Sunday, December 02, 2007

Irish Politics, Bipartisanship and the 460 people advising Minister Harney on health policy

Mary Harney TD, Minister for Health and Children

Two Government ministers provided a vivid illustration of the paralysis at the heart of Irish politics this week when ministers Mary Harney and John Gormley called for a bipartisan approach to cancer services.

Politicians in power take credit for any positive news that they can and apart from the admission of impotence, why would Opposition politicians support a policy that some members of governing parties including a minister, oppose with impunity, at local level?

Perish the thought that Harney and Gormley would for example call for bipartisanship on land rezoning, which has remained unreformed despite 10 years of the corruption planning tribunal or on public sector reform that has been outsourced to the Paris-based think-tank for governments, the OECD.

There was no call either for bipartisanship on the Super VIP Benchmarking payments and Cork TD, Deputy Ciarán Lynch who asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the number of tax payers in 2006 or the most recent year for which complete figures are available, who returned incomes of €38,000 or less, highlighted a fact, through the reply that a lot of Irish workers do not spend their free time in Macy's .

The amount of €38,000 is the recent pay hike increase that was received by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.

Brian Cowen TD replied: I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that the estimated number of income earners on the income tax records in 2006 earning gross income of €38,000 or less is projected at 1,452,000. Gross income is income before adjustments are made in respect of capital allowances, interest paid, losses, allowable expenses, retirement annuities etc. but after deduction of superannuation contributions by employees.

The figure is an estimate from the Revenue tax-forecasting model using actual data for the year 2004 adjusted as necessary for income and employment growth for the year in question. It is, therefore, provisional and likely to be revised. Cowen said that it should be noted that a married couple who has elected, or has been deemed to have elected, for joint assessment is counted as one tax unit.

Two-thirds of the workforce are earning less than €38,000 annually and two-thirds of private sector workers - - 900,000 - - have no occupational pension.

Compared with the average industrial wage of €32,000, TDs in general are also in clover, earning more than 3 times the level. The country is 15 miles from Leinster House with overnight allowances payable and TDs in North Dublin can collect up to €30,000 annually in local travel expenses.

Then there are the 130 full-time personnel on the public payroll supporting ministers' constituency work. Bertie Ahern has 9 working in his constituency - more people than the total staff of a typical SME firm.

In the Sunday Business Post on Dec 2nd, Vincent Browne provided an illustration of featherbedding in the Department of Health and Children, headed by Mary Harney TD.

In recent years, the Department's operational functions have been hived to to the Health Service Execute (HSE) leaving the Department with a policymaking role.

There are 460 people advising the minister on health policy!

Last week, a minister in the Irish government said that the lack of Irish public sector reform, "is a joke"!