Tuesday 23 July 2019

Politicians get pension payments on top of salary

Call to end 'gravy train' for current ministers is greeted with silence

JOHN DRENNAN and JEROME REILLY

Massive pensions paid to serving politicians are a "gravy train" the country can no longer afford.

That was the call by one politician as former Minister Mary O'Rourke said she would have "no problem" if political pensions were only paid on reaching retirement age.

But currently politicians right across the board are pocketing hundreds of thousands in pensions as well as drawing some of the biggest political salaries and expenses in the world.

It's a "gravy train" that should be brought to a halt says Fianna Fail Senator Martin Brady on the pensions paid to serving and retired politicians and advisers like the Attorney General.

Thirty-six current politicians from across the political spectrum are pocketing €700,000 a year worth of ministerial pensions -- on top of inflated salaries and massive expenses. None of them have reached retirement age.

Among the biggest beneficiaries is former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern who has a pension of over €160,000 on top of his salary.

Other 'pensioners' include the leader of Fine Gael Enda Kenny, who draws a yearly pension of €15,000, and his deputy, Richard Bruton, who gets €14,041.

But when Senator Brady raised the matter at Taoiseach Brian Cowen's economic briefing for Fianna Fail TDs last week he says he got "the silent treatment".

Other individuals in receipt of large State pensions include the multi-millionaire businessman and 'God's Banker' Peter Sutherland, who is chairman of BP, one of the world's largest multi-nationals.

He collects a yearly pension of €50,000 as a former Attorney General -- as does wealthy Senior Counsel Harry Whelehan.

Former ministers can, if they so desire, ask the Department of Finance to cancel their pensions, but a Finance spokesperson said that to date only one individual has asked for this process to begin.

The issue of serving TDs being in receipt of ministerial pensions was raised by Senator Brady at Brian Cowen's briefing on Monday. At the meeting some colleagues complained that "they had fought hard to secure these terms" and others said that only a pittance would be saved by abolishing the political perk.

However, Senator Brady said he was "amazed at the amount of people involved. I only thought there was a few'' and claimed "that excuse about a few people doesn't stand. You can't expect soldiers to go over the top if the generals hide in a bunker. People expect leadership by politicians when it comes to pay and conditions''.

The leader of the Labour Party, Eamon Gilmore, also receives a modest pension of €5,812 whilst his deputy Joan Burton receives a pension of €8,187.

The veteran TD Mary O'Rourke gets a pension of €53,622 a year whilst Michael Woods gets €35,355 and controversial former minister James McDaid gets €23,845.

Deputy O'Rourke said that she would have "no problem" if the Government wanted to change the system so that ministerial pensions were paid on retirement from politics.

She also believes that TDs' and Senators' expenses should be paid on the basis of vouched expenses only.

"John Bruton has a big job over in Washington and of course he has his ministerial pension and his former Taoiseach's pension. The option is there to take some of your pension while you are still a serving politician or you can leave all of it until the end of your political career.

"This is not illegal. It is earned money. It is not a double salary. I am taking a portion of my pension but if the Government wanted to change it so that the pension was only payable after we retire from politics or lose our seats then I would be quite happy to do that.

"I would have no difficulty whatsoever. In the same way I believe our expenses should be vouched. We should produce our diesel or petrol receipts for whatever car we are driving and we should have receipts from where we stay and what it costs.

"I would hope that a new regime in this regard is coming out in the package (of cuts)," she said.

"I think that if the Government want to change the system so that serving people, whether they are in ambassadorial positions or are TDs, Senators or MEPS, can leave the pension payments until the end that would be fine by me."

Amongst the Opposition, the highest pension holders are Ruairi Quinn and former Fine Gael leader Michael Noonan. Former Democratic Left leader Proinsias de Rossa has a pension of €13,342, whilst the retiring MEP Avril Doyle is in receipt of €7,056 a year.

The top Senator is Terry Leyden, a former junior minister and TD, whose ministerial career dates back to the 1980 and entitles him to €20,587 a year.

The current EU Commissioner Charlie McCreevy, an exile in Europe, was sweetened by a pension of €70,710 on top of his Commissioner's salary, whilst Maire Geoghegan Quinn, who is enjoying a lucrative 12-year-long post-ministerial career in the European Court of Auditors, is in receipt of a pension of €60,811.

Fine Gael's John Bruton, who is currently the highly-paid EU Ambassador in Washington, also has an impressive state pension of €94,624.

However, Mr Bruton is only fourth in the list of former Taoisigh as Albert Reynolds receives €103,454 whilst the current Irish Times columnist Garret FitzGerald earns €98,315.

The most humble pension of all goes to Ivor Callely who pockets a mere €667 a year as a reward for his all too brief junior ministerial sojourn in Transport.

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