The recent bombshell report published in the Independen stated that 42% of the members of our national parliament are millionaires. The report used a variety of different metrics, including pensions, home ownership and perks. Many of the TDs were revealed to be landlords with small to extensive property holdings, investments and so on. In some cases, property was identified that TD’s were not obliged to report to SIPO (Standards in Public Commission).
In certain cases, wealth was clearly inherited and kept within already wealthy families. In, many cases, pension pots accumulated over prolonged service accounted for substantial amounts of the sum that was accumulated. A critic of this list might say it isn’t fair to include people’s pensions but I think this criticism is incorrect.
Public Service for the Public, not for Mé Féin
The accumulation of a large pension point erodes the necessity of making any radical political, social, economic and systemic change. If you know that the policy you are going to introduce will have a huge impact on the lives of millions of working people, but not on your own nest, what exactly would motivate or demotivate you from proceeding with it?
Take for example the millionaires in the Labour Party. Every year those pot bellied double chinned scoundrels gather at the graveside of JAmes Connolly and fart on about how they’re the Party of Connolly, this that and the other. Simultaneously, they use their TD salaries to become landlords. It’s farcical, but the reality is that politics in the parliament is almost entirely performative. Another former leader in Brendan Howlin, also boasts a huge pension pot and land. How can these people ever claim to represent Connolly, or working people at all? What would they know about having to divvy up 360 euro on extortionate rent, utility bills and food every week? How could they understand?
While these charlatans pretend to be left wing, right wing commentators and pundits argue that the reason our public servants are paid a generous salary is to avoid corruption. If one briefly read the Moriarty Tribunal, Mahon Tribunal or the many different stories that regularly emerge of nepotism, cronyism and low key corruption, one would get the impression that even on huge salaries, our elected representatives seem to want more.
This is ultimately what the issue. Public service in Ireland is not done for the public, that part is entirely fake. Public service is done to accumulate wealth and use your salary to become wealthier.
Public Service for Public Service
To be elected a representative, is to present yourself as a public servant, designated to fulfill the wishes of your constituency and struggle in their better interest. In modern society being a politician is looked down upon with significant distrust. If we look at the simple statistic of “42% of TD’s are Millionaires”, one can immediately see why that to be the case. I would propose the non-radical and uncontroversial idea that public service should be an honourable position within society, wherein one runs based on helping their fellow citizens through public office. That the most virtuous and able candidates assume these positions and instead of self-aggrandizement as has been the case since the era of the Roman Republic, public service is specifically about that, public service.
Generous wages, generous pensions, generous allowances
The listing of allowances for doing your job shows a very generous system for our elected representatives with the basic salary being 100k. This translates into 61.6k after tax, or 5.1k a month after tax. That amount is double the median wage in Ireland, and almost triple the minimum wage.
On top of this wage, allowances for staff, travel, expenses, and so on are paid out as well, thereby covering as many angles of a TD’s work as possible. In short, generous is probably an understatement. The more apt definition of this system is the one coined by journalist and author Ken Foxe in his book on Fianna Fail expenses: the pigs have their snouts in the trough.
The Political Aristocracy
On the 100th anniversary of Lenin’s bithday, historian Eric Hobsbawn penned an article discussing the ‘aristocracy of labour’, a phenomenon that Marx, Engels and Lenin had all commented on. Essentially what the aristocracy of labour referred to was the ‘middle’ section of workers in industrial Britain who had better wages and conditions and ultimately sought to maintain their ‘middle’ position in contradiction to the struggle of the broader, poorer paid and overworked proletarian sections of the population. It was also a reference to the fact that when elements of the aristocracy of labour lost their position and were ‘proletarianized’, they corrupted proletarian parties with their petit-bourgeois value (the temporarily embarassed millionaire of today). What we see in Ireland is that prolonged service in the parliament has become a sub-culture of its own and public servants, whether well-meaning or not are completely insulated in a blanket of generous wages and allowances from the oft devastating consequences of their own policy choices.
It is not Alan Kelly, or Ivana Bacik, or Roisin Shorthall, or Brendan Howlin, or Leo Varadker, or even Mary Lou McDonald that live the reality of most of the working-class population. Certainly, they may have in the past, but today, their net worth far exceeds that of working people and when it comes to the moment to decide, will it be from them that a medical card is taken, or a single parent’s allowance is cut?
Public Servants Should Not Be Millionaires
Perhaps some will find this controversial, but I do not believe any public servant, through a combination of all the benefits included in their package should be able to become a millionaire, to hoard land, and to become a massive landlord. The idea that Bertie Ahern and the gangsters who organised the destruction of the economy in 2008 sit on multi-million euro pensions turns my stomach. The fact that their successors in Fine Gael, even if they lose to a Sinn Fein majority, will also enjoy huge pension pots and pay outs and that too, infuriates me.
The entire approach to public service should be redone from the bottom up. It requires a complete cultural change of how we understand what public service means, but it also requires a complete breaking down of the financial perks that come with the role.
If our public representatives were all on the median wage, you could bet that public housing, universal healthcare, collective bargaining rights and other changes would be introduced very rapidly and quickly, but as long as they’re completely socio-economically isolated from the reality of the people they claim to represent, they’ll always make “hard choices” in the “national interest” and the banks, private speculators and cowboy developers will always get bailed out.