstanding amount, insisting the Courts Service should have raised the matter years ago.

President of the High Court, Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, who earned €280,203 in 2009, said two weeks ago that by the end of the year we would see "virtual total co-operation" from members of the judiciary with the voluntary reduction.

However, according to the latest available figures from the Revenue Commissioners, only 111 of the 143 judges at Supreme Court, High Court, Circuit Court and at District Court level have surrendered a part of their salaries under the voluntary scheme.

Total salaries paid to judges in 2009 amounted to €27.5m, according to the Department of Finance.

Those figures were published last January, though the Sunday Independent understands that very few other figures from the courts have added their names to the list of those volunteering a reduction since then.

The public sector pay reductions announced last year did not apply to the judiciary for constitutional reasons, which state the judiciary must remain independent and therefore could not be considered for pay reductions like normal citizens.

Arrangements were put in place on an administrative basis between Chief Justice Mr John Murray, who earned €304,974 in 2009, and the Revenue in April 2009 to facilitate voluntary payments by members of the judiciary.

According to the Revenue, as of this year, "111 judges have paid or made arrangements to make voluntary payments under arrangements made by the judiciary with the Revenue Commissioners in the context of the pension levy. Payments amounting to €698,000 have been received to date. In addition, commitments via standing orders, etc, which amount to €55,200 per month, have been given.

"It is important to emphasise that these voluntary payments can be made at any time and at varying frequencies. There is no single specific 'due date' by which payments must be made and further payments continue to be received," Revenue said.

Finance Minister Brian Lenihan said recently that he could not force any member of the judiciary to forgo any part of their income.

"I have no function in relation to those arrangements but I welcome any contribution made by the judiciary in these difficult times," he said.

When he was asked by his aunt, FF Westmeath TD Mary O'Rourke, to name those who have volunteered a reduction, Mr Lenihan responded: "You will appreciate that in view of this provision, personal information such as names cannot be published."

Sunday Independent