Michael D Higgins, our esteemed President, is about to convene a meeting of the Council of State to help him decide whether of not he should refer the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act to the Supreme Court for a test of its constitutionality. If the court judges that the Act is constitutional, it becomes bullet-proof and can never again be challenged on those grounds. On the other hand, the court might strike the Act down in its entirety and then we’re all back on the same merry-go-round yet again – the government’s nightmare outcome, and mine too, if I must be honest. Another six months of listening to the Iona Institute people would just about finish me off.
The President isn’t obliged to take whatever advice the Council offers him, but he must consult them before he sends an Act to the Supreme Court, so I thought it might be useful to explain how this Council is made up. According to Article 31 of the constitution, it consists of the current Taoiseach and Tánaiste, or, for those unfamiliar with ludicrously pompous feudal Gaelic terms, the prime minister and deputy prime minister. Likewise, the Chief Justice, the President of the High Court, the Chairmen of the Dáil and the Senate (soon to be abolished if Enda gets his way) and the Attorney General. All former prime ministers are automatically members, though they must be willing and able, which brings up a difficulty I’ll come back to in a minute. In addition, the President can appoint seven nominees at his absolute discretion. The current members are as follows.
|Éamon Gilmore||Deputy taoiseach|
|Sean Barrett||Chairman of the Dail|
|Paddy Burke||Chairman of the Senate|
|Susan Denham||Chief Justice|
|Nicholas Kearns||President of the High Court|
|Maire Whelan||Attorney General|
|Mary Robinson||Former President|
|Mary McAleese||Former President|
|Liam Cosgrave||Former Taoiseach|
|Albert Reynolds||Former Taoiseach|
|John Bruton||Former Taoiseach|
|Bertie Ahern||Former Taoiseach|
|Brian Cowen||Former Taoiseach|
|John Murray||Former Chief Justice|
|Thomas Finlay||Former Chief Justice|
|Ronan Keane||Former Chief Justice|
|Michael Farrell,||Presidential Nominee|
|Deirdre Heenan,||Presidential Nominee|
|Catherine McGuinness,||Presidential Nominee|
|Gearóid Ó Tuathaigh,||Presidential Nominee|
|Ruairí McKiernan,||Presidential Nominee|
|Sally Mulready,||Presidential Nominee|
|Gerard Quinn||Presidential Nominee|
The first hurdle occurs with our beloved deputy Prime Minister, Éamon Gilmore. Éamon, you see, describes himself as an agnostic, but because our constitution is so deeply mired in the confessional swamp that was the Ireland of 1937, every member of the Council must swear an oath, as follows:
In the presence of Almighty God I, Joe Soap, do solemnly and sincerely promise and declare that I will faithfully and conscientiously fulfil my duties as a member of the Council of State.
As a non-believer, Éamon found himself conflicted by this and took legal advice, but it seems he’s happy enough to swear in the presence of a deity he doesn’t believe in, and I suppose he’s right. After all, the wording seems carefully constructed to give atheists a way out, since it doesn’t require him to swear to Almighty God, as happens in the courts, unless a witness chooses the option toaffirm. It simply requires him to promise and declare in the presence of the non-existent deity. Look, he’s a politician, well-used to believing two different things at the same time. Besides, the preamble to the Constitution is far worse. How’s this for inclusivity?
In the Name of the Most Holy Trinity, from Whom is all authority and to Whom, as our final end, all actions both of men and States must be referred We, the people of Éire, Humbly acknowledging all our obligations to our Divine Lord, Jesus Christ, Who sustained our fathers through centuries of trial, Gratefully remembering their heroic and unremitting struggle to regain the rightful independence of our Nation, And seeking to promote the common good, with due observance of Prudence, Justice and Charity, so that the dignity and freedom of the individual may be assured, true social order attained, the unity of our country restored, and concord established with other nations,Do hereby adopt, enact, and give to ourselves this Constitution.
Nice. How does that work with Jews, Muslims, Hindus and people of no religion who also happen to be Irish citizens? The most holy trinity from whom all authority derives. That’s a theocracy, last time I checked. How does our Justice Minister, Alan Shatter, who happens to be a Jew, feel about his constitution acknowledging his obligations to our divine lord, Jesus Christ?
That’s Ireland for you, and Britain too, where the Queen is the head of the established church, lest anyone be too quick to sneer, but let’s get on with the Council of State.
Besides the atheist who’s happy to swear in the presence of a god he doesn’t believe in, we have five former prime ministers, four of whom assiduously dodged the problem of the X Case judgement. One of them, John Bruton, is already on record as opposing the current Act on religious grounds. Two others — Brian Cowen and the man in the cupboard, Bertie Ahern — are responsible for crashing our country into a gigantic brick wall while another, Albert Reynolds, declined to give evidence to a tribunal of inquiry into planning corruption on the grounds of cognitive impairment. In other words, he couldn’t remember an Irish military helicopter ferrying him to a secret meeting with a property developer and he had no memory of the government Learjet diverting to an unscheduled rendezvous in Bermuda. Poor man’s mind is gone, sadly. And yet, here he is, sitting on the Council of State.
Old Liam Cosgrave meanwhile, still hale and hearty at 92 years of age, will go down in history as the Taoiseach who voted against his own government on contraception legislation due to his strong Catholic beliefs.
There isn’t any set procedure laid down for how the meeting will be conducted, however, and Michael D is a wily old guy, so perhaps it will be closely circumscribed. He might decide simply to ask them a legal question: in your opinion, is this Act constitutional or not?
If we exclude Brian Cowen on the arbitrary grounds that he completed the crash started by Ahern, that he’s only a small-town solicitor who never practised much anyway and that I just don’t like him, we still have eight senior lawyers who should be able to advise Michael D dispassionately. What will the others advise him on? Who knows? I suppose Da Bert could give him a tip on ahorse and Cowen could offer his opinions on nude portraiture. Bruton could entertain everyone with his famous party laugh and Cosgrave could re-enact his world-renowned Crossing of the Floor, the original Riverdance but with added hypocrisy.
Let’s not forget the ferment of rage that must be taking place in this assembly of the great and the good. How does the chairman of the Senate feel about the current prime minister who supports this act and yet who wants to abolish the very House he presides over? I’m only speaking personally here, but I think I’d feel tempted to shaft Enda one last time before being abolished. Clearly, Mr Burke is a far more professional individual than I am and would never dream of sinking so low, but still, human nature is what it is. I’d knife him.
I’m fascinated by the process, since it’s not laid down anywhere that I can find. Where will they hold the meeting? What time will it happen? Will Michael D supply the drink or will they all turn up with slabs? Will they drive or come in taxis? Will they have a barbecue? Will someone make a CD mix? The weather is really great at the moment although you can’t be too careful. Lately there’s been a lot of thunderstorms but that’s to be expected with all the heat, so maybe they should set up a gazebo and everyone could huddle inside it together if there’s a sudden downpour. It would make for a cheerful atmosphere, and they’ll get along much better after getting to know each other. I’d say they’ll make burgers and maybe put out some nachos with a cheese dip. What do you think? Spare ribs? Red stuff all over your face? Send Bruton down to the off-licence for more ice. Michael D might even read them some of his poetry before leading them to the overwhelming question: what’ll we do? Ah, I don’t know. That’s why I’m not the president, the chief justice or even a spiv in a yellow suit hiding in a cupboard.
American-investment bank Merrill Lynch, external advisor to the Brian Cowen-led Irish government in 2008 and former corporate broker to now defunct Anglo Irish Bank (AIB), had recommended that the bank be shut down. The latest set of tapped phone …
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Irish banker apologises for taped comments
Anglo Irish ex-CEO made light of bank bailout. * In first public comments, Drumm says regrets tone and language. * Tapes prompted outrage in Ireland, criticism in EU. DUBLIN, June 30 (Reuters) – AnIrish banker taped saying he would demand cash from …
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The Quinn connection
In the chaos, its executives believe that the reason their bank is failing is the country’s richest man,Sean Quinn, who has taken a gigantic bet on Anglo. In this section of the Anglo Tapes, John Bowe, the bank’s head of treasury, and Matt Moran, the …
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|Cowen decision proof of FF’s cosy relationship with Anglo, says FG TD
The decision taken by then Taoiseach Brian Cowen to ignore the advice of his external advisers is further proof of the cosy relationship that existed between “Fianna Fáil, their developer friends andAnglo Irish Bank,” Fine Gael TD Dara Murphy claimed …
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|Anglo Tapes: Anatomy of the bank that broke Ireland
Irish Independent (blog)
The Anglo Tapes have delivered a riveting insight into the bowels of Anglo Irish Bank during the financial crisis that toppled the State. For the first time the public can feel what it was like to be some of the key men behind the fall of a bank which …
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|New Tape Recordings Reveal Brazen Chicanery At Irish Bank That Soaked Its …
Shocking tape recordings released this week display the heads of Anglo Irish Bank, the private bank favored by the wealthiest speculators and property developers behind the Irish boom, literally laughing about the subterfuges they played straight …
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|Inside Anglo: Secret recordings expose strategy that sank Ireland
Latest Videos. Listen: Clip 11(a) – Punch. Conversation between David Drumm, Chief Executive,Anglo Irish Bank and John Bowe, Director of Treasury, Anglo Irish Bank on December 15th, 2008. Clip 13: Moran on Quinn. Conversation between John Bowe, …
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|‘Impossible to stomach’: Merkel slams Irish bankers who fudged bailout figures
The internally-recorded phone calls, published earlier this week, reveal how two Anglo Irish bankexecutives misled the Central Bank of Ireland that Anglo bank required 7 billion euro to prevent its collapse. Anglo’s losses reached 30 billion euro …
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|Further revelations from bank tapes
The former taoiseach’s government refused to shut down the Anglo–Irish Bank despite warnings from their external financial advisers, Merrill Lynch, that the institution was a “basket case”, the latest batch of recordings published in the Irish …
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Senior executives from Anglo Irish Bank discussed putting pressure on the then Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan in December 2008 in the latest recordings to emerge from the Anglo tapes, which are published in tomorrow’s Sunday Independent.read full article
Anglo Irish Bank faces claim of €1bn ‘overcharging’
At least one case has been rejected by the Irish courts under the IBRC Liquidation Act that requires lawsuits to be approved by the High Court. An appeal to the Supreme Court is being considered. The liquidation means that the IBRC liquidator can take …
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Fomer Anglo Irish Bank chief David Drumm apologizes, says inquiry needed on bank guaranteeread full article
It has emerged that the former CEO of Anglo Irish Bank David Drumm said he would read full article
The Anglo Tapes have delivered a riveting insight into the bowels of Anglo Irish Bank during the financial crisis that toppled the State. read full article
BERLIN (Reuters) – German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble slammed Irish bankers caught on tape joking about a bailout, calling them “aloof super humans” worthy of contempt… read full article
Government Ministers – estimated to be costing the Republic nearly €9 million a year – Francis Donohoe reports
Taxpayers’ money is being paid out in pensions to approximately 100 former Ministers, many of whom have lucrative new jobs and positions despite their failings as public administrators.
Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern receives the largest state pension of €152,331 for his service as minister and TD. Other former Taoisigh receiving pensions include Brian Cowen on €151,061; Albert Reynolds, who is getting €149,740 and John Bruton on €141,849.
Former Health Minister and Tánaiste Mary Harney, who is six years short of the normal retiring age, is paid an annual pension of €129,805.
Former Tánaiste Dick Spring has a ministerial pension of €121,108, on top of his basic salary of €27,375 and €3,000 for every committee meeting he attends as public interest director at the partly state- owned AIB.
The Workers’ Party National Organiser, Seamus McDonagh, said: “The continued payment of these pensions to former ‘public servants’ while the most vulnerable are having their services cut is obscene. The amount that will be saved if a special levy is introduced to bring these pensions down to the standard state pension will not sort out the economy but will set a moral example.”
He added: “It is our understanding that special legalisation which would tax these pensions at a special high rate can be enacted, however the Government has claimed such a change would necessitate a constitutional referendum. If so, they should let the people vote on this issue.”
LookLeft will be contacting TDs in the coming weeks to ask them to state their position on the introduction of emergency legalisation to curtail these pension payments and will publish their responses.
The Debt Justice Action (DJA) campaign, of which I am a part, has just lodged an application with the Guinness Book of Records to recognise Ireland as having the world’s most expensive ever bank bailout.
A video accompanying the application can be viewed below. The satirical intent behind the project is well captured by DJA member Diarmuid O’Flynn: “We’ve had a difficult few years here in Ireland. Between the collapse of the banking system; Jedward at the Eurovision; and 1-6 at home to Germany, our reputation on the world stage is in tatters. That may be about to change”.
Supporters of the campaign are being urged to send the video to all TDs under the slogan of ‘credit where credit is due’. As development educator Vicky Donnelly puts it, “we should not forget to acknowledge those in positions of power, like TDs and Ministers and the Irish Central Bank – none of this would be possible without them.” In fact, the group inaugurated their bid last week with a presentation of flowers and a card to Patrick Honohan, governor of the Irish Central Bank, who personally accepted the tokens in honour of the invaluable role played by that institution in the world record attempt.
Now all of this is obviously tongue in cheek, but serious points are being made also, one of which is the responsibility of politicians and senior civil servants for the mess we are in. A small number of bankers are facing criminal charges (the cases are proceeding at a snail’s pace) but not one person responsible for regulation (or the lack of it) has been called to account. In fact, in many cases they have been rewarded.
Take the example of Kevin Cardiff, as documented by the Cantillon columnist in the Irish Times of 26 November 2011. According to that column, a strange thing happened over the St Patrick’s weekend in March 2006. The Revenue Commissioners decided they were going to levy stamp duty on the purchase of company stocks using so-called ‘contracts for difference’ (CFDs). CFDs allow people to buy shares in a company while only paying a fraction of the cost up-front, borrowing the rest and betting that a rising share price will allow a handy profit to be made – because under the contract the seller agrees to pay the buyer the difference between the current value of the share and the value when the contract comes to an end. This is how Sean Quinn built up his huge stake in Anglo Irish Bank.
The Irish financial sector went ballistic over Revenue’s actions and took their grievances to Mr Cardiff, then working in the tax policy section of the Department of Finance. Cardiff listened sympathetically and wrote a note to his Minister (Brian Cowen at the time) saying that the proposed change “was causing consternation in the market for Irish shares” and that the suffering sector would be forced to move its business to London or elsewhere if Dublin continued to squeeze the life out of it. Cowen took his official’s advice and scrapped Revenue’s proposal. On 30 March Tom Healy, chairman of the Irish Stock Exchange wrote to Cardiff as follows: “Kevin, I would like to thank you for getting the CFD problem resolved. We had the very clear impression that you were the one who fixed it. I will contact you soon to propose lunch”.
Now it is entirely possible that Quinn would still have built up his ultimately catastrophic shareholding in Anglo even if the stamp duty on CFDs had been kept in place and that the state (in the form of Anglo’s successor the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation) would still be pursuing Quinn for money he owes us (on the grounds that we now own Anglo). But it is also possible that the duty would at least have slowed this form of speculation and spared us some of the costs we are now bearing. So, overall, this was probably not a particularly good call by Cardiff. Not that he personally lost out as a result: doubtless he had a nice lunch with Mr Healy, but his more tangible reward was to be made head of the Department of Finance, in which capacity he advised on the economy-wrecking bank guarantee of September 2008. Again, this did not derail his glittering career and in 2011 the Fine Gael-Labour government nominated him as Irish representative to the European Court of Auditors, a position he ultimately secured despite understandable reservations on the part of some European Parliamentarians.
This saga tells us a number of important things. One is the intimate links between the Irish financial sector and the senior civil servants who were supposed to be regulating it (not pandering to its demands), links that remain institutionalised today. Another is the aforementioned impunity, or even reward, enjoyed by those who screwed up at the top decision-making levels. Even the much criticised former Financial Regulator, Pat Neary, got a pay-off of €630,000 when he was forced to retire in January 2009 – and a pension on top of that of €143,000 a year; this for a man whose idea of regulating the sector was to say that he operated on the basis of “mutual trust between ourselves and the industry”.
But another thing the Cardiff debacle tells us is this: the current government is perfectly happy to go along with protecting and promoting those who helped wreck our economy. And one reason for that is that the intimate links that bind together bankers, politicians and senior civil servants were not, and are not, confined to one political party. Consider the case of current Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan (also the Minister for Not Housing Travellers). He personally received ‘soft’ loans of almost €900,000 from the head of the Irish Nationwide Building Society Michael Fingleton. Fingleton gave Hogan the wherewithal to buy a house in Dublin 4 and a luxury apartment in Portugal with loans to initially be repaid on an interest-only basis and, in the case of one of the deals, very little of the paperwork one might normally expect. So do you think Hogan is now going to be pushing his cabinet colleagues to launch a serious investigation into the roots of the Irish banking crash? When he benefited personally from the reckless lending practices that sowed the seeds of disaster?
The Irish financial, political and civil service elite got us into a terrible economic mess. But they have not been made to pay for their sins of commission or omission. Nor are they even now being held to account by the media (never mind the courts). Instead, they are allowed to make deeply misleading statements and get away with them; for example, ministers are now routinely claiming that the Anglo promissory note of €3.06 billion was not paid in March of this year, when in fact it was paid in full. The Government borrowed the €3.06 billion from Nama. Following this, Nama passed this debt to Bank of Ireland, so now, instead of owing €3.06 billion as a promissory note, which might easily have been written off, the state owes the same amount to Bank of Ireland in the form of a sovereign bond, which is much harder to write off. And this is the type of disastrous ‘deal’ the government is now seeking for the entirety of this illegitimate debt.
Going back to the world record attempt, the only comparable bank-related record listed by Guinness concerns the removal of $70 million from the Banco Central in Brazil in 2005. In that case, people removed large sums of cash from a bank, whereas the money in Ireland’s record-breaking attempt has been going in the opposite direction. What the two records do have in common is that the money has yet to be recovered and the culprits remain at large, not alone showing no remorse whatsoever but continuing to actively scam the general public. We have let them away with it for far too long.
Talking the talk on sharing the pain will not suffice for a Coalition that continues to defend its indefensible privileges
NEXT MONTH’S budget will be a moment of truth for the Coalition and it really needs to come up with a bold gesture to show the public that it is going to lead by example when it comes to the imposition of further hardship.
An analysis of the generous ministerial pension regime published earlier this week by The Irish Times was a reminder that the elite among the political class are still pampering themselves, despite the severe cutbacks affecting other members of society.
The analysis put the market value of the pension entitlements of the current Cabinet at €36 million, but it did not take account of the far greater cost of paying very generous pensions to a range of senior politicians who have already retired.
The actuarial cost of that would easily exceed €100 million. For instance Mary Robinson has an annual pension of €187,297 for her 6½ years in Áras an Uachtaráin and 20 years in Seanad Éireann.
Funding a pension of that magnitude for somebody in the private sector would cost a minimum of €6 million and possibly much more. The pensions paid to former taoisigh and former government ministers are not far behind, ranging from about €120,000 a year for most of the ministers in the last government to over €150,000 for Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen.
Robinson and Ahern have gifted part of the pensions back to the State, but their entitlements are extraordinary and appear to be wildly in excess of the pension arrangements for public figures in other EU countries.
Given the scale of the financial crisis facing the country, and the fact that it has taken the bailout to keep the State functioning for the past two years, it is amazing that no effort has been made to scale back the pension entitlements of former as well as current politicians.
As with other parts of the public service, new entrants into politics in 2010 suffered a significant reduction in entitlements and will be able to claim pensions only at the age of 65, but for the older generation of politicians, almost all of the entitlements they amassed during the boom are intact.
To be fair the current crop of politicians have taken a series of pay cuts since the start of the crisis but their salaries are still among the highest in the democratic world and those already on pensions have hardly been touched.
The excuse given by Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin for not touching some of the most privileged pensioners in the country is that they had “a legitimate expectation” that the current arrangements would continue to apply, regardless of the pressure on the State’s finances.
Strangely enough “legitimate expectation” does not seem to apply to those outside the public service. People in private sector pension schemes have received letters in the past two months informing them that their future entitlements will be cut as a result of the levy on pension funds introduced by the Government last year to fund its jobs initiative.
Politicians are not the only ones to benefit from enhanced public sector pensions. Judges, semi-State senior executives, Army officers and gardaí all benefit in varying degrees from a system that nobody in the political world appears willing to challenge.
How public service pensions of all kinds will be funded in the future is an issue that will have to be faced at some stage. The most recent estimate in 2009 of the accrued liability to the State for public service pensions was €116 billion.
Given the flood of early retirements since then, that figure is now undoubtedly much higher. An official report published during the week pointed out that public service pensions now account for 14.8 per cent of the annual pay bill, up from 8.5 per cent in 2007.
The figure has risen by 67 per cent – up from €1.5 billion in 2007 to €2.5 billion this year. Yet the political system is paying scant regard to how this escalating liability can be put on a sustainable basis into the future.
The immediate danger facing the country as it heads into its final phase of reckoning for the excesses of the boom is that the contrast between the way different groups have been treated will lead to a breakdown of the social cohesion that has been such a feature of the crisis.
About 75 per cent of the adjustment required to get the State’s finances back on track has already been achieved. The final 25 per cent is probably going to be the most painful of all and it will take a lot of political skill and courage to see it through to the end.
That is why it is imperative that the Coalition comes up with a budget package that demonstrates a genuine commitment to fairness rather than paying lip service to the notion while continuing to protect its own privileges.
The unremitting focus by the Coalition and its opponents on the bank debt has, if anything, only obscured the real choices facing the country.
The Government has overhyped the scale and timing of a debt deal while the Opposition has been far too dismissive of its prospects.
The likely outcome is that a deal on the debt will ultimately be done but it will not happen quickly and the precise nature of the arrangements will probably not become clear until the end of next year.
Just as Albert Reynolds got the £8 billion from the EU in the 1990s, despite the dismissive claims of his political opponents and media critics, Enda Kenny will most likely deliver a substantial deal on the bank debt, but it is going to take time.
The more critical challenge facing the Taoiseach and his Government is the fact that the public finances remain in a parlous state due to the collapse in tax revenues after 2008, combined with the failure to rein in expenditure. So far the Coalition has managed to keep on course towards a more sustainable budgetary position, but imagination as well as gritty determination will be needed to see the job through.
THE CRITICAL letter written by late minister for finance Brian Lenihan in 2010, accepting that Ireland could no longer operate as an independent State and would need a bailout package, has been released.
Mr Lenihan’s letter, dated November 21st, 2010, was to former European Central Bank president Jean Claude Trichet and conceded that the government under taoiseach Brian Cowen had taken a “grave and serious decision” to seek assistance from the troika of international lenders. The letter sheds new light on the extraordinary pressure faced by the government in the lead-up to the bailout decision.
The three-page letter was written in response to one that Mr Trichet sent to Mr Lenihan two days beforehand, on November 19th. Details of that letter were published in The Irish Times last month. In it, Mr Trichet urged Mr Lenihan and his government colleagues to accept the necessity for a bailout and agree to a programme with the troika.
Mr Lenihan, in ceding the inevitability of a bailout, wrote: “There comes a point at which negative sentiment starts to feed on itself, even independently of underlying realities, and we are clearly at that point.”
“[In response to the points made in your letter] I would like to inform you that the Irish Government has decided today to seek access to external support from the European and international support mechanism. This grave and serious decision has been taken in the light of the developments . . . and the recent communications and the advice you have conveyed to me personally and courteously in recent days.”
In the course of the letter, obtained by online news site thejournal.ie, Mr Lenihan set out a strong defence of the government’s actions since the banking crisis erupted in Ireland in September 2008, which he described twice as “aggressive” and also as “assertive”.
“Ireland has worked very aggressively, and to the limits of our fiscal capacity, to protect and repair the banking system in the light of the dangers to the financial stability both in Ireland and in Europe.”
He listed actions such as the 2008 bank guarantee; the bank recapitalisation programme; the nationalisation of Anglo Irish Bank in January 2009; the establishment of Nama in April 2009; and the €32 billion of capital which had been injected into the banking system. He also said the government had made fiscal adjustments amounting to €15 billion with a further €15 billion in adjustments until 2014.
“The measures for 2011 alone will amount to over €6 billion. Thus, Ireland has proved so far to be flexible and aggressive in dealing with its problems and will continue to be so.”
Mr Lenihan contended the measures had led to improvement in early 2010 but that intervening international events had led to a “sharp reversal”. These included the Greek debt crisis and the concerns it prompted about Ireland; a slowdown in economic recovery worldwide; negative market sentiments; credit rating downgrades. All of this, he said, “led to a crisis of confidence in both the Irish banking system and increasingly the Irish Sovereign”.
Thanking Mr Trichet for his courtesy, he concluded: “You know that we will not be lacking in the will to do all that is necessary on our part to protect our economy and people and to play our role.”
Laughing all the way to the bank
TWENTY-SIX former politicians who are earning pensions of more than €100,000 a year are escaping a super tax because of a legal loophole.
Former Fianna Fail ministers Charlie McCreevy, Dermot Ahern, Noel Dempsey, John O’Donoghue, Joe Walsh, Michael Woods and Martin Cullen — and former Progressive Democrats leader Mary Harney — are among those not having to pay the 20pc tax.
Another is former Fianna Fail minister Ray Burke, who was convicted of tax evasion.
The loophole arises because the higher rate applies only if a single pension is worth more than €100,000 but not if the politician is getting a number of pensions with a combined value above that level.
“It’s obviously unfair otherwise on the people who are paying it. The impression was given last year that it would be all office holders,” she said.
Ms Tuffy said she was in favour of a higher income tax on people earning over €100,000 in the forthcoming Budget rather than singling out former ministers again for heavier taxes.
Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin has introduced an amendment to close the loophole by the end of the year.
It will allow the pension levy to be applied to all the combined pensions of a former office holder. A department spokeswoman said that all public bodies would be requested to supply the PPS numbers and pension payments of those with multiple pensions.
She said the department would then calculate the new higher pension levy and apply it.
Mr Howlin has said that the estimated savings for the new rate already was €400,000 per year — when the impact on retired judges, former semi-state chief executives and former secretaries-general is taken into account.
Mr Ahern and Mr Cowen are paying a total pension levy of around €11,000 each on their TDs‘ and ministerial pensions, leaving them with pensions of €111,235 each. But if their TDs’ pensions and ministers pensions were combined together, their pension levy bill would rise by up to €7,000 extra.
This is because they will only be able to claim one exemption from the public sector pension levy — rather than the present arrangement of one for each pension.
It means just six senior politicians are paying the super levy this year — which is in stark contrast to what was expected when it was announced by the Government last November.
At the time, Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin said that “everyone had to burden-share” at a time of financial emergency.
Those paying the extra levy are former Taoisigh Bertie Ahern, Brian Cowen, Albert Reynolds and John Bruton, who all have ministerial pensions worth more than €100,000 even before their TD pensions are counted.
Former presidents Mary McAleese and Mary Robinson are also paying the new super levy on their presidential pensions. But former health minister Mary Harney is escaping the super levy because she has a TD’s pension of around €50,000 and a ministerial pension of €79,000.
Another in this category is former finance minister Charlie McCreevy, who has a TD’s pension of around €50,000 and a ministerial pension of €69,000.
Others who are not being hit include former Fianna Fail Junior Minister Frank Fahey, former PD Junior Minister Bobby Molloy and former Labour leader Dick Spring.
These ministers do have to pay the public service pension levy, but not at the higher 20pc rate, which kicks in at €100,000.
The information on those being hit by the levy was supplied by the Department of Public Expenditure to Labour Dublin-Mid West TD Joanna Tuffy. She called for the closure of the loophole.
Kenny said he was “leading Ireland’s fight to recover from the bust”… Ireland’s Gross Domestic Product beginning to sneak upward once again, Mr. Kenny may prove himself anything but the “fool” that his predecessor (then T Brian Cowen) called him in 2010.
Mr. Kenny was asked by Time magazine why there had been no large-scale demonstrations in Ireland against cutbacks as there had been in other European countries.
“People understand that you have to do difficult things to sort out our own public finances,” he said.
I do not know what Kenny did to get such a favourable interview, but he for sure got off lightly. One suspects the journalist from Time magazine has absolutely no idea of what is happening in Ireland.
Does the woman not know we have high unemployment, increasing immigration? A lowering of all social services with further social charges be implemented and most likely additional tax charges in the upcoming budget, etc.?
Madam hear is the real Enda Kenny
All told, Mr. Cowen received €310,469 in 2011 before tax. He did not make any voluntary contribution to the State. The documents indicate.
THE BILL for pensions to former office holders jumped by more than 25 per cent last year, with former presidents, ministers, members of the judiciary and other senior office holders receiving a total of €15.22 million.
That compares with €12.1 million in 2010. The figure includes severance payments of €1.1 million to members of the Fianna Fáil/ Green coalition voted out of office last year.
Figures published last night on the Department of Finance website indicate that only 31 out of almost 200 office holders opted to forgo any portion of their pension. The €347,686 forgone amounts to just 2.3 per cent of the total sum paid in pensions and severance.
The highest pension paid last year was to former Progressive Democrats leader Michael McDowell. However, of the €173,700 he received, more than €142,000 related to backpayment for years in which he had been underpaid. That aside, two former comptroller and auditor generals – John Purcell and Laurie McDonnell – were the largest single beneficiaries, with pensions of €114,700.
Two former taoisigh, Bertie Ahern and Liam Cosgrave, surrendered a portion of their pensions while Brian Cowen, John Bruton and Albert Reynolds did not. Former president Mary Robinson opted to forgo €15,500 of her €139,500 entitlement.
The presidency remains the highest-paid office, with Mary McAleese receiving €280,300 and her successor Michael D Higgins €45,200 during the year, a total of €325,500. Both surrendered a portion of that salary last year.
The figures show the State’s judiciary was paid €27.35 million last year. The position of chief justice was paid €304,974. They also show the total paid in parliamentary leaders’ allowances fell last year to €7.2 million, from €8 million in 2010. Sinn Féin saw its leader’s allowance more than double to €933,876 from €335,425 the previous year. The allowance for Labour also rose while the figures for Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael fell.
CHAIRMAN of the Public Accounts Committee (Pac) John McGuinness has said he finds it utterly inconceivable that there is no record of crucial notes or minutes of meetings where former Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan and ex-Taoiseach Brian Cowen delivered frank assessments of the Department of Finance whose failings helped bankrupt the country.
After an almost two-year Freedom of Information battle, department officials have claimed there are “no records” of meetings that went on for hours between Mr Cowen and Mr Lenihan and a panel led by Rob Wright — a former deputy minister for finance in Canada — into why the department failed to prevent Ireland’s financial Armageddon.
Kevin Cardiff, the department’s then secretary general who was in charge of banking during the boom, has claimed that he had “no formal meetings” with the Wright commission and he kept no notes of informal ones. The department admits its records show Mr Cardiff was due to meet Mr Wright on both August 9, 2010, and August 10, 2010, but has no records of what may have been said.
“It is totally beyond credibility that no records of these meetings exist,” Mr McGuinness said. “These were high-level meetings relating to the biggest decisions in the State’s history. We are expected to believe that Kevin Cardiff was the head of banking, and no notes. Brian Lenihan was the Minister for Finance and we’re told there are no notes.
“Brian Cowen was the Taoiseach and we are told there are no notes. Someone somewhere has a record of those meetings.
“When Kevin Cardiff was before the Pac, he was able to recall documents and emails instantly before our eyes to do with the €3.6bn error and redact sections. It is not credible that notes or records don’t exist, or at least did exist at some stage,” he said.