€9.65m annual pensions bill for former ministers

As pay levels of top-earning bankers come under intense scrutiny, updated figures show taxpayers are also footing an annual €9.65m pensions bill for 111 former ministers.

Figures supplied by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform reveal that 35 former senior politicians are paid combined ministerial and TD pensions worth over €100,000 gross each year.

They include over a dozen members of Fianna Fáil-led governments during the past decade, governments which sanctioned large increases to politicians’ pay and pensions during their terms in office.

A further 68 former office holders receive pensions worth in excess of €50,000. All former ministers will receive the combined pension for the rest of their lives.

The figures do not included the value of combined pensions due to five former ministers who have “gifted” their pensions back to the exchequer. They are President Michael D Higgins, EU research commissioner Máire Geoghegan Quinn, Gay Mitchell, Eithne Fitzgerald, and Prionsias de Rossa. The combined value of their ministerial pensions returned to the State this year is €154,734, while their TD pensions are worth a similar amount.

In total, the 111 former ministers will be paid pensions worth €9,653,365 in 2012 — an average of €86,967 per retired politician. Out of that amount, a sum of €582,137 will be deducted for the pension levy at an effective rate of 6.4%.

The highest earners are two former taoisigh, Brian Cowen and Bertie Ahern, who are largely blamed for overseeing policies which led to the collapse of the economy. They are each entitled to a combined annual pension of €164,526 before tax. After deductions for the pension levy, the two former Fianna Fáil leaders will receive annual payments of €150,163. Both men are paying an effective public service pension levy rate of 9%.

The figures which were supplied in response to a parliamentary question to Sinn Féin TD Mary Lou McDonald, show that all but five of the 111 former ministers are entitled to pensions greater than the average annual salary of €40,775.

Many past office holders such as former taoiseach John Bruton, former tánaiste Michael McDowell, and Alan Dukes, the former finance minister, continue to draw down their State pensions, despite earning six- figure sums from current jobs.

Mr Bruton, chairman of the financial services body, IFSC Ireland, will receive a combined ministerial and TD pension of €154,044 this year.

Mr McDowell, the former Progressive Democrats leader and one of the country’s top barristers, will draw a pension of €112,382 in 2012 on top of his earnings from the Four Courts.

Mr Dukes, a former Fine Gael leader, is continuing to accept a State pension worth €100,645 this year, in addition to the €150,000 he receives as chairman of the former Anglo Irish Bank. Former minister Ray Burke, who was found by the planning tribunal to have received corrupt payments, has an annual pension of €110,943 from the State, while former EU commissioner Padraig Flynn, who was also deemed to be involved in planning corruption by the tribunal, gets an annual pension of €92,581.

Broadcaster and businessman Ivan Yates, a former Fine Gael minister who was declared bankrupt in the UK earlier this year, gets a pension of €79,073.

Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Brendan Howlin complained this week about misconceptions that higher paid public service pensioners were being unduly protected by the Government.

He also indicated the Government believes it is legally constrained from tackling the issue apart from introducing general taxation measures.

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