Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Amendment) Bill 2011: Second Stage

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

The primary purpose of the Bill is to apply the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Acts of 2009 to serving members of the Judiciary in line with the decision of the people in the referendum on the Twenty-ninth Amendment of the Constitution. The latter amended Article 35.5 of the Constitution in respect of judicial remuneration. The proposed amendment to the Constitution was approved by both Houses. The referendum on judicial pay, as proposed and put before the people, was passed by a significant majority — some 79% — on 27 October last. The terms of the amendment were very carefully crafted from a legal and constitutional perspective in order to ensure that the ongoing independence of the Judiciary in carrying out its functions on a daily basis is maintained. This is as it should be. It would be a blow to our status as a constitutional democracy if there was even the perception, no matter how remote the possibility might be, of Government influence over decisions by judges on cases. In approaching this issue, that constitutional imperative was an absolute priority for the Government.

In my view, the role and standing of the Judiciary in our democracy is actually enhanced by these measures. The measures proposed within the Bill uphold the obligation on all citizens to share their part of the burden of addressing the current severe fiscal crisis which the State faces. The Bill provides for the application, equally and proportionately, to the Judiciary of the public service pension-related deduction and the same salary reductions as those applied to other public servants in 2009 by the previous Government. Our late colleague, Brian Lenihan, stated in 2009 at that time that the decision to apply these measures was not taken lightly. Their application in respect of public servants in 2009 and 2010 represented the first statutory reductions in public servants' pay since 1933. That is an extraordinary fact and it highlights not only the exceptional nature of the measures but, equally, the depth of the crisis faced by the State.

The essence of this crisis is summarised in the preamble to the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (No. 2) Act 2009. I wish to repeat what is set out in that preamble in order to set the backdrop to the measures being put forward in the Bill I am putting forward for Members' consideration. The preamble refers to "a serious disturbance in the economy and a decline in the economic circumstances of the State", "serious deterioration in the revenues of the State", the need "to take urgent measures to reduce the significant shortfall between expenditure and revenue" and the need "to reduce State expenditure to maintain international confidence". Most importantly, the preamble refers to the requirement "for the State to achieve significant savings in its expenditure, both directly and indirectly, on remuneration".

Despite the difficult steps the country has already taken, it still faces an extraordinarily difficult fiscal challenge. We are currently borrowing over €1.25 billion every month in order to pay our ongoing expenses. This excludes any banking-related expenditure. We are borrowing from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund in order to continue funding our public services, pay costs, pensions and social welfare benefits.

The Government is committed to sustainable, ongoing reductions in the overall cost of the public service pay bill. This will be achieved through measures such as those included in the Bill, as well as through planned reductions in the numbers of public servants as set out in the programme for Government and through greater efficiencies in the way in which public services are delivered. The Government has already introduced significant reforms and I announced further substantial proposed reforms when the Government's statement on the public service reform plan was published on 17 November last. I will not discuss the details in this regard now. The Members opposite will be at the meetings of the Committee of Public Accounts and the Select Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform at which I will provide detailed presentations in respect of these matters where I hope we will be able to engage in some good interaction on them.

In the context of pay, since taking office in March the Government has demonstrated a policy of salary reduction and restraint for higher earners in the public service. On coming to office, all members of the Government accepted further reductions in their pay. In June, the Government approved my proposals to introduce a general pay ceiling of €200,000 in respect of future appointments to higher positions across the public service, a general pay ceiling of €250,000 for future appointments to CEO positions within commercial semi-State bodies and a voluntary waiver of up to 15% for current post holders who have salaries in excess of the relevant pay ceilings. Existing incumbents of posts in the public service that attract salaries in excess of the general pay ceilings adopted by Government have responded positively to my request for a voluntary waiver. All new appointees to the public service are being made in line with the policy adopted by Government on pay ceilings. New pay rates for Secretaries General of Departments were introduced in June, with a maximum rate set at €200,000. This represents a reduction of almost 30% on the rate of Secretary General level 1 pay that obtained in September 2008 and it means that no civil servant can earn more than €200,000. These new pay rates will also reduce Exchequer pension costs into the future in respect of all new appointees. The savings that will arise under the terms of the Bill are relatively small, amounting to some €5.5 million.

I wish to inform the House of my intention to bring forward an amendment to the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act 2010, which reduced public service pensions in payment and for those who retire before the end of the so-called "grace period" when the Bill goes before Seanad Éireann. My amendment, which will be introduced in the Seanad and then brought to this House, will impose a higher reduction rate of 20% on public service pensions above €100,000. Pensions in excess of €60,000 are currently being adjusted downwards by12%. It is estimated that a reduction in public service pensions above €100,000 such as that proposed would potentially affect pensioners who previously held office, such as former Presidents, taoisigh, senior members of the Judiciary, including Chief Justices, or members of the High Court and the Supreme Court, heads of universities, Civil Service Secretaries General, chief executives of non-commercial State bodies, some hospital consultants, Garda Commissioners and Chiefs of Staff of the Defence Forces. My Department's initial estimate indicates that this would lead to a modest saving of €400,000 in a full year.

I wish to provide some examples of how what I have outlined might affect particular individuals. A person on an annual pension of €125,000 will see a cumulative reduction in his or her pension of €13,760, or 11%. Someone on a very high pension of €150,000 will see a corresponding fall of in the region of €18,760, or 12.5%. It should be noted that these pension holders are also subject to the usual array of taxes, including PRSI, the universal social charge and the upper rate of income tax. They are already being taxed or charged at well in excess of 50% and this rate will be additional to that. I asked my Department to provide an estimate of the net income of a public service pensioner whose gross pension before tax or the public service pension reduction is €125,000. The net income of a single pensioner over the age of 70 would be reduced to a net take-home amount of €71,716. This is a substantial income, particularly when one considers that such an individual is unlikely to be obliged to shoulder the same costs as his or her younger counterparts. However, the reduction is significant. While the level of savings would again be modest, I am of the view that this measure should be implemented in the broad public interest.

The Attorney General has advised that pension entitlements are vested property rights which have already been earned. As we know, however, the existing legislation already affects vested pension rights in the public interest. I consider that this progressive amendment is also in the broad public interest and that is just and equitable in the circumstances. There are those who believe that people had an expectation that certain levels of pension would apply and that they had made contributions in respect of their pensions over significant periods. However, there is also an understanding that in the circumstances in which we now find ourselves, those with the broadest shoulders must bear the greatest burden. It is for this reason that I sought to introduce this particular measure, to which the Government has readily agreed.

Safeguards are contained in all the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Acts. Measures must be publicly reviewed annually and I, as Minister, may consider and may grant claims for exemption or modification if it is considered just and equitable to do so. No one will seek to make the case that the savings I have outlined will make significant inroads in the context of the financial crisis which the State faces. They will not resolve the extraordinary problems of borrowing and indebtedness by which our nation is currently affected. However, that is not the rationale behind the Bill or my proposed amendment to it. The terms of the Bill reinforce the principles of fairness, ability to pay and burden sharing among all of us. It ensures that those in eminent office demonstrate their leadership and, most importantly, their solidarity in a real and concrete way with the people most affected by the economic crisis.

This is the fourth item of financial emergency legislation to be put before the House since the spring of 2009. It might serve some purpose to remind Members of the contents of the three Acts previously passed by the House. The first Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act of 2009 provided for a progressive pension-related deduction to apply to public servants with access to a public service pension. The Act was introduced in the context of the priority to be given to the stabilisation of the public finances. As well as the pension-related deduction, it contained a number of measures designed to produce savings, which would be remitted to the benefit of the Exchequer. The pension-related deduction, which came into effect on 1 March 2009, currently applies to earnings in excess of €15,000 per annum and is calculated progressively at rates ranging between 5% and 10.5%.

The deduction is not a pension contribution and was introduced in the context of the recitals to that Act, which, as I mentioned already, set out the serious and ongoing disturbance in the economy and threat to the finances of the State. The deduction also reflected the general comparative value of public service pensionsvis-à-vis private sector pension provision.

The Financial Measures in the Public Interest (No. 2) Act 2009 provided for the reduction in the remuneration of all public servants with effect from 1 January 2010. The Act provided for reductions of an average of some 7% where the salary of the public servant was less than €125,000. Fixed reduction rates of 8%, 12% and 15% applied to salaries of more than that amount. The public servants affected included officeholders such as members of the Oireachtas and the Government and employees of public service bodies — more than 300,000 people all told. Of course, the House will understand that since then, and since the election of this Government, there is a ceiling now on all civil servants' earnings and no civil servant in the State is earning currently more than €200,000 because they all have taken a waiver to below that level.

Prior to the recent referendum on judicial pay, members of the Judiciary together with the President were not subject to the provisions of either Act. The Bill we are discussing today removes the exemption for the Judiciary and, if passed, they will be subject to the measures in both 2009 Acts from 1 January of next year.

The Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act 2010 introduced an income graduated reduction applied to each gross annual public service pension in excess of €12,000. That deduction already applies to retired members of the Judiciary and will apply to the pension of any public servant who retires before the expiry of the grace period after which pensions will be reduced in line with the pay reductions set out in the second Act. The Bill today includes provision to extend the application of the pension reduction to Central Bank pensioners with the consent of the Governor of that Bank, as was intended by the legislation. It was not possible to do that heretofore. This provision is necessary owing to the legal position of the Central Bank as part of the euro system. I already mentioned the amendment that I propose to introduce for those on very large public service pensions and we will have a chance to debate that when it comes back, hopefully, from being passed in the other House.

In addition to the three Acts, a 10% reduction in pay from 1 January 2011 was introduced for new entrants into entry grades in the public service. The Bill today makes provision to apply a similar 10% reduction to new judicial appointments from enactment of the Bill.

This short Bill, in addition to the provisions relating to the Judiciary, also includes the legislative provisions to underpin the significant decision taken already by Government on the remuneration of officeholders. It also includes a number of technical or ancillary amendments. As I mentioned, it is intended that the Bill, if passed by both Houses, will be brought into effect from 1 January 2012.

I will go through the provisions of the Bill in detail. As stated already, the main purpose of the Bill is to give effect to the outcome of the referendum to amend the Constitution to allow the pay of judges to be reduced in certain very exceptional circumstances. This Bill provides for the application of the two Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Acts of 2009 to both serving and new members of the Judiciary and military judges on the same basis as other public servants.

I am aware that there has been some controversy about the non-application of the pension-related deduction to the Judiciary in particular. However, the clear legal advice was that the constitutional bar on reducing the remuneration of serving judges prevented the application of that measure to judges. That was the advice given to the previous Government and accepted by it. It was advice reiterated to this Government and that is why we had to proceed down the line of a referendum. Deputies will be aware that a separate provision was put in place under the taxation code to permit judges to make an equivalent waiver on a voluntary basis and that the majority of judges did so.

Following the amendment to Article 35.5 of the Constitution on judicial remuneration, sections 3 and 4 of this Bill will apply the reductions in salary applied to other public servants through the application of the pension related deduction to serving judges, and sections 5 and 6 will apply the reduction in salary effected through the provisions of the Financial Measures in the Public Interest (No. 2) Act. The net effect of the provisions of the Bill will result in reductions for serving judges ranging from 16% in the case of a District Court judge to 23% in the case of the Chief Justice.

The Minister has two minutes remaining.

Military judges were also exempted from the provisions of the Act. The same sections of the Bill also make provision to remove the exemptions applying to a military judge from the application of the pension related deduction and pay under sections 3, 4 and 5. There is currently no serving military judge. In the context of developing the conditions of appointment of the next military judge, the pay adjustments have already been made. As a consequence, it is not necessary to apply the pay reductions again under section 6.

I am conscious of time and I will not go through all of the remaining provisions of the Bill. They are set out in my script and we will have a chance to go through them later in this debate.

Deputies should be aware that many of the remuneration provisions in the Bill for consideration today were included in the Public Service Pensions (Single Scheme) and Remuneration Bill 2011, which was published in September and passed on Second Stage in the House. I consider it more appropriate and expedient from a legislative and administrative viewpoint that all remuneration provisions be dealt with in a single dedicated enactment. Through this means, I hope to facilitate the enactment of the Bill in time to apply the pay reductions, as I have indicated, from 1 January next. Accordingly, the necessary changes to reflect this transfer from the Public Service Pensions (Single Scheme) and Remuneration Bill 2011 will be made on Committee Stage. We will simply delete those sections that are now transposed into this Bill.

The Government is committed to continued stabilisation in the overall cost of the public service pay bill. The provisions set out in the Bill before the House are in keeping with that objective and will provide greater equity in the application of public sector pay policy. I look forward to hearing the views of the House on the Bill and to considering amendments and suggestions put forward by Deputies. I commend this Bill to the House.

I welcome the opportunity of speaking on the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Amendment) Bill 2011. I welcome the Bill, but I am disappointed by how the Minister, Deputy Howlin, is handling it in the House here tonight. I am surprised at him because he gave a clear commitment when he took office that he would be open and allow for discussion.

Nothing epitomises more my disappointment than the last words of his speech, when he stated: "I look forward to hearing the views of the House on the Bill and to considering amendments and suggestions put forward by Deputies." There are 21 amendments before the Minister tonight and he is allowing 30 minutes. There was a vote here earlier in the day to allow more time for Committee Stage. Second Stage, this general debate, will run from now, with an interruption for Private Members' business for an hour and a half, until 10 o'clock. If a vote is called at 10 o'clock, it will be 10.20 p.m. before we get to commence Committee Stage and the Minister wants the entirety of the Committee Stage amendments to be dealt with and Report and Final Stages to be completed in ten minutes. There are 21 amendments and the Minister comes in here and states that he looks forward to considering the amendments.

The first five are grouped as one.

It does not matter. There will be ten minutes for 21 amendments. The Minister knows that what he is doing in the House is unfair. He has the numbers behind him to back it up, whether it is fair or unfair.

I will come to what is doubly insulting, from the Dáil's point of view. I support the suggestions the Minister made on reductions for persons in receipt of a pension of over €100,000, but then he stated that because he is guillotining the Bill here tonight, he will not even give the Dáil the opportunity to discuss this amendment.

The reverse is true. I am coming back to the Dáil with it.

The Minister stated he will take it to the Seanad.

First. It will have to come back here.

No, it is here first.

No, the amendment I am——

The Minister has said he will take that amendment to the Seanad.

Would the Deputy prefer me to table it tonight?

I would prefer him to table it and then allow time to discuss it tonight. We would have no problem giving this an extra hour or an hour and a half tonight. There are 21 amendments and the Minister is now bringing forward a couple of amendments on that issue.

No, that will be in the Seanad. I will come back and give it time here.

I understand that. However, does the Minister not see that, from the Dáil's point of view, the Minister is allowing a maximum of 30 minutes for Committee Stage amendments before Report and Final Stages? I spent hours drafting pages of amendments, as did Deputy McDonald and others in her party, but we are not given an opportunity to discuss them. The Minister is now saying he has more amendments but that he will bring them to the Seanad tomorrow or next week, and that he will then have to come back here again the following week. Why does he not just take his time and do it all here tonight or tomorrow, and then go to the Seanad and be finished? He is taking it off because he does not have his work done.

While I welcome what the Minister proposes to do, he should have taken more time. We would have given an hour tomorrow for this debate. I do not know why he is not allowing our amendments to be properly discussed. The Minister's final remark was that he looked forward to considering the amendments. It will be quickest consideration of amendments ever because, if a vote is called, there will be no further time to discuss any of the subsequent amendments.

The Minister knows the point I am making. Although he will make amendments later in the Seanad, this is the House in which he is introducing the legislation. There is no need for this guillotine, and it is very important we say that.

We support the legislation as published by the Minister. The people spoke in a referendum when 79% wanted the constitutional amendment to allow a reduction in pay for serving judges. The legislation is before us, and we appreciate it and agree wholeheartedly with the Minister on it.

The Bill puts into statutory effect the reductions in the salary of the Taoiseach, which were decided upon the Government assuming office. I compliment the Taoiseach, who reduced his salary to €200,000, which I support, it having been at a much higher figure despite our having reduced it by €90,000 previously as a result of last year's budget. Ministers, Deputy Howlin included, also agreed at the first Cabinet meeting on taking office last March on a reduced figure for Ministers, which we support. This was done voluntarily up to now and the Minister is giving it statutory effect in the Bill to ensure it has the force of law.

The Bill also makes specific provision for the salary of the chairman of An Bord Pleanála because it was connected to that of a senior judge, and the Minister states this salary will be decided in future by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government. While I welcome this, the Minister, Deputy Howlin, should have included a cap of €200,000. Although he might claim a future Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government will not pay more than that, there is nothing in the legislation which states that. Similarly, the salary of the Ombudsman is set relative to judges' pay at present and, given this is being changed, that linkage is being removed for the next Ombudsman and the salary will be decided by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. Again, however, a cap is not included and that figure could be higher, although I hope it will not be. In any case, a cap could easily have been included in the legislation.

The Bill is good in so far as it goes. I look on it as a step in the right direction, although I am surprised the Minister did not take a bigger step. The Minister singled out certain groups of people on the public payroll in order to change their salaries under this Bill, which we support. However, what about all of those who are still being omitted? The Minister should have inserted sections into the Bill to set a cap of €250,000 for current chief executives of semi-State companies and in regard to public services. The Minister will say that some in the semi-States have taken a reduction but that is only a voluntary, not a statutory waiver. Allowing for this, having taken their voluntary waivers, the chief executive of the ESB is still on a basic salary of €400,000, the chief executive of An Post is still on a salary of €328,100 and the chief executive of the Dublin Airport Authority is still on a salary of €297,000. We have listed all the semi-State companies that should be included in this statutory cap of €250,000. While the Minister will say this will apply to future incumbents and that he cannot make it apply to current incumbents, he is applying it to current judges, the current Taoiseach and current Ministers, and he is also making specific changes for the chairperson of An Bord Pleanála as well as inserting a special section in the legislation for the Ombudsman. He could have included the semi-State sector in a similar section.

We might not get time to discuss some of the amendments tonight. When the Minister comes back from the Seanad with his amendments, I ask that he would allow a debate without a guillotine. We are not unreasonable people, Deputy McDonald and I, and we are entitled to have the time to say what we want to say. The Minister could have given us an extra hour tonight. There is no great difference between 10.30 p.m. and 11.30 p.m. and the guillotine was not necessary. We would not have abused the situation and there would have been no need for this debate or for the vote earlier today.

I want to alert the Minister to the fact I have included other organisations which are also in State ownership and should also have a €250,000 cap in addition to those semi-State organisations I have listed. I begin with the chief executive of Anglo Irish Bank, which has changed its name to the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation, and the new chief executive of Allied Irish Banks, who has just been appointed. I watched the former AIB executive chairman at the finance committee during the course of the summer. For every question we asked him in regard to where AIB was going as a bank, he had to defer to the Minister for Finance. While I understand this as it is a 99% State-owned company and Anglo Irish Bank is 100% State-owned, and I understand both have technically independent boards, the boards and the chief executives are in fact subservient to the senior people in the Department of Finance. When the Minister for Finance and the Secretary General of the Department of Finance are paid no more than €200,000, it is absurd that the people who report in to them to clear policy issues are on a higher salary. I am sure the Minister sees the logic of what I am saying.

The Minister will agree with me in regard to another organisation I have included for a maximum salary cap of €250,000, namely, our friends in the National Treasury Management Agency. The last time we discussed this in the House, the Minister was able to elucidate some information in regard to salaries but he and all previous Ministers, the Committee of Public Accounts and all other arms of the State have not been able to extract from that organisation what it is paying its chief executive. Let us not discuss it any further; let us simply legislate for it and that will sort out the matter. They can have all the secrets they like about their salary rates once they are under the cap set in this House. We believe some of these people are on €500,000 and €600,000 per annum and, I understand, the former chief executive, who was a good man in his job and a very competent individual, had a salary which approached €1 million in one year when all the various bonuses were added in. In these straitened times, that is very hard to justify.

The Minister will be here next Monday justifying some severe expenditure cuts. I do not know how his colleagues in the Labour Party in particular will come to the House tonight and reject an amendment to put a cap on the chief executives of the semi-States and then come in here next week and support the Minister in a budget which will inevitably include some severe cuts which hurt people at the bottom end. I ask the Labour Party to be consistent and the way to do that is to vote for this amendment. I believe every Member of the House would agree with a cap on the salary of a chief executive of a semi-State company and of every public servant at the figures proposed. Deputy McDonald proposes a lower figure but, be that as it may, there should be a cap of some description. It would be a good day's work for the Oireachtas if we went down that particular route.

I wish to refer to one group of approximately 15 individuals, namely, the Secretaries General. I cannot understand why they are not included in this statutory cap of €200,000. Again, while they have taken a voluntary waiver so they are under the €200,000 figure on a voluntary basis, the Minister should put this on a statutory basis. He might clarify the following point. Their official salary is probably somewhere above €200,000 and their future pensions will be calculated on the basis of that figure, which is their statutory legal salary. I believe they have got around the Minister to ensure they were not included under this legislation. They should be included under the cap. It would not affect them now, because they have taken a voluntary waiver, and it would not affect future personnel because that has been covered as well.

The logic of what the Minister is doing in putting a cap on the top pensions, which he announced a few minutes ago that he will introduce in the Seanad and which we welcome, is to facilitate the top paid public servants in Ireland drawing a pension based on a salary that is higher than the actual salary they receive as a result of the waiver they are currently applying. There is an inconsistency there. The Minister should provide measures to cap the salary on which their pension is based. They have taken the voluntary waiver. Ministers and the Taoiseach took the voluntary waiver, and the Minister is now giving that statutory effect. The Secretaries General took the voluntary waver but that will not have statutory effect.

It will happen automatically in February.

That is for new Secretaries General.

No. The pay cuts for retirees after February apply to their pensions.

Yes, but I would like the salary to be covered by statute rather than relying on the goodwill of Secretaries General to volunteer a cut in salary. The Minister gets my point in that regard.

The Minister's official response as to why he cannot apply this to the chief executives was given in the House last week or recently. He said there were seven chief executives still above the €250,000 level who have not taken the 15% waiver or salary cut. The Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, announced in the House a few days ago that there are 99 people in the education sector on salaries of more than €200,000. I am shocked at that figure, but that is the figure in the Official Report.

It is complicated, but we can look at those in forensic detail on Committee Stage.

Perhaps the Minister will give us more details when he returns from the Seanad or at the committee meeting. The Minister will appear before the Oireachtas committee tomorrow to discuss public sector reform, so we can discuss it then.

I am still appalled, and the people of Ireland will be shocked, that there are 100 people in third level institutions on salaries that are higher than the Taoiseach's.

They are researchers who were recruited to conduct research.

Yes, I understand that, but there are enough brains in Ireland, and some of them could do it at even a quarter of that salary——

Are these the brains Fianna Fáil had for 14 years?

——rather than importing people to show us how to do a bit of research. The Minister gets my point. It is a little obscene that the Irish taxpayer must pay 99 people in third level institutions salaries that are higher than the Taoiseach's.

Many of them are externally funded as well, but I will explain that to the Deputy.

Yes, but the point still applies. I accept there are nuances but the general point is very clear.

I tried to introduce a measure to cut the pay of senior personnel when the Minister introduced the Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Act 2011. The Minister said, to paraphrase his response, that he could not introduce a measure that would be narrowly focused and targeted on a specific group of people because it might be subject to constitutional challenge. I do not know if he could stand over that answer today given that what he has announced today regarding pensions is targeted on a very narrow, focused group of people.

It is a continuum——

The Deputy without interruption.

I understand. There is very little time for Committee Stage and we would have welcomed more time for that tonight. However, in this legislation there is a separate section referring to the chairman of An Bord Pleanála and another one relating to the Ombudsman. That is targeting a very narrow and specific group of people, but I do not believe those sections will be subject to constitutional challenge because they only apply to one person. I do not accept, therefore, that the Minister can respond to the measure I propose relating to the chief executives of semi-State companies by saying it cannot be permitted because it targets a small group of people. He is already targeting smaller groups and individual categories of employment in this Bill.

A number of the chief executives of semi-State companies have taken the voluntary waiver to bring their salaries below €250,000. The legislation should cover them because, when things pick up next year, they might not take the waiver and return to their high salaries again. I hope the Minister will take that point into account. I look forward to him dealing with these matters in more detail at the committee meeting tomorrow on public sector issues.

The estimated reduction in public service pensions above €100,000 that has been proposed will potentially affect pensioners who were formerly officeholders such as the President and Taoiseach and other members of the Judiciary. The Minister outlined the list of those affected tonight and I believe it was highlighted on tonight's "Six One News". I welcome and support that. Given that those people paid superannuation and contributed to the pensions they now receive, they have a very strong proprietary right to that asset. The reason we must introduce the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Amendment) Bill is to copper-fasten the legislation in targeting those people.

Given that the Minister can target people who have contributed to their pensions, high as they are, and that it is presumably legally safe to do so, I cannot understand why he is not targeting the current salaries of people who are still in the system. Each time he comes to the House he talks about their contractual obligations, but I do not see how the same arrangement does not hold true for pensioners if it applies to people currently employed.

My view is very clear. I challenge the chief executive of the ESB or An Post or Dublin Airport Authority to go to the High Court and try to overturn it. I would welcome it because if I was on the board employing him, I would tell him to get on with his job and not waste his, the company's, the taxpayers' and the court's time. It will only be found to be unconstitutional if somebody goes to court about it. There are many matters that have been agreed in the House and if they were tested in the court, it would be up to the judges to decide, so I would not automatically assume that they would have a cast iron case in court just because the Minister received legal advice that they would.

I urge the Minister to just do this. I believe he has right on his side under the emergency financial measures. The people of Ireland would support him. He should put it up to these people to go down to the courts and challenge what the Oireachtas does. I do not believe the Minister would encounter a challenge. They have a serious job to do and they should not be arguing down in the courts, wasting their and the public's time for their personal gain.

I again stress that my remarks are focused at the very highly paid. The Minister has done a great deal on public sector reform but most of his efforts to date have been concentrated on new recruits. Some of the salaries that have been introduced will not have a major effect on pensions for 40 years, until the people who are recruited in the future retire after 40 years, or it will probably be after 45 years with the retirement age increasing as the years go by. The zeal the Minister has shown in tackling employees who are not yet in the system should be exercised with regard to the high paid people who are currently in the system. Next Monday, the Minister will announce tough measures and I have no wish to see him hitting the lower paid, the poor and people on social welfare while at the same time letting these chief executives off scot free tonight.

Before dealing with the legislation, it is important to comment on the manner in which this Bill is being put through the House today. This is not the first time legislation has been rushed through the House by the Minister. This practice, which is particularly associated with the Fianna Fáil Party and the Progressive Democrats, is bad. It is also bad for the democratic process. Indeed, if the Minister were still on this side of the House, he would be hopping up and down at the prospect of such serious legislation being rushed through all Stages on a cold, wintry Tuesday night. There is no justifying this practice, yet each week legislation is brought before the House and is rushed through by guillotine or, occasionally, without any debate at all.

The new Government promised us a new dawn on many issues, including political reform, equity, transparency and accountability, but nine months later we still wait for this bright new day. Sinn Féin supported the referendum on reducing the pay of serving and future judges. It was ridiculous that members of the Judiciary were somehow the privileged few who must be protected from the financial realities facing all other citizens and public sector workers. Their role, like the role of all other public and civil servants, is to perform a specific duty to the best of their ability in the interests of the citizens. However, the salaries provided for in this Bill for the Judiciary, Government officeholders and the President are so far removed from the financial reality facing this State that it beggars belief.

We are broke. It is that simple, and the Minister knows it. Will he tell me on what planet does an insolvent country award salaries of €226,376 to a Chief Justice, €200,000 to a Taoiseach or €210,206 to a High Court judge and then promote those salary rates as a great coup for political reform? Our economy is in serious trouble. It is stagnant. Unemployment is soaring and will remain very high for the lifetime of this Government. Much of our infrastructure is not fit for purpose and our young are emigrating in their droves. Despite all of that, regularly articulated by Government, we still have an Administration that believes it is okay to award big bucks for the boys at the top while threatening cuts to child benefit and charges on our most vulnerable citizens for the right to hold a medical card.

Sinn Féin cannot support this Bill and will not support a Bill that awards extravagant salaries to judges and Government officeholders during a time of economic crisis. To be frank with the Minister, the Labour Party should not support it either, and I think he knows that. We also cannot support a Bill that serves to copper-fasten the excessive salaries of the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and Government Ministers in a time of economic doom.

I urge Labour Ministers and Deputies to take a step back and think about what is happening here. We are in crisis. Families are facing yet another draconian budget and nearly half a million of our people are out of work but despite those realities the Members opposite believe it is okay to pay themselves the kind of money that for the majority of families would never be seen or earned in the good times or the bad. How can the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Eamon Gilmore, justify a salary of €184,405 at this time? The salary of the Minister, Deputy Howlin, is not much less at €169,275. All the while he tells us he is making the difficult decisions in the interests of the people but, to be frank, that line is hard to tally with the big bucks awarded to judges, the Tánaiste and Labour Ministers, including the Minister, in this Bill.

The reality is that the Minister is not making the tough decisions. He is not providing leadership at a time of crisis. His Government is not stepping up and fighting the good fight in the national interest. At best, he is tinkering around the edges, and I believe the Minister knows that. High rollers paid from the public purse continue to be protected from the economic crisis by the Minister's Government. This Bill, like the ongoing payments to Anglo unguaranteed bondholder debt held by speculators, shows just how detached the political establishment is from reality. It probably best epitomises why the Labour and Fine Gael parties, like the Fianna Fáil Party before them, have failed to pull us out of this crisis.

As the economy stagnates and small business can hardly keep the door open, unemployment creeps upwards, more people live in poverty and indebted families across the State are making the stark choice this winter of buying food for the family or heating their homes. It is in that context that the Minister brings this legislation before the House.

I want to set out a number of amendments we will table to the Bill. Any future salary increase for the Judiciary, if it is to be made, should be properly brought before the Dáil and the Seanad. The Minister stated, with regard to National Treasury Management Agency workers in the Department of Finance, that there must be full transparency when it comes to the salaries of those working across the public and Civil Service. As judges are public servants, the same principle must apply to that group of workers.

Any future increase awarded to judges should not, as the Minister suggests in the Bill, have retrospective effect. It is bad enough that he would consider it appropriate to award such outrageous salaries in the first instance but to then legislate for any future increases to be paid retrospectively is unbelievable, particularly when set against this Government's punitive budget 2012 proposal.

I acknowledge President Michael D. Higgins's voluntary acceptance of a reduced salary contained in the Bill but it is my strong view that the legislation should apply a reduction to the current President. This is another example of a lack of leadership from Government. Seeking out voluntary pay reductions from serving——

It is not constitutional. He served office before the Act was amended.

——officeholders and senior public servants is a display of weakness——

It is not constitutional.

——and protectionism of the worst kind.

That is not true.

I support the Government's proposal to break the link between the Ombudsman and An Bord Pleanála chairpersons' salaries and a High Court judge thus enabling the Minister to set those at a more realistic rate. However, revised downward salaries must be applied to those who hold these positions currently. I repeat that we are in crisis. The dogs in the street know it. If Government can apply immediate cuts in pay in the lowest paid public sector, it can impose comparable cuts to those on the big money — contract or no contract. If this cannot be done through pay cuts, then it must be done through taxation.

Tackling the high pay and pensions for those who reside in the upper echelons of the civil and public sector is clearly not something for which this Government has the stomach. We might expect that Fine Gael Party Ministers would support big bucks for the big boys, but the position of Labour Party Ministers on this issue is beyond disappointing. The Minister could stop the practice of bonanza pension payouts to Secretaries General and county managers today. Existing legislation allows him to do that.

The retiring Secretary General of the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Sean Gorman, who is 59 years old, will get an annual pension of €126,000 but only after he gets a total pension payout of €634,087. Brigid McManus is due to retire from her position of Secretary General in the Department of Education and Skills, a young woman at 53 years old.

I would prefer it if the Deputy did not name——

She will receive an annual pension pot of €114,000 and she is entitled to a whopping €445,656 pay-off on her retirement. To her credit, she has indicated that she will wave her special severance payment but let us be honest——

What severance payment will be given to the 3,000 classroom attendants the Deputy's party is firing tomorrow?

——she should not be eligible for that payment in the first instance.

There is no legal way to——

The former Secretary General at the Department of the Taoiseach set the trend——

The Deputy knows this. She knows there was not anything we could do about it.

——with a pension pot of €713,000, and all of that happened on the Minister's watch.

What has happened on the Deputy's party's watch?

The Deputy knows that is not true.

The Fianna Fáil Party may have filled the trough but the Minister is happy for the high rollers to continue feeding from it.

A total of 3,000 classroom assistants to do the job——

Deputies, Deputy McDonald has the floor.

The Minister could rescind special severance gratuity payments and added years but he chose not to——

The Deputy knows that is not true.

——and hiding behind the Top Level Appointments Committee, TLAC, and the courts does not wash.

Former taoisigh receive eye-watering pensions year after year, despite some of them still earning big money in the private sector. I refer to John Bruton, Brian Cowen, Bertie Ahern, Albert Reynolds and Dick Spring. All of them earn pensions of between approximately €120,000 up to approximately €150,000——

Does the Deputy's leader claim expenses——

Open the door to attack public servants.

Deputies, please. Deputy McDonald is entitled to make her points.

——and that is taking account of the current public service pension reductions.


A total of 100 retired civil servants——

The Deputy and Shane Ross — it is the same ideology.

——are in receipt of annual pensions in excess of €100,000. As the Minister is aware, civil servants make up just one tenth of the public sector, yet the Minister's Department tells us it does not know the total number of public servants in receipt of similar pensions. That is a disgrace, and it reflects alaissez-faire attitude on the Minister’s part to these bumper pension payouts.

In response to a question put to him by Sinn Féin leader, Deputy Gerry Adams, the Minister admitted that 13 former judges receive annual pensions of over €100,000.

I did not admit it; I told the Deputy.

Former Supreme Court Judges Ronan Keane and Tom Finlay each get €133,443. Another Supreme Court judge, Anthony Hederman, gets a total annual pension of €152,806. I could go on, because the list is very lengthy.

Turning to the Minister's announcement this evening about a reduction of 20% on public service pensions over €100,000, I wish to comment on the examples he has offered to the House. A person in receipt of a pension of €125,000, taking this reduction into account, will be left with the paltry sum of €111,240.

A €150,000 pension will decrease to €131,240.

And then tax. There is the universal social charge.

Let me say this clearly, because the Minister is not grasping it.

The Deputy is misleading the House. These people are subject to the universal social charge. The Deputy should tell the facts.

Those are the figures read by the Minister.

Minister, you will have an opportunity to reply at the end of the debate.

The Minister clearly does not understand——-

Somebody does not understand.

Except Denis O'Brien.

——that these are not acceptable figures. The Minister comes in here and trumpets this change as if he was carrying out a revolutionary act. In fact, he has done the bare minimum. The truth is that he is not prepared to take on the big earners. He is not serious about taking on these big pension pots. He has conceded himself that pay caps can be introduced. He has conceded that there are mechanisms to claw back these big pension pots.

Pensions are not pay.

The challenge for the Minister now is to complete the task. There is no rhyme or reason for paying out the salaries that he proposes to any public servant. There is no moral or rational justification——

What level would the Deputy agree?

——for the Minister to continue with these big pension pay-outs. No amount of cosmetic manoeuvring or rhetoric on the Minister's part can disguise that.

The Minister asks a reasonable question.

He is not entitled to ask any questions. You are entitled to the Floor.

Thank you. Outside this rarefied Chamber, I think people understand——

If they are getting the information provided by the Deputy, they will not understand. That is the point. My apologies, a Chathaoirligh.

—— that there can be no argument for paying any public servant in excess of €100,000.

Not even cardiologists or cancer specialists? We would not have any.

Anybody paid from the public purse should not be paid any more than €100,000.


A Chathaoirligh, I would like to be able to speak without being badgered by the Government benches.

We would not have any of them and the Deputy knows it.

The Deputy is wrong.

Deputies, please. Deputy McDonald has the Floor. She is entitled to make a contribution without interruption.

Her proposals would destroy the public service.

The information she is providing is wrong.

Everything Deputy Durkan says is wrong, but we do not interrupt him.

The information given by Deputy Boyd Barrett is wrong as well.

Deputy Durkan, Deputy McDonald has four minutes left. Please leave her speak uninterrupted.

The story we are consistently told by those who defend excessive pay is that in order to get the quality personnel, be they political advisers, senior civil servants or others in the public sector, we must pay excessive salaries. The recent past demonstrates the folly of that argument. If we were to do a value for money audit of all those who are in very senior positions in the political sphere and in the public and Civil Service and honestly asked ourselves if they delivered for the State, I think in many cases, in spite of their very high pay, the answer to that question would be a categorical "No".

We are in crisis and the Minister's own speech sets it out in graphic terms. We either have a crisis or we do not. We either set about making the kinds of political choices that will remedy the situation or we do not. We either reclaim for the political and public systems of this State the credibility, moral authority and confidence of the citizens, or we do not. Measures such as this, which propose excessive salaries for the Judiciary, the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and for the Minister do a grave disservice to the standing of politics. In the starkest terms, we are witnessing the "haves" and the "have nots", the insiders and the outsiders. As people speculate about the budget this evening and worry about how they will get by, let me say that their hearts will not be lightened, or their burden lessened at the prospect of some high flyer who will have to take a minor hit on an excessive pension.

The Minister has failed in the task of addressing this issue. He has consistently failed on the matter of runaway pay at the upper echelons of the public and Civil Service. As the Minister charged with reform and as the Minister who has been party to and will deal further blows to middle and lower ranking civil and public servants, in bringing forward this Bill and in failing to deal with the large pension pots, he has blown his credibility and his standing——

In the Deputy's view.

That is the view of many people.

What about the 4,000 people blown out the door by the Deputy's party?

He has blown his credibility to deal with the urgent reform needed in the system. We will not support this Bill.

Her party are firing 1,000 teachers and 3,000 classroom assistants.

We will not stand by a system that cushions the highly paid——

Her Minister for Education is firing——

——and punishes those on low wages.

What about the low pay of the teachers she is firing next week in the North? What about the 3,000 classroom assistants?

Deputy, I would like to call on a member of the Technical Group. I understand Deputy Boyd Barrett is sharing time.

I am sharing time with Deputy Catherine Murphy, and I eagerly await the barracking from the other side.

There is a pattern developing with this Government in the legislation it proposes and the statements of policy it outlines. It tries to tap into the huge sense of outrage felt by ordinary working people, the less well off, the lower and middle income earners in our society, who cannot get over the injustice of being forced to pay such a severe price for an economic crisis that was caused by others. Whether it was the last Government, this Government, the troika or the hallowed markets, all of these people insist that they keep paying year after year with vicious and brutal austerity.

That is the view outside this House and the Minister knows this. He knows that people are outraged. He knows that one of the causes of that injustice was the gross inequality in the distribution of wealth and earnings in our society. Another cause was an economic system that actively promoted inequality and an ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor, and between the high earners and the low earners.

The mentality at the top which thought it was okay to earn €400,000 per annum, €600,000, €700,000, or €2-3 million per annum, was the same mentality that led us to the catastrophic crisis in which we find ourselves now. Meanwhile people in the public sector were chasing the chief executives of the large corporate firms who were on obscene salaries. They suggested that they should be paid the same because they had to discuss and negotiate with them and that if the bankers were getting €1 million per year then the head of the NTMA should get €500,000 or €600,000 per year.

Such was the logic driving the top of our society and the system generally in Europe and throughout the world. There were obscene salaries and pension arrangements at the top leading to extreme inequalities in wealth. It is important to note that this is not simply a gross injustice, although it is certainly that, but it is the major reason for the economic crisis. It is a fact that this grossly unequal distribution of earnings and wealth that has accumulated over time has lead to a situation where the behaviour of 1% of the population dictated the economic fate of everyone else.

That is what led us into this mess. Do we not know this? Have we not realised, based on CSO figures and the Credit Suisse global wealth report, that 1% of people in this country have an estimated €131 billion in wealth? Following the crash, a mere 1% of the Irish population has €131 billion in wealth. A total of 50% of this is held in financial assets, not even in property. This remains the situation and this is what must be addressed. These are the emergency measures we need. We must ensure that people believe there is some intent towards fairness in dealing with this crisis.

There has been a flight of capital. Does Deputy Boyd Barrett believe it is all in the banks?

Those at the top who had grossly inflated earnings and a vast accumulation of wealth used that wealth, their position and their earnings to drive an economic agenda that has crashed our economy and the entire European economy. People want to know that we are serious about doing something rather than offering tokens and it seems to me this is tokenistic. The Government knows there is anger with high earners and it has decided on some measures and has made a song and dance about them. It held a referendum but it related only to judges and it provides for tokenistic reductions to €200,000 for the politicians or some top civil servants but it does not really address the problem.

This gives those in Government cover to claim that they are being even-handed and it attempts to justify the real agenda which will be meted out on Monday and Tuesday of next week when the Government will lay into social welfare recipients and the lowest income families, either in the form of cuts in child benefit or rent allowance, increases in VAT or whatever nasty, socially regressive austerity measures the Government decides is the best way to implement the diktats of the EU-IMF group.

What does Deputy Boyd Barrett propose?

I propose that it is absolutely unjustifiable for anyone paid from the public purse to earn one cent more than €100,000. It is unacceptable——

No cancer specialist——

That is a 100% tax. How can one carry this out retrospectively?

We are not saying that.

Is five times the earnings of someone on social welfare who has lost their job through no fault of their own not enough?

That is a 100% tax on earnings.

Is five times that figure not enough? Is five times the earnings of the worker who has lost their job through no fault of their own not enough?

Does Deputy Boyd Barrett believe he could get a specialist to work——

I would go further on pensions.

Would Deputy Boyd Barrett expect to get someone to work——

The Minister should let me finish. He had his chance and he will get his chance again.

Does Deputy Boyd Barrett not think so?

We have argued for an earnings figure of €100,000 for five years.

Sinn Féin has argued for it for five minutes.

However, we should not mix up this figure with appropriate pension limits. The pension of a public sector worker earning €100,000 will be approximately €50,000. I propose no more than €50,000 for pensioners. Is that not enough for the Minister or for the heads of the semi-State companies or top civil servants? It is extraordinary that we do not have emergency measures to get back these vast pay-outs and lump sums to the heads of the NTMA and Departments and so on. Where are the emergency measures to do so? Where is the will and energy of the Government to go after these people?

I see no justification for these people to continue to get these payments. One individual will get €147,000 per year. This is unbelievable when people are being slaughtered at the bottom. There is no justification for people to earn more than three or four times the average industrial wage. Do such people honestly believe they are worth five, six or ten times more than a nurse in an accident and emergency unit?

It does not work like that.

I am keen for someone to explain and justify that. However, this speaks to the bigger issue. It is not simply about the pensions and pay of public servants but the lack of willingness of the Government to take emergency measures to go after the wealthy. Where is the wealth tax? Earlier, I referred to a sum of €131 billion owned by 1% of the population. If we include the top 5% then this figure becomes greater than €200 billion. Can we not simply place an emergency levy on them?

No, not on farm land.

Then where is the wealth?

Our proposal is simple and does not relate to private residences, it is limited to assets worth more than €1 million and not to farm assets worth less than €5 million. As I pointed out to the Minister, the financial assets make up approximately one half of the figure of €131 billion to which I referred and the figure is rising. These assets have risen significantly in recent years. The money is there and there is a pot of gold despite the Minister's denial of its existence. However, the Minister will not go after it because he invited those who have the pot of gold and who live as tax exiles to advise the country on how to get out of the economic crisis at the global forum on economic recovery. That says it all. The Government is willing to slaughter the people at the bottom and continues to adulate the tax exiles and billionaires, who became billionaires through dubious circumstances. Let us put it no stronger than that. Why not take the measures that the United States, hardly a haven of revolutionary socialism, has taken in terms of tax exiles? Serious measures were put in place there. Why does the Minister not consider what the United States has done in terms of tax exiles and provide for emergency legislation to recoup some of their money?

I propose a cap on public sector pay of €100,000 to include executives, chief executives and politicians; a cap on public sector pensions of €50,000; that the Government should go after the tax exiles and provide the necessary emergency legislation to do so; and the imposition of a super levy on the super wealthy. I believe such a measure should be ongoing but in the context of the current economic crisis could we not demand such a super levy? Dare I mention the sacred cow of corporation tax? Could we not tax profitable multinationals or such firms as Tesco on an emergency basis? Should they not be asked to make an emergency contribution to the country's economic plight? Would such firms really run away if we put in place a levy for a few years on their vast profits which run into ten of millions and billions of euro? These are measures the Government could take if it were serious but, naturally, it is not serious and the real business will be done to ordinary people on Tuesday.

First, I wish to complain about the way this legislation is being handled. This is not about getting the business done efficiently but about crafting legislation that will be robust and that will resist any challenge that might be presented in the courts. It is important that we have time to do this in a careful and thoughtful way. This is not the way to do it and I wish to emphasise this point.

A number of savings to the Exchequer are included in the Bill. I acknowledge they are welcome but they do not go far enough. It is important that we achieve a sharing of the burden. I hear a sense of outrage from people who are struggling on a weekly basis to try to pay mortgages and bills. They are dipping into their own pockets to pay these very large pensions and packages. I am sure the Minister is aware that people are offended. It is very dangerous from a societal point of view that is such inequity can be seen so visibly. Huge amounts of money will not be saved, no matter what decision is made, but the lack of perceived equity and the idea that people can retire aged in their 50s on huge pensions which will be paid for the rest of their lives while they are still of working age is offensive.

I acknowledge in principle what the Minister sets out in the amendment. It does not go far enough but is making a small positive contribution. Substantially more has to be done. Not only this budget but another two are needed if we are to achieve the figure set out in the programme. It will be incredibly difficult. Social stability will be challenged if people see gross inequities. It is important that is taken on board.

I refer to the Ombudsman and the chairman of An Bord Pleanála. I understand the separation between the Chief Justice and the setting of wages. I am not referring to the amount of money involved, but I have a problem with any infringement on the independence of both positions. The current Ombudsman will not be affected but a future one will. The office will be incredibly important and it is vital that we do not undermine its independence. I have serious concerns about the principle of doing that.

The same pertains to An Bord Pleanála. The Minister was Minister for the Environment some years ago. If we want to go to the heart of the property bubble and many of the failings in this country we only have to look at the planning system and how we have managed the building industry. I have serious concerns about the lack of independence of the chairperson of An Bord Pleanála.

The reality is that the people who are in the most privileged positions, who write and make the rules, will always protect themselves. That is what elites do. That is why the really hard decisions are taken against the people who are in very privileged positions.

While there are savings in terms of what has been announced, by international standards we compare very unfavourably in terms of pay rates for the Judiciary, something which has to be examined. There has to be a graduated difference between the District Court, the Circuit Court and the Supreme Court, and there is more to be done on that.

Other Deputies referred to semi-State bodies. An outrageously high salary was paid to the head of Coillte and people refused to accept a voluntary reduction in salary. Salary reductions should not be voluntary. There is nothing voluntary about what the ordinary person on the street has to confront, such as the universal social charge and the pension levy which are universally applied. The separation between people who are perceived to be powerful and ordinary working people is exercising people.

I have a problem with the separation of powers and the independence of particular bodies, but I am not suggesting that wage rates should be protected. However, there must be some sort of framework for a separation between a Minister and offices because the position can be dangerous. I am unhappy with how this has been handled.

I welcome the Minister and compliment him on his speech and proposed amendment. I listened to Deputy Boyd Barrett and did not heckle.

I listened to Deputies Murphy and McDonald. I was going to close my eyes and go to sleep because I thought I was living in Utopia, a land where milk is plentiful, there is gold in the streets, no unemployment and nothing is wrong. However, there is no pot of gold.

Sinn Féin is in government in the North and is making tough decisions on behalf of the people it represents. I am sick of listening to the mantra about people who are suffering, the unemployed and those living in negative equity while no solution is offered. I am living in negative equity. I come from a community of family, friends, neighbours and relations who are unemployed and are in financial distress. They understand the difficulties the country and they are in.

Deputy McDonald spoke about alaissez-faire attitude. The State is intervening and not leaving things the way they are. We have increased the minimum wage and we are reducing the salaries of the elites. A difference is being made. Deputy Boyd Barrett is correct. The gargantuan salaries paid to those at the top in this country, in particular those in the public sector and the semi-State bodies are appalling and wrong. They should be and are being changed by the Government.

The Taoiseach and his Ministers reduced their salaries on their first day in office. When the Taoiseach was Leader of the Opposition he was the first leader of a political party to take a voluntary pay cut. That is called leadership, understanding and bringing people along. What did Sinn Féin do? It had Members in Westminster and claimed expenses but never turned up.

Our party follows an abstentionist policy at Westminster. Newsflash.

I am aware of that, but the Deputy's colleagues still took the money.

My colleagues do not receive salaries.

Members of the Deputy's party are also abstentionist in this House; they have not put forward one proper proposal.

Is the Deputy aware of our pre-budget submission?

I read it. It is a fairy tale. We are dealing with the Humpty Dumpty school of politics.

The debate is now adjourned. Deputy Buttimer has seven minutes remaining when the debate resumes at 9 p.m.

Debate adjourned.