ONE of the most extraordinary perks enjoyed by Dail deputies applies to those of them who have worked as teachers. They can keep their teaching jobs indefinitely -- in some cases, for half a lifetime. Substitutes are appointed to do the actual work. And if the former teachers keep up their pension contributions, they benefit handsomely.
Two years ago, this remarkable anomaly became the subject of public controversy. A compromise was arrived at, which offers an unflattering insight into the mindset of so many Irish politicians.
Under the new arrangement, they will be allowed to keep their teaching jobs for two Dail terms. During this period, they will not be allowed to chalk up teaching and Oireachtas pensions at the same time. If they return to work in education, they will not, as at present, receive higher pay.
Meanwhile, nobody explained why they should enjoy privileges unknown to the rest of the population. But now the issue has cropped up again, in the final days of the general election campaign.
It has transpired that the Fine Gael leader and almost certainly the next Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, has kept up his teaching pension contributions throughout his decades in the Dail. He will shortly become entitled to a payment of €100,000. Yesterday he announced that he was giving up his pension rights.
Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin had already waived his teaching pension rights. Deputy leader Mary Hanafin has resigned her job in Sion Hill School, Blackrock. She has not been making pension contributions and her entitlements will be small.
None of the three has breached any rules. But inevitably the issue has become entangled with that of the various flows of income enjoyed by politicians -- and retired politicians -- courtesy of the taxpayer.
On becoming leader of Fianna Fail, Mr Martin refused to surrender a payment of €90,000, due in compensation for loss of salary as a minister. On reflection, he decided to waive the entitlement. Yesterday, when Mr Kenny announced his own decision, he added an oratorical flourish against Fianna Fail ministers who had retired early and who would profit, not lose, from retirement.
The anomaly in relation to teachers should simply be abolished, not reformed. Its real importance lies in its relation to the general question of politicians' pay and pensions. They pay themselves too much. They accept cuts with unconcealed reluctance. In these hard times, they should set a better example.