Ailin Quinlan: Pay rises for politicians reminds me of Charlie’s Charvet shirts...

Should politicians really be getting a pay rise during this pandemic, asks Ailin Quinlan
Ailin Quinlan: Pay rises for politicians reminds me of Charlie’s Charvet shirts...

Taoiseach Micheál Martin address the nation at Government Buildings earlier this week. Picture: Julien Behal

THERE they stand, exhorting us to hang in there with our massive unemployment levels and our country of half-dead businesses while they give themselves a nice hefty pay rise.

Anyone remember Charlie Haughey and the Charvet shirts? More on that later, but it was a memory that resurfaced as I watched Micheál Martin walk down the steps of government buildings to present yet another state-of-the-nation address advising us all to, hold firm with the lockdown while the government gave itself even higher pay.

It’d stick in your craw for sure.

Local councillors, for example, are in line to receive, what, a near-50% pay hike worth a whopping €8,000 extra a year.

Ordinarily I wouldn’t begrudge it. These people are not well paid for the work they do (they get about €17,000 a year for a job which requires them to work all the hours God sends) but all the same, should they reasonably expect an €8,000-a-year pay hike at a time when the country is struggling with a crippling pandemic and facing the mother-and-father of all recessions? Nice one, lads.

Meanwhile, TDs are set to watch their salaries rise to more than €100,000 per year as they jump aboard the public sector pay-hike wagon and benefit from a 2% pay increase for more than 340,000 public sector workers.

Crucially though, unlike the TDs, who are currently on a nice annual whack of more than €96,000, a significant number of the public sector workers getting this small increase earn less than €32,000 a year.

So is it any surprise that we’re getting hot under the collar? Especially with the mess the coalition is making of the pandemic.

Hell, I’m angry.

To deviate from the topic at hand for a second, I’m outraged that the government is playing such silly buggers with the Mandatory Hotel Quarantine issue by doing nothing about it for months, while the UK and Brazil Variants slipped into the country, and then playing optics by reluctantly establishing a mandatory hotel quarantine system which is limited to travellers from Coronavirus hot spots.

I saw red spots when I heard Leo Vardkar defending this bird-brained scheme on Morning Ireland during the week when it’s abundantly clear to anyone with half a brain that you could fly in here from somewhere relatively Covid-clean like Australia but catch the virus en route from an infected passenger... and then walk it straight into Dublin airport.

But back to the pay rises.

Is it any surprise that questions are being asked about why politicians are getting pay hikes like these in the middle of a clearly mismanaged pandemic, and at a time when the country is racking up monumental, eye-watering debt trying to support the hundreds of thousands of unemployed and God knows how many crippled businesses?

The politicians’ pay hike, it should be pointed out, comes as a reduction is imposed on some of the PUP payments.

Pearse Doherty of Sinn Fein has described the move as “tone deaf”, His party has waived the increase for its TDs and senators.

So. Speaking of tone deaf, it’s time to talk about Charvet shirts. You may recall one of the more colourful findings from the long-ago Moriarty Tribunal was about shirts.

It emerged that in the year 1991 alone — a terrible year in a period of very hard times, a year when we were still in the midst of an excoriating recession that had been going on for God knows how long — Charles Haughey spent nearly £16,000 (and that’s pounds, mind) of taxpayers’ money on bespoke shirts from a fancy French company called Charvet.

Charvet shirts were eye-wateringly expensive. Charlie had his delivered to his offices in the diplomatic black box usually reserved for key State documentation. He didn’t just buy a few shirts in 1991 — he’d been buying them since the 1980s, while infamously warning the rest of us that we were living beyond our means.

Utterly tone deaf to the hardship around him, in other words.

So, when I saw Micheál Martin at Government Buildings on Tuesday night’s 6pm news, dressed in his snappy blue suit and his spotty pink tie, telling us all to hold firm because the end was truly in sight, I remembered Charlie’s Charvet and truly got a rush of boiling blood to the head.

I do not, I should emphasise, suspect Micheál of wearing Charvet shirts — he’s a decent enough guy, and though generally well turned out, to be fair, not a dandy.

But the Corkman has presided over an ill-judged and, as Doherty has pointed out, politically tone-deaf decision to give an €8,000 rise to councillors and a 2% pay hike to a bunch of already-very-well-remunerated political colleagues, when he knows and they know that the country is in one of the deepest, blackest financial holes imaginable, a hole that is getting deeper and darker by the week — and one that we’re going to have to pay through the nose to haul ourselves out of.

Micheál and his colleagues may not be wearing Charvet shirts, but they’re similarly tone deaf to the hardship around them.

We know the country’s finances cannot cope with the current level of spending beyond the short-term. We know that pandemic welfare supports — some of which they have already reduced — will have to be rolled back once the vaccination campaign starts to make a real dent in cases.

And we still have to stand and watch politicians award themselves pay rises while many so frightened people are just barely managing to get by.

We are, Taoiseach, kicking the wall with sheer fury at this stage.

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