Ireland is soon going to be divided into two broad groups. Those who are State employee are those who are not. The gap between pay and pension and extras for State employees and those in the private sector hasn't been balanced by benchmarking - it has been distorted out of all proportion by this secretive exercise.
If you are a civil servant you pay 5% of your salary towards your pension (or 6.5% if you have a partner or children). For that you are entitled to half your salary upon retirement. Not your average salary. The salary you were earning on the last day of office, regardless if you were promoted a week before. And a parity clause means that every time a public servant gets an increase, so do you. The pensions bill for the public service is going to be massive, massive, massive later in this century due to benchmarking. And it's us taxpayers who will have to foot the bill, while most of us pay much larger proportions of our salaries into much more measly pension schemes.
Public service pay and conditions of work has become a political fault-line in several countries, including France where Dominic de Villepin and now Nicholas Sarkozy have tried to gouge a little bit from the edge.
Is it going to happen in Ireland? Not a chance. No political party is prepared to take on the public service. I have never seen it been confirmed in a document but the widespread belief as to why free parking is not considered a benefit-in-kind is that public servants (among the greatest beneficiaries) kicked up a storm about it.
And numbered among the public service is of course the political class. There are way too many of them (we should have 120 TDs max). They get vastly over-paid. The expenses regime is a joke (if you are ever passing the Dail carpark in Kildare Street have a look in to see the sleek fleets of BMWs 5 series, Saabs, Mercedes etc lined up there). Ministers get their wallets vastly over-stuffed (you'd think we were the richesT country in the world). And Bertie Ahern says all he cares about is pints and matches (plus the cool quarter of a million he pockets each year). Their pension scheme is enormous (All the senior ministers who have been there for fifteen years will have pension packages worth millions).
We might all quibble about the diplomacy of the German ambassador's speech a month ago - BUT THE TRUTH OF THE MATTER WAS THAT HE TOLD A LOT OF HOME TRUTHS ABOUT US.
Last week Brian Cowen told us things were going to be tight. He forgot to finish the sentence. Thinigs are going to be tight for everybody except us politicians. We have swelled the number of junior ministers to 20 even though some of them won't be up to very much. And now Bertie Ahern has increased the number of committees to give jobs to the boys, and to ward off any mutiny from disgruntled backbenchers by paying them off. And another 20 researchers will be made available.
Now a couple of the committees have been good in the past. The Public Accounts Committee (as it is in every parliament) has been particularly good. Communications was an active committee last time under Noel O'Flynn, as was Health under John Maloney. And a few of the constitutional committees did genuinely good work.
Another galling thing about the committees is that they all get perks like a travel budget to go on 'fact-finding missions' to the west coast of America, or the Maldives, or India, or Madagascar, Argentina, or Australia. Maybe this is to keep members interested and attending but if that's the case, it's like dealing with a bunch of kids. Why should all committees get a travel budget out of right? Should they get no budget and justify the trips on a case-by-case basis.
Yep, it's going to be tight this year. Unfortunately, not one of our political class from Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen down can point to one instance where they will actually lead by example.