Tuesday, 10 July 2012
Ceisteanna - Questions (Resumed)
There are five staff working in my constituency office. Three are based in Government Buildings while two are based in Castlebar. The staff comprise three personal assistants, one personal secretary and one executive officer. They are responsible for dealing with my constituency matters and correspondence. The total of their annual salaries is €289,151.
Let me give the Taoiseach some figures, if I may, for him to cogitate on - these are from the Irish League of Credit Unions. Some 1.8 million citizens have less than €100 per month to live on, after bills are paid. Some 50% have had to borrow to pay household bills in the past, with 10% of them using moneylenders in the past 12 months. Some 17%, or over 600,000 citizens, have nothing left each month when the bills are paid.
We sometimes wonder why people become disenchanted with and alienated from electoral politics and parliamentary systems. This is all as a result of austerity and if we were all in it together-----
I consciously did not name the persons involved, a Cheann Comhairle.
If there are to be cuts - we are approaching a winter of cuts - they should start at the top. They should start in the Taoiseach's office with the man who is in charge of the Government and the staff he employs there. That is how we will get an end to the inequality that austerity is reinforcing, as well as a narrowing of the social gap which is being widened daily by austerity policies.
I ask the Taoiseach to show leadership on this issue by implementing the pay cap that his own Government introduced. Are any of those five staff, who the Taoiseach says are working on constituency matters, being paid above the Government's cap?
The Deputy seems to suggest that these people are all on excessive salaries. The total of their annual salaries is €289,151. That is a gross figure, which is about €450 net on average per week.
I note the Deputy's comment about the report by the Irish League of Credit Unions, which is by no means to be discounted. We all know many families who are seriously challenged in these times. We are not the only ones in Europe who are now so affected. The Government is well aware of this, however, which is why we reversed the minimum wage in the memorandum of understanding. That is why we brought thousands of families out of the universal social charge requirement. We did not increase income tax or taxes on employment in order to give the best opportunity to business and employment creation. We downsized the scale of the banks and required the two pillar banks to lend €3.5 billion of new loans this year so that these opportunities can be implemented.
The Deputy asked me the number of civil servants employed in my office and I have answered him. I note that some people seem to think that one should not have a constituency office for the benefit of constituents at all. Whether one makes no representations or many, these matters become the focus of public attention. If somebody stops Deputy Adams on the street and says, "I live here in Dundalk, I've applied for the disability benefit and I'm on appeal for the last three months", is he supposed to say, "Sorry, I can't deal with your query here. That's a constituency matter"? My constituency office, which I rarely attend due to the business of Government, constantly deals with queries from people all over Ireland but mostly from the western region. They are normal constituency queries that come in about everything one could think of. These staff work exceptionally hard and give an enormous commitment to dealing with people's problems. As I said, their average net income is €450 per week.
I am not discounting in any way the impact or relevance of the report conducted by the Irish League of Credit Unions. The Government is well aware of that. The budget for 2013, which will obviously be challenging, will be framed in a way that is seen to be fair, equitable and affordable. The drive has to be not to penalise employment and work, but to provide opportunities whereby businesses can flourish and jobs are created.