Deputy Jerry Buttimer was in possession.
Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Amendment) Bill 2011: Second Stage (Resumed)
In welcoming the Minister's announcement tonight in the House, it is important that we also send a message or signal to those in charge of semi-State bodies. The Government has continually raised the issue of the pay of those in charge of these bodies. It was bizarre that an organisation such as Coillte had to wait until after the weekend to act, after gauging public reaction to the fact that its chief executive officer had not complied with the Government's request to reduce his salary. This behaviour is unacceptable. Contrast it with that of President Higgins who voluntarily took a cut in pay.
There is a culture of entitlement prevailing in this country and has been for a long time. I listened to Deputy Cowen speaking to the Private Members' motion and could not believe he had the temerity to speak about the past decade when his party presided over the exponential growth in pay for those at the top of the pyramid in the public service. The Government has shown leadership and courage in tackling salaries and the issue of reform. It is important to point out that these are not ordinary but extraordinary times. Regardless of whether we like it, there is absolute outrage at the pay, pensions and severance packages not just of many of those who have left the Government but also of those who are employed by the State at higher levels in the public service.
I knock on doors every week and live in the real world. There is absolute incredulity among people at the way top civil servants can walk out with the amount of money they receive and walk back into jobs again the next day. I call on those in receipt of State pensions and also employed elsewhere to hand back their pensions to the State. That is leadership; that is what public service is about. It is about bringing people with us. It is not enough to say we are dismayed, despondent and outraged at the level of pay being awarded to people at the higher levels. Will somebody explain how a person in their fifties can walk away with a lump sum of X amount, a pension of Y amount and still be able to go out and work? It is wrong. I am glad the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, and his Cabinet colleagues have tackled this issue in the House tonight. I understand the constraints under which they must work, but I really wish they could go further because when we are talking about savings, reform and leadership, we must start with those at the top of Irish society, be it in business, the semi-State sector, the public service or politics.
Will the Minister, please, dispel the myth and rumour about the laundry arrangements of politicians and Ministers? We have been hearing about it all week. I am happy to confirm that I wash and iron my own clothes; nobody gets paid to do it. I hope the rest of the Members do the same. It is important to send the message from this House that we are here as the people's representatives.
The Minister is right that it is not just about quantity but also about equality of treatment. The Government has taken the initiative and shown leadership, not just now but from its first day in office. I also wish to praise the Chief Justice for her leadership. I made this point when I spoke in the House on the referendum Bill earlier in this session. She showed absolute leadership, as have the members of the Cabinet. The proposal the Minister has made tonight regarding public service pensions is welcome. Real reform must be linked with leadership by those in authority.
I call on all people in authority to show leadership. This is a time when those at the very top of semi-State organisations, business, banking and private industry can show leadership and patriotism and bring people with them. This is not about ideology or scoring political points but about getting the country back off its knees. It is about inspiring young people who are in school wondering if they will have a college place or a job. It is about the mothers who are crying and lonely about their children being abroad and about those who are abroad having the dream of being able to return. If we want nothing else for ourselves, we should seek to have a country in which we can grow old, in which there will not be austerity and in which there will not be a return to the days of the boom and gloom of the Celtic tiger economy, in which we lost the run of ourselves and the sense of community and our sense of identity as a people were lost to the lure of the euro. That is the reality.
I am a public servant. We have the Croke Park deal which I very much welcome. However, if there is to be reform in the public service, it must be benchmarked against that deal. I am not in favour of cutting the pay of public servants, but I support reform in which we can have an equitable health system, a proper public service that is fit for purpose and in which our schools and health system will provide quality teaching and care. The job of the Government is to secure that reform and augment the good work being done in the public service, not to demonise public servants.
I congratulate the Minister on his initiative tonight. I hope it marks the beginning of further reform.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. It is a little unreal in a sense to be discussing this issue after listening to the previous debate on social welfare rates. Those who are marginalised and in receipt of some benefit from the State will be dealt with in the context of the forthcoming budget by a decision we will make that day in this House. The following day their lifestyle and household income, already limited, will most certainly be changed, perhaps dramatically.
Contrast this with what we have experienced in the last few years, with people feeling they were in a position of entitlement and that they were an elite and untouchable group. It does not say many positive things about our society or us as politicians and the way we legislated or dealt with the affairs of State, how Members of the House and those who administered the State were paid and the way we received entitlements. As a Fianna Fáil politician involved in and part of those Governments in the last few years, I accept full responsibility for these decisions. They were wrong and not challenged robustly enough to give us the balance in society for which we now strive.
It is pity that it was necessary to hold a referendum, followed by this legislation, to signal clearly to people seen as an elite that they were living beyond the normal person and in a land that was certainly not shared by the great body of people whose lives had been affected by the universal social charge, reductions in benefits or just adjustments in their personal lives by way of their employment in the private sector. They did not have a choice. They did not have a referendum. All they had was the decision of the market to stop trading or downsize. Employers had to make unreal decisions, as I know from my own business. One was faced with challenges and decisions one simply did not want to face up to. One would prefer if they did not have to be made but if one did not face up to them, one was out of business. While we grappled with all of that, another sector of society — the Judiciary and others — were receiving massive amounts of money in terms of their income. I agree the political system can be blamed for that. I am delighted the Government reacted quickly in terms of its response, and I compliment its members on the reduction to their own salaries, expenses and so on. They are to be commended on that. I encourage them to be brave to move beyond that and make whatever decisions are necessary to bring about equality in this society, as described by the previous speaker.
Speakers in the previous debate spoke about the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, the troika and social welfare but they do not compare well in terms of debates, this one following the other. It shows how out of touch many people in receipt of these salaries were and, therefore, I welcome the Bill, but the Minister should go further. That might be something that is always said by the Opposition. I am not sure — it is my first time to be in opposition — but we should know the salaries of those in AIB, Anglo Irish Bank, the National Treasury Management Agency and so on. They should not come before the Committee of Public Accounts and say they do not intend telling us how much they earn. We should know what they earn. The taxpayers pay their taxes and they expect transparency now. It is not a case of politics as usual, thanks be to God. It is change and reform.
Regarding reform, I differ from the Minister on some aspects of it but reform in a positive direction in terms of moving us away from where we stand now politically and the way we administer our country is hugely important to our success in the private sector, and in the public sector about which I have said a great deal. There are many good people in the public sector who will be heartened by some of the actions the Minister will take and who will act accordingly in their jobs and deliver us a service we can be proud of and that can be at the cutting edge of development in terms of the public sector and service delivery within Europe. We are a small enough country to be able to turn quickly and achieve that and to be that example for others to follow, and looking at what has happened in other countries in Europe in recent months in terms of their financial policy and so on it is obvious they need reform. They need to detach themselves from whatever position they are in and reattach themselves to the reforms the ordinary people in the street want and the certainty in their lives they want from these budgets. What Europe is doing currently is causing so much uncertainty it is difficult to work or trade in terms of tomorrow or the day after. Everything is done for the here and now and, almost certainly, it is done in cash. That will require us to reform our system and get confidence back. These measures will bring us somewhat nearer to getting confidence back.
I welcome the other amendment the Minister will introduce on the reduction rate of 20% in public service pensions. It was wrong that senior civil servants and politicians had pensions which I understand were to the value of almost €6 million when they were worked out. The Minister is right to bring forward that amendment and to send out the message that such pensions will no longer be tolerated either for those of us in this House or for those involved in the administration of this country.
In terms of the others — the 99 people in education and those in Coillte — Deputy Fleming will introduce a number of amendments which should be given serious consideration. If it is not business as usual, and it cannot be, it cannot be business as usual in this House either. In the spirit of proper governance, and acknowledging the huge majority the Government has, the Opposition will have some reasonable suggestions to make. Deputy Fleming's suggestion that, in terms of the semi-State bodies listed, the salaries would not exceed €250,000, and €200,000 in education, should be looked at positively by the Minister. As the Minister did when he was in opposition, we discussed the amendments. We are serious about them. I accept the Minister might ask why we did not do it when we were in Government but let us park all of that political guff and examine where we are now and where we are going because as an Opposition we are here to assist and to put forward our views. A certain balance is needed in terms of the democratic nature of this House because of the Government majority, and I respectfully propose that when these amendments are discussed some leeway should be given on them.
In terms of the Croke Park agreement mentioned by Deputy Buttimer, and benchmarking, I believe the agreement is not sustainable. We need to examine it. That is not to say we should examine the salaries and commitments made to the front line service operators, but other aspects of this deal must be examined. These relate to the delivery of real reform in terms of value for money and doing business differently, including outsourcing, procurement and bringing the services together. I have heard the Minister speak about this and it is up to those who serve with us to do that. It is not a case of "us" and "them". I believe that all of those Departments and agencies serve with us in this House and they must look at themselves in terms of ensuring that they give value for money, that they have the right numbers of staff, that board members are attending, and that the 145 quangos built up over the past 15 years are reduced drastically to size. All of that must be done to address the public mood and to give that confidence. That is the reason we were elected here. We have had a result from the last election. I am responding to it as positively as I can but the Croke Park deal must come under scrutiny because we cannot deliver a budget looking at only one side of the equation. If the other side of that budget governed by the Croke Park deal is not delivering in terms of reforms and what is necessary to make this country run better, it must be questioned constructively by us. It does not just stop at the salaries for the high players, but in terms of the delivery of all the reform that is urgently needed.
I am glad to have an opportunity to speak on this legislation. Like everybody else, this Bill is brought before the House out of necessity. It is one of those things that has happened. This country's economy has taken a fearful nose-dive and it is normal to expect everybody to make some kind of contribution in the emergency position in which we find ourselves.
The Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Amendment) Bill clearly illustrates the junction we are at and what we are about. There should be no doubt that it is not easy for anybody, at whatever level their income is pitched, to be told they must make some contribution to the situation we are in and it is important that it be done. It is unfortunate that we have to introduce legislation to do that. One would have thought, as has happened in many cases, that people in a particular position would voluntarily accept that, in the circumstances in which we find ourselves, it would be expected that everybody would make a contribution, particularly those at the higher level. I am not dismissing the fact that people may have commitments and may have liabilities which they entered into in good faith when times were better. That is understandable but the fact remains that everybody else has those commitments as well. People at every level of income throughout our entire economy have previously entered into commitments which impose on them liabilities that are ongoing, and they still have to shoulder the burden in that regard.
It is timely that we do so and accept that we must put our shoulder to the wheel together. That is hugely important. I warn against any attempt to divide society, something that is increasingly populist, to seek political advantage. It is not at all uncommon to pretend there is a different avenue of approach and an easier way out, that somehow we do not have to do these things, and that if a different Administration were in control, there would be a different remedy. That is not so, I am afraid. The situation is much more serious than that, and we should be very careful not to give that false impression. Giving a false impression of a populist nature, as is now the case, will merely undermine public confidence in politics. It is not in the interest of politics, either in opposition or government, that this happens.
I sympathise with the point made by Deputy McGuinness. Members of this House who were in the outgoing Administration obviously want to put clear blue water between themselves and the situation that brought us to where we are now. They want the people to forget and they want to encourage the people into pretending that there is an easier, less painful way out. Where did we hear that before? I have been hearing that since I came into this House many years ago. The fact is that there is no easy way out now. It is a sad sight, but there is no easy way out.
I read an interesting comparison recently. I do not blame the public sector for what has happened in this. The public sector was not the sole culprit in this business. In actual fact, it was the private sector that led us astray, and the public sector followed. That is a fact. The comparison stated that in the ten year period of the boom, the public sector in Germany received an annual wage increase of 1.5%, while in this country the public sector received 100% wage increase over ten years. In other words, there was a 15% increase in Germany, compared with 100% here. That is a rather strange situation. I was not given the same figures for the private sector in Germany during that period, but I understand during the same period, salaries in the private sector in this country went up considerably, to the extent of 300% to 400%. However, the most interesting part is property prices. During the ten year period of the boom, when we were the richest country in the world, property prices in Germany went up by 80% to 90%, whereas in this country they increased by more than 400%. If we ever want to find out what was going wrong, we have to look back and ask ourselves what in God's name was going on.
We are now reaping the bitter harvest of those halcyon days. They were happy-go-lucky days when there would be no tomorrow and nobody would ever have to pay back. Everybody indulged and everybody was encouraged to indulge. Everybody was misled simply because there was an end coming and it was coming up short.
There are those who say that the people should forget about all this, but I do not think they will. They are going to think about it for a long time. They will think about it every time they stick their hands in their pocket and contribute to what has happened. The public will think again and again. We have experts advising us day and night, wall to wall, floor to ceiling, on radio and television and everywhere else. Their advice purports to suggest that they knew this was wrong all the time and they pointed it out. They did not point it out. They did nothing about it. They gorged themselves on what was happening at the time. They said it was great, joined in the applause and cheered on for more.
I was listening to an Opposition spokesperson, from the outgoing Administration, saying that his Government had invited the then Opposition to inspect the books, to show them what was there, and that they saw it all. We did not see it all. We could not see it all because they did not know what was in the books themselves. It was not until the IMF came in to tell them all about it that they recognised the true position. I just cannot believe that this nonsense was going on. The make believe is still rampant. There are still people in this country suggesting that it does not have to be this way at all and that there is a softer option. Do Members of the Opposition remember the soft landing they were telling us about not too long ago? Do they remember the soft landing for the economy? It turned into a crash landing, with a very heavy thud, and the reverberations will continue for a long time.
The Government will get stuck in the bog.
I can remember what Deputy McGrath was campaigning for before the last general election. He campaigned for the spending of more money in an economy that did not have enough. He decided to change course because he felt that the resources were there. Unfortunately, he was misleading the public, and I would ask him not to continue to mislead the public in the future.
I ask Members of the Opposition not to treat us with shrill exclamations, and not to point the finger at the Government and ask why it has not solved the problem after seven or eight months. I hope the day does not dawn soon when the people suggesting this are given an opportunity to do exactly what they intend to do. There is a grave danger that something might well happen at some time in the future, and that the whole litany of sacrifices now being made will have to be made all over again, because certain people may well come forward with a suggestion that there is an easier way. We have heard all that before.
I call Deputy Ross, who is sharing time with Deputy Healy. I remind Deputies that I must call the Minister at 9.55 p.m. and there are two more speakers after this slot.
I would like to return the debate to the subject of the Bill. I assume that the purpose of this Bill is to bring in the action the constitutional amendment which we passed recently. I was somewhat staggered to find out that judges were not subject to any kind of Government curtailment and that they had never been so. I had always presumed this and I was absolutely staggered by the fact that this was not the case and that they were exempt from normal public service pay. Therefore, I welcome the fact that the referendum was passed, and while I do not like parts of it as usual, I welcome the Bill in principle.
It beggars belief that there should be any exemption for judges. It reflects that constitutionally, and in general in society, judges are put on a pedestal in Ireland. They carry some sort of mystique which I do not believe is deserved. They are ordinary people with a certain expertise in law who are appointed for various reasons; sometimes for reasons of having expertise, and sometimes not. Whatever the reasons for their appointment, they are nothing particularly special or elevated, and they certainly should not be put on the pedestal in society as they are, which is why I also welcome the abolition of the tipstaffs and criers in the Bill. That gives them a kind of superior loftiness, looking down on ordinary people, which they do not otherwise merit.
In cutting judges down to size, this is a good Bill. It begs the question of why a large number of judges believed they should be exempt from normal public service pay rules, especially in the case of curtailment and reductions. It seems this reflects their own particularly lofty ideas of themselves. They gave rather obscure reasons for this and they suggested it would be inappropriate for their salary to be reduced by the Government or for them to be subject to public service norms because it would put pressure on them to make decisions that might be political. They might be right but this begs the question of how they were appointed. Should we not have tackled the matter of appointments when we were preparing this Bill? One thing concerning judges which politicians, especially those in government, are loth to acknowledge is that judges are naked political appointees.
In the case of this Government, and many previous Governments, there is a veneer or cover given to these appointments whereby the Government will go through the process of having seven names put to it and will then make appointments from the seven names but, ultimately, the Minister and the Government appoint people to the Judiciary and there is no doubt that people with political affiliations are constantly being appointed to the Judiciary by Governments with similar political affiliations. This damages the reputation of the Judiciary. Anyone here who discusses the matter with people in the Bar Library informally will hear them refer to such a person as being a Fine Gael person, to another as being a Labour Party person and that it is so and so's turn this time and so on and that this is the way it works. However, it does not mean these people always make bad judges and I do not suggest as much. But it means their appointments are sullied by the fact they are made by Governments with definite political preferences.
There should be more in this Bill. The Government had the opportunity to cut the umbilical cord which has existed between successive Governments and the Judiciary and which goes all the way to the Supreme Court. Judges are coy about this and about their political affiliations when they are appointed. It is never stated in the press announcements that they may have been Deputies nor is it ever revealed that they may have had affiliations to a given party and the same is the case with any semi-State body. I suggest a means of examining those appointed to the Judiciary in front of an Oireachtas committee should have been included in this Bill so questions could be asked of them.
It has been stated already but it is worth repeating that the manner in which this Bill is being brought through the House is reminiscent of the previous Government. We were told by those in the current Government that this was to change, that they would do things differently and that there would be no guillotines. However, the guillotine will apply to this Bill as it will to other Bills between now and the Christmas recess.
Another feature of the background to this Bill is the same austerity policy of the previous Government being carried on by a new Government whose Ministers promised that everything would be different and that vulnerable people would be protected. In fact we have had a change of faces but the same policy of protecting the rich and powerful in this society while fleecing middle and lower income people and social welfare recipients. It is a policy of making vulnerable people pay for a recession in which they had no hand, act or part in creating.
This is nothing new. Those of us who were around for the PAYE tax marches some years ago will remember that we were told day after day that there was no pot of gold. Lo and behold there was a vast pot of gold and a golden circle of rich and powerful people who fleeced the country at the time. They allowed hospitals to be closed and they stashed away their cash, as they put it in the television gameshow, everywhere and anywhere including in overseas accounts, through DIRT avoidance and by other conduct to ensure they did not pay their fair share. What happened then? They were rewarded for not paying their fair share by tax amnesty after tax amnesty which allowed them to get off scot free. Lo and behold the worst tax amnesty of all was introduced while the Labour Party was in government. Not only did those affected not pay penalties or interest on tax but they received a tax cut as well.
Nowadays, we have a similar situation. We are being told day after day that the country is bust, broke and that we have no money. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is one of the richest countries in the world. The difficulty is there is a great inequality in the distribution of wealth. A recent independent report from the heart of the capitalist system, the Credit Suisse global wealth report of November 2011, informed us that the richest 1% of the population in this country own 28.1% of the wealth, amounting to €131.5 billion. The wealthiest 5% own 46% of the wealth or €219.3 billion. Moreover, in the past two years and in the teeth of the recession of 2009 and 2010 the same people made an additional €46 billion. These are not my figures. The initial figures are from the Credit Suisse bank and the figure of €46 billion is from the Central Statistics Office. Again, these wealthy people are getting off scot free.
The Bill was an ideal opportunity to introduce a wealth or assets tax, an ideal opportunity to tax high earners, those earning more than €100,000 per year, an opportunity to tax property exiles and an opportunity to raise vast revenues. There is an opportunity under these three taxes to raise something of the order of €17 billion in one year, made up of €10 billion from the asset or wealth tax, some €5 billion from incomes greater than €100,000 and a further €2 billion from tax exiles. This is the way to ensure that we put people back to work and to ensure that the recession is beaten. People with vast amounts of money must pay their fair share and it is about time such people showed some patriotism. Further, it is about time this Government ensured they showed such patriotism by introducing some of these measures in the Bill.
The result of the recent referendum on judicial pay was overwhelming but we should be clear on the nature of that message. The people sought for remuneration levels in the Judiciary to be reduced in accordance with those in the public service. However, they want and remain in favour of an independent Judiciary. I caught the end of Deputy Ross's remarks. He left the matter hanging. It is the case that there have been political appointments to the Judiciary in years past but he cannot point to anyone who served anything other than the interests of the State once they took up their appointment. This has been the great tradition of the Irish Judiciary since the infancy of the State. They have served the interests of the people and the citizens of the State regardless of their political background or of who appointed them. The Judiciary provides the essential checks and balances for this House and the system in this House, which is Executive dominated, regardless of who is part of the Executive. Throughout the decades the courts have acted consistently as the essential check and balance on that power and the power of this House and we must ensure this continues.
The danger with the legislation and the process as currently framed is that a future Cabinet or House may decide that a member of the Judiciary or those in the Judiciary in general are getting too big for their boots, that they are acting in the interests of citizens against the interests of the Government and may decide through some back way to reduce the remuneration as a means of keeping them in check and in balance.
I do not doubt the bona fides of most of the current Government in this regard and in particular the bona fides of the Minister. However, the reaction of another Minister to the views of certain former legal officers of the State during the recent referendum shocked many people. It was not so much his reaction, because we are used to that, but the manner in which he attacked them rather than the message.
In 20 or 30 years time, long after we have all left here, there may be 15 of that type of person around the Cabinet table and we will not know what will happen. The right and power of the Judiciary to act independently in the interests of the State may, at some stage, become undermined unless we put some sort of safeguards in place.
I ask the Minister to examine the Bill, which I am aware is being passed very quickly, and consider setting up an independent judicial remuneration commission such as exists in a number of countries, including Canada. If a request is submitted to review the pay of the Judiciary in the context of a public service pay review or any other context an independent commission, comprising people of good standing, should be established to examine that.
That has been done.
That is welcome. It would make non-binding recommendations on the request. Decisions would not be binding because it is important that checks and balances are kept and the Judiciary cannot and should not get involved in a discussion with the Executive on its remuneration. If the Government chooses to ignore those recommendations it must set out the reasons why to a parliamentary committee here in the Chamber.
I am not interested in protecting individuals. There has been a lot of talk this evening about semi-State CEOs. It is important that we point out the majority of serving members of the Judiciary took a voluntary pay cut and only 14 or 15 did not. It was slightly strange that the new judicial appointments announced subsequent to the referendum are not subject, I understand, to the Bill and the people concerned will have to take a voluntary cut. Surely there was some way of delaying their appointment for a few weeks until the legislation was introduced or getting them to sign up to something.
I have no doubt the individuals involved will accept a cut voluntarily but it sends the wrong message. There was an 80% "Yes" vote on the day of the referendum, yet the following Wednesday three new members of the Judiciary were appointed on the same terms and conditions as had applied.
The phrase "financial emergency measures in the so-called public interest" is wonderful. I do not know how many times we have heard it over the past number of years. We are doing a lot of things with a lot of haste and have done so for the past number of years. I have no doubt the make-up of this or future Oireachtais will protect that but we do not know how these measures will be used by an Oireachtas which may be made up of entirely different sets of politicians than those currently here.
I again emphasise that we are not interested in protecting individuals. Nobody should be above what the country has had to do in terms of salaries and so on. We need to protect a tradition of judicial independence which has served this State very well and will be required in the months and years ahead.
I am pleased to speak on this Bill. I compliment the Minister for introducing it. It is much talked about and needed and the public clearly expressed its wish in a referendum with an 80% "Yes" vote.
I have an issue with the holding of elections on Thursdays or Fridays. They should be held on Saturdays or Sundays. There are people who want elections to be held on Thursdays and Fridays and work overtime on Saturdays and Sundays. The system should be changed to allow the highest possible number of people, especially students and people working away from home, to exercise their franchise.
The last Government did not get to grips with this problem. I had many an animated debate with the former Taoiseach, Brian Cown, and the former Minister for Finance, Brian Lenihan, God rest him, about the capping of salaries in the public service to show faith with the hundreds of thousands of people who have been made redundant. Businesses and people are struggling and people have emigrated. Unfortunately the will was not there to deal with the issue. I do not know why.
A culture of "Yes Minister" operated. I am not blaming the public service in the main because it comprises many hundreds of thousands of good, hard-working people. With two eyes closed I saw what would happen when we introduced the pension levy two years ago. Nobody, from the lowest paid to the top, escaped. I thought there would be a sliding scale but there was not.
Many stories circulated at the time that a paper was presented to the late Brian Lenihan in a hospital bed which was pushed onto him to sign. Senior civil servants were not affected, including directors of services, county managers, superintendents and a wide range of other posts. I tabled a motion to my party at the time calling on it to reverse the change. When Brian Lenihan addressed the meeting he thanked me for tabling the motion.
When Brian Lenihan researched the issue he found that instead of the 100 people he was told by faithful civil servants were involved, 860 were involved. I said he was misled and he accepted that. I came to the conclusion that night that there was a cosy cartel in the senior echelons of power in this country. I wish the Minister well in trying to unshackle and break it. I hope he gets full support from the Cabinet, parties and colleagues because it has to happen. There is huge adversity and trauma in the country.
The people want us to take action. That is why they voted. They also voted to reject the formation of all powerful committees, and rightly so. I and my colleagues in the Technical Group opposed the referendum but the media, including RTE, were not interested. The public are wise, prudent and sharp, and are fed up of the situation in the country. They are fed up with what has happened since we gained our independence and the way our country has been hijacked by politicians and people in senior positions. It is nothing short of naked corruption. I do not say that lightly.
Deputy Ross referred to judicial appointments. They were not independent and were political appointments. What happened in recent times was shameful. I was at the mercy of one of these people in a court in my county. The person was specially picked for my case.
I am not sure the Deputy should go into that.
Maybe I will not but there is a place to say it. I said I would say it and I will. They are not independent. The person concerned was an air force pilot who got tired of flying and decided to study law.
Deputy, that is not in order.
You are not entitled to make allegations.
I have mentioned no names. They are not allegations; they are facts. I am entitled——
The Deputy referred to a body.
The body is the problem, as well as the wigs and gowns. It has been too protected. I respect judges. They have to be respected and 99% of them are fine.
We should remember that judges are appointed for life. There should be refresher courses for judges. Life is a learning curve. There are very good refresher courses for us when elections are called. Every day is a learning course. They are not independent. Political cronyism has taken place. The public knows that and is sick of it, which is why it voted the way it did.
The Minister at the time and the Chief Justice asked judges to take a voluntary cut. Most of them did but some did not, which is why a referendum had to be held. Until tonight when I heard the previous speaker I was not aware that recent appointees will escape these provisions, which is not right.
The situation regarding senior public servants and the pension levy sent out the wrong message to Joe Public and Seán Citizen working in any kind of job. We undermined the process of fairness and equity. We must have salary caps. I fought for a long time to have a €200,000 cap imposed. The Minister is going the right way about dealing with this issue, but we must ensure changes are implemented and there are no blockages. We should not have a situation where papers are shoved under his nose and he is asked to sign such and such a document. I accept that the Minister is intent on having a level playing field. We have not had a situation like this for decades where salaries are going in a downward direction.
Maith an tAire. In a situation where everybody else is taking pain, it is high time that we got down and dirty with the so-called elite. I respect these people's positions and their contribution, but my mantra is that there should be a fair day's pay for a fair day's work. With the gowns and wigs and so on, these people are put on pedestals. In reality, they are ordinary people and they must always remain in touch with their peers over whom they adjudicate. To go back to my situation, a jury of my peers saw, thankfully, that I was innocent. This jury was selected from my own county, thank God. I am glad of that outcome because without it, I, like other people, would be restricted now in terms of being excluded from public service, having difficulty in securing a passport and so on.
There are too many skeletons in the cupboards in this State. I wish the Government well, as we all did upon its appointment. Its members were like a breath of fresh air back in the spring. I voted in favour of their appointment. However, they have started to slip and there is evidence of an emerging arrogance. During the debate on the Smithwick tribunal, for example, the Minister for Justice and Equality attacked a colleague of mine, his constituency colleague. It was apparently nothing at all to do with what had happened that morning; it was a total accident. The Minister was vindictive enough to do that. In addition, he was foolish in the comments he made at the time of the referendum in lecturing eminent people who gave advice. These were not judges but former Attorneys General and people like that.
There is no doubt that a degree of arrogance has crept in. It took 12 or 13 years for that to happen to the last Government, and when it did, it did so in earnest and the parties involved ultimately paid the price. That arrogance is already evident in abundance on the part of one or two of the Minister's colleagues. It is damaging to the Government and to the body politic. The Government made many promises when there was no need to do so. The public was tired of the last lot and wanted change. People voted for change but they have not got it.
This proposal amounts to tinkering with the system. I acknowledge that these people are probably in the Minister's way and in his company every day. That is what happens. There must be a greater separation and distance. This can be achieved by employing private individuals to assist the Government. I had expected several such appointments to the Cabinet. We need their advice, wisdom, enthusiasm, passion, vigour and courage to lift this country out of the morass. That will not be achieved at the hands of the same people who put us in the morass. The shameful episode regarding Mr. Cardiff sends out entirely the wrong vibe to the public. It is a case of "As you were" and jobs for the boys, protecting one of our own. He is being sent out there where he might bring us all down. As I said, there are too many skeletons in the cupboard.
I thank all the Deputies who contributed to the debate. I do not agree with everything that was said, but I agree that we should have more time to deal with these provisions. I will strive in future to ensure sufficient time is available for debate. The problem is that we are running into the budgetary timeframe and a great deal of legislation is backlogged. This Bill is not controversial in and of itself. We had an opportunity to discuss most of its provisions in the context of the debate on the Public Service Pensions (Single Scheme) and Remuneration Bill 2011, which has passed Second Stage. Thus, we have already had one iteration of the issues involved.
This is very unusual legislation, comprising financial emergency measures in the public interest. In fact, it is only the fourth Bill of its kind. It underscores, as I said in my opening remarks, the dire circumstances facing this country. Notwithstanding Deputy Mattie McGrath's congratulations on implementing these measures, I would not have wished to be among the first Ministers, following my immediate predecessor, to bring in legislation to reduce people's pay. Nobody wants to do that. The legislation before us is part of the corpus of so-called FEMPI legislation. It is not designed exclusively to secure a wodge of money that will solve our economic problems. Rather, it is designed, as many of the Deputies outlined, to engender a sense of social solidarity, a sense that those with the broadest shoulders will carry the greatest burden. People tend to be timid and the legal advice is often very robust in urging that these things should not be done. One can be weighed down, as I am weighed down, with advices on contract law, that one cannot do this or that. We want the measures we introduce to be as robust as possible.
From the very minute we were elected we genuinely tried to inculcate a notion of fairness by capping the Taoiseach's salary at €200,000 and setting that as the pinnacle of public service pay. That we have succeeded in only a few months in implementing that across the Civil Service is a remarkable achievement in itself. If those concerned had told us to take a hike, there would have been nothing we could do contractually. There is a crudeness about imposing a cap. As I said bluntly at the time I introduced the cap in the commercial semi-State sector — and it might have been unfortunate that I did so — the chief executive officer of Bord na gCon does not have the same responsibilities as the chief executive officer of the ESB. There must be some relativity if we are to attract people to do these jobs.
Several Deputies opposite suggested that there be a general cap of €100,000. There is a ready listening ear for such proposals on the part of the many people in this country who are badly hurting. They might argue that €100,000 is a great deal of money. In truth, however, if I were to introduce such a cap, we would not have cardiac surgeons, cancer specialists, research specialists, people who drive industry or people working in Departments who are of the highest quality. Science Foundation Ireland would not attract research fellows into our universities. We must be honest with people in this regard. It is not only about a model of fairness, important as that is, but also a model of growth. We must ensure the economy has the capacity to attract and retain people of ability, rather than driving them out of the country.
Deputy Sean Fleming queried why the Bill does not apply the mandatory cut to all incumbent public servants. The Bill deals with those public servants whose pay is set out in legislation. Anybody with whom we can deal administratively has already been dealt with and those pay rates apply. The Deputy also asked whether Secretaries General are still on the higher rates of pay. On the day I announced the cap all Secretaries General volunteered to reduce their pay to the €200,000 threshold. For the A1 Secretaries General, that represented a very significant reduction. Two years ago they were earning an additional €85,000, which is a fair whack of a reduction. They are still earning an awful lot of money, but when one has made lifestyle commitments and so on, agreeing voluntarily to forgo 30% of salary in one go is significant and should be acknowledged. I am not saying we have already done enough. This is a process and we will take further action.
Deputy Fleming also raised the issue of high-level rates of pay in the National Treasury Management Agency. I have raised that transparency issue and it is a matter to which we will return. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald spoke about the President's pay. That is set in the Constitution at 10% above the rate of pay of the Chief Justice. Until we secured the constitutional change on the Chief Justice's pay, we could not adjust the pay of the President. However, the President has taken a voluntary waiver of 23% of pay.
There is a great deal more I would like to say but the Ceann Comhairle has indicated that my time is up. Perhaps I will get a chance during the short Committee Stage to deal with some of the other valuable and important points made.
As it is now 10 p.m. I am obliged to put the following question: "That the Bill is hereby read a Second Time."