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We need to see action, not lip service, from our team leader

It's unbelievable. Here we are, two years into the worst economic meltdown the country has ever suffered, and we're still talking about bonuses for CEOs of semi-state bodies.

What planet are these guys on? Have they spent the past two years in solitary confinement, cut off from news or media reports? Are they oblivious to the hardship their fellow citizens are experiencing? Foreclosure on loans, essential services such as lighting and heating cut off, educational and healthcare facilities cut to the bone, not to mention the affliction of long-term unemployment.

The justification offered for the sanction of bonuses to Declan Collier, CEO of Dublin Airport Authority (DAA), that "he returned the company to profit", is frankly ridiculous. Excuse me if I got it wrong, but I thought that was the job of a CEO. It's their responsibility to ensure their company runs as a profitable organisation. Let's face it, in the private sector, if the company is not a profitable or break-even operation then it goes out of business. The reward for doing a good job is having a job.

In Mr Collier's case, following widespread adverse publicity, his bonus will now not be paid. But you cannot blame the public and in particular the long-term unemployed for being cynical and infuriated at the notion of highly paid executives and managers -- in some cases in receipt of salaries far in excess of those paid to the Taoiseach and ministers -- being paid a bonus for doing their job properly. What the long-term unemployed wouldn't give to have a job to go to!

In the private sector, when you own your own company, the bonus is getting paid a salary. After all, if the company doesn't make money, it's the owner who takes the hit financially. You don't see the lads in the semi-States taking a drop in basic pay if their company has a bad year. So what kind of thinking allows them to believe they are entitled to a bonus on top of basic pay if they do a good job?

As the Taoiseach rightly pointed out, these people are leaders in society and need to show leadership. Mr Kenny is so right. But hello, he is supposed to be the ultimate leader in the country.

This is the second time Mr Kenny has abdicated responsibility. He abdicated responsibility when it came to ministers of State employing family members and friends at the taxpayers' expense. At that time he said "personal appointments are personal appointments and I can't and don't make final decisions in that regard". In relation to the payment of bonuses in state companies -- again at the taxpayers' expense -- he said "it's not good practice" and then promptly rolled back on any follow-through.

Well, Mr Kenny, strong words are great, but they mean nothing without action. You're not in opposition now, you're in government -- and you're the boss. If you think something is "not good practice" then it is up to you to take action.

It was left up to young minister Leo Varadkar to be decisive on the DAA situation. One wonders, if Leo wasn't so vocal would the whole matter have been swept under the carpet?

Varadkar made it easy

for Pat Rabbitte to come out saying that none of the CEOs in state companies under his aegis -- companies like Bord Gais -- would get bonuses for the foreseeable future. Did Pat catch the boards of those companies by the throat, or did the chairpeople involved see sense all by themselves? One hopes that they saw sense.

For a long time, CEOs and managers of semi-state bodies have been insulated from public opinion, living in the bubble of secure salary payment. If they were to stop and think for just one minute, the notion of bonus payments would not even enter their head.

On the one hand you have Richard Bruton fighting his corner at Cabinet in order to relax the stranglehold the Joint Labour Committees (JLCs) have on job expansion within a much lower paid section of the workforce, and on the other you have the Taoiseach paying lip service to the condemnation of bonus payments. Does the absurdity of the situation escape the Taoiseach or the CEOs?

In the restaurant business, JLC pay agreements were introduced as a bonus for working Sundays, for people on a minimum wage. Mr Bruton has rightly tackled the issue to take account of "changing economic circumstances and labour market conditions". He intends to introduce legislation to remove some of the 'bonus' payments. Well, where's the legislative action in relation to semi-state bonus payments to take account of "changing economic circumstances"? Is it a case of "one law for the rich"?

What are the members of the semi-state reporting to departments other than Rabbitte's and Varadkar's doing? As far as I'm aware, having served on boards in the private sector and the National Consumer Agency, bonus payments to CEOs need to be sanctioned at a board meeting. Surely common sense prevailed at the board meetings of these semi-states?

It looks like we still have a long way to go before the reality of the economic situation we're in hits home. A quarter of a million euro is a lot of money -- and that, by all accounts, is the lowest salary paid to any of the semi-state CEOs. It's not unreasonable to expect the CEO to carry out a good job for €250,000 without having recourse to bonuses.

One thing is clear. The Taoiseach himself must take decisive action. He's playing the public reproach card once too often. If he's the team leader his fans describe, then he should send an immediate instruction to every one of his ministers that, by the end of the week, all state bodies reporting to them must reduce CEO salaries and ban bonuses.

Team leadership is not about watching as Leo Varadkar gives great example and sitting idly by while that example is not followed by others.

Show us that it's not a case of "one law for the rich".

Sunday Independent