Tuesday 25 June 2019

Taxpayer tired of Bertie's bounty

Anyone who has served his country in a high, lonely and arduous office has earned a comfortable retirement. But there is a difference between the normal definition of "comfort" and the taxpayers' money lavished on former Taoisigh -- more precisely, one former Taoiseach.

When Bertie Ahern left office in 2008 he received once-off termination payments of €186,000 and became entitled to a pension of €150,000 a year. He is also entitled to two secretarial assistants for five years, free mobile phone use, a diplomatic passport and VIP services at airports.

In addition, since his retirement he has earned substantial sums from the private sector, including a reported advance payment of €400,000 for his autobiography.

But private sector earnings are his own business, whereas the public are entitled to know why a retired Taoiseach needs a secretarial service. Probably he uses it for such tasks as replying to requests from historians for information, and checking results with the government departments in which he once served.

Remarkably, one learns that over the last three years he has claimed €265,000 for secretarial assistance. That suggests an extraordinarily heavy workload. Can the historians be so demanding?

By comparison, other retired Taoisigh claim relatively tiny amounts in expenses. It will be intriguing to see which level forms a future benchmark for a former Taoiseach's perks.

The Government is engaged in a "comprehensive spending review". Presumably this will include payments to Mr Ahern. Any taxpayer could draw up a long list of other savings of the same kind.

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