The Pension Debate, Mary Lou McDonald takes on Brendan Howlin, The Epic Táin Bó Cúailnge

An interesting debate took place in the Dail on Tuesday May 12, 2015 on Ministerial Pensions when Mary Lou McDonald, SF asked Brendan Howlin,Labour Party and Minister for Pubic Expenditure and Reform for a list of annual pension payments to former Ministers and taoisigh including the recipient's name.

Minister Brendan Howlin, Labour

Minister Brendan Howlin, Labour


The Pension Debate

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald Sinn Fein

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald Sinn Fein

Like the epic battle in  An Tain Bó Cúailnge, queen Medb a.k.a  'Mary Lou McDonald' took on Dáire mac Fiachna aka 'Brendan Howlin' to steal Donn Cúailnge, aka 'the prized list'.  Minister Howlin had the prized list,  and wouldn't let it go easily but Mary Lou wanted it badly.

“Janey Mac. Did the Deputy get lucky with the draw?  Minister Howlin directed his first remark to the questioner Deputy McDonald's. “Did the Deputy win the lotto, he asked?  He was playing with her. He knew he had the information that the Deputy was looking for. Would he be magnanimous and give it to her?

Deputy McDonald kept her cool, saying she didn't know how he was going to deliver his response but “he might tell us whether he regards the payments as prudent, modest and sustainable”

Minister Howlin, like an ancient lord of Ulster, knew he possessed the full list of names and payments.  He also knew that information is power.  He wasn't  going give it away cheaply.  He informed Deputy McDonald that he had a full list she wanted but it was too long to read out.

Deputy McDonald countered  “the minister might have time to read ten name or perhaps more”

Minister Howlin reluctantly read out 13 names from the list.  Why thirteen, was this an bad omen?

Top 13 Ministerial Pensions for year 2014

Medb is queen of Connacht

Medb is queen of Connacht

The information was a red rag to a bull.  Deputy McDonald went on the attack  and cornered Minister Howlin.  He was on shaky ground.  Well who wouldn't be, having to defend the indefensible, especially a labour man in this age of austerity defending some very questionable expenditure?

Donn Cuailnge was out and running loose. The list in the Minister's hand containing huge amounts of euro, would put paid to any reasonable arguments or explanation.  Perhaps he knew that. He was on dangerous ground.

Deputy McDonald on her thundering chariot began the attack. She said she was struck by the contrast between the recipients of the payments and “workers within the civil and public service who do not earn a living wage.”

Minister Howlin replied “Obviously there are many in the public sphere in receipt of analogous pensions, including senior judges, senior members of An Garda Síochána, senior administrators in the public service and senior academics.”

If you look up 'analogous' you will find 'comparable' but really having discovered what 'analogous' meant, it still  did not explain the Minister's reason why he brought into the fray even more payments and even more senior people.

He lost it, why did he have to mention these other additional pensions? Mentioning more expenditure only added more weight to Deputy McDonald's arguments about state pensions.

By the way how much airgead, euros is the State paying out to former ministers, taoisigh, senior state officials including senior Garda, judges and senior academics etc, etc? That would be some list.

While Deputy McDonald was digging in her heels and getting ready to pounce, Minister Howlin stumbled on “ It is important that pensions comprise an important part of the package available to get people to work in the public service. We will have to start discussing how we can ensure we get quality people to work in the public service because there will be pressures associated with the filling of senior positions when recovery comes and there will be much more lucrative opportunities in the private sphere.”

There is still a little lingering, niggling thought about this so called expertise and it's cost . The Irish state has forked out hundreds of millions in wages, annual pensions to ministers, former ministers, senior judges, senior members of An Garda Síochána, senior administrators in the public service and senior academics etc, etc. All for what?

Click Image

Click Image

Deputy McDonald wasn't persuaded by  Minister Howlin's arguments. She claimed that despite all the Financial Emergency Measure in the Public Interest, FEMPI, legislation, changes and reforms that the minister introduced, that there is a “central disparity within the system, in which small numbers of people are overpaid and over-pensioned but as one moves down the chain people are on poverty wages, and we talk about the working poor but these are the working poor in the employment of the State - and the failure even to acknowledge that is quite astonishing.”

Ah no Brendan, let it go, let it go. When a person is beaten they innevitably try to laugh it off or blame it someone else. In this case Minister Howlin did both cynically accusing Deputy McDonald of “milking for political gain" and then went on to blamed the Attorney General.

The Minister replied “I know this is an area the Deputy likes to milk for political reasons but, in truth, she knows that with respect to people of legal entitlements to pensions, we have brought in reductions to those pensions in so far as we can go on the advice that we have from the Attorney General.”

Minister Howlin pulled out his only remaining weapon  “If we are going to have quality people working in the public sphere, we need to acknowledge that we are going to have to pay a reasonable rate for those jobs.”

His blunted sword did not even dent Deputy Lou McDonald's shield, she had him beat now.  She pounced, “At every level”.

Reaching deep into a now far off past, a nostalgia for youthful idealism, the Minister pleaded “ I am the son of a trade unionist and that in no way undermines the absolute case for having a fair rate at the lower end. It is something that I have spent my entire working life working for and my party's focus is to ensure that those who are the weakest are protected and that we support collective bargaining and provide decent wage rates for people who are least paid in society."

Ah, Brendan, you should have just handed over Donn Cúailnge to Deputy Mary Lou McDonald and left it at that .



Former Fianna Fail Taosigh Bertie Ahern and Brien Cowen Image: Peter Morrison

Former Fianna Fail Taosigh Bertie Ahern and Brien Cowen
Image: Peter Morrison

Original Article

Full List of Ministerial Pensions for year 2014 Pension € per annum