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I HAVE to take issue with the headline and conclusions of the article by Shaun Connolly – ‘TDs v MPs: 33% less work for 20% more pay’ – comparing the service, pay and conditions of British MPs and Irish TDs (August 31).
What both have in common is that they are linked to civil service scales, in the case of TDs to principal officers (general service) while senators are linked to assistant principals.
Civil service pay in the middle and upper levels did increase considerably between 2000 and 2008, but between pay cuts and the pension levy it has been reduced over the past couple of years, in the case of ministerial office-holders by 15%-20% (and the number of ministers of state has been reduced from 20 to 15). There are at least twice the number of office-holders in Britain’s central government alone.
With regard to the number of sitting days, it has to be borne in mind that Westminster legislates for 61 million people with significant regional variations (despite devolution), Leinster House for 4.5 million people. To say legislators only work when sitting is like claiming certain prominent broadcasters only work a few hours a week when they are on air. The vast majority of legislators are working at full stretch, regardless of whether the Oireachtas is sitting or not, apart from a minimum of private time. As we have seen again recently, politics is not a particularly family-friendly occupation. Headline pay cannot be compared without reference to terms or conditions (or the whole remuneration package).
Unlike the Taoiseach, the British prime minister (and the French and US presidents) has virtually no household expenses, with an official residence at No 10 (or, strictly speaking at present, the adjoining flat over No 11) and a country home at Chequers.
Several other office-holders in France and Britain also have one or more official homes. In the political sphere, only the president in Ireland has an official residence. The Taoiseach has use of the steward’s house in Farmleigh, for which he pays on the basis of use. If you look at the expenses regime which, despite being vouched, has caused huge controversy in Westminster over the past year, it is not the model for Ireland that is sometimes claimed.
All expenses incurred at a second home (whether in London or the constituency, or within 20 miles of its boundary), rent, ground rent, mortgage interest, council tax, utility bills, insurance bills and subsistence are covered. MPs’ travel, which can be routinely business class, is separate and, in addition, staff, spouses/partners and children up to 18 or in full-time education can make up to 30 single journeys between London and the constituency at taxpayers’ expense.
MPs are issued with credit cards for official travel. An MP can make three trips to a European capital a year, in addition to any travel as part of a committee or parliamentary delegation. There are also generous allowances for staff (including bonuses) and office accommodation, including furniture, advertising of services, solicitors’ and accountants’ advice, reimbursement of court or tribunal settlements (other than punitive damages). One could go on. The idea that TDs are better rewarded for less work than MPs is to make a superficial comparison of headline pay and take account of nothing else.
Indeed, the electoral system in Britain puts MPs under considerably less public pressure in their constituencies. With regard to public disturbances, Irish people can see from the experience of Greece that the only effect is to undermine international confidence in the country and increase the pain of the decisions that have to be taken. An IMF monitoring office has been established in Athens recently. There will be a general election here in less than two years, and this will be the vehicle for the people to exercise their power.
Dr Martin Mansergh TD
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