Sunday 26 January 2020

No trains, but our state companies still deliver best executive salaries in Europe

David Franks
David Franks

Eamon Delaney

So David Franks, the Irish Rail boss, returned early from his holidays in Mauritius to deal with the crippling rail strike which has caused misery to tens of thousands of commuters.

This is as we might expect, given Franks is on a salary of over €200,000 - more than the Taoiseach, himself the third best-paid premier in the EU.

Franks is in good company. Almost 90 staff in the near bankrupt state travel company, CIE, are on salaries of over €100,000.

The high pay enjoyed by the large management structure of CIE - and its subsidiary companies, Dublin Bus, Irish Rail and Bus Eireann - is despite the fact that the group had to be bailed out last year by €36m of taxpayers' money.

It is hard to sympathise with the strikers, given how they have refused to adapt to a completely changed economic environment and accept pay cuts, but they do have a point when they refer to the CIE management as not exactly leading by example when it comes to reduced pay.

But it is ever thus in Ireland. Despite all we have been through in terms of the economic crisis, we continue to offer very high pay to the heads of state bodies, authorities and quangos - much higher than the European average. It seems to be the pattern here, and it is maddening, especially when we, the ordinary taxpayers, have to pay for it.

At least we know the salary of the Irish rail boss. Last week, it was reported that Coillte, the forestry board, was refusing to divulge the salary of its acting head, Gerry Britchfield, on the basis that he was not yet formally appointed.

The reality is that Britchfield's predecessor, David Gunning, for example, got an incredible €375,000 in 2012 from our forestry authority, and more in previous years.

After the Government moved to impose mandatory salary caps across the semi-state sector in 2011, then Coillte chairman Brendan McKenna expressed concern whether it would be able to attract "high calibre" candidates in the future. Such high salaries abound in the semi-state sector. The current CEO of the ESB is on €318,000.

It is, mind you, a good deal less than the €750,000 his predecessor Padraig McManus made, with bonuses, in 2009.

And you wonder why the country went broke?

Always remember: the high salaries at ESB, from the CEO right down to the average ESB worker, is one of the reasons why we, as customers, have had to pay so much for our electricity. And yet we tolerate this.

Just as we seem to accept paying these whopping state salaries. For example, John Corrigan, the head of NTMA, earned €416,000 in 2012 and 2013 (€490,000 in 2011), while his equivalent in Germany is reportedly paid about €250,000.

No wonder they are not broke: we could learn a lot from the Germans. Meantime, despite the protests from our judiciary over cutbacks, the reality is that our judges are still among the best paid in Europe, especially at a senior level (such as the Chief Justice).

It is the same with the executive salaries for almost all of our commercial state companies, such as Electric Ireland, Bord Na Mona and Bord Gais. And now Irish Water is apparently to be the same. Nothing has been learnt.

The CEO of the FAI, John Delaney, used to be on a salary which was €100,000 more than the combined salaries of his counterparts at the Spanish and Italian football associations. It has now come down to €360,000, which is a pretty amazing sum really given the FAI's substantial debts.

But at least Delaney has told us his salary.

But it is not just at CEO level that salaries are so generous. Average salaries at most commercial state companies are in excess of almost all other European countries - €77,000 at Eirgrid, for example, and €76,000 at the Railway Procurement Agency.

Even though no new rail projects are being procured. And, as for RTE, despite all its cutbacks, it was still employing over 50 people on over €100,000 last year.

Better the RTE top brass cut the services that we pay a licence for, it seems, than bring down their own high salaries.

And it is a pattern across our public services, where management and unions have colluded in cutting frontline services rather than chopping into employees' pay, especially at the upper levels. They would rather cut into basic health services to make more money available for the huge sums being demanded by medical consultants and HSE management.

So, despite all the cutbacks and austerity, it seems that those at the top of our state authorities (and many of those in the middle) are still doing all right.

Meanwhile, the rest of us suffer the injustice of higher taxes to pay for all this. (And yesterday, we couldn't even get a train journey out of it).

And there's damn all that this Government, or any government, seems willing to do about the situation.

Irish Independent

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