BRIAN COWEN last night signalled surrender on the Government’s pledge to take back ministerial pensions from sitting TDs.
In another humiliating budget climbdown, the Taoiseach told the Dáil “consultations” would now be held with former ministers on voluntarily reducing their annual pension payments of up to €150,000 a year.
The language was markedly weaker than Finance Minister Brian Lenihan’s insistence in the budget that the pensions perk “would be discontinued”.
Mr Cowen’s spokesperson could not say if anything would happen if ex-ministers refused to hand back any or all of their pensions. However, Mr Cowen confirmed Oireachtas members who become ex-ministers after the next election will not be entitled to the partial pension payments.
The Government denied it had spread confusion on the issue and that it had not sought proper legal advice in the run-up to the budget on whether it could retrospectively take back the pensions. Asked if the budget announcement had been misleading, Mr Cowen’s spokesperson said: “They didn’t put in the words ‘going forward’ but that was their intention — going forward.”
The Government also backtracked on removing long-service increments of more than €6,000 a year paid to 72 TDs after seeking legal advice on the matter. However, 26 TDs due for the bonuses in June will now not receive them.
The pensions climbdown came as Mr Cowen sacked seven junior ministers as he reduced and reshuffled his second rank. Outspoken Commerce Minister John McGuinness was the surprise casualty of the shake-up — despite admitting Mr Cowen had “made a bags” of the October emergency budget.
Mr McGuinness, who emerged a strong critic of the culture in the public service, insisted he had never been interested in being in a “political straightjacket”.
Monaghan Deputy Áine Brady said her promotion to the junior ranks was “bitter sweet” as her brother Michael Kitt was fired in the shake-up.
Leaving office with him were Noel Ahern (Dublin North West), Sean Power (Kildare South), Máire Hoctor (Tipperary North), Mary Wallace (Meath East) and Jimmy Devins (Sligo-North Leitrim).
Dara Calleary (Mayo) was the other new face promoted as the 12 previous ministers remained in place or were shuffled to expanded portfolios.
Fine Gael deputy leader Richard Bruton branded the 15 junior ministers as “ships’ mates on the Titanic”, while Labour leader Eamon Gilmore said the country needed more than just a reduction of second-rank posts.
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