Thursday 17 October 2019

Scandal of pensions for backbenchers

BACKBENCH members of the Dail and Seanad did not cover themselves in glory during the recent parliamentary terms in which they served.

Like most of their predecessors, they ran errands for their constituents and made little effort to fulfil their primary duties of scrutinising legislation and holding governments to account.

What chiefly distinguishes them from those who sat on the government and opposition front benches is, quite simply, failure to achieve any promotion.

In a few cases, this failure is entirely to their credit. The footnotes in the history books will speak kindly of those who espoused unpopular causes or offended the leaderships of their parties by striking independent attitudes.

But in the great majority of cases, it was clear lack of ability that kept them out of the reckoning.

Nobody, however, could guess that if his or her information consisted only of the extent of the pensions they receive on their retirement.

The pensions of former taoisigh and ministers are nothing less than a scandal. More than once, they have provoked a public outcry. The last Fianna Fail-Green government, and the Fine Gael-Labour coalition, have been rightly criticised for the timidity of the cuts they have imposed.

But deputies' and senators' pensions should be -- and are, in this newspaper today -- subjected to similar scrutiny. An analysis of these pensions (leaving out lump sums and severance pay) shows them as over-generous and an indictment of the ministers who set their levels in the long ago.

A former Oireachtas member best known to the public for a disagreeable court experience can count on a pension of €55,000 a year for the rest of his life. How many employees doing useful jobs in the private and public sectors can match that figure? And how many owners of small businesses can pay themselves as much? Right now, most of them are living right on the margin.

All these points are familiar. But they are still valid; and they point up, once again, a sad aspect of how the present Government views reform.

Brian Cowen's government was wholly out of touch with public opinion. He had spent too many years as Taoiseach and finance minister. Fine Gael and Labour evidently fell out of touch in months, not years. In 2012, they really must take account of how people feel about privilege.

Irish Independent

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