Twenty-Ninth Amendment of the Constitution (Judges’ Remuneration) Bill 2011: Second Stage

Tairgim: "Go léifear an Bille an Dara hUair anois."

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I thank colleagues for agreeing to consider this legislation at an early stage. Deputies will recall that when I published the Bill at the beginning of August it was with a view to everyone having adequate opportunity to consider it ahead of our debates in this House.

This Bill honours a commitment in the programme for Government. I am happy we are in a position to proceed with this referendum at this early stage of the Government's term and at the same time as the presidential election. The terms of the Referendum Act 1994 require that a referendum Bill pass both Houses of the Oireachtas no later than 30 days prior to polling. I am grateful to all Deputies for their co-operation in taking it this afternoon.

The Government's main objective in bringing forward this proposed amendment to the Constitution is to put before the people an option which would allow the pay of judges to be reduced on the basis of certain conditions and in very exceptional circumstances. The proposal will protect the independence of the Judiciary while also maintaining the good public standing the Judiciary following a period during which, through no fault of their own, judges have found themselves in a very difficult position.

Safeguarding judicial independence is of value to every citizen. It means that people can be assured that judges' decisions are taken solely on the basis of law, independent of any fear, favour or influence, whether personal, political or media driven.

The power of judges to uphold the Constitution and strike down aspects of our law is a fundamental bulwark against the risk of tyranny and oppression. Impartial judicial decision-making and public confidence in that impartiality when disputes occur between the State and-or State agencies and individual citizens is an essential cornerstone of our constitutional democracy. Guaranteed this independence, the judicial system in a democracy serves as a safeguard of the rights and freedoms of all the people. We have been well served by our independent Judiciary and I have not, been nor will I ever be found wanting in ensuring its independence is strengthened and secured. As Deputies may be aware, in November 2009, when a member of the Opposition, I tabled a Private Members' Bill to amend the Constitution which, had the then Government seen fit to accept it, would have ensured that judges were in a position to accept the same pay reductions which had then been imposed on the public service. However, in the event it was not accepted and instead the previous Government, by specifically excluding the Judiciary from a levy applied to everyone else paid from public funds, put the members of the Judiciary in a difficult position, not of their own making. As Deputies will be aware, this resulted from the previous Government's interpretation of the terms of Article 35.5 of the Constitution.

This was not, I am convinced, the original intention of this provision which is operated in most common law countries, including the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States. Indeed, the current terms of Article 35.5 are taken from the original 1922 Constitution which replicates almost directly the terms of Article 3 of the US Constitution. Some countries, including the United States, have overcome the unfairness of the difficulty presented by the blanket protection of judicial salaries by allowing the salaries of judges to decrease in real terms over decades by failing to increase them in line with inflation or other public service increases. This explains to some extent why Irish judges are among the best paid internationally. However, in my view, this is not a valid approach, given the importance of the Judiciary as an institution of the State.

The Judiciary holds a unique place in the structure of our democracy, required daily to adjudicate on disputes between citizens and the other branches of Government and for that reason it is vital that its independence is protected from all potential attack. The respect for and confidence in judicial decisions is based on the confidence that every person who enters a court is secure in the knowledge that the judge is independent of the State and not subject to interference or threat, irrespective of the outcome of the litigation. This safeguard is fundamental to our constitutional system.

Some have argued that to adjust the Constitution in the proposed way undermines the framework of judicial independence outlined throughout Article 35. The point has also been made that the amount of money potentially saved would be relatively small. If implemented, the savings in respect of serving judges would amount to approximately €5.5 million per full year. Legislation setting a new lower pay rate in respect of newly appointed judges will be introduced this session by my colleague, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. However, the savings are not the main objective. The Government approaches this issue from the point of view of fundamental fairness. Our strong view is that, far from attacking judicial independence, the proposed amendment is designed to strengthen and uphold the standing of the Judiciary and to ensure that, at a time of unprecedented fiscal and economic difficulty, members of the Judiciary are not perceived as an elite group immune to the current crisis who either will not or cannot contribute their fair share, in common with all others paid from the public purse. I believe the proposed amendment strikes a balance between the traditional protection afforded to judges' pay while allowing for the very difficult position in which Ireland now finds itself.

The Bill itself is short and contains just three short subsections that will be the focus of today's debate. The Bill as published proposes that Article 35.5 of the Constitution be amended by the substitution of the following:

5. 1° The remuneration of judges shall not be reduced during their continuance in office save in accordance with this section.

2° The remuneration of judges is subject to the imposition of taxes, levies or other charges that are imposed by law on persons generally or persons belonging to a particular class.

3° Where, before or after the enactment into law of this section, reductions have been or are made by law to the remuneration of persons belonging to classes of persons whose remuneration is paid out of public money and such law states that those reductions are in the public interest, provision may also be made by law to make reductions to the remuneration of judges.

As is evident from the proposed wording, the general protection afforded the Judiciary in most countries is retained. The second subsection confirms the current position, upheld by the Supreme Court in the well known case, O'Byrnev Minister for Finance in 1959, which held that the imposition of taxes on judges’ salaries is valid. The final subsection provides that reductions made in the past or future in public service pay on the basis of the public interest can be applied, “by law”, that is, by primary legislation enacted by this House, to judges’ remuneration. In other words, reductions will only be done in exceptional circumstances.

It is essential to set out why this amendment is being put before the people by this Government. In early 2009, the Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government introduced legislation to apply a public service pension levy on all public servants. The members of the Judiciary were specifically exempted from this levy or deduction because, it was then stated, of the constitutional ban on reducing their salaries as in Article 35.5. Following on the pension levy introduced by the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act 2009, a second Financial Emergency Measures Act was introduced later that same year which reduced the gross salaries of all those paid from the public purse. Again, the Judiciary was exempted from this reduction. Judges are not public servants; they are constitutional officeholders. They are, however, paid from public moneys and operate within the public service environment.

As the Chief Justice has observed, judges are daily witnesses to the difficulties which the current economic crisis brings — whether in family law, criminal proceedings or civil and bankruptcy cases. I believe it is essential that they themselves are seen to be subject to the very different circumstances which now prevail. The Judiciary recognised this necessity through the arrangement entered into by the then Chief Justice with the Revenue Commissioners which facilitated judges to make a voluntary contribution equivalent to the pension levy introduced in the first of the Acts to which I have already referred. I understand a majority of judges have made this contribution in respect of the pension levy deductions.

The current provisions of Article 35.5 have, in effect, led to an anomaly that puts judges' pay out of line with pay in the public sector at a time when that pay has been the subject of financial emergency measures approved by this House. It is worth noting that the 2009 report of the review body on remuneration in the public sector, which recommended pay cuts for higher-paid public servants, stated that the review body would have considered a cut in judges' pay in line with those borne by senior public servants but was precluded from doing so by virtue of Article 35.5 of the Constitution. This objective and independent report recognised the duty of judges to contribute proportionately, that is to say, on the same basis as others paid from the public purse, to tackling our financial emergency. In view of the inequity of the situation and cognisant of the difficult position in which judges found themselves, this Government, as part of our agreed programme committed to hold a referendum at the earliest opportunity on this matter so as to allow the people determine whether these Houses should have the power to cut judges' pay on the same basis as it has cut the pay of others paid out of the public purse. By enabling judges to pay their fair share, in this instance contributing an annual saving to the State of some €5.5 million, I believe public confidence in the administration of justice will be maintained and enhanced in the eyes of many of our citizens.

I will now turn to the specific draft amendment put forward by the Government in this Bill. The proposed Article 35.5.1 restates the existing general constitutional protections afforded to judges' remuneration while allowing for certain constitutionally based exceptions to this protection. It is important that this measure be retained.

As I have noted, judicial independence exists not for the protection of the Judiciary but for the protection of citizens. This proposed wording will continue to afford judges full constitutional protection from arbitrary or maliciously motivated reductions by any Government.

It was argued in the O'Byrne case in 1959 that the constitutional protection in Article 35.5 extended to exempting judges from the payment of income tax. This argument was rejected by the Supreme Court with the Chief Justice Maguire noting that:

To require a judge to pay taxes on his income on the same basis as other citizens and thus contribute to the expenses of government cannot be said to be an attack on his independence.

The proposed wording of subsection 5.2 simply acknowledges that judges are, like any other citizen, subject to the imposition of taxes and levies.

The substantive change in this provision is contained in subsection 5.3 which is drafted to allow that when, and only when, reductions have been made or are in future made by law to public service pay on the basis of the public interest, these reductions can be applied "by law" to judges' remuneration, that is to say, it can only be done by way of primary legislation passed by the Oireachtas. The provision clearly limits the reduction in judges' pay to cuts applying to others paid from the public purse. It also guards against any danger of successive reductions being made to judges' pay alone as it can only be done where reductions are being made to public service pay. To ensure that no misunderstanding of any nature whatsoever as to the purpose of this provision can arise, and that its intent is clear, I will on Committee Stage be tabling an amendment to subsection 5.3 to insert the word "proportionate" in the last line of the subsection so that the final words read "proportionate reductions to the remuneration of judges". As a consequence, if this amendment is accepted by the House, Article 35.5.3° — to be put by way of referendum — will read as follows:

35.5.3° Where, before or after the enactment into law of this section, reductions have been or are made by law to the remuneration of persons belonging to classes of persons whose remuneration is paid out of public money and such law states that those reductions are in the public interest, provision may also be made by law to make proportionate reductions to the remuneration of judges.

I am sorry to interrupt the Minister but he has less than a minute remaining.

It is important to understand that the proposed amendments will allow for the application of the reductions already imposed on the public service on serving judges. The draft wording adheres, in effect, to the test outlined in a leading Canadian judgment — Queen v. Beauregard 1986 — in which it was stated:

If there were any hint that a federal law dealing with these matters was enacted for an improper or colourable purpose, or if there was discriminatory treatment of judgesvis-à-vis other citizens, then serious issues relating to judicial independence would arise and the law might well be held to be ultra vires.

There is nothing punitive or excessive envisaged in the draft text. Instead it is proposed that the pay of serving judges will be reduced by the same percentage as public servants on equivalent earnings. To that extent their salaries will be treated proportionately in the same way as the lowest paid officials. If the referendum is carried, the reductions will apply from the date the legislation is enacted — it cannot be applied retrospectively.

As Deputies will be aware, Bills to amend the Constitution are published bilingually in both Irish and English.

The Minister should conclude.

I will conclude on this point. I should mention that on Committee Stage, on the advice of the official translators office, I will be moving a number of amendments to the Irish language terminology in the Bill. These are technical amendments relating to the words for "remuneration" and "public interest".

I am conscious that there is other information in the speech that I furnished to Deputies that I have not had the time to cover. I draw their attention in particular to what I hope is of assistance to them in setting out clearly the financial impact on judicial salaries should the referendum be successful and the envisaged legislation enacted. I look forward to hearing what Deputies have to say during the course of the debate. I hope this measure will have the support of all sides of this House.

I welcome the chance to speak on the Bill. We will support the Bill and the subsequent referendum. I thank the Minister and his officials who made themselves available over the summer to brief us on it and the Library and Research Service which produced a good document concerning the Bill.

While we support it, I genuinely have a number of concerns about the process on which we are embarking this evening. We are talking about a referendum to amend Bunreacht na hÉireann, not the standing orders of Ballymagash town council. The fact that the proposal is simple does not and should not hide the fact that this House will debate all Stages of a Bill concerning a referendum by 10 p.m. this evening with a break for an hour and a half for Private Members' business.

The fact that the referendum itself — this applies to the second referendum on the day — is only a door-opener, in that if it is successful further legislation will follow, is also of concern to me. All we have in respect of the further legislation is a draft scheme, which in fairness goes into some detail. However, there is nothing to stop any Government — I do not just refer to the make-up of the Government — with a majority such as this one has from producing completely different legislation after the confidence of the people has been won in a referendum. Bunreacht na hÉireann deserves much more. If we as an Oireachtas do not show full respect for the Constitution, it is difficult for us to ask the citizenry to do so.

I wish to focus on a number of areas in the course of the debate. I apologise in advance to the Minister as I have a long-standing commitment at 7 p.m. but I hope to be back in the Chamber around 8 p.m. It is important to point out, as the Minister has done, that 126 out of 147 serving members of the Judiciary took voluntary reductions in 2010 in line with the reductions caused by pension-related deductions in the pay of the general public and Civil Service. While the actual savings from the referendum would be small, it is important to acknowledge that the majority of the Judiciary made that sacrifice but I agree with the Minister's point on the need to see the Judiciary taking the cuts meted out to others.

We should focus on the thinking behind Article 35 of Bunreacht na hÉireann which underpins judicial independence in this country. It is easy in 2011 to dismiss the notion of judicial independence as being something that is not important. Since the foundation of the State the Judiciary has shown considerable independence and strength of thought. However, when we take something for granted we diminish its status. Judicial independence is a hallmark of a strong and functioning democracy and we should never take it for granted. We can never predict the future make-up of a Government or an Oireachtas. To date, there have been many situations where the Judiciary has challenged Government or Oireachtas decisions. The accompanying referendum on 27 October is a direct result of a difference of opinion between the Judiciary and the Oireachtas. It has been the case that the Oireachtas takes judicial decisions on board and makes whatever changes are necessary. However, in future the Oireachtas may not respond in such a way. It may choose to ignore the Judiciary or it may respond in a negative manner. I wish the Minister, not just as Minister but also a practitioner of the law, to provide an absolute guarantee that a future interpretation of the change to Article 35.5 which underpins judicial independence could not be applied to the broader provisions.

There is ambiguity concerning the wording proposed. I note the wording proposed by the Minister differs from that which he proposed during Private Members' business in 2010. I wonder why there is a difference in the wording. Could the Minister give an absolute guarantee, both as a Minister and a practitioner of the law, that he envisages nothing in the change to the Constitution that could potentially undermine the independence of the Judiciary?

Did the Minister give any consideration to establishing an independent body on judicial pay that would in line with the way he is proceeding convene at a time when other reductions are being made to bring an independent input into the management of judicial pay? Theraison d’être of such a body would be to remove any question of decisions on judicial pay ever being influenced by aggrieved politicians or aggrieved Members of a future Oireachtas. If the Minister did consider such an approach, why did he decide not to proceed with it?

Given that we have such an amalgam of elections on 27 October — a presidential election, a by-election and another referendum — it is probable that the level of public discussion on the referendum in question will be relatively low in comparison to the other votes on the day. We should not mistake this probability for a lack of interest or respect on the part of the public in judicial independence. It is important to proceed with the referendum to protect the integrity of the Judiciary's standing, as the Minister noted. With regard to this I pay tribute to the late Mr. Justice Vivian Lavan and the late District Justice Con Murphy, both of whom were exemplary members of the Judiciary and who passed away during the past month. Mr. Justice Lavan, in particular, leaves the amazing monument of the free legal aid system and all that goes with it.

To maintain such integrity we must proceed with this referendum, endorse it and support it. However, in supporting it I hope the Minister can give us cast-iron guarantees that this Oireachtas is not undermining, in any indirect or unforeseen fashion, the notion of judicial independence in the country.

I welcome the Bill, about which there has been much discussion, especially with regard to its effect on the independence of the Judiciary. It would be prudent from the outset to state that it is the belief of me and my party — I am sure this is shared by everybody in the House — that judicial independence is essential to any democracy. It exists to protect members of the public, who are entitled to have their cases heard and adjudicated upon by judges who are impartial and free from any sort of influence, including political or financial pressure.

Article 35.5 of the Constitution deals with judges' pay and prohibits any reduction in pay during a judge's term in office. The rationale behind the protection was to ensure the separation of powers and prevent any potential attempt by this or other Governments to punish or discriminate against members of the Judiciary because of any adverse decisions or findings from the Government's perspective. It is an understandable and necessary protection.

When the issue was first raised by the Minister, a memo was collectively issued and posted on the website of the Courts Service. It stated that this was not a case of whether judges' pay should be reduced but rather how that reduction should be achieved. The memo indicated that it was not to oppose the amendment of the Constitution, which would see judges shoulder their fair share in these tough economic times, but rather to reinforce the need to safeguard judicial independence. It mooted the idea of the independent adjudication which Deputy Calleary has referenced. I am also interested in the considerations and thoughts of the Minister on that option. Why did he decide not to go down that road?

The issue has divided opinion in both political and media circles. Some have suggested that the Minister's treatment of the Judiciary was becoming increasingly arrogant and posed a real threat to judicial independence. I do not share that view but it has been made. Others have suggested that the Oireachtas should have just passed an Act in preference to a referendum on judges' pay, which is precisely what happened in the reduction of pay for other public servants. A challenge could then be taken if people felt it was required.

Members of the public are considering the debate and are probably puzzled by its elements, asking what is the big deal and why a referendum must take place. As the Minister noted in his opening remarks, the country is in a difficult financial position, with jobs being lost daily and families struggling to keep their heads above water. These people see a certain section of society kicking up a fuss about having pay reduced or, as has been argued, the manner in which it is to be reduced. Most people are not interested in the argument around the separation of power, regardless of its importance, and some do not understand the complexity of the issue. They want the matter sorted out, which is why this Bill is welcome. The speed with which the Government has addressed the issue must be welcomed.

Members of the Judiciary are among the highest paid, if not the highest paid, in Europe, which is of concern. The salaries range from €295,000 to €147,000, so nobody could argue that judges are not well paid. Their salary is supplemented by a very generous system of allowances and expenses available to judges. Just as nobody could argue that judges are not well paid, nobody could argue that this amendment is an attempt to make paupers of judges; we are merely putting in place a mechanism that will allow those with the means to pay to shoulder their fair share of burden in these tough economic times.

We have received additional information concerning savings that the Minister did not touch upon. They will not solve our problems but it does send a message that everybody is paying their way. For this reason we will give the Bill our full support. To be fair to judges and to give a balanced view, it is right to indicate that some members of the Judiciary engaged with a voluntary pension levy scheme, which should be recognised. Asking members of the Judiciary to pay taxes and levies on income, similar to those paid by everybody else, will not impinge on its independence. The Minister alluded to the ruling of the O'Byrne case in this regard, and the only way the Judiciary's independence could be compromised would be through the application of the taxes and levies to discriminate against judges. The amendment on Committee Stage deals with this matter.

Since my election I have argued that public confidence in the justice system is not what it should be. Some people are dismayed by the rulings which come from our courts and question the consistency of sentences. There is a growing perception that some judges are not living in the real world. Steps must be taken to ensure people's confidence is restored in our justice system. I have raised the matter at Question Time with the Minister and I hope this Bill can be the first of many steps to try to restore people's confidence in our justice system. This is not an elite group so they should be treated the same as the rest of the public.

In these tough economic times, this will send a clear message that even members of the Judiciary have a responsibility to pull their weight and ensure everybody plays a part in turning around this economy. For too long the perception and reality has been that those who cannot afford to pay are being asked to contribute more while those who can afford it get off scot free. For such reasons I welcome the Bill and my party will facilitate its passage through the House.

I propose to share time with Deputies Shane Ross, Clare Daly, Joan Collins and Catherine Murphy. The debate surrounding this Bill concerns matters of fairness and equality, and I wonder at the making of an exception for judges in matters of pay. Why should they be seen as being in need of this special provision, with Article 35.5 of the Constitution stipulating that the remuneration of a judge shall not be reduced during the continuance in office of that judge? I accept the need for an independent Judiciary, but surely that is not related to remuneration. There have been enough cases in this country where it appeared that the higher the salary, the greater was the disaster wrought by the person receiving that salary. We have many examples of extremely highly paid individuals who played significant roles in bringing about the disastrous situation in which we find ourselves. I am not suggesting that our highly paid judges contributed to the economic recession, but there should not be any section in our society which feels it has a privileged position and whose remuneration is written in stone.

Members of the Judiciary are citizens of this country who, like all of us, are subject to the law. They should also be subject to the same taxes, levies and reductions. I do not know why they are not considered to be public servants as they are paid from public money. From a principled point of view, I would have expected that members of the Judiciary would wish to contribute to the public finances in the same way as other citizens.

It is important that we have an independent Judiciary. It is essential in a democracy. There are glaring examples of other countries where the judiciary is not independent but is subject to the political whims and ambitions of the president or government. It is also central to the democratic process that if somebody is before a court, he or she can be assured of a hearing and adjudication by an impartial judge. However, why should an independent judiciary be commensurate with money and a particular salary scale? Members of the Judiciary are among the highest paid in Europe. In this country we appear to have a propensity for wanting to have the highest paid people, be it the Judiciary, the President, the Taoiseach, consultants, senior civil servants or bank managers. This must stop, as must the expenses regime. I constantly call for a 50% reduction, at least, in expenses across the board. Members of the Judiciary also have an interesting expenses allowance.

A pay cut for judges is not a threat to judicial independence. Judges are citizens and are subject to the same taxes, levies and cuts as everybody else. I do not believe we should even have a referendum on this issue and I cannot understand how the matter ended up in the Constitution in the first place.

With regard to the independence of the Judiciary being impacted somehow by this measure, that is a load of nonsense which does not stand up to any test. The idea that asking judges to take a pay cut like everybody else would jeopardise their independence is simply laughable.

In ways, it is an insult that we are discussing this matter at all. I believe this is an attempt by the Government to dress itself up as some type of magnificent reformer when it could easily have dealt with the matter through legislation. The Minister can shake his head but there is nothing that could have stopped the Oireachtas passing legislation to provide for members of the Judiciary to take a pay cut like all the other public servants in this State. That the Minister did not bring forward such legislation exposes the fact that this is simply a smokescreen. In addition, the fact that some members of the Judiciary have been doing so much huffing and puffing about this matter is an indictment of those members. It does not give one confidence in their judgment that they can be so removed from the lives of ordinary people at present.

If the Minister was serious about this issue, he would have introduced a Bill and let the members of the Judiciary challenge it. Would they have had the neck, against a backdrop of people on social welfare and elderly people having their household budgets cut, to challenge such a measure? They would not, particularly when the wages of the lowest paid are being slashed under joint labour committees, JLCs. Nobody will be crying over judges' pay aside from the handful of judges involved, presumably. This legislation is a side show; it is creating an illusion that the Government is attempting to tackle the wealthy and vested interests at the top of society when, in reality, it is doing the opposite.

If the Government was serious about tackling the wealthy, we would not be discussing this measure. It would have already been implemented and we would, perhaps, be discussing the introduction of a wealth tax for the top 300 individuals who saw their personal wealth increase by almost €7 billion in the past year. We could be discussing a 10% tax on that wealth, which would generate almost twice the amount that will be generated by the cutbacks and tax hikes the Government will impose on ordinary people under the forthcoming budget. If the Government was serious about tackling the wealthy, it would unleash a team of inspectors to assist with the Anglo Irish Bank inquiry, not a team of inspectors to hound people on social welfare. It would try to deal with a situation where the taxpayer is shouldering a €36 billion private debt as a result of the recapitalisation of the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA, write-down for 180 individuals and the nauseating situation whereby one of those individuals could host a society wedding for his daughter last weekend, while other parents of sons and daughters with special needs have had to spend the afternoon protesting outside the Dáil for justice for their children.

The record of this Government is not one of tackling the wealthy but of hounding ordinary people. This measure today will be seen for what it is.

I welcome this measure in principle. It is fair that judges should pay the same price as everybody else and that their salaries should be reduced. What is so extraordinary about this Bill is that it is necessary at all. What happened, however, is that the judges eyeballed the Government and forced it to take measures to reduce their salaries. Those who maintain that their salaries should not be reduced justify their stance on the basis that it somehow retains their independence and ensures they are not subject to the type of political pressures to which other public servants are subject. This is cant, hypocrisy and nonsense.

I support what is being done. Of course, the salaries must be reduced. A salary of almost €300,000 per year for the Chief Justice is crazy in this economic climate. The real problem here is not that judges might be subject to political pressure or that their independence might be jeopardised or compromised if their salaries were reduced like everybody else's salary, but that judges are on some type of pedestal and they are now believing their own propaganda. They believe that for some reason they are not subject to the same constraints and restrictions as ourselves and other workers in the public service. That is completely wrong. What should be attacked in this Bill is not just this, but the fact, which is not recognised or talked about, that judges have been treated like sacred cows in Ireland.

Judges are politically appointed, and they are often appointed for blatantly political reasons. District judges are directly appointed by the Government, as are Supreme Court, High Court and other judges. There is no doubt that political complexion matters when these appointments are made. That is the problem that should be tackled. These people are appointed by the politicians in power. There have been many cases, and I do not wish to name people who are outside this House, of people who are members of political parties or who have loyalties to political parties being appointed as judges. The Judicial Appointments Advisory Board has an input into the process. It provides a list of people to the Minister. The Minister brings the list to the Cabinet and it can appoint one person from the list of seven. The list will inevitably contain the names of people who are acceptable to the Government, not least because the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board is stuffed with political appointees as well.

That is the real problem with the Judiciary. We need an accountable Judiciary whose members can either appear before an Oireachtas committee, similar to what happens in America, or whose members can be removed. Judges are virtually immovable. The problem is the fact that they are political appointments and that they are so permanent.

I have no problem with the proposed amendment. Many people will vote for it and I am confident it will be passed overwhelmingly. I cannot think of anybody who would vote against it, aside from our esteemed, politically appointed ladies and gentlemen on the Bench who, of course, are not defending inflated salaries and privilege but their integrity and independence.

However, is all this example-setting by people at the top not something of a con? To what level will judges' pay be cut? Will it be to the level of the Taoiseach's pay? At approximately €200,000 per year their salaries are six times the average industrial wage. The cuts in salaries for Ministers, Deputies and top civil servants are pure tokenism.

Cutting €20,000 per year off the salary of the Taoiseach or a judge does not place them in hardship but a cut of a few euro per week is a huge problem for someone on social welfare. A real example would be to introduce a cap of €100,000 on all salaries and pensions paid by the State, including those of judges. This would still be three times the average industrial wage and almost ten times the income of a family on welfare. A tax of 70% on individual incomes above €100,000 in the private sector should accompany this measure. These would be real measures and people would see that this Government is tackling the issue. This could make a start in reducing some income inequality in our society where the top 20% of income earners receive four times the income of the bottom 20%. This must be addressed. People are overwhelmed by the poverty in which they have found themselves in recent times. People have lost their homes, etc.

The Government seems intent on increasing inequality with the dismantling of protection for 260,000 workers covered by the JLCs and the attempt to delay for six months the implementation of the EU directive on equal pay and conditions for the 35,000 agency workers in our economy. SNA teachers are being cut in schools where they are badly needed. People have been asked to put their hands in their pockets but the Government should examine its conscience and reverse the decision in regard to SNAs.

I do not oppose this straightforward proposal. I am not against reducing judges' pay but I am deeply unhappy with the way today's and tomorrow's proposals to amend our Constitution have been brought forward. One of the major flaws with our first Constitution was that the Houses of the Oireachtas could amend it at will and we ended up with a Constitution which was like a wedge of Swiss cheese. Before I and many in this House were born, the citizens adopted this Constitution. The parts of the Constitution which have stood the test of time are those based on broad principles.

It is very important that we properly scrutinise measures which look benign. The Joint Committee on the Constitution's fourth report deals with electoral reform. It is much more difficult to remove things than it is to put them in. That is why full scrutiny is required when we decide to tinker with the Constitution.

I agree with some of the points made in regard to who would have challenged a Bill if it had been brought forward. When the Minister proposed this change in 2009, he said it should be tagged to the referendum on children's rights, which I wanted advanced quickly. I am disappointed we are not at that stage.

We are trying to visualise what could happen at a time of political instability when one needs that separation of powers. That is a good principle. The pay aspect is dubious but the separation of powers is incredibly important and a cornerstone of our democracy.

When I read this Bill, which is quite short, I was concerned by the section which stated that the remuneration of judges is subject to the imposition of tax, levies and other charges that are imposed by law on persons generally or persons belong to a particular class. I do not know how to interpret that and I would welcome the Minister's comments. Can it be interpreted as people other than judges? That is the only aspect about which I have concerns.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Patrick O'Donovan.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on a Bill which I have supported since the Minister initially proposed it two years ago in Private Members' time. I congratulate him on the presentation of this Bill, which he has spent a considerable amount of time preparing. It is vital for this Government to give people an opportunity to make an amendment to Bunreacht na hÉireann. It would be satisfying to follow through on another mandate from the people to bring judges' remuneration in line with other public servants.

Many people are angry and see one rule for the Judiciary and another for everybody else. Judicial independence is of vital importance and must be retained and protected. The separation of powers requires an independent Judiciary and this referendum will not diminish judicial independence.

The issue of judicial pay needs to be addressed. Currently, judicial salaries remain in bubbles which have well and truly been burst. Irish judges are among the highest paid in Europe and we are all well aware that this is simply unsustainable. However, it is important to note that this legislation does not seek to target judicial salaries in an unfair manner, but rather bring those salaries in line with other public servants and that they accept the reductions as other public servants have.

I am sure most people will see that this level of objectivity will reinforce the independence of the Judiciary. I welcome the fact that the vast majority of the Judiciary does not oppose this referendum and most have made voluntary contributions to the Exchequer in recent years. However, this issue cannot be allowed to remain an optional choice for the Judiciary when it is a compulsory requirement for the rest of the public service. If this amendment is approved by the people, a saving of €5.5 million per year can be achieved.

It is generally accepted that public sector spending and public sector salaries went out of control under previous Administrations. After studying Irish figures in an international context, it is no surprise that we are still battling to bring public service expenditure under control given the problems we have inherited. At this point, it is hard to justify Ireland's high ranking among our OECD counterparts when it comes to the judicial earnings. In this area there is a stark difference between us and many of our neighbours in the EU.

If this amendment is successful, it will not interfere with the impartiality or freedom from influence of those on the Bench. When a nation has a politically independent Judiciary, what matters primarily for the citizen is accessibility of the courts. However, this has been a problem in my constituency of Wexford and my town of Enniscorthy. I agree with the Minister's sentiments that public respect for the Judiciary must be maintained and that this would be more difficult if they were immune from the economic reality in Ireland.

I have supported the Minister's proposal in this area since he first introduced his Private Members' Bill to the House two years ago. I am aware from my role as Government Chief Whip that this is a carefully drafted Bill. Although the polls show that the majority are in favour of this referendum, I have urged all my constituents to study the literature they will receive over the coming weeks on this referendum before exercising their democratic right. With the public fully aware of the proposal, I am fully confident the referendum will carry the amendment.

The issue of judicial salaries is not a new topic for discussion in this House. In the fourth Dáil, Deputy William Magennis said that it is an elementary fact of psychology that nothing gives much independence to the character of a man as the knowledge that so long as he discharges his duties efficiently, he has an adequate salary. I do not think any member of the Judiciary could dispute that he or she will not receive an adequate salary if this amendment is endorsed by the people.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill, which deals with an important amendment to the Constitution. I congratulate the Minister, Deputy Shatter, on bringing it before the House. It is regrettable that his proposal was not accepted by the previous Government because if it had been, this referendum could have been held on the same day as the last general election. However, the previous Government decided to protect the bigwigs a bit longer, so we are debating the issue now. There is no doubt that the public have been convulsed about this matter for a long time. Speaking as a teacher, and thus a public servant, I know that many of my colleagues were appalled by the Judiciary's rates of pay. The spectacle of the Judiciary acting in some sort of lobbying movement to try to get themselves protected, or avoid the need for a referendum through the appointment of an independent commission, did not go down well with the public. The Minister and the Government are doing the right thing and the public will no doubt say so when the matter is put before them in a referendum.

There was a suggestion in some quarters that this proposal could somehow be interpreted as an infringement of the separation of powers between the Oireachtas and the Judiciary. Nothing could be further from the truth, however, because Article 35.2 of the Constitution allows for judicial independence. In addition, the Executive does not have the right to interfere in the judicial process once judges are appointed. However, we have an obligation to the taxpayers who elected us to ensure that, at a time when the public finances are in the current position, people are seen to carry the burden fairly. At the moment that is not the case because some judges opted into a voluntary reduction while others, unfortunately, did not, which is regrettable. Maybe these people do not read the papers or listen to the news, but unless they are totally oblivious to what is going on in the country, they should all have signed up to this reduction. The fact is, however, that they did not.

The reduction in judges' pay will save €5.5 million, but some people may be of the opinion that the Minister could dig even deeper. We have judges who are among the best paid in Europe, if not the world. We have very well paid judges sitting on the Bench, while legal practitioners in court are also operating on highly inflated salaries and costs, many of which are met by the taxpayer. I implore the Minister to examine that matter also. I know that his colleague, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, has been examining this issue.

People are annoyed and fed up with the costs incurred in using the Irish courts service, whether it concerns judges, barristers or solicitors. Enough is enough. It is regrettable that judges did not voluntarily enter into this scheme. Reference was made to the fact that the current Government is bringing forward this referendum in conjunction with another one on the establishment of Oireachtas committees of investigation, but that is in the programme for Government and was campaigned for during the election. I cannot understand how some Deputies bemoan the fact that we are bringing forward referenda on the same day at the presidential election. Perhaps they are the same Deputies who gave out earlier because we did not use the presidential election as an opportunity to do this. A referendum on children's rights has also been promised. Constitutional reform was put at the top of the agenda when the programme for Government was signed up to. I am glad to see that today, at the start of the new Government's first proper term, the Minister for Justice and Equality is delivering this Bill. I hope the amendment will be passed by an overwhelming majority. Nurses, teachers, road sweepers, gardaí and everybody else have taken their fair share in this country. It is regrettable that judges have had to be dragged into this matter, which should also apply to new entrants to the Bench, in addition to their pensions and entitlements.

Last week, the country was convulsed over a severance package paid to a retiring civil servant. It is a scandal that the Croke Park agreement would be used by anybody leaving the public service as a way to justify those sort of payments. That issue also needs to be put on the table.

I wish to share time with Deputy Dooley.

Is that agreed? Agreed. The Deputies will have five minutes each.

I welcome the Bill and support its objective. The majority of judges took a voluntary cut in line with what was requested, but our party is supporting the legislation. The Bill's contents have been examined and dealt with by many other speakers. The Bill before us should be seen in the context of what the new Government promised to do during the election campaign some seven months ago. This Bill was promised as part of six separate referenda that Fine Gael said it would introduce as part of a super Constitution day. That is what they called it back in February, but it is a bit like the 100,000 jobs that were promised, as well as the five point plan. I have not heard the Minister, Deputy Shatter, or any of his colleagues refer to the super Constitution day since 25 February.

The promised referenda included one to abolish the Seanad and another to reduce the President's term of office from seven to five years, which would have been appropriate to hold alongside the presidential election. Another proposed referendum was to give the Dáil powers to cut judges' pay, which we are now discussing. Yet another referendum was to give Oireachtas committees stronger powers of investigation, which is scheduled to take place on the same day as the presidential election. In addition, a referendum was promised to put the Office of the Ombudsman on a constitutional footing. Those six referenda were promised as part of the super Constitution day, but some of them have been forgotten.

On 27 October, the date for the presidential election, these two referenda will also be held. Although welcome, they were supposed to be part of something very separate. I ask the Minister to outline where the promised super Constitution day now stands. The Government appears to have taken a different tack since taking office by deciding to hold two referenda, rather than six. For example, we were supposed to have a referendum on children's rights. As his party's spokesman on children in the previous Dáil, the Minister knows that such a referendum is of the utmost importance. In Opposition, he regularly extolled the necessity for an immediate date to be set for that referendum. When Fine Gael announced its super Constitution day, Deputy Charles Flanagan, who took over from the Minister as the party's spokesperson on children, said that the children's rights referendum would take place on the same day as the presidential election. Just six months ago, Deputy Charles Flanagan, rightly, said:

every day that goes by without a referendum acknowledging the voice of children in the Constitution is a poor day for children, leaving them in a position of great vulnerability and hardship. So this will be a priority.

That was another promise that the Minister, Deputy Shatter, reneged upon in line with many of the other things he has done.

The Deputy's party was in Government for 14 years and did nothing.

A lot of work was done on it.

The Deputy did nothing.

I heard Deputy Buttimer and Deputy Shatter saying that when they were in opposition only six months ago, but what have we seen since they took office?

The Children First guidelines.

This morning, the Minister, Deputy Shatter, made a grand comment about how he has achieved more in five months than a former Minister who is now on this side of the House.

All I have seen from the Minister is this referendum, while there is no word of all the other promises he made.

Has the Deputy seen any of the other legislation we have enacted?

I have not seen it. In fact, on the last day we debated across the Chamber, it was on a motion I moved to have a referendum on adoption rights on the same day as the presidential election.

One of the arguments used by the Minister to vote it down was that accompanying legislation would be needed. The motion that I brought forward was the first referendum proposal made to this Dáil but the Minister claimed there would be no space for it on the same day as the presidential election because three referendums were already being planned. Now, however, we learn there will be only two referendums. Therefore, while I welcome the proposed referendum, I ask him to outline to the House where he stands on the promises he made previously.

My party welcomes this proposal and we intend to support it while recognising the importance to democracy of an independent Judiciary. A judge's role is onerous and without parallel in society. He or she must, to some extent, live at a remove from the rest of society. I was disappointed by some of the political posturing in evidence on the Government benches. The comments about big wigs and the other derogatory terms used are ill-becoming of Members of the Oireachtas, regardless of their parties. This is a constitutional issue which needs to be resolved in a manner which is open and does not undermine the important role that judges play.

Many judges have already made voluntary contributions in recognition of our current economic circumstances. Reference has been made to savings of €5.5 million and perhaps the Minister can indicate whether this figure is additional to the voluntary contributions that have already been made or if it includes them.

Some elements of the Government's spin machine have sought to portray this referendum as a ground-breaking initiative to show the people that tough decisions are being taken. However, while these claims are more about political posturing than anything else, it is right that judges be treated as equitably as other sectors of society. I am somewhat disappointed but we must take the Constitution as it stands. Given that judges' pay increased in line with other public servants, it is ludicrous that it cannot be reduced accordingly without undermining the Judiciary. I am not a lawyer but my layman's reading of the Constitution leads me to understand that it would become problematic if a Government sought to interfere with the pay of an individual judge or a group of judges.

I was taken aback by Deputy O'Donovan's comments in regard to what he described as a convulsion over the severance package for a senior civil servant who retired last week. I remind the Deputy that he is now a Member of the Oireachtas, which makes him party to the decision making process. He is no longer in a position to make county councillor outbursts that have no effect.

He was wrong to single out an individual.

Was the pension right?

I am answering the Deputy's question. He was wrong to suggest that a certain individual was surreptitiously using the Croke Park agreement for his own benefit.

Was it right to pay that pension?

Of course it was not, but that is not to suggest that the individual was somehow misusing the Croke Park agreement in his own interest.

He did not say that.

He referred to an individual who is familiar to us through the media. It is open to the Government to address the matter collectively by introducing appropriate legislation that would, if necessary, deal with the issue retrospectively. It is bringing forward a constitutional referendum in respect of the judges and if it is concerned that retrospective legislation would not stand up to the Constitution, it should bring forward an amendment. I ask for less posturing and fewer outrageous attacks on individuals. We should deal with the issue in an open and collective manner rather than make scapegoats of individuals who worked hard for this State. This is not to suggest that I agree with the pay levels but we should not make scapegoats for political purposes. We owe it to the public servants who work on our behalf not to denigrate them and for this reason I was very disappointed about the aforementioned intervention.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important Bill. As I drove up to Dublin this morning, I listened to the concerns expressed on the radio that the legislation was being rushed. However, one of the finest compliments that can be paid to the Minister, Deputy Shatter, is to note the urgency with which he has approached his responsibilities thus far. Even though we are only six months into this Dáil, we are already contemplating two Bills which will allow referendums to take place on 26 October. Judging from the earlier comments by Deputies O'Brien and Calleary, I expected their respective parties would offer their full support for this Bill but subsequent Fianna Fáil speakers lead me to doubt they can agree on whether they consider the referendum to be worthwhile or if they believe Fine Gael is posturing on it. They cannot have it both ways.

Anybody who canvassed the people during the last general election campaign would concur that they want us to address the issue of the pay of judges and senior public servants. I agree, however, that we have been well-served by our Judiciary. Rather than focus on the small percentage of judges who did not volunteer reductions, we should acknowledge that some 90% of them did so. The referendum respects the spirit of a judgment in the Supreme Court several years ago regarding discrimination against the Judiciary on tax matters. As long as individual judges are not singled out in any way, it is fair for a Government to include them with the rest of the public service when deciding on pensions and payments.

The amounts involved are not insignificant. Deputy Dooley asked about the figure of €5.5 million, which I understand does not include voluntary savings but the Minister may clarify the matter in his concluding statement.

Today being international democracy day, it is appropriate to respond to the suggestion that the referendum, if passed, would undermine the separation of powers in this State. I would argue the contrary because we are putting the decision before the people. It is the ultimate demonstration of the separation of power and of the process of democracy that it is the people who will vote to make the decision on this matter, according to which the Government and the Dáil will subsequently legislate on their behalf.

In an environment where we all share a responsibility, in so far as possible, to reduce costs to the public purse, there is undoubtedly a significant cost involved in holding presidential and other elections and referenda. As such, it makes economic and practical sense that, where appropriate, we put several issues to the electorate at once. People give of their valuable time to vote and there is a cost to the Exchequer in setting up elections. It makes sense that several proposals be dealt with together where it is possible and appropriate to do so. Members opposite have pointed out that the programme for Government commits us to bringing forward referenda on issues other than those which will be put before the people next month. I am satisfied, from where I am standing within the parliamentary party, that, unlike under the previous Government, we will see these issues, including the question of children's rights, being put before the people by way of referendum. I look forward to that. I call on everybody to support this important referendum when it comes before them.

I welcome the Minister and thank him for bringing this Bill before the House. I also welcome the commitment by the Deputies opposite to join the Government in supporting this referendum. Their U-turn is to be commended and I congratulate them on their belated conversion to political correctness. I hope they will campaign with vigour and enthusiasm in bringing the message to their constituents that all citizens, as taxpayers, must be treated fairly and equally. The Minister has held that viewpoint for two years, but it has taken Members opposite the same time to reach that level of thinking.

It is regrettable that this Bill must be brought before the House today. Members of the Judiciary, as leaders in society, should have shown leadership on this issue without the requirement for constitutional change. Some of them have done so. I single out the new Chief Justice, Mrs. Justice Susan Denham, in this regard in respect of her decision not to take the incremental pay rise for which she was eligible on her appointment. In forgoing that payment she showed leadership. The Minister too has shown leadership on this issue, as have members of the public service in taking voluntary pay reductions. Everybody must be treated with respect and fairness. In this time of economic crisis, nobody must be immune from the decisions of Government.

The proposal before us is aimed at achieving equality between all taxpayers and ensuring no sector is sheltered from economic pain. Those who hold high office and who are paid extremely well for so doing — I include Oireachtas Members in this — are expected to recognise their own privileged positions and to accept their civic duties. This is particularly so in the case of the Judiciary. It is important and proper that judicial independence is maintained and that Article 35.5 of the Constitution is protected. However, it is also important that the people be given the opportunity to decide whether judicial pay should be amended in line with that of other public sector employees. It is incumbent on those in high office and on us as Members of this House to show leadership and to bring the people with us.

Nobody on this side of the House is seeking to interfere with the independence of the Judiciary; that is not what the referendum is about. Rather, it is about fairness and equality and ensuring that everybody plays their part in our country's economic recovery. Judges are expected to be above reproach and are required to interpret laws, pass judgment, impose punishment and exhibit compassion in so doing. While we rightly demand high standards of them, we also require members of the Judiciary to be an integral part of our society, cognisant of the tribulations and difficulties endured by families on a daily basis. We are fortunate to have an excellent Judiciary. Its members do a tremendous job in administering justice in a fair and balanced manner.

Now we are asking them to play their part in restoring the national economy. Fortunately, 85% of judges have recognised the problems posed by the constitutional anomaly and have assisted in restoring the country's finances by voluntarily accepting the imposition of levies and changes. Those 121 judges exemplify the civic awareness which society expects of its Judiciary. If this referendum is passed, there will be a further sharing of the burden on society.

In contrast to what Deputy Charlie McConalogue has claimed, the Minister, Deputy Alan Shatter, has shown tremendous stewardship of his Department. He has been a proactive Minister and his record in his first six months in office is there to be examined. I challenge the Deputy to examine that record and will debate it with him in any forum. This referendum deserves to be passed. It is not a referendum on judicial independence; it is about ensuring equality for all citizens and taxpayers.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill, which paves the way for the future implementation of pay cuts for an exclusive elite. Sinn Féin supports the Bill. It is ironic, however, that if judges had taken the opportunity to embrace not only the letter of their own voluntary levy scheme, but also its spirit, we might never have reached this point. That episode brought shame on them and their profession and in itself tells a story.

While the average industrial wage in this State is some €35,000, judges can expect to earn multiples of that, anywhere between €147,000 and €295,000. At the same time, more than 440,000 people are signing on the dole and many more do not even qualify for that benefit. Untold hardship is being visited upon ordinary people throughout the country as a result of cuts, cuts and more cuts, with no end in sight. Through all of this recent hardship judges remained, and in many respects, regardless of the outworkings of this legislation and the referendum in October, will remain, sheltered and protected from such realities. So too will their colleagues in the upper echelons of the civil and public service. Through this saga and other events in recent weeks, we have had a very public display of the privileged and protected realms in which some people continue to live in this State.

The reality for the vast majority of people in Ireland today is one of getting by. The programme of austerity scripted by the EU and IMF and implemented diligently, initially by Fianna Fáil and the Green Party and subsequently by Fine Gael and the Labour Party, has resulted in devastating changes for ordinary people. People are asking themselves whether they can afford their mortgage repayment from month to month, their children's ever-increasing back to school fees or, even worse, food, heat and electricity for themselves and their families. Many workers wonder whether they will still have a job next week or next month. This is a frighteningly common reality for many vulnerable people. Meanwhile, members of the well-heeled, well-connected and well-protected sectors of Irish society remain immune and face no such difficulties. They certainly do not have to worry about providing the basics for themselves and their families, including food, housing, health and education. They might have to worry — if that is the correct word — about the cost of running three houses and two cars or paying private education fees.

In this economic climate, such privileges arise, at least to some degree, at the expense of everyone else. This sheltered elite remains as such because consecutive Governments, including the current one, have failed to confront it. The obscene figures which have emerged over recent weeks are further evidence of the continuing practice of excessive pay and privileges, including severance and pension provisions, for senior members of the civil and public service. This must be tackled head on. The Government cannot continue to hide behind the excuse of contracts or precedent.

The hundreds of thousands of people on the live register, as well as all of those who have suffered cuts to welfare, pensions and take-home pay, together with the hundreds of thousands who have been forced to emigrate must have thought they were hearing things last week when it was revealed that the recently retired Secretary General at the Department of the Taoiseach, Mr. Dermot McCarthy, received an incredible €713,000 pension pay-off on top of his annual pension of €142,000. This is the same Secretary General who was a member of the Top Level Appointments Committee that appointed senior civil servants on behalf of the State and, according to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, agreed their remuneration packages, again on behalf of the Government. Consecutive Governments obviously believed they were worth it. They facilitated such behaviour by endorsing, signing off on, rubber-stamping and giving legal effect to it. What one permits, one promotes.

As part of his pension pay off, Mr. McCarthy received a special severance gratuity payment of €142,670. The Superannuation and Pensions Act 1963 states that the Minister, if in his discretion he so thinks proper, can grant such a payment to a civil servant. This payment, which is clearly defined in section 7 of the Superannuation and Pension Act 1963 as being a special severance gratuity, could only have been made to Mr. McCarthy on the instruction of the Ministers for Finance or Public Expenditure and Reform. The Minister, Deputy Howlin, might have considered how many special needs assistants might be employed for that money.

There have been reports in the media that Mr. McCarthy is being considered as the next ambassador to the Vatican. If this appointment comes to pass, it will be an even greater slap in the face to struggling families and the unemployed. The mere suggestion that any Government Minister would deem it appropriate to give such a high paid job to a retired civil servant in receipt of a €713,000 lump sum pension pay-off is completely inappropriate and reeks of the worst kind of cronyism. Recent media coverage gave even further insight into the culture of self-congratulation at the upper levels of the public and Civil Service with the disclosure that 21 senior civil servants who retired during the past four years received lump sums of between €444,000 and €570,000.

A further 94 retired officials have received lump sums of €225,000. The retired officials also receive annual pensions of between €75,000 and €142,000, at a total cost to the taxpayer of almost €10 million every year. These are inordinate figures.

In a similar vein, Irish hospital consultants earn a basic €250,000 per annum for a nominal 33-hour-week. While this may be Mickey Mouse money to some, it is not so to those of us living in the real world. It has been reported that some consultants spend 40% of their working time on private practice, some of which is being reimbursed by the National Treatment Purchase Fund. This is another example of gross excess and a failure to challenge an already privileged group. Given the extreme difficulties Government cutbacks are having on ordinary people, it is extraordinary that such practices continue unabated.

The Government has promised legislation to deal with excessive senior public sector pensions and to end the practice of added years, but these changes look likely to apply only to new entrants. This is unacceptable. Methods must be found to tackle the excessively high pension arrangements for existing public and Civil Service top dogs. Increasing the tax rate applied to the balance of lump sum pay-offs is just one option.

Sinn Féin has called and continues to call for the capping of all public sector pay at €100,000. Similarly, pension pots should be reduced for senior public servants. I welcome this Bill in its attempt to reduce the pay of judges in line with others in the public service. I would like to see others in the public service challenged in a similar vein. I commend the Bill to the House.

I thank Deputy McLellan for sharing time with me. I welcome the Bill and congratulate the Minister on bringing it before the House. I support the Bill and acknowledge its necessity. Like other Deputies, including Members of the Opposition, I will be working to ensure a positive outcome for this legislation in the forthcoming referendum.

It is regrettable that this Parliament must, given the current climate, bring legislation before the House to deal with a small group of people who, since 1937, have held a privileged position, as provided for in the 1937 Constitution. I am neither a great enthusiast nor supporter of that Constitution which appears not only to have given special positions to one church, but special protection to judges' pay. I expect that, following referendum day, this will end. I have no axe to grind with judges; I am sure there are very good judges. I do not know any judges; none live in my estate. While I am sure they do good work, they are not beyond the responsibilities of civic society. We are in a bad place, as outlined by other speakers, including Deputy McLellan. People are experiencing hardship. Judges are well paid and can afford to take the small wage cut being sought by Government. Judges have been in an extremely privileged position as a result of the Constitution passed in 1937, which was only voted on by approximately 30% of the population. Perhaps the majority of the people knew better. Only a small number of people turned out for it. I support the Bill.

I thank all Members who supported the legislation, in particular my Fine Gael and Labour colleagues. I welcome that there is agreement on all sides of the House that this change is necessary.

I will try to explain some matters. Deputies will forgive me if, given the time available, I do not respond to all questions raised. It is important to be clear on where matters currently stand. We know that a significant number of the Judiciary have volunteered to pay the pension levy. I am not aware of any member of the Judiciary who has volunteered to opt into the salary reduction which has affected everyone else across the public service. The major portion of the moneys that will be saved in the €5.5 million will derive from the fact that if this referendum is successful, we will be applying to the Judiciary the same salary reductions as apply across the public service to others.

The draft Bill to which Deputy Calleary referred sets out the percentage reductions, replicating exactly the provisions of the 2009 Acts, which will be applied to serving judges. The draft Bill to which I am referring is the implementation Bill which we also published some weeks ago. For the convenience of the House, I included in my script the table setting out the effects of the reductions on judges' pay. It is clear, if the referendum is successful, exactly where matters may stand with regard to judges' pay. That is the reason there is no need to appoint a committee to look at or consider the issue. One or two speakers suggested that a committee should consider how much judges should be paid. That then is doing what we should not be doing, namely, we should not be singling out judges for different treatment to others in the context of effecting salary reductions.

I am conscious of the need to continue to protect judicial independence and so I constantly reiterate that what this legislation is about is applying in a fair way to members of the Judiciary the same pension levy and salary reductions as have been already applied across the public service to others on similar pay scales. That is the crucial issue in terms of what we are doing. I agree with Deputy Buttimer that it was noteworthy that having been an ordinary judge of the Supreme Court for some time, Chief Justice Denham did not, when appointed to that position, accept the authorised level of pay of a Chief Justice, which is €295,916, but continued to work for the salary she received as an ordinary member of the Supreme Court. The changes to be effected, which are detailed in the script that was distributed, are proportionate changes that will apply to different members of the Judiciary.

I shall deal quickly with some of the questions asked. Why is the wording of this Bill different from that of the Bill I published on behalf of the Fine Gael Party in 2009? There is a very simple answer to that. One can achieve the same result in a variety of different ways. There is no unique form of wording. The form of wording before the House is the form of wording recommended by the Attorneys General and the Parliamentary Draftsman. Any good lawyer could address this particular issue in a variety of different forms of wording.

I listened with interest to some Members, the Independent Members in particular, who seem to think that it was not necessary to have a referendum, that we should just enact the legislation. That is poppycock. There is an express provision in the Constitution in regard to not reducing the remuneration of sitting judges. This House cannot simply enact legislation that is blatantly unconstitutional. There is a constitutional obligation on this House to ensure, as best we can, the legislation we enact is constitutional.

The only way to achieve the desired objective here is by way of holding a referendum. We are not entitled in this House to remove from the people their entitlement to decide what should be contained in the Constitution. That is not an option. Also it would be to treat the people who vote in referendums as being irrelevant. We must give due respect to those who make decisions about our Constitution. We cannot simply drive a horse and cart through it.

We must conclude the debate by order of the House.

I will conclude. In regard to the children's referendum, I want to make it absolutely clear this will take place in 2012. It not happening now because, despite all the promises made by the previous Government, no work had commenced on the draft adoption Bill that should have been prepared.

What about the recommendation——

The Joint Committee on Health and Children recommended when that referendum takes place, that because it brings about a fundamental change in the adoption area, we should, as we have done in this case, publish an implementation Bill so people are clear how it will work. Unfortunately, in the short time we have had in Government and in the context of the major issues we have had to address with great speed, it was not possible to finalise the wording for that referendum and publish an adoption Bill.

It was the Minister who promised the referendum. It was his own policy.

That is the mistake the Deputy's colleague made when he tried to run with that issue in Private Members' time. Unfortunately, if the previous Government had done the work in that area correctly we may well have the children's referendum now.

I ask the Minister to conclude.

We will have it in 2012.

Cuireadh agus aontaíodh an cheist.

Question put and agreed to.