INTENSE anger over Máire Geoghegan-Quinn’s €108,000 Oireachtas pension saw the embattled EU commissioner surrender the payment to the state last night after the row threatened to damage Brian Cowen’s authority.
Ms Geoghegan-Quinn abandoned her stance of refusing to even discuss the matter and announced she would forego her ministerial and TD pension rights while she is earning €243,000 a year as Ireland’s representative in Brussels.
A day of high political drama saw the Taoiseach refusing to toughen his line over Ms Geoghegan-Quinn, insisting it was an “individual” matter. However, he was outflanked on the issue by a number of his cabinet.
Green leader John Gormley said Ms Geoghegan- Quinn should “do the right thing”, along with 16 Oireachtas members claiming the entitlement.
Foreign Minister Micheál Martin said it was time for “leadership” from public figures and Ms Geoghegan-Quinn should reflect on the matter as “pensions are for when you retire”.
He was echoing similar calls by Justice Minister Dermot Ahern, Social Affairs Minister Éamon O Cuív and Tourism Minister Mary Hanafin, but Mr Cowen dismissed claims of a cabinet split on the issue.
Last night Mr Cowen issued a statement welcoming what he said was “the gesture that she has made in solidarity with the situation here at home in Ireland”.
But Fine Gael is attempting to sustain the pressure over ministerial pensions, calling for legislation to end such payments for current Oireachtas members.
Labour’s Pat Rabbitte branded the commissioner “arrogant” for her initial refusal to even comment on the fact taxpayers provide her with two pensions, a ministerial one (€62,945) and a TD’s one (€44,380), despite being paid €243,338 for being in the EU “cabinet” where she is responsible for the research, innovation and science portfolio.
Finance Minister Brian Lenihan insisted ministers had no legal power to strip a person of the pension they had earned. “That’s not allowed in our legislation – legally, you can’t do it. If that’s the position, there is nothing that parliament can do short of a referendum on Máire Geoghegan-Quinn’s pension,” he told RTÉ.
Fianna Fáil’s Chris Andrews said people were “enraged” by the commissioner taking what amounted to an extra salary.
Ms Geoghegan-Quinn, a former Fianna Fáil justice minister, wrote to Mr Lenihan requesting he set in train the mechanism for her to forego the payments.
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