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Thursday 13 December 2018

Talk of gold-plated pensions are wide of mark - top judge

Mr Justice Birmingham. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Mr Justice Birmingham. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

One of the country's most senior judges has hit out over pensions paid to retired members of the judiciary, claiming they are not as attractive as they might appear to be.

Mr Justice George Birmingham of the Court of Appeal said the best candidates were not applying to become judges due to pay cuts and pension changes.

In letters to Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe, he called for an independent body to be set up to deal with the remuneration and terms and conditions for judges.

Mr Justice Birmingham told the minister that judicial pensions were "not nearly as attractive as might appear at first glance" and reference to them being gold-plated were "very wide of the mark".

He made the comments in his capacity as president of the Association of Judges of Ireland, a body made up of the majority of the country's judges.

In a letter to the minister last May, seen by the Irish Independent, he said there had been very disturbing media speculation, in the context of public service pay talks, that there "might be moves to further disimprove the pension provisions" of judges.

He said he wanted to make it clear that any such suggestion would be "quite unacceptable" to members of the association.

Under changes introduced during the financial crisis, the period of service required before judges qualify for a full pension in courts other than the District Court increased from 15 years to 20 years.

Newly appointed judges also saw contribution rates increased from 4pc to 13pc.

Mr Justice Birmingham told the minister a further difficulty arose from the manner in which private pensions and public pensions were aggregated.

Most judges would have a private pension from their time working as a barrister or solicitor. But Mr Justice Birmingham said when these funds were combined it left judges liable for punitive levels of tax.

"The changes that have taken place in recent years across a range of areas affecting the terms and conditions of service of judges has impacted adversely on the ability to attract applicants from the very best potential candidates," he wrote. "As the economy strengthens, and with it the market for legal services, that situation can only be expected to worsen."

Mr Donohoe arranged for the judge to meet a Department of Public Expenditure official about his concerns.

Irish Independent

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