Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s defence of his U-turn on capping the pay of Special Advisers set me to thinking.
When they came into office just eight months ago the Taoiseach started out well. He announced the withdrawal of ministerial cars and garda drivers from most Cabinet Ministers and was seen striding to work onfoot with no merc or beemer in sight.
He also said that he intended to take a similar approach to Special Advisers pay. The results there have been less impressive. Contrary to the declared intention to reduce the pay rates, it now emerges that almost 50% of them have been given exemptions and are now paid above the Principal Officer grade.
The Taoiseach defends this saying that Advisers are still paid less than previously.
Is that really so, Enda?
Back in October 2004 I was asked to become the Special Adviser to the newly appointed Defence Minister. It took me about five or six weeks to wind up my existing business and take on my duties as Special Adviser.
Within a few days of taking on the position I sat down with the Department’s HR manager. He talked me through the Departments requirements and regulations.
There were a number of forms to sign, covering a range of matters including security and related matters. I was required to produce the usual tax forms required of any new employee plus a Tax Clearance Certificate.
He then produced my contract of employment. We discussed some of the provisions while I leafed through the document. Then we both went quiet at the same time.
When it came to my pay rate the contract stated that I would be paid at the first point on the Assistant Principal (AP) grade. My understanding when I had accepted the post was that I would be paid at Principal Officer (PO) grade.
The difference between the first points on the AP and PO scales was in the region of €25k. The first point on the AP scale was in or around €57K as best as I can recall now.
I was a bit taken back by this and said as much to the HR manager. He explained that the default rate for my post in the department was AP grade unless I could show that my previous salary had been higher than that.
I relaxed as I knew I should clearly show that my annual income over the previous few years was in excess of the AP scale. It did take a few weeks to sort out but the paperwork was finalised as my first year’s pay was set at the first point on the PO scale.
I am not revealing anything new here. I am open about my salary as the then opposition used to ask parliamentary questions about my pay and expenses, and that of my colleagues across other Departments, at least twice a year. The replies were published regularly.
Indeed I recall opening an issue of the Sunday Independent as I was queuing to board a Ryanair flight to visit my parents in Spain and seeing one of those replies featuring my name, photo and pay rate there. Worse still, I saw some people on the plane later holding copies of the Sindo and glaring at me.
Those replies usually pointed to the fact that there were fewer advisers in the post 1997 FF/PD Governments than there had been in the 94-97 FG/Lab/DL one. About 30% fewer: as far as I remember.
I make this point as the Taoiseach has sought to assert that paying 50% of their advisers at the first point on the PO scale is some big advance on the situation while I was there.
It is not.
The point on the scale is the same, though the scale has reduced. It was reduced by the last Government, not this one. As advisers we agreed to a 9% voluntary reduction in our pay in line with the voluntary cut in Ministerial pay, as well as the increased pension contributions and reductions in civil service pay rates across the board.
Like many things this Government is doing they may want people to think it is different – the reality is that it is the same.