Returning politicians spared cuts to pensions

Ex-TDs and senators who get back into the Oireachtas will enjoy higher-paying pensions not available to anyone else returning to public service, thanks to a Government decision to exclude them from money-saving pension changes.

Fianna Fáil supported the measure when the law, sponsored by Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Brendan Howlin, was debated in the summer. Although its TDs and senators voted against the bill on other points, Fianna Fáil stands to gain most from the bill after losing more than 50 Dáil and Seanad seats in last year’s election.

Mr Howlin said national politicians differ from other public servants, as the requirement to be re-elected means they do not have the same job security. But the wording of the act to set up the new pension scheme means ex-TDs and senators who did not contest the last election will continue to have pensions for their future Oireachtas service calculated on their final salary.

Once Mr Howlin signs an order starting the scheme before the end of the year, new public servants and anyone returning to public service work after a break of more than six months will have their pensions based on career-average earnings rather than on final salary, which is used for serving public servants.

The exemption from the broken service rule will also apply to past TDs and senators nominated by the Taoiseach to a future Seanad instead of being elected.

The only opposition voiced in debates on the relevant sub-section of the Public Service Pensions Act came from Sinn Féin and the United Left Alliance.

Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald said Mr Howlin passed up an opportunity to reform pension provision for high earners across the civil and public sectors.

“Brendan Howlin regularly talks the talk of reform but rarely walks the walk,” said Ms McDonald.

“Fine Gael and Labour promised us a democratic revolution on entering Government yet, when it comes to looking after the boys at the top, little appears to have changed.”

Defending the measure, Mr Howlin said Oireachtas members lack security of tenure and there is an average turnover of 25 TDs and senators at each election.

“We must have a reasonable support base that will attract people into the profession of politics,” he told the Dáil in June.

Although there is a clause in the act meaning he can end the measure by signing a ministerial order, Mr Howlin’s spokesperson said he “has no plans to use [the clause] at this time.”

Mr Howlin released data this week showing 111 former ministers are being paid pensions of over €9.6m this year, an average of €87,000. Exclusions from the scheme will also apply to ex-Oireachtas members on future earnings as taoiseach, tánaiste, minister, minister of state, attorney general, ceann comhairle, and deputy ceann comhairle of the Dáil, and cathaoirleach, deputy cathaoirleach, and leader of the Seanad.

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