Thursday, April 19, 2007

Irish Hospital Consultants, Mickey Mouse Pay and Europe's Highest Paid Health Minister!

The usual line taken in the media by representatives of powerful professional groups such as teachers and medical consultants is to try and downplay the main issue - more money - by spinning the yarn that it's the interests of children and patients that are the primary motivator.

One medical consultant left the cat out of the bag when he termed a salary of €205,000 pus a bonus of €40,000 for a 39-hour week as 'mickey mouse'. It must be hard for an individual like that to understand or care to understand, what life is like for a patient on the average annual industrial wage of €32,000.

The gilded trade unionists in the Irish Hospital Consultants Association, crowed in relation to the Government's decision to advertise for consultants who would have to work solely in the public hospital service rather than continue on a gravy train of juggling work in both private and public hospitals:

"We are about to be assailed by spin doctors from the HSE and the Department of Health on why we need to urgently employ medical doctors even if they are of less qualification than the best candidates available within and outside this jurisdiction. The Minister and HSE have got their answer from the junior doctors of today who are the consultants of tomorrow. Several groups of Specialist Registrars who are qualified to apply for consultant posts have taken the long view and decided not to apply for the controversial positions."

How wise that these mighty people would take the long view without any intimidation?

Indeed and how similar to the partyspeak that was common in the once Communist Empire in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union!

It takes spinners to recognise ones and as militant trade unionists, they used an old trick - anyone who would dare apply for an advertised post would be blackballed and given the Captain Boycott treatment.

Meanwhile Health Minister Mary Harney, was welcomed to the conference of the Psychiatric Nurses Association in Ballybofey, County Donegal, as Europe's highest paid Health Minister.

Liam McNamara Chairman of the PNA said that Harney and other politicians have got the biggest increases from the public sector pay bonanza - 30% more than other public staff.

Since 1997, Ministers, TDs and Senators have seen their pay rise by 119% - double the average industrial wage rise of 60%.

Overpaid Legislators: 30% Special Pay Awards including Sham Benchmarking and Pay up 119% since 1997 - Average Weekly Industrial Earnings up 60%

Ireland has 166 members (TDs) in the lower parliament chamber Dáil Éireann who represent some 4.2 million people. With one TD for every 25,000 persons, the people are over-represented in parliament, and their representatives are, by international comparison, overpaid as national legislators.

However, following the latest census of population, Ireland may even get more.Joseph O'Malley, Political Correspondent of the Sunday Independent recently wrote that Ireland has far more TDs than Britain has MPs: four times as many in proportional terms.

The TD in Leinster House is now better paid than his or her counterpart at Westminster. The TD also enjoys superior pension benefits, and for a much lower pension contribution: 6 per cent of a TD's salary, while the MP pays 10 per cent.

O'Malley says that for the TD, the transformation from being underpaid to being overpaid represents a remarkable turnaround in a short time. The TDs, however, are not complaining.

Within a decade, few sectors of society have done better in pay terms than the political class at Leinster House.In 1997, the Westminster member was paid a quarter more than the TD, who then earned €44,067. Nine years later the TD/MP pay gap has not just been closed, it has been reversed.

Today, the Dáil deputy earns €96,650 and the MP earns 11 per cent less, at €87,132.

O'Malley writes: Few can seriously dispute that the TD has less onerous national responsibilities than his British counterpart. The Dail sits less often than the Commons, and parliamentary life is much less demanding in Leinster House than at Westminster.

Never mind that Britain's population is 15 times larger. And its economy is 11 times the size of the Irish economy. The TD represents fewer people in a much smaller country. Nevertheless, Dail deputies are now paid more than MPs to do a less challenging job.

The key to the current high salary status of TDs has been the conjunction of some remarkable series of developments on the pay front. First, in 1999 the Buckley pay review awarded TDs a special pay increase of some 18 per cent. Buckley also recommended that Dáil deputies' pay should be linked to that of a principal officer in the civil service. Second, in 2002 the benchmarking review recommended a 12 per cent pay rise for principal officers.

And because TDs were linked to principal officers, they also benefited from that award. Since 1997, the 30 per cent from the special pay awards, when added to the normal partnership pay rises, has meant that the pay of Dail deputies has more than doubled. It is up 119 per cent, or twice as rapidly as the average industrial wage.

Stephen Collins in The Irish Times reported last July that politicians received their fourth pay rise in a year at the beginning of June, bringing the basic salary of a TD to €96,560 before special allowances and expenses are taken into account.

For the Taoiseach and his Ministers, it was the sixth pay rise over the past 12 months. Mr Ahern's salary is now €258,730 a year, including his TD's salary, while the Tánaiste earns €222,256 and other members of the Cabinet get €204,020.

Each Government minister has got 2 benchmarking awards, even though everyone knows that the system has been an absolute scam.

A comparable country to Ireland, such as New Zealand, which is similar in population size (4.1m) and economic scale and performance to Ireland, manages with 121 MPs, one chamber, and no upper house.

Indeed in 1999, in a non-binding referendum, the New Zealand people voted to reduce the number of MPs to 99: some 84 per cent voted in favour. Even more remarkable: the Kiwi MP is paid just €56,730, under two thirds the Irish rate.

Joseph O'Malley in The Sunday Independent, says that a contribution of only 6 per cent of salary entitles TDs to a full pension after just 20 years, based on half their final salary, and with a lump sum payment of one and a half times that salary.

But what the TD pays for his pension bears no relation to the real economic cost of providing his retirement benefits. The taxpayer pays that extra, unquantified, cost.

In a damning indictment of the current wide gap between many of the governed and their legislators, O'Malley writes: Many private sector companies are closing their defined benefit (final salary) schemes to new entrants, while others raise contributions to close the funding deficit, which the law passed by the Oireachtas requires.

Remarkably, however, little echo of this great debate on pensions can be heard in the national parliament.To cap it all, part-time local councillors are seeking public occupational pensions even though most private sector workers beyond the foreign-owned sector and large Irish-owned companies, such as banks and public companies, have none!!

The Sunday Independent has reported that thirteen Government ministers have benefited from tax breaks, averaging almost €5,000 each on second homes in the capital, just weeks after the Taoiseach's brother Noel Ahern, said property speculators should be "taxed out of existence".

The break designed exclusively for members of the Government, allows ministers to claim relief on second homes and for overnight accommodation in Dublin. Latest figures reveal that 13 ministers availed of the perk, claiming €63,477 between them.

So when Mary Harney lectures the nurses on pay, her credibility is at issue given the she is among the small elite in the public service who have got the biggest pay increases.