Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Excellent parliamentary service has a high price tag

Leinster House The recent news that The Houses of the Oireachtas Commission is to recommend that the Minister for Finance reduce untaxed allowances payable to Members and this initiative could achieve potential annual savings of up to €4 million is interesting, especially in the context of the Minister being unable to achieve the savings in the cost of operating the Oireachtas that he announced in the preamble to his April Budget. However, the current proposal is merely a financial pedicure in the context of our prevailing and anticipated fiscal circumstances. The last time Ireland financed itself on total tax revenues of €34 billion was in 2003 and the annual cost of running the Oireachtas then was €81.79 million. The Houses of the Oireachtas Commission is estimated to cost €137.15 million, 67% more, in 2009. The typical annual output of our parliamentary enterprise is 42 Acts of the Oireachtas that require 96 sitting days each year. The output does not vary much from year to year, except when a general election takes place. This means that the average cost of creating a new piece of legislation is now €3.26 million and the average cost per sitting day has increased from €850,000 to €1.42 million since 2003. The largest component of this increase is Administration – which has increased by €34 million in this period.

New Zealand Parliament If the Oireachtas is to confidently lead the nation in living within its means nothing less than root and branch reform of the Oireachtas is necessary and those who have to achieve this maybe inspired by examining some comparable, sustainable external examples. New Zealand, for example, has not had an upper House since 1950. There are 120 members of the New Zealand Parliament. They govern what is now a modern, prosperous society with a population of a size comparable to our own - 4.2 million and which has increased recently at the same pace as the Irish population.

The annual salary of a member of parliament is €57,000. A cabinet minister earns €120,000 and their prime minister earns €171,000. No member of parliament maybe paid more than one salary at any one time. If a member holds two, or more offices, the salary payable to that member is that payable for the office which the highest salary is payable.

The National Party is the largest political party in the New Zealand Parliament with 58 MP's and its leader is paid an allowance of €15,130 per year in respect of his party. The leaders of the political parties in the Oireachtas were paid a total of €7.5 million in 2007. The sum paid to the Leader of the National Party of New Zealand this year is 0.62% of the €2.45 million paid in 2007 to Enda Kenny, Leader of Fine Gael which currently has 51 TD’s.

The Corporate Plan 2008 – 2009 of The Houses of the Oireachtas Commission is based on the slogan ‘excellence in parliamentary service’ which is a laudable, if a costly objective but our economic reality today is that we can only afford ‘adequacy in parliamentary service’ unless major savings are achieved through the restructuring our parliamentary enterprise through the possible elimination of the Senate and a reduction in the number of Teachtaí Dalá (MP’s)

If the Oireachtas is to successfully lead the nation in matching expenditure with income the voters will, naturally, expect the leadership of the Oireachtas to be stellar in embracing whatever sacrifices are deemed necessary for society as a whole.

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