I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation, Deputy Kelleher, who will hardly be surprised to hear I will be opposing vehemently this legislation on the national minimum wage. There will be very little agreement from this side of the House. We will be explaining to him why it is absolutely disgraceful that those on the lowest pay rates should have their salaries cut again.
I want to raise an issue of some significance, on which the Minister of State may agree with me but do nothing. It pertains to section 1 which concerns the pensions of officeholders and politicians. As I am not seeking re-election, none of these matters will affect me in any way.
I want to raise a few important points. It would be very useful if members of the Cabinet read the debate on the Ministerial and Parliamentary Offices Act 1938, in which the reasons for paying ministerial pensions were considered. I will refer to some of them.
Let me refer to an issue with which one of the Minister of State's advisers will be very familiar. When he and I used to discuss matters across the table, he always argued with me that a pension was no more than a deferred salary. That is an important point. The term "pension" may be an incorrect description of what Members are paid in addition to their normal salaries when they return to the backbenches having been Ministers. I would be happy if the system of payment was the same as in the private sector. When people are promoted and act for a number of years in a significant capacity and acquire expertise, experience and knowledge, it should be recognised that their future contributions will be more enriched than they would otherwise be. In many places, in the public and private sectors, after a certain period people maintain some of the allowance or increase received when acting in a promoted capacity. In that regard, I ask the Minister of State, having considered the question of deferred pay and what was said in the initial debate, to say that what Ministers receive when they return to the backbenches should no longer be called a pension. It should be called something else. What is driving the population wild is that people draw a pension while still being paid a salary. It is almost an oxymoron. It is a contradiction in terms, but that is not to say there is no justifiable argument to support the case that people who are no longer in their promoted role but who continue to bring added value to their contributions in Parliament and elsewhere should not have this recognised. This has nothing to do with me and it will never involve me in any way, but it is an important issue.
The former Minister for Finance, Charlie McCreevy, introduced a new system of pensions for public representatives, whether they be Ministers, Taoisigh, Presidents, Deputies or Senators. Under the latest scheme, a person is not entitled to collect a pension until he or she is 65 years of age. I will use as an example the Minister for Health and Children who entered the Houses at 23 or 24 years of age. Whether one agrees or disagrees with what she has done, no one will deny that Deputy Harney has given excellent service. I disagree with many of her policies, but that is not the point I am making. She was elected by and has represented the people for whom she has worked for over 30 years. If she decides not to run in the forthcoming general election, she will have spent 30 or 35 years as an elected public representative and contested possibly 14 elections. If she had started under the new system, she would not be entitled to receive any payments until she reached the age of 65 years. I do not know what age she is, but I think she is in her mid-50s. I would like someone in the Cabinet to think about this and explain how it could be ethical, just, morally correct or good in a democracy. I had this argument with Charlie McCreevy before he introduced the system. I gave the example I have provided for the House because he knew about it as well as I did. I would say this in front of him if he was here: he had to concede that I was correct in my argument. He said he was off, that it would not affect anyone for many years into the future and that someone else could change it. These were his final words in our one-to-one discussion. We should re-examine the issue.
We are introducing legislation, much of which is necessary, to tidy various aspects in the payment of pensions. Undoubtedly, the matter needs to be dealt with, but we are leaving ourselves with a major problem. If someone in their 40s stands for election, spends ten or 12 years in the Houses and decides he or she is finished in his or her late 50s, there will be no prospect of an income until he or she reaches 65 years of age. Can someone explain to me why this is a good idea? Is it because Ministers are afraid to explain to the people that this is bad for democracy?
One of the many things for which I am held responsible is negotiating the arrangements for teachers elected to the Dáil or the Seanad. Effectively, they provide a safety net to enable them to go back to work as teachers when they leave the Houses. Every time the issue is raised with me, it is raised by journalists. I would like the following point to be drawn to the attention of the Cabinet. In a democracy citizens have duties and responsibilities. Every citizen has a duty and a responsibility to act properly. One of his or her duties is to vote in an election. The highest contribution a citizen can make is to stand for election as a public representative and represent the people in the national Parliament. If that is the case, should we not make it easy for them to do so? Rather than criticise or question the arrangements I negotiated for teachers, should we not demand that anyone elected as a public representative have the same level of protection as a woman who is breastfeeding? The jobs of such women must be held open for them; they cannot be sacked or denied promotion. Surely that is logical in a democracy. Should we not encourage people to engage in politics and ensure they can make a contribution without having to worry about their responsibilities to their family or children? However, this debate is not happening because the Government is afraid of the people.
Public representatives always take a hit at the end of the day. They are the only group in the entire public sector which is deprived of long service increments. Why is that case? What is the logic behind it? The Minister of State's officials should be well able to answer this point. Why was one group singled out? There are over 200,000 working in the public sector, but only one group was singled out for such treatment. Is there not something inequitable or unjust about this? If we are to get rid of long service increments, should they not be denied to everyone?
The service of members of the Cabinet should be recognised in their salaries once they leave the Cabinet and if they continue in politics. That should take the form of an allowance, not a pension. It should not be called a pension because that is not what it is. One cannot draw a pension and be paid to do the same job at the same time. There are variations, but we could use this as a base. I have deliberately picked something that seems to be remote from the Bill, but that is what happens when one passes such legislation. There are ripples in a pool spreading from an earlier decision. In many ways, this little section could have an impact on the quality of persons who will serve our democracy as public representatives in the future. I would, therefore, like the Minister of State to address this point. I will not table an amendment because it would not be listened to. It is clear that we are in a cul-de-sac in promoting public representation, democracy, involvement, participation and attracting fresh faces into politics and we will eventually pay the price.