Wednesday, 3 February 2021
Oireachtas Members (Economic Justice) (Covid-19) Bill 2021: First Stage
That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to provide, in the interest of public solidarity, for the reduction of salaries of Oireachtas members during the currency of certain restrictions implemented in connection with Covid-19; and to provide for related matters.
The object of this Aontú Bill is to bring about a 25% cut in the salaries of Deputies and Senators during Covid level 5 and level 4 lockdowns. I will explain the reasons I believe this is just and the right thing to do. There are two Irelands at the moment and those two Irelands are radically separated. Ireland is in an unprecedented crisis. One in four workers is currently unemployed. That figure is practically the highest it has ever been in the history of the State. Well over 500,000 workers are unemployed. Hundreds of thousands of people are literally seeing their businesses and incomes deleted. There has been a radical reduction of income right across society. Hundreds of thousands of people are being pushed into poverty.
There is a second type of Ireland and that is the political class. At the same time as the crisis in incomes, the salaries of Deputies have increased. Judges' salaries have increased. Yesterday, I attended the meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach, at which the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath of Fianna Fáil, defended an €80,000 increase to a €210,000 salary. He defended that increase at a time when the incomes of so many people are being absolutely trashed.
The contrast between these two Irelands could not be more stark. It is breathtaking that the chasm that exists between those two classes of Ireland is larger now than it ever was previously. It is extraordinary that this type of largesse is happening at the precipice of what will be a massive economic crisis. It is as though the political classes are partying just before the country goes down the tubes economically. We have had a budget deficit of €19 billion this year. It is likely that €35 billion will be added to the national debt of this State this year. That will bring the national debt to a whopping €239 billion. That is one of the highest national debts per capitathat exist on this planet. It means that every man, woman and child currently owes €47,700. Ireland is a massively indebted country and that leaves us extremely exposed to future shocks. If there is a shock to the economy in three or four years' time and we are carrying this level of debt, we will see exactly the same situation arise as befell this country in 2010, 2011 and 2012.
I wish to raise an issue that has not really been raised by any other political party in Leinster House during this crisis and that is the fact that when Covid subsides - please God, it will do so soon - there will be an economic crisis in this country. The EU will put pressure on Ireland to get its budget deficit in order. Historically, the only way that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have known to get budget deficits in order is to increase taxes on low and middle income workers and to cut spending on public services such as health. If this Government remains in power for the next two or three years, it is likely that it will implement savage austerity in the near future. In the previous crash, there was a logical reduction in the salaries of Deputies, in line with the reduction in income of the rest of society. However, on this occasion, politicians' incomes are actually going in the opposite direction to the incomes of the rest of society.
While the savings achieved because of this Aontú Bill reducing the salaries of Members of the Oireachtas are obviously small, every single Deputy should be playing his or her part to take on the cost of getting Ireland back on its feet.
There are also questions of governance here. How can politicians properly represent people if they cannot relate to them? It is clear that the Government knows very little about what families are going through at the moment. Aontú has submitted this Bill and, if passed, the salary of Deputies and Seanadóirí will be reduced by 25% during level 4 and level 5 restrictions when pubs, shops, cafés and restaurants are forced to close. Perhaps this will concentrate the minds of Government Deputies on the mismanagement of Covid-19. Perhaps they will start to do a better job on very basic things such as making sure that we have proper management of travel into this country, proper safeguards for our nursing homes and proper investment in the health service in this time of crisis.