The Government has been sharply criticised for signing off on “unacceptable” pay increases for the country’s top judges while refusing to increase wages for lower-paid workers.
As Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe outlined his Budget plans to deal with a no-deal Brexit, leading opposition TDs have said the increases to the judges come at a time when members of the Defence Forces are being denied pay increases and thousands of hospital support staff are on strike today at 38 acute hospitals across the country.
It has emerged that pay increases for the judges were signed off by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar by way of Statutory Instrument and the matter came before a private meeting of the Oireachtas Finance Committee yesterday.
Committee chairman John McGuinness told the Irish Examiner that the increases to the judges show clearly that a dual standard exists when the Government is refusing to increase the pay of Defence Forces personnel and lower paid staff in our hospitals.
“It is completely unacceptable,” he said. “This is just the latest example that a two-tier system exists, one for the top level, like our judges and one for the lower grades.
Coming at a time when our hospitals are in strife because of the strike action, the approval of these pay increases is hard to justify.
It has been confirmed that the pay for Chief Justice Frank Clarke will increase to €256,584 a year, while the pay of Peter Kelly, the President of the High Court, will increase to €238,257. A judge of the Supreme Court will see their pay increase to €223,597, while a High Court judge will see an increase to €210,771.
During the crash, judges were subject to three separate pay cuts under the Financial Emergency legislation — the pension levy, a 15% pay cut, and then another 10% pay cut. Since the crash, pay for judges has recovered significantly, with the pay of the Chief Justice increasing from €209,000 in 2010.
A spokesman for the Government declined to comment in response to queries from the Irish Examiner. The revelations come as it emerged the Government could have to borrow up to €5bn to cushion the blow of a no-deal Brexit, which could cost up to 85,000 jobs in the coming years.
Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe has revealed in his summer economic statement that he will have just €700m in additional money to spend in October’s Budget above what has already been committed to.
However, he warned that, instead of a €1.2bn surplus in the case of a Brexit deal being reached, a disorderly Brexit would leave the Government having to borrow almost €5bn. Mr Donohoe said that a no-deal Brexit will sharply impact on his ability to deliver on promised tax cuts.
He said that while the economy is in “good health at present”, it is clear that the external environment is becoming increasingly challenging and a disorderly Brexit is a real possibility. Mr Donohoe will have €2.8bn of extra money for next year but more than €2bn of this is already pre-committed to public sector pay restoration, full-year tax cuts and other items.
Another €100m is going to be required to fund shortfalls in the budget for National Children’s Hospital. The minister said there will be no second emergency budget later this year, even if Britain crashes out of the EU.
Despite Opposition criticism, Mr Donohoe said he is determined to send a strong message that the Government is in control of the public finances.
“I am absolutely certain that the appropriate strategy for this year and in the face of this uncertainty is to put in place one single budget,” said Mr Donohoe. “It is very important that Ireland sends out a signal that we will deliver about our ability to make our own decisions and project the right kind of tone in terms of how we set our economic policy.”