These are tough times for everybody in Ireland, and indeed, in many countries around the world. Many businesses are shuttered. Many people, having seen their jobs rendered too dangerous by covid legislation, are not working, and are on income supports.
Governments themselves, in fact, are having a tough time of it: With the collapse in tax revenues, and the demands of the pandemic, many Governments are having to borrow exorbitant amounts of money, all of which will have to be paid back, for decades into the future.
So let’s take the good news where we can get it. At least one group of hard working people are finally getting the financial rewards they so deserve:
TDs are set for a pay rise within months that will push their wages to more than €100,000 a year.
The increase that is also due to higher earners in the public service will be paid by July 1 and means their basic salary of €98,113 will jump to €100,191.
Senators’ pay will rise to €70,134 a year, as wages are restored to levels last reached in 2008 before pay cuts were imposed during the financial crisis.
This won’t happen, of course. You’re being played, here.
What will happen is this: There will be a big kerfuffle about this in the next week. It will probably feature on Joe Duffy.
Then Sinn Fein will announce – why the other parties are so dopey as to always leave it to Sinn Fein is anybody’s guess – that they, for one, will not accept this pay increase.
Then the Government, probably in the person of the Minister for Public expenditure, will make a sober announcement on some radio programme that in these times when the public are struggling, it simply wouldn’t be right to proceed with this pay increase, and it will be cancelled.
And of course, in the whole row, the main point of the story will be missed.
Increasing every TD’s salary by about €2,000 annually would cost the state about €330,000. That’s a drop in the ocean in terms of public expenditure. The real cost that’s falling due in July is the incremental increase for higher earners in the public sector. And if TDs are going to cancel their pay increase (as they absolutely should) then the increase for public sector earners should fall by the wayside as well.
That’s not a reflection on the calibre or ability of those working in the public sector. It’s a simple reflection of the reality that public sector jobs come with significant advantages that private sector jobs do not. No public servant has been made redundant as a result of covid, for example. All of them have pension plans. None of them have had to take pay cuts.
And all of them are funded, ultimately, by the taxes paid by private sector workers and the self employed, who’ve had a brutal pandemic.
The argument for not increasing the pay of TDs will be – and rightly so – that it’s a matter of solidarity, that we should not be feasting while our neighbour starves. And that is true. But the same argument is true of the public sector as a whole.
And TDs themselves should be wary of this: There will be those in the public sector very keen, in the next few weeks, to focus the controversy on TDs pay, in the hope that the media will fail to notice the bigger story. People old enough to have watched the (excellent) “Yes, Minister” will be familiar with the machinations of Sir Humphrey, and his eagerness to let politicians take the fall in order to benefit civil servants. Though that show was a comedy, Margaret Thatcher used to refer to it in private as the best documentary about Government ever made. This particular story might as well have been pulled from an episode.