Monday 11 December 2017

Kenny appeals to ex-ministers to give back pension top-ups amid fury

John Bruton said he would comply with the Taoiseach’s request
John Bruton said he would comply with the Taoiseach’s request

Cormac McQuinn and John Downing

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has appealed to former ministers to "refuse" a controversial increase in their pensions after coming under fire from Fine Gael backbenchers.

Mr Kenny said the economy remained fragile and that former Taoisigh and ministers in line for the top-up have plenty of time to turn it down.

Speaking in Milan, Mr Kenny said he understood the concern among backbenchers over the payments, which were agreed under the Lansdowne Road Agreement.

But he said the pensions were protected under the Constitution.

"Certainly I understand the frustration of people and of backbenchers at this. I'm advised that, from a constitutional point of view, once a person retires their pension is different than a pension of a serving member which have been frozen," Mr Kenny said.

"So I would say to the small number who are involved here. They're former politicians. We're in a fragile position economically. I would say to them - refuse the increase that is coming back."

Mr Kenny made the remarks in the wake of a stormy Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting where one TD called the hike in pensions "disgusting".

Backbenchers turned on Mr Kenny who suggested that ex-politicians such as Brian Cowen and Bertie Ahern could engage in a "voluntary process" if they wanted to decline generous pension top-ups.

Several backbenchers, including Jerry Buttimer, Brendan Griffin, Tony Lawlor and Alan Farrell, backed a proposal that Cabinet introduce a cap on large pensions over €100,000.

Former Taoiseach John Bruton was the first to respond, stressing that he "will comply with the Taoiseach's request to voluntarily decline the proposed ministerial pension increase".

Addressing the pensions issue in Dublin yesterday, his brother, Jobs Minister Richard Bruton, said he understood the people's frustration at news that former politicians were entitled to top-ups to already generous pensions, while the Government was powerless to act.

But he had to agree with the view already expressed by Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin that it was not legally possible to single out and disqualify one group from pension increases.

"I can understand people's anger with this. But the situation is, as Mr Howlin says, you cannot pick a certain group of pensioners and decide that they are not getting an increase which is generally available," Mr Bruton told the Irish Independent.

Mr Bruton said the best remedy had already been suggested by the Taoiseach. This was an appeal to politicians, already on generous pensions, to voluntarily waive their right to an increase.

"I would like to see them doing this," he said.

Irish Independent

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