Politicians' pay has continued to dominate the agenda, especially since yesterday's volte face by the Cabinet. I was in the supermarket last night and people in the queue were talking about it; when I went for coffee early this morning, it was also been discussed by people at the next table. Most of the focus was on the fact that it had been deferred for a year - most people thought that it was a stunt, as simple as that.
I was surprised that none of the opposition leaders raised it during Leaders Questions this morning. Having said that the two topics raised (water charges for schools and extraordinary rendition) have merit.
Here is a piece of analysis I wrote for this morning's Irish Examiner
Last month the Taoiseach came out with a legendary Bertie-ism when he said that deferring THAT pay rise would be ‘smokes and daggers’.
So, two really bad opinion polls later in addition to getting it in the lug from Joe Public on the airways and newspapers, what does the Taoiseach do?
Um, he announces that the Government is deferring the pay rise.
Before we all go jumping to conclusions that what we have here is a classic case of smokes and daggers, the government wants to point out that, no it’s not, its something else entirely. Yep, it’s actually cloaks and mirrors.
The official reason is hilarious. The Government – wait for it! – want others to exercise restraint ahead of the new round of talks on pay and benchmarking and they want to lead by example. So the Taoiseach and his ministers has selflessly sacrificed the implementation of his E38,000 pay rise and their exorbitant hikes in salary until September 2008. So they’ll all have to slum it on salaries ranging from E214,000 to E270,000 per annum.
What was offered yesterday by the Chief Anorak and the shower that surrounds him was a sop, a wet drizzle of a sop – a pathetic attempt to retrieve some of the public support that it lost over this issue. It is a gesture and it’s meaningless.
And the Taoiseach and his chief loyalists yesterday trotted out the same old excuses (none of which stand up) as to why like the models in the L’Oreal ads they were SO worth it.
Backroom people in Fianna Fail must have been getting nervous when they saw the Ministers who were being put up to explain this to the public – Dermot Ahern and Mary Hanafin. They were two of the three ministers (along with Seamus Brennan) who presided over the shambles of a press conference during the election campaign, during which FF’s main economics adviser Colin Hunt had to ride to the rescue and publicly dig them out of a spot of bother.
And neither Dermot Ahern nor Mary Hanafin were well briefed yesterday
Before we get to that let’s stick to the facts.
This award was given by a group which compares the pay of the golden circle of the public service (ministers, judges, semi state CEO, university heads, top civil servants etc) with comparators in the private sector.
Two years ago it gave them an interim award of 7.5%. Sic weeks ago it gave them a further 15%, making a grand total of 22.5% since 2000.
First of all Ministers have tried to spin it that this was the only pay rise they got in seven years. Ms Hanafin was busying herself with the line last night; claiming on RTE’s Six One News that they have got just 2% every year.
But in fact, the salaries of all ministers have increased by between 130% and 145% in the last seven years. Bertie Ahern was paid E145,000 in 2000. After the latest pay rise he will be getting E310,000. Ditto with Brian Cowen. The Tánaiste’s salary was E125,000 in 2000. Now it’s E270,000.
When it was pointed out to her that the rise was in fact closer to 145% than the miserly 2% per annum she was claiming, she claimed that, yes, it was a substantial salary but it was a substantial job. And then she argued that we had to pay our politicians well so they are not susceptible to any outside interference (like dig-outs, for example, or spontaneous whip-rounds at functions in the North West of England?).
And the cloaks and mirrors continued with the extraordinary performance given by Dermot Ahern at a door-step interview.
It wasn’t so much the very tenuous argument he made that the Government was now exercising restraint (yeah, until next September) so that the unions might do likewise.
He also maintained the line that it was an increase of 22.5% over a period of 11 years (ergo, it was modest). This argument neglects the fact that politicians and ministers have benefited from every single national pay award (and benchmarking award) that have been going. And the cumulative effect of it all is that their pay has more than doubled in the course of only seven years.
It was the fact that he was completely and utterly aware that he had been awarded an interim pay rise of 7.5% of his Ministerial salary two years ago. For what it is worth, this is how much it was worth – around E7.500.
When the existence of this increase was pointed out to him, he said:
“That is not as a result of the examination by the independent review group (for higher remuneration).”
Well, yes it was in fact. A little later he said he did not recall that particular pay award. Well, he should have.
The net effect of this has been to prolong the kicking the Government has taken over this for another day. It also gave opposition leaders another field day.
Enda Kenny reminded us again of the following little factoid: “We have a situation where Taoiseach of this country is better paid than President Bush; better paid than Chancellor Merkel; better paid than President Sarkozy and better paid than Prime Minister Brown.”
He continued: “This is a hypocritical decision by a hypocritical government.”
Eamon Gilmore said they were still going to accept the lavish increase (if 12 months later) and that the Government’s handling of the situation showed how much out of touch with reality it was.
Dermot Ahern did say that there has always been a difficulty with politicians and their pay. That is quite true. And the difficulty has been this. Somewhere along the line greed has become the new currency for defining public service.
For how long more do we have to put up with people on a quarter of a million euro a year (plus gold-plated pensions and expense arrangements) telling us that they are not in it for the money?