Tuesday, 7 July 2009
Oireachtas (Allowances to Members) and Ministerial and Parliamentary Offices Bill 2009: Second Stage
Martin Mansergh (Minister of State with special responsibility for the Arts, Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism; Minister of State with special responsibility for the Office of Public Works, Department of Finance; Tipperary South, Fianna Fail)
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It is a great pleasure to burn the midnight oil with the Members of Seanad Éireann.
We are all aware of the unprecedented difficulties we face in this period of serious economic distress and the urgent need to stabilise our public finances. We have had to take exceptional measures to respond to the challenges we face and many of the decisions the Government has been forced to take have involved significant sacrifices for those affected by them, because everyone has commitments.
When introducing the supplementary budget last April, the Minister for Finance stressed that fairness must be the cornerstone of all our efforts to achieve economic renewal. The Minister said that everyone wants fairness but that there is less agreement about what it means. For many, it is tempting to mean that the next person should pay, but the reality is everyone must give according to his or her means. Those who have most must give most. Equity demanded that when we asked anyone else to give, we in this House and in the Government had to examine our own remuneration and demonstrate that we were prepared to lead by example.
The members of the Government have already shown their willingness to give leadership in this area. They reduced their salaries by 10% last October. Ministers of State made a similar reduction. The public service pension levy was applied to members of the Government and Ministers of State. As a result, Ministers have seen a reduction of about one fifth in their incomes. In addition, the number of Ministers of State has been reduced from 20 to 15, a reduction of which I came out in favour last January, expressing a willingness, if necessary, to give up my position. There is logic to having an equal number of Ministers and Ministers of State and I am glad that the pre-1994 position has been restored as a consequence of this reform.
The Government also decided to introduce a number of additional changes to the remuneration of Deputies and Senators. These included the matters that are the subject of this Bill, namely, changes to the arrangement whereby former Ministers could receive ministerial pensions while they are still Members of the Oireachtas and the abolition of long service increments payable to Deputies and Senators.
Separate provisions are being put in place to give effect to other changes to reduce expenses, halve the allowances paid to Oireachtas committee chairmen and abolish the payments to Whips and vice-chairmen.
While the Bill has the effect of providing measures to reduce public expenditure, I appreciate they are very modest in the overall scheme of things and in light of the difficulties we are facing. Nevertheless, they represent a real and important contribution from the individuals affected. We all have an interest in not distracting from the value of the contribution made by Oireachtas Members because of side issues where the rationale, particularly in current circumstances, for the existing system is debatable. Under this legislation, from after the next general election, all Deputies and Senators, other than officeholders, will be paid the same, and sitting Members will not receive a pension in addition to salary by virtue of having been officeholders in the past. It is better for everyone concerned that, rather than any invidious finger-pointing at individuals who take up their existing rights, the system be changed to reflect what is right for everyone with limited transitional arrangements
The purpose of the Bill is to amend the Ministerial and Parliamentary Offices Acts 1938 to 2001 and the Oireachtas (Allowances to Members) Act 1938. It provides for cessation of payment of long service increments after the next general election for all Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas and for withholding long service increments in the case of those Members who would normally have qualified for them before the next general election. The same provisions will apply to Members of the European Parliament who are eligible to do so and opt to continue to be paid the same salary as Deputies, a matter we discussed a short time ago in another Bill.
In case anyone should think that Ministers or Ministers of State are somehow unaffected by this measure, I will read into the record the last paragraph of a letter I received a short time ago from the Minister for Finance:
Under the existing arrangements you would have qualified in the near future for a long service increment although it would not have been payable to you while you hold Ministerial office. However, I am writing to inform you that following the Government's decision you will not now qualify for a long service increment.
I would like to deal with the issue of the effect of this measure on the pensions of Deputies, Senators and MEPs who will lose their long service increments after the next general or European Parliament election. The position is that any Member who held long service increments before the cut-off date of 13 May 2009 will ultimately receive the benefit of them in their pensions. Appropriate arrangements will be made to this effect by amending the Members' pension scheme. The legislation requires that any scheme or amending scheme shall be laid before each House of the Oireachtas as soon as may be possible after it is made and if a resolution annulling it is passed within the next 21 days on which the Houses sat after it was laid before them, the scheme is annulled.
The Bill also provides that ministerial pensions paid to Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas and the European Parliament will be reduced by 25% between the passing of this Bill and the next general election in the case of the Houses of the Oireachtas, and in the case of the Members of the European Parliament, the next European Parliament elections. Such pensions will cease to be paid to sitting Members on the respective dates.
For the sake of completeness and transparency, I would like to inform the House that it may be the intention of the Minister to introduce an amendment on Committee Stage in the Dáil to permit changes to be made to the present parliamentary allowances system such as may be agreed between the Minister and the Commission of the Houses of the Oireachtas to be introduced by regulation. However, consideration of this is continuing and should such an amendment be tabled and made, then this Bill would have to return to the Seanad next week.
In regard to the detail of the sections, section 1 covers interpretation and defines "Act of 1938" as the Ministerial and Parliamentary Offices Act 1938. Section 2 provides that long service increments will not be paid to those Members who would normally have qualified for a long service increment on or after 13 May 2009. It also provides that long service increments will not be paid to any Member of the Houses of the Oireachtas after the next general election.
Section 3 is concerned with pensions awarded to officeholders under the old officeholders' pensions scheme, that is, those who qualified for such pensions before 13 January 1992 when the new officeholders' pension scheme was introduced, and who did not opt to join the new scheme. Officeholders are the Taoiseach, Ministers, Ministers of State, etc. The section provides that between the passing of this Act and the next general election, officeholder pensions paid to sitting Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas will be reduced by 25% and the pensions will cease to be paid to such Members after the next general election. In the case of members of the European Parliament, the reduction will apply until the next European Parliament elections. Pensions will cease to be paid after that date for sitting Members.
Section 4 is concerned with pensions awarded to officeholders under the new officeholders pension scheme to persons who have three years or more of qualifying service. New scheme members are those who first qualified for an officeholder's pension after 13 January 1993 when the new scheme came into effect. It also includes persons who had already qualified under the old scheme for an officeholder's pension but who opted into the new scheme. These pensions are not paid until the person concerned reaches age 50 and the pension is reduced to one-half while the former officeholder is sitting in either House of the Oireachtas or the European Parliament. The only exception is for former Taoisigh, in which case the pension is not reduced.
The section provides that between the passing of this Act and the next general election officeholder pensions being paid to sitting Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas will be reduced by 25%. This provision is given effect by reducing the pensions by 62.5% rather than 50%. It also provides for a reduction of 25% in the pension paid to former Taoisigh who are Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas or the European Parliament. As I have said, at present, such a former Taoiseach's pension is not reduced. The section also provides that the pensions will cease to be paid to such Members after the next general election. In the case of members of the European Parliament, the reduction in the pension will apply until the next elections for the European Parliament and then the officeholder pensions will cease to be paid after that date. Section 4 also provides for some technical amendments to the legislation by the renumbering of an existing provision.
Section 5 deals with ministerial, secretarial, Minister of State and other officeholder pensions awarded under the new scheme to persons who have more than two but less than three years' qualifying service. The qualifying period for officeholder pensions was reduced from three years to two in 2001. The provisions of section 5 are essentially the same as those in section 4. It provides that the officeholders' pensions will cease to be paid to former Ministers who are sitting Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas or the European Parliament after the next elections. In the meantime, the pensions paid to such sitting Members will be reduced by 25%. Section 6 provides for the Short Title and collective citation. I commend the Bill to the House.
We would all welcome many of the changes proposed in the legislation and support the reasons for them. These are changing economic times and everyone must play their part. People who hold positions as Chairmen of committees have had their allowances cut in half and Vice Chairmen, Whips and convenors have had their allowances abolished. Members' travel expenses have been massively reduced. What is proposed in this Bill is an expansion of that approach.
I am concerned that this legislation may be challenged in the future. One of the reasons given for the proposed reduction in the ministerial pensions paid to sitting TDs being limited to 25% is that the Minister, Deputy Lenihan, said the Attorney General's advice was that those affected could claim a form of property right and that the reduction had to be proportionate to that imposed on other groups. Essentially, the Minister was saying that the reason it is not proposed to abolish ministerial pensions for sitting TDs is that they could take the Government to court and make the case that they had an expectation that they were due to receive a ministerial pension and therefore they should be paid it. If the reduction in the ministerial pension is limited to 25% that would seem to pass any such test because it is proportionate.
I was interested in that aspect, given that it is proposed Members' long service increments will be abolished. I question if that measure could be challenged by the individuals concerned who had an expectation that they would receive a long service increment. Members who were elected in the previous election would have had an expectation that they were to receive a long service increment. The explanatory memorandum indicates that the savings arising from this measure in a full year is estimated to be €128,000. The savings that will arise when the long service increments are abolished after the next general election will be approximately €500,000. If the Government had decided to make a 25% reduction in the long service increments for all the individuals concerned, they would be no possibility that measure would be challenged in any court because its application would be seen to be proportionate. A 25% reduction in the figure of €500,000 would equate to the €128,000 savings that will be achieved under the proposed measure. While politically it may appear better, there is a question as to whether this measure could be challenged legally at some point in the future. Individuals who would have expected to receive their first or second long service increment may consider challenging this measure using the advice the Attorney General gave the Minister, Deputy Lenihan, as the reason for the reduction in ministerial pensions by 25%.
In regard to the abolition of long service increments after the next general election, I would like to tease out this proposal as it involves legal issues. A Senator's pay is linked to a TD's pay, which in turn has been linked to the pay of a principal officer in the Civil Service. Even though that linkage is not covered under the Constitution or any defined legal agreements, it has come about in terms of reports on Government in recent years in terms of the linking of a TD's pay to that of the pay of a standard principal officer grade in the Civil Service. A conflict may arise as to whether that linkage could be challenged. Perhaps the Government has plans in regard to the payment of long service increments to staff in the civil and public service, but the Minister should be mindful that these measures could be legally challenged. That is the issue that stands out when one considers the debates that have taken place on this matter. There is strong potential that the immediate abolition of long service increments would be legally challenged, but there could also be a legal challenge if they were to be abolished after the next general election.
In regard to ministerial pensions, it seems wrong that a TD who loses ministerial office should continue to be paid a ministerial pension as long as he or she is a Member of the Oireachtas. The ministerial pension scheme and the pension scheme for TDs and Senators is generous compared with private sector pension schemes. That reflects the unpredictable nature of being a Member of the Oireachtas.
It reflects the fact that one can find oneself out on one's ear fairly quickly. It is said that one is not a real politician until one has won and lost an election. I managed to achieve that fairly quickly. However, continuing to pay a ministerial pension to a sitting TD on a substantial salary was not right and needed to be addressed. That is the sort of thing that gives the public a bad impression and brings to mind the expressions "gravy train" and "fat cats". The public is not as anti-politician as they would like us to think if they believe we are being reasonable. They do not mind politicians getting a pension having served a certain amount of time, but maybe not a long time, because of the nature of the job we do.
I would be the first to admit that the pension is good, but there is a need to make some changes. Some of the procedures relating to certain allowances and fees could be misconstrued by the public who are facing much tougher times than we are facing. There is a need for people to understand the job we do and the difficulties of that job, but there is also a need for us to understand that when people feel they are under attack they must stand up for certain things. Linking TDs' pay to a grade within the Civil Service is an important move because it removes the political aspect from it. TDs are then paid the same salary as individuals in a grade because their work has been deemed comparable to the work of that grade and they cannot be paid an extra salary for any other reason. In terms of the allowance Members of the Oireachtas get, most Members can defend them adequately. However, if the public feels we are hiding anything or that something is a bit opaque, we should shine a strong light on it and explain properly why we get what we get. It is easy for people who have lost their jobs or who have gone on a three-day week and are suffering now to attack politicians. It is becoming easier as well for people to attack civil and public servants. It is important for us as politicians and public servants - as a doctor I consider myself to be a public servant - to stand up for what we do and defend what we get. It is also important, however, to empathise with the individuals who are in trouble.
I ask the Minister to examine the points I have made so that this will not be seen in a couple of years' time as having been a waste of time because somebody can conclusively prove in the courts that the Minister has done the wrong thing. That was my concern when I was looking at this legislation.
I second the Oireachtas (Allowances to Members) and Ministerial and Parliamentary Offices Bill 2009 as proposed by the Leader. As a former shop steward and member of the Insurance and Finance Branch of SIPTU, I never thought I would see the day when I would be putting through a Bill that would reduce my terms and conditions of employment. However, the realities of the world are such that Ireland is no longer competitive in the world market and we are paying a very high price for that. To become competitive we must take certain steps, the first of which is to lead by example.
Senator Twomey and I have crossed swords on occasion but much of what he said tonight was very worthwhile and interesting and, whereas I might not agree with every aspect of it, it was beneficial to the overall debate. Our attempts to be seen to do the right thing by the national economy and to give guidance are made against the backdrop of previous experience in 1932 when a general depression set in. At that time the aim was to ensure people had enough. We are certainly past the days of people having enough. In many cases recently there was huge excess. I refer to the types of salaries in the private sector that caused outrage and caused us to wonder what types of jobs were being advertised at €700,000 per annum. These jobs were not for managing directors of a company but for heads of corporate compliance or something like that. The salaries were excessive and they were astounding to some of us, although we were being well paid.
I am conscious that we should ensure that everybody is treated fairly, and there was an attempt to do so in the supplementary budget. Many hours, days, weeks and months were spent working to ensure equity and fairness were achieved and that nobody was left out. If there are cuts in county councils I do not like to see the man with the shovel being the one asked to leave. I would like to see proportionate measures so that not just those least able to defend themselves or the less well-heeled are looked after, but everybody. It is on that aspect that we will ultimately be judged.
Times have changed. In different times we could afford more. It was always questionable that a pension should be paid to a sitting Member of the Oireachtas, particularly when ministerial pensions are generous by any standard. There is a reason they are generous, however. There are not many jobs where one needs to expend so much money. A Seanad campaign costs at least €30,000 while a Dáil campaign can cost €70,000. Many people spend less while others spend more. There are not many jobs that involve such expenditure. We have been fortunate in the past few years in that we have had five-year terms. In the 1980s, however, there were five Dáil elections, one in 1981, two in 1982, one in 1987 and one in 1989.
If I am mistaken in those dates, I know that Members went into debt to serve in these Houses. It should never be the case, and it was never intended to be the case, that only the wealthy could afford to be in public life. When one considers that the average term in these Houses is now approximately 11 or 12 years, and that is not a long life cycle, it surprises me that members of the media, who often do not look for balance, wonder why Members hold on to jobs while they are Members of the Houses. Of course they will hold onto jobs because the average term is 11 or 12 years and they have to consider themselves and their futures.
There are many interesting parts to this Bill. I ask the mandarins from the Department of Finance - it is not a derogatory term but gives great credit to their abilities - to examine one part of it as it is something I do not understand. The section concerned provides that between the passing of this Bill and the next general election pensions being paid to sitting Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas will be reduced by 25%, which is straightforward enough. The provision is given effect by reducing the pension by 62.5%, rather than 50%. I may have missed something very significant, but if one wished to reduce somebody's pension by 25%, one would cut it by 25% and not by 62.5% or 50%. I may be reading the provision incorrectly, but if one wished to reduce a pension by 25% that is what one would do.
There are very positive and necessary aspects to this Bill. I ask that we continue to ensure there is fairness. All of us will accept the cuts that are necessary. I commend those in this House who have been in a position to take extra cuts and have done so voluntarily. I suggest we ensure at all times that nobody feels he or she was singled out compared to the person next to him or her. It is very difficult to do, but it is something the last supplementary budget achieved in full and I would like the Government to continue to examine that area.
The terms and conditions should reflect the times we are in. We are in more difficult times. Things will improve once we ensure our competitiveness and banking structures are correct, which is essential not to insure bankers but, rather, the economy, which depends on the banks. We must also ensure there is liquidity in the economy and get people back to work. We are facing difficult and challenging times, but the reality is that we have to take a lead. I am certain this Bill is a major step forward in taking a lead to show people that we are serious about what we intend to do and that we will lead by example.
It is now 12.45 a.m. I pay tribute to the members of staff who have to be here to allow us to debate this very important Bill. There are people who should have gone home long ago and, for a variety of reasons, are still here and are allowing us to debate this Bill.
I agree with much of what Senator Hanafin said. His chronological account of the elections of the early 1980s is quite correct. There were general elections in June 1981, February 1982 and November 1982. The only five-year term of the 1980s was from November 1982 to the summer of 1987 which was, in effect, four and a half years. It was the only term that spanned five calendar years. During that time the country was in the grip of a major economic depression, unemployment had spiralled to levels that were previously unseen and the national debt, interest rates and emigration were significant issues. Governments of various hues tried to deal as best they could with the economic situation of the day, but fell because they could not reach consensus. It was a very dark, murky time for the Irish Republic, for some more than others.
When I was elected to Cork County Council ten years ago, I remember learning about various members who had served on the local authority, some who had very distinguished careers, were very lucky and had been re-elected and others who had lost their council seats. Tragically, in terms of political careers, people had mortgaged houses and borrowed money from banks to finance election campaigns in the 1980s. Some only had six month terms, went on to contest Seanad elections and had no success there. What did they have towards the end of their political careers? They had nothing. They had no job because they had lost their Dáil seats and were not successful in Seanad elections. They only thing they could boast of was a parking space in Dublin which they could only use if they were here, which was not much good to somebody tucked in the recesses of the southern parts of Munster.
One case concerned a Member who had lost his Dáil seat and had arranged to visit the leader of his party - I will try to spare blushes by being as vague as I can - with a Telecom Éireann phone bill for more than £600 which he could not afford to pay. He had a wife and a young family. He was not very old and is still working in the public sector, but he had been bankrupted by politics. We must bear in mind, in the context of debating this Bill, that it was not a very well-paid job back then and there was no security of tenure. There was no guarantee that one was here for any length of time.
What has changed since then? There have been, as Senator Hanafin quite rightly pointed out, five-year terms. It is an unusual feature in politics but has been in place since 1997. Most of us have replaced people who have served on local authorities or in the Oireachtas. If one looks at the wealth or status of such people in terms of assets, in my case it is not much. I do not see millionaires who have made significant amounts of money from politics. I see people who have given of their time to get elected, have given service to the public and have not benefitted from politics in the same way in which they would have benefitted from a trade, occupation or profession outside politics.
The media discusses politics a lot, such as the Sunday Independent which stated Deputies were running off for three months of holidays while the country is stuck in an economic quagmire. That is not the case. There are people, including some in this House, who have made the case for a pay cut across the public sector and that we should lead by volunteering to take pay cuts and giving up long service increments. I am one of those affected by the long service increment and I do not mind giving it up. It is a sacrifice we must make to show some element of solidarity with those who have lost their jobs and will lose their jobs before the year is out.
I do not write for a newspaper. This is my job and occupation. I do not have a job to fall back on; I resigned a permanent, pensionable job to contest an election in 2002. I do not have the luxury of saying we should take a 10% or 20% pay cut and fall back on an occupational pension from a previous incarnation. I am 32 years of age and my wife and I have a 30-year mortgage with two years of it paid for. We have just been blessed with a new baby. We have a young family. That type of dynamic does not exist with those who can lecture and pontificate about what we should be doing. I do not job-share with the Sunday Independent. I do not have something to fall back on. I do not have pensions. I do not do this job in my spare time.
In agreeing this Bill, we are agreeing to forgo a long service increment, and rightly so. However, I have an issue, namely, serving Members of Dáil and Seanad Éireann who are in receipt of ministerial pensions. They have been elected, have served their time and have been lucky to have been selected for office. If we are serious about the long service increment, why does it not affect those who already have it? Would it be fair and proper now to go to the public sector, including nurses, gardaí and teachers, and say Deputies and Senators have led by forgoing the long service increment? What other arm of the public sector would agree to that? Would it be acceptable to go to any other arm of the public sector? No, it would not.
We are constantly under the spotlight and being held to account, and rightly so. However, it is time for a level playing pitch. Very few Members of the House qualify for the long service increment this month. I am one and I am happy to forgo it. I wrote to the one stop shop in January and told it I would be happy to forgo the payment in solidarity with those the length and breadth of the country who have lost their jobs.
When we debate this Bill, let us bear balance and fairness in mind. Let us judge those who argue in favour of it in terms of what they are themselves, because I get sick and fed-up of pious platitudes and people who say politicians are all in it for themselves, that they are all creaming it. I have the political bug, and am very honoured to have been elected to Seanad Éireann on two occasions and to have been elected to a local authority. It is a significant honour to bestow on an individual by their peers, as has happened most of us. We are accountable to those people and are lucky to be here. I have the political bug; I chased it and find it very fulfilling. I believe politics is worthwhile and that we can effect change but if the majority of Members of this House had remained in their previous occupations I am sure they would have earned more money. I could earn double what I do as a Senator and would not be judged once every quarter by an excuse for a newspaper that uses the Freedom of Information Act. Some newspapers say we are all in this job for the money and that we will be gone from July to October. They say when we return we will pay lip service to the economic situation the country faces between October and Christmas, but this is not the case.
There is very little in this Bill with which I disagree and I am happy the Leader has decided to take Second Stage tonight. I do not think it would be appropriate to rush such legislation without proper examination because there are issues that require further scrutiny. It seems to me the language of the Bill refers to people here and now and not other Members of the Oireachtas after the next election. Does this mean those currently in receipt of the long-service increment will lose it after the next general election? I look forward to teasing out the issues relating to the other Stages with the Minister of State.
Let us not forget our colleagues who have lost out and who never made substantial sums of money from politics. Public service is a duty and to be elected is an honour. Through the years there have been around 2,000 Members of the Dáil and Seanad and only a handful were involved in activities that required examination by tribunals. It is a tribute to our democracy that most people have endeavoured to serve this country well and leave it in a better state than it was in when they got involved in public service. Let us not forget the figures, accountability and the great contribution we all must make.
The Attorney General advised the Government it can reduce the ministerial pensions to current Members of the Oireachtas by 25% but that does not go far enough. If the Government had left this matter to Members' own devices some would have volunteered to surrender their pensions. The ministerial pension was surrendered by a former Member of this House who did not run to the media seeking recognition and this must be commended. Regardless of party affiliation, I wish all Members were the same because this is about showing solidarity with workers all over the country who have lost their jobs.
This legislation can be looked at from a number of angles. There is no doubt that for most of the history of this State the salaries of those involved in public life compared very badly with salaries in the private sector and in the upper reaches of the Civil Service. Systems were put in place to compensate for this, such as income tax at half the rate of ordinary workers and expenses and allowances that were hard to account for. Many theories exist as to how political representatives should be paid. Some people make a virtue of payment of the average industrial wage to public representatives, though I never hear these people suggesting payment of a minimum wage. After all there are wages above and below the average industrial wage. Another theory suggests that if one pays peanuts one gets monkeys but the history of this State shows many incompetent people in public life have received very high salaries. A high salary is no guarantee of success, in terms of public policy. It is always difficult to strike the appropriate balance.
In the past ten to 15 years we have sleepwalked into a situation where levels of pay for public representatives are linked to salaries in the private sector and higher reaches of the Civil Service. However, we have held on to the vestiges of old systems that should have been changed. This Bill is an attempt to make some of the necessary changes. Like Senator McCarthy, I would like to see the changes made in one clean sweep and I am conscious of the advice of the Attorney General as to how this should be done. I am also conscious that the legislation is framed to accept that advice.
I will repeat what I said elsewhere. In terms of the current economic situation, these changes show political solidarity with the lot of all citizens. There is also a need to readjust wages across the board and the public service must be part of this as we must re-establish competitiveness in our economy. The reality is that money paid to public representatives and politicians is out of sync with other countries. To achieve competitiveness in our society we must have rates of pay and systems of allowances that reflect the new reality and this Bill is a sincere attempt to address this.
The concept of paying pensions to serving politicians should be long gone. Members should not be allowed to hold on to jobs in the education system, though this Bill does not deal with the matter. At the same time, a myth has been created as to how, and the extent to which, people benefit. I was a candidate for a Government party in the recent European election and I have lost count of how many people told me that in the event of my leaving public life, I will be entitled to a considerable pension. As best I can work it out, it comes to €300 per week.
Regarding that €300 per week, I have the advantage of having been elected before the changes in the law in 2005. People newly elected to this Seanad, such as Senator Buttimer, and those elected to the other House after the legislation was passed will not be entitled to such a pension until they are older. I think this is a good change.
If an election is held in 2011, the money saved from 2009 to that year will amount to €1 million. I fear the impact of this Bill will be minimal. Due to a mythology that exists, there will be little public thanks for the passing of this legislation. We must look at the wider picture. I was formerly a community, youth and social worker and when I was elected to the other House in 2002 my new salary was a multiple of what I had earned. This does not reflect what others have said in this House. Within a short period I found myself with a significant sum in my bank account because I spent money like a person on a lower salary. However, I suddenly started spending money like a TD and found that my bank account was soon back at the level it had occupied before I was a Deputy.
During this debate others have referred to costs. I live some distance from the national Parliament, spend half the week in Dublin and continue to have a public office in my shadow constituency as a Member of the Seanad. The cost of all this is around €50,000 per year. Our expenses do not reflect this properly. We are paid too much for travel and accommodation and not enough for our offices and running costs. However, the figures probably add up to be the same anyway. If we want greater public acceptance we really need to change that system so as not to bring upon ourselves the public opprobrium felt towards the British Parliament. We need more openness and transparency and more legislation of this type. We should not see this as a way of winning public favour at a time when politics and politicians are not well thought of. It is a first small but important step towards greater reforms which are still necessary.
I welcome the Bill and thank the Minister for bringing it to the House. It is probably the most botched legislation the Government has ever brought in to deal with our role as public representatives. Senator Boyle was right to ask what a public representative should be paid. This is a PR exercise on the part of Government to save face by using politicians as guinea pigs, or as camels to ride into the sandstorm. As the Leader is fond of saying, it is a privilege to be a Member of Seanad Éireann and it is an honour for me to be elected by the electorate of Cork County Council and Cork City Council. We are an honourable profession and we should never be ashamed to say so. The six of us present in the House tonight represent the people. We work unsocial hours and would do it for nothing if we could get elected.
As Senator Boyle said, the old system is being laid to rest. The salaries paid to the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, Ministers of State and the Attorney General are absurd. One can add the cost of advisers or hangers-on, whatever one may wish to call them. President Obama published the amounts of money paid to a number of his advisers and they were considerably lower than the amounts paid to advisers to the Minister of State, the Taoiseach and other members of the Cabinet.
Martin Mansergh (Minister of State with special responsibility for the Arts, Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism; Minister of State with special responsibility for the Office of Public Works, Department of Finance; Tipperary South, Fianna Fail)
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I do not have advisers.
I do not agree with the Minister on many issues but at least he is one of those who listens and perhaps he should be elevated.
The aspect of this which upsets me most is the increment. I have been a school teacher for over 20 years. Every few years I receive an increment and I am entitled to it based on the service I have given to the school. I will not get votes from this and the media will probably deride me for saying so, but non-ministerial office holders, whether they are Senators or Deputies, should not be afraid to stand up for what we believe in. I do not think taking away the increment for non-office holders is the right decision. However, I believe members of the public will look at the cuts in this Bill and decide they are not enough.
The remuneration is good and the allowances are generous for ordinary Senators and Deputies but let us start the process with the Cabinet and its entourage. Can the Minister of State say if we have cut that entourage and the other costs incurred by Cabinet? If officials and civil servants had their increments taken away they would go out on strike but we cannot do that. I have no difficulty with the abolition of pensions for Ministers who are serving Deputies, nor with pay cuts. I have no difficulty with not being able to claim an allowance as a Senator for my job in the school. That is a fair move and we need fairness. However, I do not agree with the Minister of State's claim that the Government has shown leadership. We are in the position we are in today because of the way Fianna Fáil has run the country for the past 12 years. It is like an animal farm, where the slogan was "two legs good, four legs better".
Senator Boyle is right there must be transparency and accountability. I run a full-time office in the constituency of Cork South-Central but do not receive a brass penny for it. Maybe this Bill will be a catalyst to fix the cleavage in Irish politics and get rid of clientelism. It might force people to question the job of a Deputy or Senator. Is their job to be at the beck and call of everybody and do work on the ground but to forget about legislation? It is 1.30 a.m. and we are debating legislation we should have debated throughout the day, instead of rushing it. We need a wider debate about what we want parliamentarians to do.
Senator Boyle was also correct to say that the cost of politics was increasing for the ordinary person who gets involved. I would hate a situation to arise in which politics were the preserve of the rich and only a select few could run for office. I am not a wealthy person and have no aspiration to have riches. I want to be a representative of the people, as is the case with many of my colleagues. As politicians we have a fundamental choice between a system which has accountability, transparency and value for money and one that does not have those things. I ask the media, who are very quick to jump on politicians, to look into their own profession because there is much to which they have turned a blind eye but we are soft targets.
The Bill is welcome and must be the beginning of a change in politics. I hope we will all be treated with fairness and equality because such things are the cornerstone of the democracy of which I want to be a part.
I welcome the Bill. It is important we recognise that we have a difficult economy which has been ailing for the past 12 months. We are now responding to the private sector, which has taken very substantial pay cuts of between 15% and 25%. This Bill makes a statement to the 400,000 people who are unemployed to the effect that we understand what they are going through and will reduce our salaries in response.
It is not acceptable that Senators or Ministers should draw a pension while still working and the provision to change that aspect is the most just part of this Bill. However, I agree with Senator Buttimer on the subject of increments. As Senator Hanafin said, there were regulations and agreements in place for this House but this Bill diminishes them and that is a mistake. It has cost some people a fortune to go into politics, whether they ran for Dáil Éireann, Seanad Éireann or local authorities. Senator McCarthy rightly empathises with people who were broke when they left politics and I also know such people. There is no guarantee of a job in politics. One is lucky if the people vote for one and put one into either this or the Lower House. I am very grateful to be here.
What really lets the system down badly is that when we go to the trouble of dealing with legislation such as this, there is a situation in this House which we have not dealt with and I do not know whether we have the courage to deal with it. Although this is not the time to be doing it, I want to bring to the Minister of State's attention that €500,000 is spent by these Houses on RTE and the national and multinational press which work out of this building. I would like to see some effort in this area. These are all profitable organisations whose representatives in these Houses are highly paid, use telephones and desks, and enjoy heating and subsidised food. Despite this, they write stories about public representatives not doing their jobs while they can telephone their granny in Australia, New Zealand or wherever at the expense of the State. It is time we had the courage to stop that. A sum of €500,000 would keep a great many people looking after the sick and elderly in our hospitals. I would like to see that addressed and I will address it in more detail tomorrow morning on the Order of Business. When we legislate we should not take the soft options. That is an option which could have been in the Bill and is one we should still look at. I do not see why Dr. Tony O'Reilly's journalists or those from The Irish Times who are in these Houses should be subsidised by this or any Parliament for that matter. While it is important they play their part, I have not heard any one of them giving good press to any politician no matter what time of the morning we sit.
This legislation is welcome. I am happy to be a Member of this House and I am happy to take a reduction in salary as a signal to the people who are not so happy, who are unemployed and who may have very little hope in life. At least we can make some contribution towards the retention of the small amount of money that such people are paid to keep them in basic food and services to which they are entitled and to which they contributed.
I thank the Minister of State for coming to this House where he spends a great deal of time. He gives Members an excellent explanation of all of the legislation he presents in this House and I thank him for that.
I do not wish to delay the House because it is 1.15 a.m. Fairness and balance is what we seek in this legislation. We are doing the right thing because we are leading by example. We are showing those who have lost their jobs that while the allocation of money involved is small, it is leading by example. It is a small lead, but it is the example that really matters. I certainly support the Minister of State in his efforts.
I remember in 1982 the salary of a Senator was €9,100; today it is €70,000. However, there are the levies, income tax and all those deductions that come out of it. Members are lucky to have €35,000 in take-home pay.
It is temporary employment. As I have seen down through the years, the Dáil changes its membership by approximately 30% in every general election, with the exception of 1982 when 55 TDs ceased membership of the Dáil through retirement or not being re-elected. Also in that year there were 16 outgoing members of Fine Gael in the Seanad, 14 of whom did not return. There were 14 new Members along with two long-standing colleagues, who are still Members of the House and distinguished colleagues.
That goes to show the difficulty entailed in the permanent employment of being a public representative. One gives away everything. One gives away one's independence and one's privacy. One puts one's availability to the nation first before one's family and oneself. Like colleagues, I know many wealthy people who became Members of both the Dáil and the Seanad over the years - I have been coming here since 1963 - who left this House penniless, and it was worse years ago.
When I became a Member in 1982, there were five Members, four TDs and myself as a Senator, in the one office. We had one secretary and we booked our hour on the telephone because there was only one. Of course, being the junior Member, I was given the 5 o'clock to 6 o'clock time slot. We have come a long way in being given the tools of our ware and of this technological age.
The Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh, is held in high regard throughout the nation as someone who has served the country well to the limit. With many Taoisigh, he played a pivotal role in the North of Ireland. He is most welcome in this House. He is a great supporter of this House and a former Member.
The area I want to address is the expectation of the long-service increment to TDs and Senators. The long-service increment is not gained but worked hard for. The reason the long-service increments were made on seven years and then increased on ten years was for the positions the TDs and Senators were holding as Front Bench spokespersons or assistant spokespersons on the various Departments. They had no research back-up. They had nothing. The Front Bench spokespersons of the Opposition parties in the Dáil in particular and of all sides in the Seanad do not get anything for their research or for what they do, yet they take on the extra responsibility of spokesperson on behalf of their party. That remuneration is now being removed in the national interest. I am pleased to learn that those who have the long-service increments will be able to avail of them with their pension rights. I would like to think that when the economy turns around in a few years' time, these long-service increments, which are incentive payments to those of us who are spokespersons, would be looked at again.
On the remuneration for committee Chairmen, which was reduced by 50%, Vice Chairmen and convenors, surely given the tribunal experience and the tens of millions of euro it has cost the taxpayers, the success of committees has been central to saving the taxpayer. Look at what the DIRT inquiry of the Committee of Public Accounts, chaired by the late Deputy Jim Mitchell, saved the taxpayer, and the deliberations of the committee were successfully concluded within a short period. Look at the way the Joint Committee on Enterprise and Small Business, which I chaired in the previous Dáil, dealt with high insurance costs at the time and how we saved premium holders tens of millions of euro just by having the members of the committee present and giving the small remuneration to the Chairman, the Vice Chairman and the convenor. This is a retrograde step in the case of committees because they save the taxpayer massive sums of money in the long term compared with the work being done in the tribunals, work which should be done under the scrutiny of the television cameras with everything available for the purposes of openness and transparency. Committees do such work in record time.
When the economy returns to normal, we must give the tools of the ware to the committee system in the House because I can see it playing a central role in EU scrutiny which has not been carried out to the extent it should be. I recall when I was Chairman of the Joint Committee on Enterprise and Small Business the enormous volume of post, weighing almost half a stone, that used to come to me every day.
There are other areas I could touch on but it is late. The Bill is welcome and shows we are giving example. I would like to think the few points I made from my long years of experience would not be forgotten when the economy, hopefully, improves in the not too distant future.
It is true, as the Leader said, we must lead by example. That is the way one brings people with one. The general public, as Senator Buttimer said, should not be the reason for this legislation. We have to do the right thing because the general public and the media will not thank us for the new arrangements we are making.
Senator Cassidy made a valid point on remuneration. When I worked in the Civil Service, the post office, in the 1980s and budgets were tight, the basic pay was so bad one could not survive on it if one did not get overtime. Overtime made up half the basic pay. At the time we had to take the pay cut but when business picked up again our wages went back to where they had been.
As Senator Buttimer said politics is a costly job in which to stay. There is not a day of the week – I am sure most Members have the same experience – when I do not get letters from all groups in my constituency looking for €200, €500 or €600. If I were to pay it all out, half my salary would be gone in subscriptions to these groups just to stay in business. Regarding Senator Buttimer's other point about staying in business, one needs an office in a constituency, one has to keep up to speed and one needs high-tech equipment. Members get no allowance for this whatsoever.
The definition of expenses is that when one is out of pocket, one is reimbursed. I do not believe anyone in any job should be out of pocket. However, we should not make martyrs out of ourselves just to show the public we will go along with this. We should not demean ourselves to such a degree that we become doormats and there would be no respect for us.
Recently at a Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting I became unpopular for raising the issue of Members receiving a salary and ministerial pension at the same time. It does not happen in any other walk of life and I am glad action is being taken on this. That was the one issue about which the public was complaining.
Regarding the point that we are linked to civil servants' salaries, I counter that I am in politics because I like it. I am not in politics to become rich. When I was first elected to the Oireachtas, I was informed by some Members that their salaries were very bad. When I delved into it, I realised that for some of them politics was only a sideline because they had large businesses and were millionaires and billionaires. I could understand what they were saying about salaries as we have to compare like with like. However, my bank statements verify that at the end of every month I hardly break even due to the fact I must pay a large amount to keep in business.
We must lead by example. However, at the same time we must be paid for what we do. Politics is a high-risk business and it is difficult to stay in it. Many pay a high price for politics with family life affected as well as one's own. In some cases, one's health can be affected. Many had short careers in politics due to health reasons. As Senator Butler said, many left the Houses broke, some of whom I know myself. I welcome the ministerial pensions aspect of the Bill. I concur with our Leader, Senator Cassidy, that when times get good again this legislation should be re-examined.
Members often say they would earn ten times as much if they were not in the Houses. That rubbish annoys me. I say to them they should leave as there is no one chaining them to here. Some Members complain it is terrible in here when they could be outside earning so much or being a doctor.
One Member told me one day he had received ten job offers in Canada. When I asked him why he did not go, he told me because he was so fond and proud of his country, he wanted to represent his people. I told him not to be telling me then about job offers elsewhere.
I commend the Bill to the House.
I listened with interest to the Minister's speech. I agree with him that because of the huge change in our fiscal fortunes there is a need for us to address this area in the interests of the overall economy. Several efforts have been made over the past six months to get to grips with this, but even so we are still facing a budget deficit of some €20 billion or €22 billion. There is much work to be done on this.
There are two trends of thought on the long service increment. One, prevalent in the public service, is that it is there to reward people for their experience and, in turn, assist them in doing their job. In recognition of that, they get paid on an incremental scale. The other view is that people should be paid according to their ability, performance and responsibility. Having spent most of my working life in the private sector, I am more inclined to the latter. I know there are difficulties, particularly for administrative positions, in making that distinction and making judgments. Nonetheless, it has been done in the private sector.
I am not sure how effectively bonus schemes have been applied in the public sector as they seem generally to apply to people regardless of performance. For many in semi-State companies, it seems to apply even when the company's fortunes are not very good. We have seen this in the banking sector as well. There are certain underlying principles which should apply to the application of bonuses.
The Bill's provision for long-service increments came about because of a newspaper campaign which referred to them as bonuses. Given the opprobrium people have towards bonuses, particularly the banking sector's bonuses, the continuance of increments was not going to get public support.
It has been said those of us elected to office to represent people should give a lead in difficult times, a point with which I concur. Obviously, the amount of money being saved through this legislation, even when all long-service increments will be abolished after the next general election, will make no difference to the fiscal position. Who else in the public sector will follow this example? Unless applied across the public service, this provision is meaningless in correcting the public finances. The pension scheme has been changed during the time of most of us here, i.e. during the last term and previous terms, and entitlement to the pension now applies at age 65, as happens in the private sector. I have concerns about the voluntary early retirement scheme which will give people pensions at age 50. The actuarial cost of that has not been evaluated and I believe it will be significant. We are fortunate to be in the public service. We would not be able to buy these pensions if we were in the private sector and we should recognise that. I believe that at some stage the pensions we have will have to be abandoned, but there is a reasonable expectation by those working in the service that their current entitlement will continue.
I want to raise a couple of anomalies. This applies only to those who were there prior to the change and who were entitled to a pension after the age of 50, whose pensions will be affected as a consequence of this legislation. As I understand it, however, it is affected only if they continue to be a Member of either House of the Oireachtas. That creates an anomaly. A Member who has been a Minister will not be paid a ministerial pension while he or she continues to work in these Houses regardless of age. The import of this Bill is that that would apply even after the age of 65. However, if a Minister leaves politics and takes up another profession, say as a barrister, he or she could be charging fees of €1 million in a year, which I understand is not unusual for a member of the Bar Council, and still get the benefit of an Oireachtas pension. That is inequitable and should be looked at because it is essential that everybody should make a contribution across the board and that the system be demonstrably fair. If it is not, it will be difficult to persuade people across the broader spectrum of society to play their part in countering the difficulties and challenges confronting us and that we must overcome in the interests of the next generation and of regenerating the economy. If my interpretation is correct, I ask the Minister to comment on what can be done in that regard.
The Minister stated that Government members reduced their salaries by 10% last October and that Ministers of State made a similar reduction. Was that 10% of the total salary of Ministers and Ministers of State, including their Dáil salary, or was it 10% of only the ministerial part of it? I understand that the 10% reduction applies only to the ministerial part of their salary and it is stretching the facts to say Ministers and Ministers of State have taken a reduction of 10% in their salaries. They did not. They took a 10% reduction in the additional payment they get on top of their TD salaries, which many people do not realise. It is only right that the public should be made aware of that and that Members of the Oireachtas gave a false impression that the 10% reduction applied to the total amount they get. That is not the case.
Perhaps it is the wrong thing to say at this point but it is 1.35 a.m. and I feel guilty that a number of staff are being delayed because I have decided to contribute to this debate. It is a debate we should have had during the day because everybody should be getting the message. This debate is about expenses. It is about what we are. It is about what we earn and what the public pay for us. It is about what we do for the money we are paid. It is a most important opportunity - that is the only reason I am delaying people here tonight - for us to sell a particular message. I do not know whether the media are listening. Perhaps I am speaking only to the people in this room, but if that is the case I know I am speaking to quality.
That is probably right. My first point is the timing of the debate tonight. I am very interested in selling who and what I am. I am a seven days a week, 20 hours a day politician. When I said that on "The Late Late Show" I received two e-mails immediately afterwards which stated that we were only doing the same as everybody else and that everybody was working hard. I believe everybody works hard. I was able to solve two problems that weekend of people who sent me e-mails challenging me as to whether I was really a seven days a week operator, whether I really have people's interests at heart when I say I am interested in politics as a career.
I want to declare my interest in regard to the long service increments. I have been in national politics for 13 years so I qualify for both increments. I also qualify for an extra pension payment, having been a convenor and having been Chair of the Oireachtas Committee on Arts, Sport, Tourism, Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. I, therefore, stand to lose in the next tranche of cuts, but if is in the national interest I have no problem with it.
In the context of what Senator Brady said, if I had remained teaching I would have points for organising an orchestra, points for training a choir and points for taking on various responsibilities. Had I been in nursing I would have points for undertaking different levels of responsibility. I do not know that we are so different from other public servants. If we are different, what makes us different? The longer one is in a job the more experienced one becomes. More experience does not necessarily make one better. However, in any other job time yields results in terms of points and financial gain. I make the point that we are told we are not the same, but let me give the example of travel. When I was first elected to the Dáil and people in Donegal wanted me to meet them on a Tuesday or Wednesday I had to tell them I could not because that was when the Dáil sat. They would ask why I had to go to the Dáil and I would answer that it was because they elected me to go there and legislate and that to do that I had to go to Dublin. They wanted to know why it was in Dublin and why it could not be in Donegal. I am not saying everybody thought that way. When I attended a meeting on a Monday night somebody would ask why I spent so much time in Dublin when I should be in Donegal. That is why I say we should be having this debate during the day when people can tune in and listen. We need to find mechanisms to sell what we do because many people do not know why we are here. I have to be here so the cut of 25% in mileage expenses was something I felt. I am not sure that people out there knew about that cut. If I were in another job I could choose to go to this or that conference, but I cannot choose whether to be here or not. I have to be here because it is where the Seanad sits.
We have been subject to public levies as well and it is important to say that because the public seem to think we are not affected by cuts. I want to put on record the fact that as a Senator I can choose whether to have an office. I chose to have one and keep a service to the national electorate, that is, the national public representatives in the county councils, and my constituents. We do not receive allowances towards that.
An interesting pilot project was done recently where the phone system in the Oireachtas was given to five people, of which I was one. Despite having had the free service of that phone, I have still incurred phone bills. My bills, even with the free service, still exceed the amount of allowances we receive. The money spent on the services we provide to constituencies, constituents and taxpayers far exceeds the allowance we receive.
When I was convenor of the health committee, we were involved in an examination of the issue of tobacco. Our work contributed to the ban on smoking in public places that was introduced by the then Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Micheál Martin. When I was chair of the Committee on Arts, Sport, Tourism, Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, we pushed the issue of alcohol being brought under the national substance misuse strategy - it is now there. We pushed for party pills to be banned, which has now happened. I did a report on music therapy, and all of the issues concerning that have not yet been dealt with. I am on the Council of Europe and I am sure at some stage someone will complain about the amount of money I spend on travel, but a report was passed unanimously by the Council on history teaching in conflict and post-conflict areas which I gave to Ban Ki-moon during his visit to the Oireachtas yesterday.
A serious amount of work goes on here. I have put reports together which required many hours of work. Had we outsourced the 13 reports I did while chair of the Committee on Arts, Sport, Tourism, Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs and reports done before and after that to consultants or others who receive a lot of money for these types of projects it would have cost the taxpayer hundreds of thousands of euro.
The issue of understanding and valuing the work of a politician still needs to be addressed. I do not expect praise or expect people to understand the ins and outs of it, but we do not stand here often enough and have time to sell our message, who we are and what we are doing.
It is 1.45 a.m. and I have one question for the Minister of State. In reviewing the Bill, I note that members of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission receive €20,000 per annum as an extra allowance for serving on it. I understand the Minister, Deputy Lenihan, stated that was to be halved, yet such a measure seems to be missing from the Bill. He has touched on long service increments and chairs, vice chairs and convenors of committees. Why is that the case? Am I incorrect in my understanding? I ask the Minister of State to clarify that point. If I am correct, why would the members of the commission be excluded from the Bill?
Martin Mansergh (Minister of State with special responsibility for the Arts, Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism; Minister of State with special responsibility for the Office of Public Works, Department of Finance; Tipperary South, Fianna Fail)
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It is a great tribute to Members of the House that they have been prepared to debate this important Bill for the best part of an hour and three quarters. I join in thanking officers of the House for staying up and listening to us.
Many points have been raised and I would like to reply to them. I will start with the last point made by Senator Healy Eames so she can go to bed.
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The matter she mentioned will be addressed by regulation and a regulation to that effect will be submitted to Government shortly. The halving of the salary of members of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission does not require legislation.
I thank everyone who spoke for their constructive and thoughtful contributions. The background to the legislation is the very difficult economic situation in which, collectively and individually, we find ourselves. Regardless of the fact that the savings to be made will be, comparatively, a drop in the ocean in terms of the problem we face, it is nonetheless important that such a contribution is made out of solidarity.
Senator Twomey raised the question of peoples' expectations and that receiving long-term increments could perhaps have created potential legal rights. Legally, practically anything can be challenged and to say something can be challenged does not necessarily say a whole lot, because even the most clear-cut issues are sometimes challenged in court. In the situation we are in, we cannot be constrained by what peoples' expectations were. The reality of the current situation means we all have to lower our expectations.
It is correct to say, and several speakers made the point, that pension arrangements for Members of the Oireachtas are very generous. I had dinner with my son who has received an MBA and works in the pensions industry. He made the point that Members' pensions are as good as one will receive anywhere. We should not be under any illusion about that.
There was much discussion about long service increments. It is important to remember that such increments for Oireachtas Members were introduced relatively recently, in 2001. Arguments can made for both sides. There may be something to be said for the notion of equality, that is, whether Members of the Oireachtas have been elected for a short period or a relatively long period of time.
Not all of us understand how long service increments work in this House and the Civil Service. Members do not receive annual increments, but after seven years receive the first long service increment and after ten years, until now, receive the second long service increment. Civil servants receive annual increments up to a certain point and after that it levels off. After three years at the maximum level of salary, they receive their first long service increment and after six years on maximum salary receive a second long service increment.
Points were also made on bonuses. As I said before, when I was a member of the Civil Service there were no bonuses of any kind. For example, during the first Irish Presidency one could work very long hours seven days a week, but one did not get paid anything extra. To be frank, I have a certain nostalgia for that type of egalitarian system, rather than having a system which has a "one for everyone in the audience" approach.
Senator Cassidy made the point that it is temporary employment and after I was elected by a very small margin I was told by a person to enjoy my tenancy. I liked that remark. Both Senators Cassidy and Keaveney spoke of the success of the committees and the savings to taxpayers. It was said that people should be proud of their profession but I do not think this necessarily must be linked to increments, pensions, bonuses and so on.
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One can be proud irrespective of recompense.
Most politicians spend more money on their work than they receive in this respect and this point has often been made in this debate. This is absolutely true, but does it follow from this that the State should fund whatever we wish to spend individually on politics, our campaigns, services for constituents and so on? If we wish to set up three, four or five offices in our constituencies, should the State fund them? I do not think so.
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I am not saying anyone is arguing for such a measure but there must be economy in the running of politics and this applies individually and collectively. Senator Hanafin mentioned figures that were quite high, according to my experience, but perhaps he was elected by a more comfortable margin than I ever achieved. The figure of €30,000 was mentioned for a Seanad campaign but in 2002 I did not spend more than €12,000. For a Dáil campaign the amount suggested was €70,000; we all know parties take a certain amount of what an individual can spend and use it at national and regional levels. One would not be allowed to spend €70,000 in a Dáil campaign. It is undesirable that a successful campaign should require more and more money; very often successful campaigns seem to be linked to the amount of money available and there is no more striking example of this than the first Lisbon treaty referendum. In that case a great deal of money was spent on the "No" campaign by a particular organisation and this clearly brought results. To be fair, it was an intelligent and focused campaign and did not relate solely to the spending of money.
Regarding Senator Cummins's point, Ministers and Ministers of State took a voluntary salary reduction of 10%, which is closer to 20% when one includes the levy. The Senator is correct to note that this applied to the ministerial part of the salary; I am not aware that anyone tried to present anything else as being the case. The pension levy applied to the other part of the salary - the Dáil salary. Certain Members of the Oireachtas made an equivalent voluntary reduction, though not many.
The Minister has referred the issue of the high salaries of office holders, including those at the top of the public service, to the Review Body on Higher Remuneration in the Public Sector to benchmark pay against international and EU rates and to write a report; this has not been widely noted and its significance has been underestimated.
I will not delay the House. I thank Members for their support; more will be teased out on Committee Stage.