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TDs and Senators hand us bill of €14m for their golden handshake

TDs and senators who lost their seats or who retired at the last election are to share a pot of €14m in golden handshake retirement and pension pay-offs, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

The true extent of the extravagant system of "easing out" money and gold-plated pensions for our elected politicians is detailed here, with no fewer than 40 TDs receiving settlements of over €200,000.

Such figures have led to calls from outside the political system for some of the money to be given back given the country's economic crisis.

According to official figures released to this newspaper by the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, some of those politicians who were most politically responsible for Ireland's woes are the greatest financial beneficiaries from their own retirement -- all paid for by the taxpayer.

Despite being at the cabinet table during Ireland's property binge and its spectacular crash, and during the worst financial crisis in our history, former Taoisigh Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen and ministers like Noel Dempsey, Dermot Ahern, Mary Harney, Mary Coughlan and Pat Carey are, by retiring, benefiting massively in their post-political lives.

Amid all the current controversy over bonuses and excessive salary payouts to semi-state bosses like Declan Collier of the Dublin Airport Authority and John Corrigan of the NTMA, it seems our former politicians were no slouches in ensuring a comfortable exit from the political stage.

According to the figures, former Enterprise Minister Batt O'Keeffe is the top pension beneficiary, receiving a total TD's pay-off of €266,228, including a tax-free pension lump sum of €180,828.

However, his ministerial pension and those of his former colleagues are not included in this list, somewhat underestimating the full level of benefits our former leaders are receiving.

Former Taoisigh Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen and former ministers Mary Harney, Noel Dempsey, Dermot Ahern and Michael Woods -- all of whom sat at Cabinet for 10 years or more and therefore are eligible for the maximum level of benefits -- will receive additional pension payments of between €40,000 and €100,000 a year on top of what is listed here.

Even those who did not have the 10 years at Cabinet are also in receipt of significant additional pension top-ups as a result of their ministerial days.

On losing their seat or on retiring, members are paid a termination or severance payment; the amount is based on length of service. Once that concludes, they receive a tax-free pension lump sum and then an annual pension for the rest of their lives.

Mr Woods, who served previous administrations as Minister for Education, Minister for Health and Minister for Social Welfare, is to receive total termination payments of €29,116. Once those payments finish, he will receive a tax-free pension lump sum of €180,765, as determined by civil service protocols and will receive an annual TD's pension of €56,264 for the rest of his life.

So within the first two years of stepping down, Mr Woods' golden handshake, including his ministerial pension of about €35,000, will top €300,000.

Bertie Ahern, who stood down as Taoiseach in 2008 but who remained on as a TD, is to receive total termination payments of €26,656, a pension lump sum of €159,873 and an annual TD's pension of €49,934, bringing his TD pay-off to €236,464. However, as a former Taoiseach, he also receives an annual ministerial pension of just under €100,000, bringing his total settlement to €335,000.

His successor Brian Cowen, who resigned as FF leader earlier this year and who did not stand again in the recent election, is receiving a total pay-off for his days as a TD of €236,464. He too will also receive a substantial ministerial pension every year.

Former Justice Minister Dermot Ahern is to receive a total TD's package worth €243,231 while Noel Dempsey will get €236,464.

Former Health Minister Mary Harney, who controversially kept her cabinet seat despite losing her party, is set to get a package worth €235,231, including her lump sum of €158,730 and an annual TD's pension of €49,934.

Former Defence Minister Tony Killeen is getting €245,191 while former FF deputy leader and long-time minister Mary Hanafin is getting €239,487.

Former Environment Minister Dick Roche is to receive a golden handshake of €254,310 including a tax-free lump sum of €172,438. Former minister Pat Carey, who famously stuffed a number of State boards in his final days in office, is receiving a package of €192,431.

But even lesser-known names have done extremely well. Former junior minister Michael Ahern, a former TD for Cork East who most recently chaired the Dail's finance committee, is getting termination payments of €29,069, a tax-free pension lump sum of €178, 675 and an annual pension of €55,638. So, within the first 24 months of stepping down, his golden handshake for being a TD will total €263,383.

Brendan Kenneally, former FF TD for Waterford and junior minister, is to receive a golden handshake package of €252,739; Paul Connaughton, former TD for Galway East will get €251,351 and Michael Finneran, former TD for Roscommon South Leitrim, will get €250,948.

But it's not just the Fianna Failers who have done well. Fine Gael veterans Jim O'Keeffe and Bernard Allen were among the top 10 recipients, taking home packages of €258,276 and €256,917 respectively.

Labour's presidential candidate Michael D Higgins is in line for a departure package worth just under €250,000 including a pension lump sum of €167,832 and an annual TD's pension worth €52,349.

Under recent rule changes, former members elected after April 2004 will not receive a pension or pension lump sum until they reach the age of 65.

So, those who exited the Dail but who will not receive their pension because they are not old enough include: Joe Behan; Aine Brady; Margaret Conlon; Sean Connick; Christy O'Sullivan; Mary White; Tom McEllistrim; Barry Andrews; Chris Andrews; Cyprian Brady; Ciaran Cuffe; Maire Hoctor; Conor Lenihan; Peter Power; Eamon Ryan; Niall Blaney; Olwyn Enright and Beverley Flynn. However, all of these are receiving termination payments of up to €17,000.

According to a spokesman for the Oireachtas Commission, termination payments operate in the same manner as redundancy payments to provide a financial cushion should an Oireachtas member lose their seat. Like redundancy payments, termination payments reflect the number of years' continuous service.

"Oireachtas members make a contribution of six per cent of salary toward their pension and the amounts paid are based on standard civil service rates. Salaries are also subject to the pension levy," he said.

Speaking yesterday, Friends First chief economist Jim Power said these excessive payments will only strengthen the sense of disillusionment around the country, which he said is "imploding before our eyes". He said if these people had any moral fibre they should return some portion of their packages, as a gesture of solidarity.

"Many of those who are receiving the biggest severance packages were the ones largely responsible for the mess the country is in. This crap is still going on when the country is imploding, and everything should be done to get at least some portion of the money back," he said.

Sunday Independent