No Explanation for Senior Civil Servant U-Turn

The year’s first week of Dail sittings came and went without much attention being paid to the government’s U-turn on its decision to cut the pay of Assistant Secretaries by 12 percent and the pay of Deputy Secretaries by 15 percent.

The lack of attention to this U-turn—the only cut in the budget that has been rolled back, as far as I know—could reflect a lack of interest from the public, who perhaps think that senior civil servants were being unfairly treated by the budget proposals. Alternatively, the lack of interest may reflect the original timing of the announcement—just before Christmas Eve and three weeks before the next meeting of the Dail, by which time other issues (such as banking inquiries) had arrived along to distract the public.

Credit then, to RTE’s Rachel English for putting a question about this U-turn to junior minister Dara Calleary on her Saturday View program. Mr Calleary’s response was “There’s a U-turn in relation to 160 people whose salaries are benchmarked against a European level unlike most others in the service.” This follows a similar line used by the Minister for Finance. The Irish Times reported:

Mr Lenihan said the pay of workers at this particular grade had been benchmarked against their counterparts in other European countries and they were not paid more than those at equivalent positions.

The benchmarking exercise that Ministers Calleary and Lenihan were referring to (the report of the Review Body on Higher Remuneration in the Public Sector) is here.

It discusses international comparisons and then recommends exactly the type of pay cuts that the government introduced in its budget. So the government’s defense of this U-turn is to use the same report that it used to justify introducing these pay cuts to now justify rolling back the pay cuts. This is hardly a satisfactory explanation.

17 replies on “No Explanation for Senior Civil Servant U-Turn”

Most ‘ordinary’ people I know aren’t even aware of it happening. It was overtaken by Christmas. If the media don’t keep it in the spotlight, FF will have done another one of their chancer moves and gotten away with it again.

“…FF will have done another one of their chancer moves and gotten away with it again.

I don’t really get what’s in it for FF here. I mean, where’s the win for the government in this? Lost savings plus bad PR. Even if it’s justified on the merits it’s impossible to defend to the public.

Benchmarked against positions where the GDP is 10 to 20 times more than Ireland. Does the manager of Mairead’s corner store get the same pay as the manager of Arnott’s. It is long past time that attention was paid to the freight that we can afford to carry. Even jackasses revolt when the load becomes onerous. When tax revenue was pouring in governing amounted to spreading largesse far and wide. We were brilliant so we deserved it. Well we got what we deserved and it is now time to come to our senses and cut our suits according to our cloth. It should not be necessary to get the IMF or ECB to protect us from ourselves.

Ordinary people, have become punch drunk given the level of duplicity coming from our politicians and learned classes.

We understand that they use a different vocabulary to the rest of us. When they say “all” they mean “nearly all” or “all except”, none of us are in the slightest bit surprised when they slip in the inevitable exemptions.

So when they say, “we must all share the pain” what the really mean is “You must share the pain with others like yourself.”

This use of language as subterfuge has eroded trust in politics and democracy, to the point, that many see them as venomous snakes slithering around looking for the easy unsuspecting prey.

Personally, I call it “barrister speak”.

The third and, I think, most plausible explanation is that people expected the top brass to get away with it and can hardly feign outrage when it inevitable occurs.

I regard this as being essentially similar to the rearguard action to preserve salaries at the very top in the university sector.

I also think it is very foolish, apart altogether from the immorality of the move.

Relativities matter. The general public may not be focussed on this issue, but I can guarantee that every civil servant will be. The lesson that they will have learned is that we are not all in this together, and that might is right.

The fact that a wave of opprobrium will wash down on the lower-paid civil servants embarking on a go-slow, and that government ministers will criticize them while continuing to justify the Ass. Sec. U-turn, will only make them angrier.

Regulatory capture?

Public servants at this level must get on vbery, very well with the top politicians and those who can destroy them. Keeping them sweet is essential for continued political survival. How else will certain documents remain unavailable? Stories will stay secret for a long time. Favours will continue to be done.

Or, in order to have public servants of the highest calibre, we must pay the going rate…… Highh pay is known to discourage corruption as it helps the servant to resist corrupt practices……. hehehehehehehheehe!

The U turn is based on the argument that the cut in the pay of senior civil dervants should have been based on their pay inclusive of bonuses which are no longer being paid. The payment of the bonuses was never justified as they were paid regardless of the level of performance by the Departments. In 2007 the Secretary General of the Department of Education was paid a bonus despite the fact that in September of that year there were dozens of children for whom no primary school place was available when shcools re-opened in September
The Secretary General of the Department of Transport was paid a bonus in 2008 despite admitting that devising an intergrated ticketing system for Dublin public transport had already taken eight years and cost €50 million though she could not say when it would be implemented. (Integrated ticketing has now cost close to €100 million and the Department of Transport still cannot say when it will be implemented)
And what of the bonuses paid to Mr Neary the former Financial Regulator and Mr Hurley the former Governor of the Central who presided over the explosion of irreponsibe lending by the banks withour a murmur of protest? Mr Neary was given a full pension and “goodbye money ” of €200,000 while Mr Hurley’s pension is greater than the salary of some of the heads of European central banks.
(The salary of the new Governor of the Central Bank even after the recent salary public sector pay cuts, is greater than that of the President of the ECB and of the Chiarman of the Federal Reserve)

We can easily pay for their pay differential by cutting public servants: Mish is a good economist and well ahead of the curve, but he thinks that unions run the world! Well, he is american and they know all about liberal bias in their media…….

In my work we would always THEN ask how much had been lost on the horses.

One notorious criminal had hoped he had laundered up to 5 million by going to bookies all over town. It had cost him nearly 6 million. He was actually a good gambler, being banned from one chain of bookies for getting nearly 98% of his bets back. He had saved all the bookies cheques to him on a bakers bread board and hung it in his sitting room. He boasted about it to his buddies.

Thanks for the article. I know at least one of his advisers, an ex tax inspector, so why he thought it would be believable….must have been desparate? I am so glad to see that Mr Aherne was automatically approved for artistic exemption. He is an accomplished teller of tall tales! He should be proud of this surely?

I could paste this in as a comment on the Flavin case or on the guarantee meetings to stay secret. Or indeed on any of the NAMA threads

Irish lacking trust in institutions

Trust in government and business in Ireland is the lowest in Europe. Trust in business fell from 38 per cent in 2009 to 31 per cent in this year’s survey. This is substantially lower than the global average of 50 per cent.

Trust levels in the political process is little better at an all-time low of 28 per cent – down from 31 per cent against a global average of 49 per cent.

@ Sean Byrne. The U Turn is in relation to Assistant Secretarys, therefore I fail to see the relevance of bonuses paid to Secretary Generals in this case. The situation of Assistant Secretarys was unique amongest public servants. This is because had their loss of bonus not been factored in they would have taken a bigger cut than the Secretary Generals, Minsters and the Taoiseach. Therefore in the context of the cuts they had a reasonable case to put to Brian Lenihan, and the Minister for Finance in the interest of fairness agreed.

@Sean Byrne – ‘loss of bonus’!!
QUESTION:Since when is a ‘BONUS’ factored in as an established part of ‘SALARY’?
QUESTION:Same payment method in private sector or lower levels inpublic sector?
ANSWER:(From our ‘UPPER ECHELON HIGH PERFORMERS’) – ‘You can’t be serious! We are UNIQUE!They do not have the responsibilities,qualifications,accountabilities that we have – after all WE RUN THE SHOW – except when there are cock-ups – then we keep the head down and wait for attention to be diverted elsewhere – and keep our salaries higher than most equivalents in Europe!

@ Vinny, believe me when I say I am no fan of the public sector or trade unions (for proof read my letter in last week’s Irish Times regarding the strike by Air Traffic Controllers). I agree bonuses should not be an established part of salary. However, when Governments agree to them and they are not based on any performance mechanism this is what happens. While I may not necessarily agree with the bonuses paid to senior civil servants, we cannot simply look at every public sector pay issue with the exact same negativity. Some situations are different. If you were an assistant secretary would you deem it reasonable that your annual net take home pay should fall year on year at a greater level than your secreatray general or minister? Don’t blame the assistant secs in this case as their argument is entirely reasonable (in the contxt of the cuts). If you want to blame anyone blame, the Government who created a situation whereby said argument is reasonable!

@eric ryan
So its ‘reasonable’ for senior level managers to take lower salary cuts than their reports?
There is a ‘performance measurement system’ in place – established under the remarkabe’benchmarking’ process!And guess what?More than 90% of those reviewed got ‘bonus’ – full ‘bonus’!Wow!And who carried out the ‘reviews’ – that’s right…..(lets stick together boys and girls)
I deem it ‘reasonable’ when all senior levels – who hugely prospered under ‘benchmarking’ – agree to take % adjustments which are greater than their reports.Its called ‘leadership’ – not too prevalent in the rarified sec.gen/asst.sec world.
The assistant sec. so-called case is completely and utterly without any shred of credibility.

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