Tuesday, 29 September 2020

Ceisteanna (98)

Richard Boyd Barrett


98. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if the foregoing of the pay rise for all public representatives will be agreed to as part of a Covid-19 solidarity measure; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26722/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (8 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Public)

If the question is whether we should have a democratic discussion in this House about politicians' pay, where the public can listen in and, indeed, exercise influence on us about what the pay levels should be, then, yes, I think that would be preferable. If the public had a say in it, they would say that we are paid far too much and that it would be much better if our pay was linked to the average pay of working people because then we would be representing everybody, not just the well paid.

That is a view the Deputy is perfectly entitled to hold and, as a Member of this House, he is perfectly entitled to bring forward whatever legislation he thinks is appropriate to empower the Dáil to set its own rates of pay. I do not think that would be a better system. The system we have is completely independent and beyond our direct control. We are linked to a certain grade within the Civil Service and I think that settles the issue. We are linked to that grade, irrespective of whether the rate of pay is going up or going down.

The Deputy has spoken about the 2% and said he is not going to take it. Some Deputies may take it and other Deputies will not. It is a matter for each individual to make that decision and I am not going to lecture or advise anyone as to what he or she should do. I am telling the Deputy what I am doing personally, as a member of Government, and that is the equivalent of an annualised cut in pay of 12% ,which is the right thing to do because we are in a hugely privileged position to serve in government and to represent the people of this country, as well as our constituencies. It is a matter for the Deputy if he has a proposal to make. Let him make it to the House - in this democratic forum - in the normal way.

The Minister does not seem to get the point. I was on the picket line with Debenhams workers the other day. They were sickened at the thought that people in this House were going to get a pay increase when their pandemic unemployment payments were going to be cut by those very people. Does the Minister understand why they would be sickened about a situation where they have been abandoned, where the Government has let them down and where people who have worked for decades have just been dumped on the scrapheap? The Government sits by and gives them tea and sympathy but does nothing to help them, and they are literally dumped by a ruthless company and a Government that washes its hands of their fate. Then, they see that politicians are giving themselves a pay rise. Does the Minister not get how angry that would make them? I can tell him it was not me prompting them. When I hear that kind of stuff, I think we have to respond to that and we have to say it is not just a matter of individual choice. Fair play to the Minister for making that choice, and we have made that choice that we will not take the pay increase, but, against that background, I do not believe any politician in this House should receive an increase in respect of an already high salary.

The Deputy has characterised this once again as politicians giving themselves a pay rise. That is misleading and he knows it is misleading. It is stoking up the anger that is undoubtedly there. The reality is that the system which is in place takes it out of the hands of politicians, in essence, and I think that is the right thing to do. The Deputy might think it would be a great thing to bring in legislation that reduces politicians' pay but if we give that power to the House, it might make a different decision at another point with which he would completely disagree. Is it not far better that we have a system where we do not have direct control?

The Deputy has singled out politicians, as is his right and as is his form, but there are many others in the public service earning far more than politicians and he has not singled them out. He wants very special treatment for politicians to not be paid the 2%. As I have said, I am not taking it and the members of the Government are not taking it, but I think it is only proper that we allow each individual to make that decision. The Deputy is throwing all of this out there, but I do not hear an alternative proposal as to what to do. If he has one, he should bring it forward.

I have already put forward a proposal, as have others.

It is to link the pay of people in here to average industrial earnings. That is our proposal, that is our policy and that is what we campaigned for.

I agree with the Minister on higher paid civil servants. That would also nauseate people. Low and middle-income earners, the vast bulk of public servants, were savaged with FEMPI but those cuts did not mean the same for the super-well-paid civil servants at the very top of the Civil Service, and that nauseated people too. We have a policy for that and we have put it across many times in this House.

That policy is that nobody who is paid out of the public purse should be getting more than €100,000 and that higher bands of tax should apply to anybody earning in excess of that amount, whether in the public or private sector, so that an end can be brought to the shocking differentials between the earnings of people on low and average incomes, who work just as hard as anybody in here, and the earnings of individuals who are on multiples of those salaries.

I thank the Deputy. He made some additional points. He wants every Deputy to be paid the average industrial wage and he is perfectly entitled to hold that policy. I do not know if he would also apply that policy to all other public servants earning as much as or more than Deputies. Perhaps that is his policy; I simply do not know. We have a system whereby we do not set our own pay and under which our pay is linked to that of a certain grade within the Civil Service. This takes our level of pay out of our direct control. Of course it grates with many people who are in extremely tough circumstances to see anyone on good pay getting an increase. That is why some Members of the House have decided not to take it but it is open to others to accept it. I am not going to pass judgment on or lecture anyone as to what they should do in their own lives and individual circumstances, about which we cannot always know.