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Reform pay levels at the top

IRISH hospital consultants won a deal from Health Minister Mary Harney that would make their European colleagues goggle. Irish academics got the taxpayer to stand behind their gilt-edged pensions, as well as being paid to the very highest levels.

The news from both quarters yesterday can only add to the general sense of outrage about the attitudes of people at the top of the tree. Consultants, who receive state salaries of around €183,000, have not returned any fees earned from treating more private patients than agreed in their contracts.

New heads of universities are to be paid less than present incumbents, who earn up to €200,000 a year, although this emerged from the Department of Education only when Trinity College Dublin, advertised for a new provost at the old rate.

The consultants say that they cannot get data from the HSE confirming the extra private work. Knowing the HSE, that is quite believable. Yet anyone who has received private treatment -- usually excellent it should be said -- from a consultant, will find it hard to believe that they do not have a good idea of their workload. Some payment on account would not come amiss.

The university case is one of public policy. It cannot be said often enough that the salaries at the top of the Irish administrative sector are intolerable and must be drastically reduced. Justice imposes limits on how much people's current earnings can be reduced, but the salaries for new entrants should be scaled back to mid-European levels, while many promotions in the top grades should now carry no extra payment at all.

These fortunate people have done far too well out of the system and it should be made very clear that, while there may not be further cuts, earning more is now out of the question.