Tuesday, 29 September 2020

Ceisteanna (97)

Richard Boyd Barrett


97. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if the forgoing of the pay rise for all public representatives as part of a Covid-19 solidarity measure will be agreed to; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26939/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (14 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Public)

On what planet is it okay for politicians earning extraordinarily high salaries - €96,000 in the case of Deputies - to get a pay increase when hundreds of thousands of workers have seen their incomes decimated or jobs completely eliminated as a result of Covid-19 and the measures the Government has imposed, and when the Government has cut the pandemic unemployment payments of many thousands? How can the Minister possibly justify a pay rise for politicians when huge numbers of working people are seeing their incomes savaged?

I thank the Deputy for his question. The first point to note is that the 1 October adjustments to pay in the public service form part of the broader ongoing process of unwinding FEMPI reductions which was negotiated with public service trade unions and delivered through successive collective agreements, from the Lansdowne Road agreement to the current public service stability agreement.

The remuneration of Members of the Oireachtas, including Ministers and other officeholders, has been examined a number of times by the former review body on higher remuneration in the public sector. In its 38th report in September 2000, it recommended that the rate of salary for a Deputy should be linked to the grade of principal officer in the Civil Service. The recommendation, which was accepted by Government at the time, was based on independent and expert consideration of the level of responsibilities and the commensurate level of pay. Accordingly, the pay of Dáil Deputies has been linked for 20 years to the prevailing pay of principal officers in the Civil Service, including through the significant pay cuts of the FEMPI legislation and now through the pay restoration measures involved in the phased unwinding of that legislation agreed with public service unions and set out in public service agreements. This process of unwinding FEMPI reductions, including the forthcoming pay increase on 1 October, is also provided for in legislation enacted by the Oireachtas under the FEMPI Act 2015 and the Public Service Pay and Pensions Act 2017.

As the Deputy is aware it remains open to all Members of the Oireachtas to forego pay increases on a voluntary basis and I understand that many have been doing so. For its part, the Government has already decided that Ministers and Ministers of State, in addition to taking a 10% pay cut, will also forgo the 2% pay increase when it becomes due in October. This decision was taken in light of the Covid-19 emergency and the challenging economic and fiscal situation the country faces.

The Covid emergency did not stop the Minister from giving a €16,000 increase to the super junior Ministers, which is absolutely outrageous. The ordinary public servants who were robbed to pay for the bailout of the banks should get their pay restored. Indeed, it should have been restored long before now but the idea that politicians on extraordinarily handsome salaries of €96,000 should get a pay rise at the very same time that the Government is cutting the PUP for people who have lost their jobs and seen their incomes hammered as a result of measures imposed by the Government is sickening.

The increase that Deputies will receive is around €45 per week on top of an already very handsome salary. That is just a little less than the amount the Government has taken off PUP recipients. These are people who were, in most cases, on much lower incomes in the first place. Their income fell to €350 per week because of pandemic measures imposed by the Government and now their incomes are being hammered down by another €50 or €100. Does the Minister not think that is sickening and unacceptable in the current climate?

In essence what the Deputy is proposing is that the link between the pay of a Deputy and the principal officer grade in the Civil Service be broken. I am not sure what alternative system the Deputy is proposing to carve out the pay of politicians. It is up to each individual to make whatever decision he or she wishes to make. I am forgoing the increase because it is the right thing to do. I assume Deputy Boyd Barrett is doing the same. I am not sure in what manner the Deputy forgoes his increase. Does he sign a gift back to the State or does he put it into a fund, the details of which he publishes? Is there transparency in terms of how that money is used? I do not know the details of how Deputy Boyd Barrett does it but I know that those of us in the Government who are doing it are gifting it back directly to the Exchequer so that the cost to the State is reduced as a result. I ask the Deputy to explain the alternative system he wants for politicians to set their own pay but I do not believe we should be going down that road. We have a system in place whereby we are linked to a certain grade in the Civil Service, whether that rate of pay is going up or down. It is up to each individual then to make a decision based on his or her own circumstances. People have different circumstances and we should all acknowledge that too.

Within People Before Profit our policy is that politicians should be paid the average industrial wage and that is what happens internally. That means we are in the same position as the people we represent and have a vested interest in representing the collective and not just looking after ourselves. That is our policy.

In the case of the 2%, we will be handing it back to the Exchequer because we think it is unconscionable in the current situation to take any pay rise, although, frankly, it hurts me to think we are handing it back to a Government that will then give it on to some other pampered group rather than give it to the people who actually need it.

The Minister has not really answered my central question. Does he think it is okay, that it looks very good or that it is not simply sickening for people who have lost their jobs and income, who are on the PUP and have just had their payments cut by the Government, to see the politicians who are doing that getting a pay rise? Does he not think that looks awful, is unacceptable and is a kick in the stomach to people who are already down?

What the Deputy is saying is that politicians should decide their own pay. I do not believe that is a good system. I do not believe that, in any other walk of life, people get to decide their own pay. There is a pay increase that people can decide to either accept or reject. Apart from the 2% increase, which the Deputy says he is gifting back to the State, what I hear him say, in essence, is that he is accepting the full salary from the State but that he is deciding what to do with it. This means he has already accepted a number of rounds of restoration of previous FEMPI pay cuts. Politicians within People Before Profit are accepting that and they are then putting that into some fund, apparently, which they presumably then make a decision on how to distribute, and in respect of which the State has no role whatsoever. Apart from this 2%, what I hear the Deputy saying is that he is accepting the full salary from the State. What we are doing is open and transparent. The Deputy is preaching over there while, at the same time, he has been taking the full salary from the State but not telling everybody what the balance is, in net terms, that he says he does not take. Is it gross or is it net? Where does that money go?

We are saying we should cut the pay of politicians. What we are doing with the 2% is that we are not taking it, but we do not think it should be a choice for the politicians to take it. In terms of the average industrial wage, we use that money as we pledged in our election manifesto in a very clear way. We pledged that we would take the average industrial wage, so I have not benefited one cent personally from any pay increase that other politicians have all benefited from in the context of their already high salaries, We use that money to fund constituency services, campaigns, groups and organisations that campaign for social justice and for equality. That is what we use it for, as we promised. We would much rather do that than give it to you lot to then give to bankers or give further pay increases to politicians. It is a far more admirable strategy. If the Minister was really concerned about this, and was concerned about the things he is implying he is concerned about, he would cut the pay of politicians and certainly would not increase it.

I call the Minister.

We have had the full round of questions but I am happy to come back in.

We can move on.

Deputy Boyd Barrett got an extra round so, to be fair, I will take a further moment. I assume he is suggesting that legislation would be introduced to set politicians' pay, and then we would be the only body I am aware of that would have the power to, in essence, set its own pay. I hear the Deputy talk about a fund that his party uses to distribute to worthy causes, and I have no doubt they are worthy, although I have not seen the operation of that fund or how transparent it is. I assume that is fully published for everyone to see. The Deputy talks about the average industrial wage. Is that gross or net? I do not know. The truth is he is taking the full money from the State and then he makes a decision, as he sees fit, on what to do with it. He should be honest and upfront with people that this is what he is proposing.

Politicians should not set their own pay. We have a system in place which goes back 20 years. If individuals do not wish to accept the increase, they are perfectly open to doing that, as I am doing myself.

We move on to Question No. 98.

It is the same question.

Then I suppose the Deputy does not need to say anything.