Leaders of the fee world

 
 

With Budget 2012 looming, and politicians under ever-increasing scrutiny, Yvanne Kennedy looks at one of the most charged but unchanged issues, that of politician’s pay

Every day there is a new rumour of a cut to income or benefits for ordinary people across Ireland, whether that be in the form of allowances for ‘acting-up’ into a higher position or the potential cuts to the children’s allowance; the majority of people are being hit in some capacity.

So how then, if the Government is happy to deny these people the benefits previously afforded to them, can they justify their own allowances and salaries which are at least double the average industrial wage?

No doubt it is an onerous task to be part of a group that has a direct impact on the way in which the country is run. There is huge pressure on the men and women who form the Dáil. A line does, however, need to be drawn somewhere because while a cut in their salaries may not reap gigantic benefits for the economy, it would be an act of solidarity that would go quite far in restoring the belief in those in power that is so sorely lacking.

To say that there have been no cut backs in the Cabinet would be a misrepresentation. Certain extravagances have been reduced, such as Ministerial cars and foreign trips for more junior members of Government. But to say that huge leaps have been made in reducing benefits to some of this country’s top earners would be to overly compliment on a job not so well done.

There is a huge discrepancy in the amounts paid to the members of our national parliaments and the average taken home by members of their constituency every week. We’re not alone in this practice of politicians overpaying themselves from the public purse however. In a study from the Economist, Ireland was ranked 11th in the world for the amount paid to state leaders relative to GDP per person. At the time the Taoiseach was paid more than seven times this amount. While we are behind countries such as the United States and Germany, we have left the likes of Britain and Australia in our dust.

So why have politicians felt no need to rectify this problem? There seems to be no real answer. It is terribly difficult for anyone to stomach another cut on top of all the ones that have come before. It’s a scary prospect to have to contemplate any personal sacrifices. Eamon Gilmore giving up his subsistence isn’t going to change the fact that the cuts will need to be made and will probably have little or no true impact across the board, but it would be a start.

Politicians always want to say that they understand the people they represent, that they get that times are tough but that they can’t shy away from making the tough decisions; decisions no one would envy. Whether or not all of the decisions are sound is an entirely different debate, but at the end of the day, the average politician quite possibly doesn’t really understand the day-to-day struggle of a single parent with young children who is in receipt of the children’s allowance.

While a person earning anywhere near the salaries of our TDs may not better understand the struggle of this family by taking a cut of a few thousand, it does show a willingness to at least make some sort of sacrifice to stand with those that elected them in good faith.

There was uproar recently at the news that Sinn Fein TDs were only taking the average industrial wage from their pay packets, and using the surplus to employ people from their constituency to work in their offices. While there may be cries of misappropriation and dodgy practices, these TDs were actually doing something quite admirable. While the method may have been questionable, the result seems nothing but positive.

If the average wage is something which the average person lives off, how is it that TDs cannot do the same thing? Beyond the average salary, there are ‘necessary’ expenses associated with being away from home and having to travel from home quite frequently; having to eat out, certain members needing Garda escorts etc., the list goes on. But there is a lot to be said for living frugally and attempting to cut back and not spending every cent given to you just because you could.

Politicians the world over have to look at ways to save, ways to trim the excess and bring budgets into line with harsh conditions. There is no doubt that these members of the Irish parliament have a difficult task before them every day when they walk into Leinster House and assist in running the country.

What they need to remember however is that every single person on this island has something to contribute and that they are finding it very difficult to do so in the conditions which have been imposed upon them by our Government and those farther afield. It would do them good to pay more than a lip service and pay something more substantial towards the betterment of morale and confidence boosting that the citizens they represent are so lacking.

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