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The Gilded Money Tree

Read more about: Corruption, Fianna Fail, Government, Parties, Taxation, Transport, Travel & Tourism, Tribunals     Print This Post

This might appear to be a little behind the curve, thanks to my first effort getting lost on the WP app. Anyway…..

The response of Ceann Comhairle John O Donoghue to the reports of his extremely large expenses bills from his time in Arts, Sport and Tourism unveil a couple of things our erstwhile snippers should bear in mind. The former minister was responsible for €180,000 in travel expenses in one year – spent on the minister, his wife and private secretary travelling in pretty extreme luxury.

Limousines, luxury hotels and the like are hard to justify at the best of times – and these were the best of times – but in a piece in the Indo yesterday, O Donoghue’s people did their best.

Defenders of the Ceann Comhairle said yesterday that all the accommodation and incidentals had been procured by his departmental officials.

Ah it was those nasty, useless, wasteful civil servants who made the ministers trudge through the luxury. Surely we cannot admonish a man for doing his job? Well hold on a second, that is not technically what they are saying – the civil servants booked the trips, that was their job, but on whose orders were they booking such extravagant stays? Where was it made clear that the trips must follow the form they did? There is taking initiative and then there simply doing one’s task and our minister’s spinners have made no comment on who made the call to stay in luxury hotels. I think we can take a stab at that from the following:

It was also suggested that such expenditure was necessary in order to encourage the location of big events, such as the Ryder Cup, in Ireland.

Ah, there we have it, in order to compete for massive events – of which we have only hosted one, the Ryder Cup – we must spend €60,000 a year on a minister, €60,000 on his wife and €60,000 on his private secretary. In order to get value for money from that they would end up as tax exiles for the year from time spent overseas.

It is not for a dig I am making this point – for across the page in yesterday’s Indo the mentality that deems it a fair use of taxpayer dosh to loll about in limos was made clear. Figures released to the Indo suggest that Ryan’s income last year was €115,049. This is for a man who was Minister during the 1970s, and MEP in the 1970s and 1980s and drawing three different pensions.

I doubt very much he is responsible for the amount of money he is taking, a €17,178 MEP’s pension, a €60,044 Oireachtas pension and a ministerial pension worth €37,827. That is a phenomenal pension by any standards. It underlines what we all should bear in mind. At the top of our tree there are hugely remunerated public and (even larger still) private workers. The attitude laid bare by the extravagance of O Donohue’s expenses and the psychology that ties the pension of Richie Ryan to the earnings of his successors.

That latter is a matter which is within the remit of the Minister for Finance to change, it was a discretionary decision to tie pensions to earning of successors and while no one would say that a man like Ryan is not entitled to his pension – I baulk at the idea that he earns as much so long after departing office as I would if I became a Junior Minister.

For years there are those for whome percentage increases during benchmarking generated runaway income increases. 5% of €34,000 is a significant sum but nowhere near as much as 5% of €150,000. For many public sector workers – especially those now facing cutbacks in the Bord Snip report, their increases followed the former pattern – keeping them within range of the average industrial wage. For those toward the top it was the indulgence of enormous wage growth thanks to the same percentage increases.

Richie Ryan was not around the table taking those decisions – but our current political and economic leaders were. Of course cutting back on pensions tied to current earnings, expenses for Ministers to travel the world and the earnings of politicians, higher civil service wouldn’t save €5bn but a cut would go a long way to rectifying things.

The attitude of self-indulgence, overpayment and clubby ‘we’re worth it’ pensions has to change. The last few days underscore that we don’t have a pure public-private divide but one between those at the top of both trees and the rest of us. The top must bear its share of cuts before they get any veneer of legitimacy for the cuts they implement for the rest of us.

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8 Responses to “The Gilded Money Tree”

  1. # Comment by P O'Neill Jul 28th, 2009 13:07

    O’Donogue’s travel budget in those 2 years would have bought 400,000 security screening plastic bags at Dublin Airport. The expression used to be private wealth and public squalor. Ireland managed the reverse.

  2. # Comment by Mark Coughlan Jul 28th, 2009 14:07

    I think it’s fair to note than O’Donoghue was the tourism minister during this time and his expenses were likely – at least should be – far higher than those of his cabinet colleagues. At least he declared them.

    While I’d in no way condone the limos and such I would expect him to travel in a decent vehicle while abroad, but yes, the limo is overboard.

    But yes, I agree the political class are out of touch – their attitude is incorrect, politics is not something that should be entered into for monetary gain, but politicians make a lot of money from what they do, more so than they should.

    Tying their wages to the average industrial wage/inflation would be a start…

  3. # Comment by Tipster Jul 28th, 2009 14:07

    Interestingly, there is a Bill due before the House of Commons in London in October to set a maximum wage. (It won’t pass, but the sponsor is hoping to get a debate going on the issue.) I wonder if anybody here would even raise the idea.

  4. # Comment by Betty Jul 28th, 2009 14:07

    The Imelda Marcos mentality of our top politicians and civil servants will have to be seriously challenged before there is any attempt to implement McCarthy—how can anyone justify cutting social welfare or removing special needs assistants while these obcene payments are the norm, and I have no doubt that there is some govt minister to day organising similar junkets or or organising the Air Corps to ferry someone to a football match. We won’t hear much from the bearded trade union boys on the subject, they have bought into the culture as well.

  5. # Comment by P O'Neill Jul 28th, 2009 16:07

    Even if a Ministerial trip requires going to Paris, it’s another step up to be staying at the Bristol. That’s for Russian billionaires, Saudi princes, and apparently Irish ministers. Remember Miriam Lord’s recent column on David Miliband’s trip to Ireland. He flew British Midland. Not good enough for our boys.

  6. # Comment by CivilisedServant Jul 28th, 2009 17:07

    It’s shocking, symptomatic of so much, yet very unsurprising.

  7. # Comment by Tony Aug 24th, 2009 16:08

    When John O’Donoghue was Minister for Arts, Cuture ( and blah blah ) he spent around 70% of the money on projects in Kerry. Guess what? – he’s from Kerry. That in itself is a bit of a scandal.

    As for his expenses, I wouldn’t mind if the money was spent on things needed … like perhaps an operation to cure his neck spasms whilst muttering “We’re riddy … willing … and able”

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