Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Paying Irish ministerial advisers

Much attention has focused on the Irish Government’s decision to beach its own public sector cap, in the case of ministerial advisers, no less than fourteen times.

There is a plethora of advisers, programme managers, drivers and aides recruited to discretionary roles and paid from central funds, many of whom were previously employed by the political parties to undertake similar duties.

The highest paid advisers to the current Government are apparently being paid €168,000, which converts to $225,000.

While these rates are €20,000 per annum less than those paid by the Cowen Government it is interesting to make an international comparison.

Take US Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, for example. Kerry is paid $174,000 per annum and his team of advisers were paid a total of $1,439,193 between 4 January and 30 September 2011.But his team comprises 60 individuals including a Chief of Staff, Deputy Chief of Staff, Communications Director, Legislative Director, Press Secretary, Boston Office Manager and a plethora of interns, advisers and factotums. The highest paid earned no more than $68,000 (€50,750) in this 9-month period.

Senator Ted Kennedy died on 25 August 2009. He has a personal staff of 39 who earned a total of $1,214,201 (€905,000) and the highest earner was his Chief of Staff who earned $68,254 in nine months.

These US salaries are pathetically low and the work is very demanding, especially when Congress is sitting.  US politicians have considerable leeway in deciding what to pay their staff.  But despite mediocre pay competition for these positions is very intense, especially so in the case of eminent politicians from states as dynamic and important as Massachusetts.  The pay rates bear no relationship to what candidates, many who are high achieving graduates of prestigious universities, could earn in the private sector.  But the prestige of Washington and their value after a stint in politics make the financial sacrifices tolerable and the connections made never prove to be a burden.

Last year taxpayers provided Fine Gael and the Labour Party with a total of €4,409,198 in parliamentary leaders’ allowances. Both government parties, Sinn Féin and Independents will qualify for an even larger parliamentary leader’s allowance this year having won a significant number of additional seats in the recent general election.

Why are the salaries of all political advisers to ministers, aides, drivers and personally appointed programme managers, or at least the excess over and above the rate capped by the Government, not paid out of the leaders’ parliamentary allowance, especially when in government the allowance pot is bigger?

This would give concrete expression to the concept of shared sacrifice and better value for the taxpayers’ euro, but without deterring the recruitment of the ‘best people’. It might even be possible to disregard the public sector pay cap if the salaries are paid from resources to which the political parties are statutorily entitled - which, incidentally, Fianna Fáil only reduced by 1.4% last year when in government.

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