Pampered Cabinet is a grotesque spectacle

The spectacle of our lavishly rewarded Government taking the 'tough' decisions to reduce the living standards of the less well off is a grotesque one. By Vincent Browne.

This week and over the next few weeks the prospective €36 million pensioners (Cabinet members) will deliberate on the amount by which the living standards of the populace will be reduced, in particular the living standards, the welfare entitlements and the health and social supports of people living on incomes and supports that are a fraction of ministerial and TD incomes and supports. And then lavishly remunerated Fine Gael and Labour TDs will troop through the lobbies or press the relevant buttons from their Dáil benches to approve uncritically what their betters have decided on to make life more miserable for the unwell remunerated.

Last week’s revelation in the Irish Times that the pension pots of Enda Kenny, Eamon Gilmore, Phil Hogan and Brendan Howlin will all be worth more than €3 million, and that almost all ministers stand to get severance handouts of up to €140,000, with an income from their pensions of more than €80,000, and that these (very) fat cats will take “tough” decisions that will devastate the lives of hundreds of thousands of their fellow citizens, makes the spectacle of their doings grotesque. It is made all the more so by their protestations of how difficult it is for them to do the budgetary arithmetic and how they will not “flinch” (as Eamon Gilmore inelegantly puts it) from taking the tough decisions.

The scale of the preferment enjoyed by our rulers is spectacular. TDs are paid €92,672 per year, which is well over twice the average wage in society. Many of the 166 TDs are paid substantially more, bringing their total “take” to a significant multiple of the average wage and a huge multiple of the income of hundreds of thousands of people whose incomes they want to cut and are about to cut.

Enda Kenny is paid €200,000 a year, in contrast to his kissing pal, Angela Merkel, who is paid just €192,000; his new pal, François Hollande, who is paid €180,000; and another pal, David Cameron, who gets about €178,000. As Taoiseach, Enda gets driven around in a top-of-the range State car for free by two gardaí. He has helicopters and a government jet at his disposal and countless other perks.

Eamon Gilmore gets paid more than the president of France and the prime minister of Britain, €184,405. And on top of that there are lavish perks: a top-of-the-range State car driven by two Garda drivers (this in acknowledgment of his exalted status as Tánaiste!), generous expenses, and subsidised or free nosh. The government jet and helicopters are at his disposal, plus hotel accommodation at every stop-off on his regular trips abroad, limousines at airports to hurry him wherever he is going and some flunky to open and close car doors for him lest he be too exhausted from not flinching.

The other 13 Cabinet Ministers get salaries of €169,275 a year, plus expenses, subsidised nosh and, while they have to use their own cars, they get drivers and generous mileage allowances. Even after they are reimbursed for their hotel costs, when abroad, they get an extra €72.66 for subsistence. The Ceann Comhairle gets paid the same and gets many of the same perks, in return for his demanding job – chairing half the Dáil debates.

Ministers of State get €130,042 (two of them get €147,252) and the mileage expenses and drivers. Thirteen other TDs, who are chairpersons of Oireachtas committees, get an extra €9,500 on top of the €92,672. Nine TDs and Senators get the same on top of their salaries for being members of the Oireachtas Commission. Nine TDs get between €3,000 and €19,000 for being whips of their parties.

Then there are those pensions, of course, plus termination allowances; travel and accommodation allowances (between €12,000 and €37,850 a year, depending on the distance of their homes from Leinster House; but even if they were living across the road from Leinster House there would be an allowance of €12,000); additional or alternative mileage allowances graduated upwards according to the plushness of their cars; free access to a gym; free parking in a central Dublin location – and that is for life; a subsidised bar; free postage; free ink toners for their printers; free phone calls; free smartphones every year and a half; free VHI membership; free language lessons; up to €41,092 for secretarial assistance; and €8,000 to kit out a constituency office. All this to help them overcome the trauma of ruining the lives of people paid fractions of their “take”.

Well done! It is not that the political system should not be well funded – indeed, it needs to be better funded. But, more importantly, it needs to be changed drastically to give TDs and Senators meaningful roles. At present the primary function of government backbench TDs is to endorse unquestioningly the decisions taken by others (cabinet members) and to avoid any embarrassment whatever to their parties, never holding the government of the day to account in any respect. The absence of accountability is the primary defect of our system and it is the one feature of the system that all the major parties are determined not to change.

Meanwhile, the gravy train rolls on.

Image top: Images_of_Money.