Politicians take 33-day holiday... to count pay-offs

Cormac Murphy

POLITICIANS who left their cushy positions untouched in the savage Budget plans are set to go on holiday for 33 days over Christmas.

The massive break -- the equivalent of a year's leave in most professions -- means no business will be done in our parliament for over a month.

The last Dail sitting before Christmas is scheduled for December 16 and it will not convene again until January 19.

It will add insult to injury for many people who have watched highly paid TDs and top civil servants escape salary cuts under the €15bn austerity plan, despite social welfare and minimum wage reductions.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen and the Cabinet have left their own income, expenses and pension entitlements untouched as they swung the axe in the National Recovery Plan.

While low and middle- income families across the country were targeted, senior ministers can look forward to a pension fund topping €70m.

Mr Cowen and his ministers will each be guaranteed multi-million euro pension pots when they leave office. None of their lavish perks, like chauffeur-drive State cars and lengthy holidays, have been affected by the draconian measures.

However, Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin defended the plan today, saying it was vital for the country.

"The plan hits everybody. It will hit people on higher pay. Public servants have [already] taken on average 15pc and higher income have taken up to nearly 30pc if you take levies [into account]," Mr Martin said.


Given his length of service, Mr Cowen's taxpayer-funded pension was worth more than €7m by April this year, according to calculations made at the time. All present and former ministers receive defined-benefit pensions.

The payments are not linked to their final salary but to the wage of the current occupant of the most senior Cabinet position they reached.

Health Minister Mary Harney had a pension valued at more than €4.5m last April because she had been in the Cabinet since 1997. As she held the title of Tanaiste for more than three years, her pension will be based on the Tanaiste's salary.

Dermot Ahern and Mr Martin, also in Cabinet since 1997, had pensions worth between €3.5m and €3.8m, respectively.

Other ministers -- such as Brian Lenihan, Mary Hanafin and the two Green ministers John Gormley and Eamon Ryan -- will have pensions worth at least €3m.

With a salary of €228,000, Mr Cowen remains one of the highest paid politicians in the world. If the Government falls, every minister would receive a tax-free lump sum and at least 20pc of their salary.

Fine Gael Dublin West TD Leo Varadkar said it was "ridiculous" there were only 10 Dail sitting days until Christmas followed by a 33-day break until the parliament sits again.

Mr Varadkar, the party's spokesman on communications and energy, added: "We are in the midst of the greatest economic crisis ever faced by the State yet the Taoiseach and Fianna Fail have not extended the amount of time the Dail is sitting.

"Under Fianna Fail's plan, there are only 10 sitting days left until the Dail rises on December 16 followed by a 33-day break.


"The Taoiseach has consistently claimed that the Budget is of prime importance yet he is refusing to bring it forward or allow extra time for it to be debated and voted upon."

The Government reduced the ministerial pensions for sitting TDs by 25pc last year.

In addition, after the next General Election, a sitting TD will not be allowed to also pick up a ministerial pension. However, the National Recovery Plan contains no further reductions.