News that members of the Dublin government have awarded themselves over 36 million euro of pension entitlements has highlighted the growing inequality between the ‘L’Oreal’ generation and the lost generation of Irish society.
A report by the Irish Times found that a pension of at least 3.2 million euro has already been set aside for the Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny. The pension entitlements are equivalent to an additional salary of some 300,000 euro per annum for each Minister.
Sinn Fein deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald has warned that the pay and pensions accorded to the current 26-County Cabinet constitutes only a small part of grossly excessive pension payments among high earners in the public service -- a coterie recently dubbed the ‘L’Oreal generation’ by political commentators, for their repeated claims of entitlement and achievement.
The Dublin Central TD said many public sector workers received modest pensions but those at the higher end of the spectrum, government ministers and secretaries-general, enjoyed salaries and pensions hugely in excess of their European counterparts.
She said that Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin had “merely tinkered at the edges of pay and pension reform since entering office”.
“The excessive pension pots for Government Ministers is yet another expression of the pay and pension inequity that remains within the public sector,” she said.
Socialist Party TD Joe Higgins was also sharply critical of the pension arrangements. “They have two pensions, one as a TD and one as a Minister. The general principle should be that there should be only one pension... based on the average industrial wage,” he said.
Meanwhile, the harsh realities for thousands of normal families struggling with austerity have been revealed by charity St Vincent de Paul.
There is a family in rural Ireland where the mother moves tinned food from the cupboard to the fridge in a vain effort to make it look full for her three children.
When her husband lost his low-paying job last year, the family also lost the Family Income Supplement.
Each day, her main worry is whether her family will have enough to eat. The woman has “aged 10 years” from the constant financial stress but she is even more fearful for her husband’s state of mind and is genuinely afraid he will “end up in the river”.
But there are thousands more just like them, the society warned at the launch of its pre-Budget submission, and their children are fuelling a new generation of emigration.
Among the cases brought to light by SVP volunteers was ‘Sharon’ -- a lone mother of three children, whose family home boasts a solid fuel stove, but they have no money to pay for briquettes or coal.
She was receiving maintenance of 50 euro a week from her ex-partner until his work hours were reduced and these payments stopped. She has a loan of more than 7,000 euro with the credit union, which was taken to meet the costs of a family funeral and Christmas expenses.
Sharon cannot afford to pay this and the Credit Union is bringing a court action. She owes 700 euro in electricity bills, 90 euro for the school book rental scheme and pays 75 euro to a moneylender each week.
Recently, their electricity supplier issued them with a disconnection notice.
SVP President Geoff Meagher said the reality was that a lot of people were struggling with the basics like food and heating, “things that are normal for every family on a day-to-day basis”.