The Gilded Money Tree
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.