Friday 18 October 2019

Howlin: I cannot stop pension top-ups to retired politicians

Brendan Howlin insisted he does not have the power to block the increases to pension top-ups
Brendan Howlin insisted he does not have the power to block the increases to pension top-ups

Niall O'Connor

Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin has said the Government could face a court challenge if it excluded former ministers from pension top-ups.

Mr Howlin insisted he does not have the power to block the increases because they are tied into legislation underpinning public sector pay.

It has emerged that ex-politicians are to receive increases in their six-figure pensions as part of a side deal struck during the negotiations that preceded the Lansdowne Road Agreement.

And some 2,000 public servants earning in excess of €100,000 will receive three pay rises as part of another side deal. However, these increases will not be paid to senior politicians and their advisers until at least after the General Election.

The deal on pensions means former ministers such as Brian Cowen, Bertie Ahern, John Bruton, Mary Harney and Dick Spring will receive top-ups of up to €1,680 over the next three years.

Mr Cowen, who is set to appear again as a witness at the Banking Inquiry on Wednesday, will see his pension increase from €134,379 to just under €136,000.

Mr Ahern, another witness due to appear at the inquiry, is set to receive a similar increase to his pension.

Two former ministers in line for the windfall, Fianna Fáil's Mary Hanafin and Mary O'Rourke, yesterday said it is wrong for such payments to be made at this time.

"I think we should be the very last people, the very last, to get any kind of an increase," Ms Hanafin told RTÉ radio.

"I don't think the country is right, or the economy is right yet, to be paying us or the very big pensioners extra money," she said, adding that she accepts the pension but not a payment for her work as a councillor.

Speaking to the Irish Independent last night, Ms O'Rourke said she agrees with her former cabinet colleague.

"I was quite surprised when I heard and read about the increases to be honest," she said.

Mr Howlin yesterday said that the Government could face a challenge if it did not extend the pension increases to all recipients.

He said the legislation underpinning pay cuts in the public sector, known as FEMPI, is being unwound and therefore the reductions cannot last forever.

"I can't, unless you want me to have a political tribunal of my own, start punishing people. The Supreme Court of this country has decided politicians can't make adverse findings against people, much less impose penalties, whether they are pension penalties or so on," he told RTÉ's 'The Week in Politics'.

"If I allowed no change, one day, a challenge would be taken to that and the FEMPI legislation would collapse and we would be down €2.2bn, which would be ruinous for us."

But the news of the payments has been strongly criticised by the Opposition.

Renua leader Lucinda Creighton said the Coalition is becoming "more like Fianna Fáil" as the election nears,

She told the Irish Independent: "Brendan Howlin has appeased and capitulated too often; he should take a stand on this issue to create the rare precedent where failure in public life is punished."

Fianna Fáil finance spokesperson Michael McGrath said it is "unjustifiable to give what is an increase".

Irish Independent

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