Seanad Éireann - Volume 111 - 05 March, 1986
Oireachtas and Judicial Pensions: Motion.
Mr. Ross Mr. Ross
Mr. Ross: I move:
That Seanad Éireann, mindful of the constant exhortations of successive Governments for pay restraint from all sections of the population, calls on the Government to introduce legislation to ensure that neither the President nor any member of the Judiciary nor any member of the Oireachtas, nor any member of the European Parliament, receives a pension by virtue of having held office, either as Ceann Comhairle or Leas-Cheann Comhairle of the Dáil, or as Cathaoirleach or Leas-Chathaoirleach of the Seanad or as a member of the Government or Minister of State.
The reference to the Leas-Chathaoirleach in the motion is no way to be taken personally and I am quite happy to have you in the Chair during this debate.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach An Leas-Chathaoirleach
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Delighted.
Mr. Ross Mr. Ross
 Mr. Ross: I am delighted to have you in the Chair provided I am not interrupted any further. This motion deals with the credibility of politicians and the public distrust which is felt for politicians of all our parties and Independents by the general public. Many of us are aware of the deep distrust and deep cynicism which is felt about politics and politicians in Ireland. It is very difficult to put one's finger on any tangible evidence why politicians should be held by the public in such low esteem. But the position regarding pensions in this House and in the other House is one of the most tangible pieces of evidence where the public feel the politicians are being given preferential treatment over other people and it breeds distrust. It is something which they point to.
The main thrust of this motion is to object to the practice of paying sitting Members of the Oireachtas salaries as well as paying them pensions for being ex-Ministers. By doing this these people are establishing a principle whereby they can be paid not only incomes from the State but simultaneously they are being paid pensions from the State. It is the principle which I object to, not just in terms of politicians but in all cases. It is important that this motion is down, because we should put our own House and the Dáil in order before we attack other institutions. I can anticipate people asking what do you do about certain other categories? The principle objective should be to show the public the way we are acting and to put our own House in order.
The amount paid out by the Exchequer in this case is very small. But the actual amount paid does not matter; I am objecting to the principle. If £10,000 per annum were paid, I believe the principle would be wrong. The public see in this payment of pensions to sitting TDs and sitting Senators not only preferential treatment being given to public representatives by public representatives showing self-interest above public interest, public representatives awarding themselves salaries which cannot be justified in the public interest and for which they were  not elected. Outside the House this is regarded as one of the great scandals at the moment. It is time this House examined it and made proposals to revise it because politicians are seen not just in this way but in many other aspects, to be feathering their own nests.
I have no quarrel with the idea of paying politicians pensions per se, I believe there is no doubt that sacrifices are made by politicians to come into both Houses and undoubtedly, politicians could have much more lucrative careers outside. I believe that what they do should be acknowledged and should be rewarded in some form when they have given service to the State, but I do not believe that the present way of rewarding it is right. I do not believe the State should pay them pensions in an unprecedented manner while at the same time paying them for doing a job for the State.
A further principle which I believe ought to have been established a long time ago in other areas is that legislators should not be awarding themselves their own pay, their own expenses and their own pensions. At regular intervals we see politicians' pay becoming a source of national controversy because these awards are made by politicians themselves in the Government. We see politicians' expenses also being awarded by the Government and now we see politicians' pensions also being awarded by the Government. I believe this should be taken completely out of the political arena and that an independent body should be set up to award the pay of politicians, the pensions of politicians, the expenses of politicians and the privileges of politicians.
The legislation which governs the payment of pensions to ex-Ministers was drafted in 1938. I am surprised that, apart from a few amendments, there has been no updating of this legislation since 1938 and no drastic procedures have been introduced to revise the conditions under which politicians were awarded these pensions. Public opinion sees a conspiracy among the political parties to run away from an issue which hurts their pockets. It is natural for them to do this,  but it is regarded as a public scandal that party politicians lie low on issues like this, try to brazen it out and are perceived to be giving themselves money while other people are being asked to tighten their belts.
This is the situation in the country at the moment. We have constant exhortations for belt tightening to all sections of the population. We have the teachers being asked to accept a lower pay deal than they were awarded. We have the public service being asked for restraint, we have trade unions being constantly asked for restraint, we have the PAYE workers being asked for restraint and we have the self-employed being asked for restraint. We have the situation where the unemployed figures run at about 240,000 and where unemployment is consistently being used as a political football by the Opposition and by the Government, but normally by those in Opposition. Poverty is rife in the country.
Concern is constantly expressed about all these things by Government and by Opposition; yet this malpractice continues. It is very difficult to ask the people to respect politicians who are paying themselves large sums of money which other people are not entitled to although they are being asked to take very small pay increases. This hypocrisy stands out in the public's mind very obviously. This House should consider and review this matter. It is in all our interest that the public do not perceive us as feathering our own nests but on this particular issue they do so.
This motion includes members of the European Parliament specifically, because there is a public perception that members of the European Parliament are very highly paid and possibly, overpaid. There are certain members of the European Parliament who are still accepting the dual mandate and getting salaries which are vast and not consistent with the sort of salaries which members of the public in other jobs are getting. It is time that we finally solved the problem of the dual mandate. I do not see that problem being solved by the political parties, once again for specific reasons, by the time of  the next election. We have people being paid European Parliament salaries, Dáil salaries and salaries as ex-Ministers. There are several people within that category.
The public have a right to ask why people should be drawing three separate incomes from the State. People have a right to ask why people, by virtue of being ex-Ministers should be entitled to draw a pension when they are also drawing a salary from the Oireachtas and a very large salary from the European Parliament. It damages the European ideal, it damages this House and it damages the image of the other House in the eyes of the public. It should be pointed out at this stage that many of those people who are ex-Ministers receiving pensions are pursuing extremely lucrative careers outside this House. Some Members of both Houses are full-time politicians and receive incomes which are not excessive, but others are not only full-time politicians but are receiving larger incomes from outside these Houses and are also receiving pensions as ex-Ministers. When the public see that people who are successful — nobody begrudges them that — in their profession or business are also drawing salaries from the Oireachtas and are also drawing pensions as ex-Ministers they will be suspicious of us for that, and rightly so. The public will rightly resent it because we are giving ourselves a privileged position which we do not deserve and which nobody else receives.
These pensions have also got some very peculiar characteristics. They are non-contributory, which is not true of the Dáil and Seanad pensions. The ministerial pensions are non-contributory, which is a great privilege. They have the odd characteristic, which is peculiar to Ireland, that there is no age limit on them. We have a situation, which is not exceptional, where people can come into the Dáil, become ex-Ministers in their thirties or even younger — in theory they can become an ex-Minister at 24 and get a pension for life, but in practice they become ex-Ministers at the age of 30 — with the best working years of their lives ahead of them in other careers, and for  life they are drawing pensions from the State. That is not equitable and that, by anybody's standards, should not continue.
A system could be introduced whereby people, as in the UK, are entitled to pensions at the age of 60, but not to enable them to draw pensions in their early thirties for life. These pensions are also index-linked, which means that they are inflation proof, and they are also given to people after three years's service. Three year's service is a very short time for someone to be entitled to a pension. There is a case for them being rewarded in some way but not forever, which is what happens at the moment.
The pension difficulties which this Government and other Governments have found themselves in have been pinpointed by some commentators with such cynicism that it is regularly pointed out by these commentators that elections will not be held until a certain date so that people can get their pensions. It was regularly pointed out by many commentators under this Government that there was unlikely to be an election until 18 December because nobody would qualify for their pensions before then. It is not a decisive factor, but it is a factor in Government's thinking when they are thinking about calling an election. It should not be a factor in their thinking. It underlines the cynicism about politics that any commentator can say that this is an electoral consideration. In other words, self-interest above public interest is being perceived in this case.
I want to anticipate some of the responses from those who will take the opposite point of view. There has already been one in that the Fine Gael Party have set up a committee to look into this. I have written to all Members of the Dáil and Seanad and some members of the Fine Gael Party have replied that a committee has been set up to look into this issue. I find that unsatisfactory. An internal committee of Fine Gael being set up looks very like a fudge and it looks like they are running for cover. It looks to me as though nothing will be done about this issue, but the Government have to be seen to be doing something by setting up  a committee. The committee will report, but no action will be taken on it. However, in order to pacify public opinion, you use the device, which is regularly used by the Government to show that they are doing something, but nothing will be done until this committee report.
It is noticeable that the responses I got to the letters I sent out were 99 per cent from those who were not beneficiaries of this scheme. There was only one response from a Member of the Dáil and Seanad who was a beneficiary of the scheme. That tells me something. I received many replies from those who were not, many honest and many kicking for touch, but the beneficiaries of this scheme, for some reason, were very unwilling to express a view about the system. I suppose it is natural but I would have thought that they would be prepared to take a more lofty and a more long term view of it than the self-interest in which they are involved. Indeed I did not notice any very likely beneficiaries of the scheme who replied to these letters. What I am looking for are proposals from the Government about a new scheme for pensions. I am looking for an acknowledgement that this system is causing a great deal of public distrust and a willingness to reform it in some way which will not allow people to automatically draw pensions after three years — that is an indefensible situation — in which there will be an age limitation, in other words whereby people cannot, regardless of age, draw pensions after three years, a system in which no sitting Senators and no TDs can draw pensions by virtue of being ex-Ministers.
Mr. B. Ryan Mr. B. Ryan
Mr. B. Ryan: I second the motion. I have learned a number of things since I came into this House. The first of those was to develop and indeed to improve my perception of the people who practice politics in both Houses of the Oireachtas. I came in here, to say the least of it, as a sceptic about people involved in politics. I had a particular virulent, left wing, public opinion view of what I would have seen, and still see, as the establishment in this country.
 I want to repeat at the beginning what I have said publicly on many occasions, that while I think the vast majority of Irish politicians, my colleagues in both Houses, are wrong about most things in Irish life, I nevertheless have a greatly improved view of the quality of the individuals who serve in both Houses of the Oireachtas and I do not mean to be offensive. I believe both things to be true. It is quite conceivable and quite true to be able to accept and believe as I do, that most people are wrong and still say, as I do, for the third time since I stood up here, that I have now a much higher view of the people who are involved in Irish politics than I had before I joined the Seanad. That is a remark which will not do me any good in the eyes of many people who write about politics, but it still remains my sincerely held view.
I feel very strongly about this issue of payment of ministerial pensions to people who are still Members of either House of the Oireachtas, because of the damage it does to the quality and image of Irish politics and because I am a person who is, whether it be inside or outside the Oireachtas, committed for life to working for political change. Anything which devalues politics and devalues the worth of politics to my mind, is both an offence to everybody involved and also from my point of view, and obstacle to working for change in Irish society, which is something to which I and indeed many people in Irish politics are committed to from differing prospectives. You cannot persuade a cynical public opinion about the importance and the centrality of politics if you do not have a public impression of politics as an idealistic profession based on conceptions of service and idealism, which is what it is supposed to be about.
We need to look at the realities of life in this country. In this country the average male industrial earnings amount to about £8,000 per annum. The average female industrial earnings amount to a little more than 60 per cent of that, which is around £5,000 per annum. Then we have a quarter of a million people,  roughly, who are unemployed and, on average, the payment to each individual on the dole works out at about £55 per week or about £2,700 per year. All of those people who are unemployed sooner or later will become subjected to means test.
The vast majority of the 800,000 people in this country who are totally dependent on social welfare for their income are subjected to means tests because it is felt that there can be no entitlement to payments from the State to people who can afford to support themselves. I do not accept the principle of means testing for benefit, but it is a principle which is accepted by the vast majority of Members of both Houses of the Oireachtas. Workers on relatively low earnings — the second lowest in Europe — and people on social welfare, who are subject to the humiliation of social welfare means test, have had to make sacrifices on an unprecedented scale over the last three or four years. There have been high taxes, extra income levies, reduced benefits in some cases, particularly pay-related benefits, factory closures, cessation or reduction of services, enforced redundancies and reduced services in some case. We were told that the country could not afford it, that we would all have to tighten our belts because of the state of the public finances brought about by policies to which both politicians and public had contributed. It is one of the simplicities of Irish life to blame politicians for all our faults. Nevertheless, we have a situation where people have been asked to accept sacrifices on a grand scale as instanced by the present position of the teachers and the general level of wage and salary earners within the public service.
Consider, then, the position of Ministers and Ministers of State. They have one of the most extraordinary opportunities that can be given to a citizen of this State. I have said before that I would give my right arm to be a member of a Government for a period of three of four years because of the opportunities it presents. I do not know anybody yet who has been a member of a Government who  has not found that experience invigorating, stimulating and enormously worthwhile. They have an opportunity for service which is part of the tradition of this country. Let us remember that those who were responsible for setting up this State never thought about financial reward and never worried about the financial insecurity into which they put themselves as they endeavoured to liberate and then to build up the State. Politicians have an opportunity for practical idealism and to show the sort of example that can inspire people to accept collective sacrificies in the interest not just of the future generation but of the existing younger generation. The Government have an opportunity to give an example of commitment on the scale necessary in a country faced with such problems.
What do we do? The first thing we do is we pay our Ministers and Ministers of State very well. By any standards we pay them very well. That is not something I would say — again, I will get myself hanged for saying it — about Members of the Oireachtas. I am quite well off, because I am fortunate to have a job which is compatible with my political activities. Nobody could suggest that full time politicians in either House of the Oireachtas are particularly well paid, given the burdens, the pressures and the demands. Nobody could say either that the pressures on the family lives of politicians — this is something I have come to learn over the last four years — are anything but extremely demanding. One could argue that, if the Roman Catholic Church believes that celibacy is a necessary qualification for service in the priesthood, perhaps a similar qualification should be imposed on politicians, because the strains that are imposed on families as a result of peoples political activities are unknown to those who are not involved in politics — and I speak as one who has very little involvement in the drudgery of constituency work on a day to day basis.
As I said, we pay our Ministers and Ministers of State extremely well. We provide them with extra benefits such as State cars. I find it difficult to reconcile  the scale of the benefits, particularly the lavish and apparently unlimited travel that is available, with ideas of commitment, sacrifice and idealism. If they lose office and continue to be Members of the Oireachtas, they descend from the lofty heights of ministerial salaries to the level of payment of Dáil and Seanad Members. If they are particularly unfortunate, they end up in the Seanad. If they are reasonably fortunate, they only end up being demoted to the Opposition benches in the Dáil. As such, they are not particularly well paid; but neither would I say that they are particularly badly paid. Anybody who is earning a salary which is on first glance about twice the average industrial wage — and when you add to that extra benefits in tax-free allowances it is probably closer in net terms to three times the average industrial wage — should not claim to be badly paid. That is OK as far as it goes, considering the demand on people's time, the effort and expenditure involved. That is not unreasonable. But if, on top of all that, after three years ministerial service, they become entitled to an indexed pension, one's credibility, one's credulity and goodwill are strained beyond any possible reasonable limit.
What can the country think of us when by the standards of most people we are better paid, not particularly well paid, but better paid than most people in the community? There is the enormous enjoyment and sacrifice of working in Government for a period of three or four years. Then we decide that we need pensions. At that stage we begin to show the signs of what is often talked about as the Leinster House club mentality and very little signs of the sort of commitment and idealism which should be the backbone of politics.
We are presented with some arguments which are somewhat ludicrous. One is that it is compensation for loss of earnings and the second is that it is meant to encourage people of ability. There are people from various professions in Government. There are teachers, people from lower management levels, academics,  people from the professions and trade union officials. Not one of those would be earning a salary anything like a ministerial salary outside of the Oireachtas. To suggest that somehow there is an enormous pool of earnings from which these people could be drawing if they were not involved in Government is ludicrous in the extreme.
I stand over what I have said. The Dáil salary and judicial salaries are more than enough to give people a reasonable lifestyle — not excessive, not particularly generous but more then enough. The suggestion that extra money will attract people of talent and ability into the Oireachtas is even more ludicrous. It was not money which attracted the people who built this State. It will not be money which will attract people with idealism and commitment into politics. It is the possibility of doing something, the possibility of service and the idealism that draws people into politics that is the basis of real political activity. If people are entering politics because of the level of earnings, then they are not the sort of people the country needs in its present state of crisis. We need people who are heroes in the sense that the country has always perceived heroes — people who make sacrifices because they believe they are worthwhile and not because of some idea of incentive or reward. We need people with qualities like Éamon de Valera, Cosgrave and Lemass, none of whom became enriched by their lives in politics. The image we are creating for ourselves by jealously holding on to the pensions that come from ministerial office is an image that destroys any possible public credibility in what we are about. The public perceive ministerial pensions paid to people still involved in politics or in the Judiciary as perks. They do not see them in any way rationally justifiable, in terms of loss of income or in terms of incentive. They see them as a glorious perk.
The perk is something that is now beginning to to seen to corrupt the entire public perception of the practice of politics. It is the one area of financial support  for politicians which it is impossible nationally to justify. It goes beyond what is available for anybody else. It goes beyond any necessary protection of people's basic living standards. It goes beyond any necessary idea of preserving people from hardship. It goes into the realm of a reward for temporary office which guarantees a reasonable level of income for people for the rest of their lives. They should be dropped if we are to get a sense of common sacrifice. If people are to accept that sacrifices when called for are shared equally, then sacrifice must start at the top in politics. One simple remedy and expedient would be to deny so-called pensions to people who are in the whole of their health, in the best of their youth and who happen to cease to be members of a Government. That is the way to give some impression that what we are here for is sacrifice, idealism and commitment and not some sort of cosy arrangement by which we all end up substantially better off.
Professor Dooge Professor Dooge
Professor Dooge: Having listened to Senator Ross and to Senator Brendan Ryan, I find that they have not proved any case for immediate action along the lines in this motion. Senator Ross says he is moving this motion as a matter of principle, that he objects to the principle of pensions plus pay. He says also that he objects in principle to legislators fixing their own emoluments. The third principle to which he objects is that of the dual mandate. The only argument which holds any substance is the first objection he made to the fact that the system that has been set up has been set up in the form that it appears, legally and formally, as being a matter of pension plus pay. There is a case to be met on that point. With regard to the other objections, I do not think there is anything like the same case to be met.
Senator Ross said that he is against the principle of legislators fixing their own emoluments and not applying to themselves the constraints they ask for from others. Surely the position today, in regard to the emoluments earned by the Members of the Oireachtas under a Bill  which this House passed, is that they are linked to public pay. Every time a member of the Government calls for restraint on public pay and incurs displeasure and odium in standing up against the demands of the public service unions, he is acting against his own self-interest. If politicians did act according to self-interest, then it would not be in the interest of the members of the Government to resist the demands for better and better emoluments in regard to the public service.
In regard to the question of the dual mandate, I should like to point out that the matter of the dual mandate has been referred by Dáil Éireann and by Seanad Éireann to the Joint Committee on Secondary Legislation of the EC. On the establishment of that committee in this session, the Seanad asked for the matter to be dealt with and a report to be made. Senator Ross is a member of that committee. I do not know how regular his attendances at that committee are. He certainly has had ample opportunity to raise the question of the dual mandate in the area in which it should be raised, in the committee to which it has been referred for consideration and recommendation by the Houses of the Oireachtas.
I want in the short time available to me to meet what I think is the only substantial part of the argument. It is the very real public disquiet in regard to the situation whereby we have persons in receipt of Oireachtas salaries also in receipt of allowances which are termed pensions. It is the use of the word “pension”, and the fact that they can accrue to an individual at an early age, that is the crux of this particular problem of perception. Senator Ross admitted that it was desirable that we should have persons of ability and competence adequately rewarded. If so it is desirable that we should avoid any financial disincentive which would deter persons of ability from seeking a full time career in politics.
Senator Brendan Ryan made the statement that the people of middle management, teachers and academics who go into Government do not suffer a loss of  salary. This is not so. I can give the House my own instance. When I accepted a post in Government, I earned in salary considerably less than I was earning in the university as a professor. I think it is wrong, when we are dealing with an area of public perception where there is disquiet, that the position in this regard should be presented in a distorted way.
It does appear to me that Senator Ross in particular is trying to bring us back to a situation that did govern 20 or 30 years ago. I remember over 20 years ago an occasion on which it looked as if there was an impending change in the leadership of the Fine Gael Party. A senior member of the Fine Gael Party said to me that of course, the choice was between two persons only. As a young Senator, I was interested to know what were the criteria. Did one judge suitability as leader on ability or commitment or appeal to the public? No. That shortlist was made up on the basis that there were only two people with adequate private means which would enable them to take on the leadership of the leading Opposition party. Senator Ross may want to go back to a situation where it is your private means decide whether you can aspire to party leadership or not. I certainly do not want to go back to that position.
I remember — and Senator Eoin Ryan will remember — the discussions of the Constitution Reform Committee of 1967 and 1968. It was very interesting at times. The committee was set up by Seán Lemass. During the period of its deliberations he resigned as Taoiseach and he joined the committee himself. I remember we were talking about the question of how do you form a Government. Should there be any changes in Ireland's constitutional structure in order to ensure that we get as many highly competent people as possible? I remember Seán Lemass saying that people think a Taoiseach has great freedom in choosing a Government from his Members in the Dáil. If he is lucky, he has 80 members of his party from whom he has to choose 15 Ministers and 15 parliamentary secretaries. The position is, he said, that he looks around and he finds one-third of them are unsuitable,  one-third of them are unwilling and thus he has a remaining 27 from whom he has to pick 30.
I think that the situation that faces any Taoiseach in the formation of a Government, the situation that confronts him in trying to find a group of people who can run the country, is one of difficulty. It must be clearly laid down that the job conditions must be such that we can reduce year by year to the greatest extent possible the number of those who are unsuitable for office in the Government and the number of those who are unwilling to serve in the Government.
I think the basic question is: how are we to go about this. At the moment the allowance is described as a pension. As I have said before, I think this is the problem. In view of the very wide public disquiet about this, I think it proper that we should ask for a review of this situation. I hope that the Minister for State, who is sitting in on this debate, would report to the Government that there is a widely held opinion in this House that there are some grounds for this public disquiet. They are not entirely adequate grounds; they are not well founded; but the disquiet is there.
The governing of the country and the business of politics are concerned with two things — with perception and with reality and with the relationship between them. It must be perfectly clear that this money which Ministers get during their period of office is money well earned.
Twenty years ago there used to be a principle throughout the public service of the abatement of public service pensions. In other words, if you had a public service pension of any kind and you were employed later in another part of the public service, then you could not draw your pension. Senator Ross asks us to go back to that particular position. I think the situation that has been won by the trade union movement in regard to abatement is that a pension is not an act of grace and favour by the employer. In the Civil Service — and I struggled against this on the 1963 Act in this House — a pension may appear in law as being a  matter of grace and favour from the Government; but in any terms of proper job conditions, any terms of decent industrial relations, a pension is deferred pay. That is the position which has been established over the past 20 years and I do not think we should revert to the old position.
We do have, in our system of Government, allowances to the Opposition party to carry out their normal functions. I think there is a good case for considering whether this particular problem of those who serve in Government, of those who want to be full time politicians, can be met through the mechanism of allowances to Opposition parties. Instead of such persons being entitled to a pension for life, even in the extreme case from the age of 24, as Senator Ross has said, I think that money might, perhaps, better be devoted towards an allowance whereby the Leader of the Opposition or the Leaders of the Opposition parties could designate certain members as full time members of the Opposition Front Bench and they could be paid allowances accordingly. This idea of establishing full time shadow Ministers is the sort of thing that could be reviewed. There is a very real need for a review but I think this motion that has been moved and seconded here tonight prejudges the results of such a review. I do not think this should be done.
These are just a few points I should like to make. I imagine a large number of Senators would like to speak on this and, accordingly, I do not intend to go into the points in any more detail. I think that the problem of these being in the form of pensions is the major problem. I think Senator Ross went on then to say that Ministers and Deputies are paid salaries that are not justified. I do not know whether he intended to say that or whether he intended to say total emoluments that are not justified. In fact, his words were salaries. I mention this so that he can, if he wishes to, correct himself on that particular point. Legislators no longer fix their own emoluments. The dual mandate is something that should be done away with. I think on these points there is no case to be answered. I think,  on the principle whereby we get people of competence and ability to take part full time in politics and aspire to Government, that that principle could be met other than by the formula of pensions. That does not mean that there will not have to be some alternative system of achieving this very desirable objective.
Mr. Killilea Mr. Killilea
Mr. Killilea: I rise to speak on this motion rather in amazement. I see the point made by Senator Dooge, but the methodology of the payment to former Ministers—I am speaking of former Ministers no matter what side they are on—is what public opinion queries. Obviously, it was on that point that Senators Ross and Ryan came with this motion this evening, which has drawn great public and media attention. I was disappointed that the motion before the House this evening was not rather different. What I suggest they should have asked for in the motion is a proper salary structure for people in public life. While saying that, I feel that in the last five or six years we in political life seem to have set ourselves on a self-destructive course. We have had a recent barrage of the famous phrase “honesty and integrity” — two words I have grown to hate. I do not think there is any person in public life who has not made a decision in regard to their own honesty and their own integrity. But when a certain type of honesty and integrity is preached to us, then it changes our idea of what we believe to be honesty and integrity. I say that with fervour, because I have grown to hate those two words. Nobody can decide what the other person's honesty and integrity is. That is a matter for themselves.
I listened this evening to Senator Shane Ross. He made a few statements on which Senator Dooge, the Leader of the House, took him up. I wrote them down at the time. He made the statement about salaries. He said that our salaries were always set by us for self-interest over public interest. He said we are paying them to ourselves. He said we are feathering  our own nests and that sacrifices have to be made.
I am coming into my seventeenth year in this House. I was in the other House for a while. There was an incident in my political life in 1979 where a man was promoted from a TD to a Minister. I saw him appoint a man, because he had to give up his post at home in his own private business. I saw him offering a salary of £6,000 more to the man whom he got to replace than he was earning as a Minister. That opened my eyes to the sacrifices people make in public life in order to make the contribution to the State they think they should make. I have witnessed that and I have always thought about it. What is wrong with the whole system is this. We were reaching the public service pay, but we were only linked to it in order to avoid this barrage that happens only once every four years, because that is when we paid ourselves in those times. But when we got in under the public service pay level we forgot the word “increments”.
I suggest to Senators Ross and Ryan that there are people in this House and in the other House who have served 25 years of their lives in public life, some of them at Ministerial level. Yet, after an election, if there is a change of Government, they go back to their basic TD salary or some of them go back to a Seanad salary. Would it be right in the public service pay structure, that a man or woman could have such a change in status without some compensation. Yet that happens in the Houses of the Oireachtas. There is no increment scale for any Member of either House for their time of service. I ask Senators Ross and Ryan whether they know of any other business in the world today where a similar scheme operates. I do not know of one. It is certainly not in the public service and it is not in private enterprise. A man is paid by his length of service.
I want to make another point. For elected Members in either House of the Oireachtas is there any promotion? There is selectivity, but there is not promotion. A junior Senator or a junior TD can be elected and cross the threshold of  that gate in Merrion Street or Kildare Street and they are earning the same salary as people who have served in those Houses for 25 and up to 30 years. I do not think that is correct. I listened to Senator Ryan talking about Éamon de Valera and the role he played in the foundation of this State.
I see in front of me Senator Eoin Ryan, whose father was a man I admired, a man who could have made anything he liked in the profession outside of the Oireachtas — I hope he does not take exception to it. He was a very brilliant parliamentarian. He could have ended up in private or in public business a very wealthy man because of his ability. Yet there was a time in this House when that man was paid £365 per annum. It was Éamon de Valera, as far as my memory serves me, who introduced the idea of the pension scheme in order to help and to give an increment to people who had made such a magnificent contribution. That is still the system because there is no alternative system to it. If the Senators were really serious about their motion this evening, that is the point they should have made. That is the point we should be discussing here this evening, how could we set about drawing up proper structures for people who have served their nation loyally over many years. I say that because I think it is quite unfair. There are many junior people in this House and in the other House who would agree with me, who have not had the experience, who have not had the sufferings of it, who have not had the joys of it.
I thought Senator Ross might have said something about the salaries of the Senators. I earn £9,900 per annum. If I was on the dole at home in Tuam, I would be earning £141.95 per week, multiply that by 52 weeks in the year and see how far you are away from £9,900. I am not going to talk about the profession. Basically, I think the Senatorial pay in this House is a public disgrace for a working Senator. It may not be to some Senators. It may be a damn nice sideline, but to a working Senator it is a downright disgrace. I think  we should have a grading system in this House to cover those who are serving the public within the meaning of the word service rather than those who are serving in another capacity. My car will be three years old next week and I have 195,643 miles clocked up on it. I lost the last general election by 21 votes — I had 5,794 first preference votes in West Galway. I have served those people in that area as Senator to the best of my ability. It is as easy for me to travel to Dublin as it is for me to travel to Cleggan, the furthest point west in my constituency. I have not been paid for half of those miles. I have supplemented this. I have done by constituency work to the best of my ability, serving the people of my constituency under hard circumstances. I make no apologies for doing this. I do not want to be part of any grouping of Members of the House who want to adopt the ideology of self-destruction by politicians. I stand apart from that.
I am not here under the whip of any party; I am merely speaking for myself. For anybody who wants to work on behalf of the people and make a contribution here, their remuneration is a downright disgrace. Furthermore, it is a downright disgrace to the TDs who are called upon day and night, day in day out, week after week, year after year, to render a fine public service. It is easy to serve a constituency in Dublin city or in any of the major cities. A 45p bus ride would take Senator Ross into work every morning and out again. Senators who work in their constituencies — and many do not — are not receiving remuneration for the work done by them. I appeal to the Minister to do something about this and take away this double-edged knife that is being pointed at us as though we were a wealthy people. We are not, and I am not, as I have given the facts.
I should like to refer to ministerial pensions. I listened to Senator Ross this morning on the radio on “Morning, Ireland”, I was told by a very annoyed Member of the other House that the Senator stated that pensions and salaries were 50 per cent tax free. I should like to quote, for the record, some facts——
Mr. Ross Mr. Ross
 Mr. Ross: On a point of order, I stated that the preferential tax rate on salaries——
Mr. Killilea Mr. Killilea
Mr. Killilea: I did not interrupt Senator Ross. Personnel No. 1361252 represents a person who has served as a Minister of State and a Minister in a previous Government. The pension payable to that person is £300.62p. I ask Senator Ross or Senator Ryan what they have to say on this.
Acting Chairman (Séamus de Brún) Acting Chairman (Séamus de Brún)
Acting Chairman (Séamus de Brún): The Senator has two minutes left.
Mr. Killilea Mr. Killilea
Mr. Killilea: I have watched many Senators, Senator Lynch in particular, work from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. in the College of Art building. There are many TDs who do not work half as hard. I ask Senator Ross to withdraw that statement that such a man is feathering his own nest. He is not feathering his own nest; he is not feathering anybody's nest. Neither am I. I defend myself because I work with him. I take as an insult what was said in relation to our salaries — Senator Dooge, the Leader of the House, also said it. I have never put self-interest over public interest. I have never suggested or asked that I should pay myself a salary. Had I done this I would have paid myself a salary and I would not be ashamed of it. When those Senators who are talking have made half the sacrifices that many of us have made, then they will know what a sacrifice is. I have always been present in the House, when called by the Whip to sit in so that the Order of Business of the day would be passed. Except during my time in the Council of Europe, on which I have the honour to be serving, I have always been present for every vote in the House, despite what The Irish Independent said recently. They did not have the courtesy to ask why I was missing for some votes. The reason was that I was in Strasbourg doing the business of this House and for which I was selected through this House to do. I am not going to apologise to anybody for my contribution to public life; I do not have to.
The Minister must correct the anomaly  that exists whereby people who have served long and loyally should have their due reward for services rendered taken from them. They should not be placed in a situation of embarrassment because of the type of motion before us, put down by two Senators who should be ashamed of themselves, ashamed even to take it upon themselves on television or radio this morning to disparage people who have served the country so long. I regret that I have to take issue with Senator Ross on this motion. I am offended by his nonsense.
Mr. Ferris Mr. Ferris
Mr. Ferris: Probably none of us could disagree with that spirited defence of public representatives. The problem with politicians is that we sell ourselves short for the service we give. If by so doing one makes oneself more popular, either in the media or in the country, in some people's minds that is serving democracy. When the call came for the abolition of State cars for Ministers of State and it was put into effect what extra votes did anybody get for it? What justice was done to anybody? Still we expected people to drive from the four corners of the country in their own time, in their own cars and often at their own expense, to give public service. We should not sell ourselves short.
I should like to deal with the concept of what is included in the motion before us. I agree with most of what the Senators have stated. I agree with the principle that they are talking about. In the public mind it is perceived that there is an anomaly, for example, that a person who spends a short period of time in office is compensated for it when he leaves it, despite the fact that he is still drawing a salary from the same employer. Something will have to be done about this principle; otherwise it cannot be explained thoroughly and properly why this is taking place.
Senator Dooge has laid emphasis on the legitimate reasons for this. We have a job to do. Instead of knocking ourselves in front of the public, we should either be in a position to justify this or put it into terms which would be understood  and accepted as being legitimate, whether you call it a pension, a recompense or a reward for services rendered which will accrue to you when you are given the responsibility of a Front Bench spokesperson. This should be done in such a way that privilege would not be the reason why people would be elected to this House and be in a position to take office.
If that were the case very few members of the Labour Party could afford to take office. I speak as a person who is totally dependent on my Senate salary. I drive about 2,000 miles per month in my constituency to give a service to my constituents. That is what they expect of me. That is what I give them and I get no recompense for it. The Revenue Commissioners have decided, in their wisdom, that they will give me some privilege by way of a tax-free allowance which would allow for that to take place. I would prefer to be on the full tax rate if I could write off all my legitimate expenses in my work as a public representative against my salary before I pay tax. That is the same principle that would apply in the private sector, whether self-employed or otherwise. I would also say that that is an anomaly here.
I accept the principle of the motion and I consider whether in fact one should support it in its present form or seek to amend or change it. It annoys me that it just fingers politicians. There are other people in this country who were public servants — non-elected — who gave good service to the community. They are retired from previous employment in the public service and are now holding other office in the public service, whether they are teachers or Army personnel. Because we are elected into a situation in which there is no future and no guarantee of a future, we have to finger ourselves in this issue because it is popular. The Labour Party are very clear and precise on what they want done in this area and did not have to wait for the motion of Senator Ross and Senator Ryan to do something about it.
Our conference, some two years ago,  passed a resolution along the lines of what is contained in the motion and our Parliamentary Party and Administrative Council, by request of that conference, also addressed themselves to the problem. The next move we could make in that area was to refer it to our Member on the Procedure and Privileges Committee. He did so. How far did it get? It got very short shrift there. This is possibly because people in the Procedure and Privileges Committee might have been representing people whom they knew were beneficiaries. That particular formula for dealing with it was unsuccessful; and I am suggesting that the proper formula to deal with this is the formula that originally decided what the payment of Members of this House, Members of the other House and ministerial office-holders should be.
That formula was laid down by the Devlin Review Committee. That committee specifically sat to look at what was the correct remuneration for people of our category, at whatever level, taking into account what is required of us daily, seven days a week, in or out of ministerial office. Devlin gave an impartial view of that. It was his decision that our remuneration be indexed to keep in line with either the public service or inflation. To do justice to this problem it must be dealt with by somebody impartial who does not have an axe to grind. This system has been there since 1937 or 1938. Some of our members in the Labour Party talk to us as if we brought it in. They complain to me as if I brought in the special tax allowances for myself. They are brought in by the Revenue Commissioners. I have absolutely no control over them as I have no control over this legislation. The system was introduced in 1937 or 1938 and many Labour Party members never benefited until they had gone out of this House or the other House. We are speaking with a clear conscience on it; and it is not just because there might be a change of Government in 12 or 18 months, when some of our members might be beneficiaries, that we would be inactive on it. That would be the very reason why we would want to do something to make  sure that there are no anomalies in the scheme.
May I suggest to the movers of the motion that they should consider whether there are legal implications involving existing beneficiaries under the scheme, because if somebody allowed himself to go forward and become a Minister and later a pensioner after a period of service as a Minister, that in my opinion is possibly a contract of service with the State. Whereas politicians might decide, for all sorts of reasons, not to go down that road, the Judiciary are the very people who would say that it applies to them legally and there is nothing we can do about it. They did that with their pay rise. When we would not give it to ourselves retrospectively, the Judiciary had to get it because they had a contract of service and they put down their foot and said “That is what we want. That is our legal entitlement and that is what we are having”. If that norm applies to present and previous Members and if you want to change the regulations for new Members, I will not support the change unless it applies to everybody. I will not support anything that fingers politicians only, but I will support the concept of doing something specific to broaden this system into the whole area of the public service, because at least they have some security while we have none.
Senator Killilea talked about the kind of work he does. There is no guarantee that he will ever be allowed to come back and do it again. We get very short shrift at times from either the electorate or from whatever nomination process we go through. There are risks involved in being a member of a political party. You have to not alone defend the party itself but you must have loyalty to members of it and there are difficulties in becoming elected to either of these two Houses. Because of that obviously there will have to be a proper level of compensation. I accept that there are anomalies in the present system, because it is inconceivable that people, particularly at a young age, should qualify for a pension for life just because they happen to give a service  as an office-holder. There is something to be said about that. This should not be confined strictly to parliamentarians. If you are talking about pensioners who have previously served in any section of the public service and who now hold other offices, whether in this House or otherwise, you should include everybody. I honestly believe that if the public are told what we are doing and that it applies to everybody in the public service, then we will have to contend with trade union negotiations, the legality of existing contracts and all the other things that follow. It certainly is not a simple issue of passing a resolution in this house which may or not be binding on the Government. Whatever way the Government look at it, there are set norms lay which you can deal with a problem like this.
The problem needs to be addressed, because, certainly in the public mind, we appear to have the power to pay ourselves. Of course, we do not have that power. We do not have the power to decide our own tax allowances. We do not have the power to pay ourselves pensions. There are mechanisms available to do something constructive about the matter. Let us have a bit of solidarity among ourselves. Let us agree that we do a good job, that we are elected to do that job and that we should be paid properly to do it, whichever way an independent arbitrator decides. Let us admit that, if you just pander to public opinion without being constructive about what you want to do, then you are doing a disservice to democracy. Democracy is the ability of other people to change us, to re-elect us, to put us out, as distinct from a dictatorship in which you could have somebody staying in office by his own decree forever if he so wished, as some dictators throughout the world have tried to do but failed.
Senator B. Ryan mentioned that he is against the principle of means-testing. I am against the principle of means-testing myself, particularly as it applies to underprivileged people. If we are to make errors we should make them on the right side. I have no objection to anybody means-testing what I have as a public  representative, because that is all I have — I have no other source of income and because of that I would welcome a means test. If a means test could determine what I should be paid, then I would welcome it. There are anomalies in the level of payment for the amount of time one is expected to give in the House or to give to legislation or to give as a parliamentary representative in one's constituency. Each of us has different demands on him or her. If one is to be means-tested, so that one is paid appropriately, I would welcome it. I feel I would be a beneficiary under the system, although in principal I agree with Senator B. Ryan that means-testing has its own anomalies. Senator B. Ryan admitted that he is well paid outside the House, and nobody begrudges that. That is not the issue that is at stake; it is whether the principle is correct by which pensions are paid in the way they are paid. In defence of public representatives throughout the country, independent or in political parties, they should not finger themselves without looking at the anomalies that apply to other people in the public service doing the same thing and getting paid from the same coffers — the funds of taxpayers.
Mr. E. Ryan Mr. E. Ryan
Mr. E. Ryan: There is no doubt that the question of pensions has been the subject of a good deal of comment and criticism among the public in recent years. It is useful to have a debate on this matter. The motion is rather comprehensive; it goes further than I would be prepared to go, but nevertheless it gives us all an opportunity to discuss this matter.
The motion gives a number of combinations and permutations of pensions and of people who hold various posts at the moment. I am not going to deal with these in detail because I think it only tends to confuse the issue. The simplest example, and the one I think is most often in question when people are discussing this matter and most often in question when people are criticising it, is the position of ministerial pensions being paid to people who are now Members of  the Oireachtas. This is something which we can look at and consider whether they are justified.
There should not be any necessary connection between being a Member of the Oireachtas and the question of whether a former Minister who is a Member of the Oireachtas should have a pension. There have been many people who were Members of the Oireachtas who had State pensions, not ministerial pensions but pensions as perhaps teachers or members of various other professions. If they became Members of the Oireachtas later nobody suggested that there was anything wrong in their being paid a pension for some other job they did and did well and for which they were entitled to a pension. On the other hand, if you look at the position of Members of the Oireachtas, there are many TDs and Senators who never became Ministers, perhaps never managed to become Ministers, perhaps never wanted to become Ministers. They draw their salary. If they qualify, they get a pension when they retire to which they are entitled and to which they have contributed, but they are in a different category. I think it is a mistake and it tends to confuse the issue to think that merely because a person was a Minister and remains a Member of the Oireachtas for some reason he or she should not get a pension because of an allowance as a Member of the Oireachtas.
In regard to Members of the Oireachtas, it should be remembered that many of them have other occupations; and when they cease to be a Member of the Oireachtas they have their occupations to fall back on. A Minister is, in most cases, in an entirely different position. He has to give up his outside job. He may never be able to return to that job, depending on how long he is a Minister. I think this is the basis for the pension. It is because he has given up his former job, because he is no longer able to go back to it, that he is entitled to some kind of compensation for that. On that basis a pension is justified, certainly in some circumstances.
 Apart from the justice to the individual, I think the State would be the loser if people of ability decline to accept office because the risk is too great and because they would not be compensated for the fact that they were unable to go back to the occupations they had beforehand. It is all very well for Senator Brendan Ryan to say that we should rely on people of idealism and so on. I hope we will always be able to rely on people of idealism. It is one thing to rely on people like that, perhaps, in certain circumstances, in period of great stress and so on, but I think we must realise on the other hand that we must make provision for the ordinary situation in politics where a job has to be done, perhaps a rather mundane job, that people should be attracted in to do that kind of job and that we cannot always rely on people who are going to come in and do it merely for idealistic reasons.
The main criticism of the pensions system, of the Ministerial pensions and other pensions of that kind, is because of the short period. They qualify after three years and after that they get 25 per cent of their salary. This goes up approximately — it varies between Ministers and Ministers of State — something in the region of 50 per cent after eight years. That is the main criticism — that these pensions are paid after such a short period. I would go a bit of the way with Senator B. Ryan. I think any Member of the Oireachtas should be willing to take a chance for one period as a Minister, which on average would work out at four years, even though he is not going to remain a Minister. If he serves a second period or term, then he is distancing himself from whatever occupation he has beforehand or the possibility of taking up other occupations. After a second period, which would be approximately eight years, the question of considering a pension would be justified.
Members of the Oireachtas have to serve eight years before they qualify and I see no reason why Ministers should not have to serve something like the same period. If they serve further terms then  the pension should go up to allow for that. I have no doubt whatsoever, and I would not like to be interpreted as saying, that Ministers are not entitled to pensions: I think they are. A Minister's job is very arduous; and, just as civil servants, or teachers, or people in industry, or airline pilots, or any other category are entitled to pensions and get pensions, in the same way the Ministers are also entitled to pensions. The fact that they come back to being Members of the Oireachtas afterwards has little or nothing to do with whether or not they are entitled to pensions. Being a Member of the Oireachtas is a different job. It is a job with its own responsibilities, its own allowances, its own pension. We should not confuse the two situations, which may appear to have a great deal in common but which are different, each with its own responsibilities and rewards. For these reasons I think that this motion goes too far. I think it will lead to confusion. It is not justified. However, the debate is well worth while, but in the end, having debated the matter, the position should be reviewed. Modifications should be made and, if modifications are made along the lines I have suggested and if it leads to less criticism by the public, then a great deal would be achieved.
Seanad Éireann 111 Oireachtas and Judicial Pensions: Motion.