Just over twenty years ago the political system thought it had solved the problem of people getting upset at politicians voting themselves pay increases and setting their own wages.
It did this by accepting the recommendation of the 2001 Buckley report on higher-level public-sector remuneration and pegging TDs salaries at the same level as mid-grade principal officers in the Civil Service.
This didn’t stop the “TDs to get pay increase” headlines across print, broadcast, and social media. As we again see this week. The plan that seemed good on paper, just didn’t politically work in practice, possibly for the very good reason pointed out in an article by Willie O’Dea TD that:
The public don’t have any personal connection with Principal Officers or other senior civil servants. But, they do have direct contact on a continuous basis with the people they elected to represent them. Therefore, they have a much greater interest in the pay they’re getting as opposed to the pay of other people who are utterly remote from them. Therefore, the attempt – clever though it might have seemed at the time – to hide behind the Principal Officer rank in relation to wage increases has failed spectacularly.
Willie’s article argued against accepting the last round of pay increases on the sensible grounds that to do so would risk social solidarity. Like others he practised what he preached and declined the increase. But while pegging TD and Senators salaries to Civil Service PO and AP grades may not have stopped the headlines, the idea still has merit.
There is no perfect system, but let’s be clear if we insist on driving down TDs’ salaries, we will end up with a Dáil filled with those who are independently wealthy or have sufficient external support (or supporters) to maintain them. Whatever the criticisms of the current crop of representatives, having a parliament where a large chunk is beholden to others is not an improvement.
Let me propose a small tweak to the current system which may address the current dilemma. Set the salary rate of each TD and Senator at the prevailing Civil Service rate that applied on the day they were nominated to run for election. Fix their salary at that rate for the full term, with no increases for that term, even ones arising from pay deals or other adjustments.
The pay you get for each year of your time as a representative is the rate that existed on the day you formally submitted your papers to seek election. If you go for re-election then the rate will increase to the prevailing rate on the date you sought re-election, so the pay scale does move with the Civil Service rate – but only between terms, not during them.
This gives everyone certainty and means the begrudgers have one less thing about which to moan.