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So David Franks, the Irish Rail boss, has returned early from his holidays in Mauritius to deal with the crippling rail strike causing misery to tens of thousands of commuters. This is as we might expect, given that Franks is on a salary of over 200,000 per annum – more than that of the Taoiseach, himself the third best paid Premier in the EU.

Franks is in good company. Almost 90 staff in the near bankrupt State travel company, CIE, are on salaries of over 100,000. The high pay enjoyed by the large management structure of CIE, and its subsidiary companies, Dublin Bus, Irish Rail and Bus Eireann, is despite the fact that the group had to be bailed out last year by 36 million of taxpayers’ money.

It is hard to sympathise with the strikers, given how they have refused to adapt to a completely changed economic environment and accept pay cuts, but they do have a point when they point to the CIE management as not exactly leading by example, when it comes to reduced pay.

But it is ever thus in Ireland.  Despite all we have been through in terms of economic crisis, we continue to offer very high pay for the heads of State bodies, authorities and quangos – much higher than the European average. It seems to be the pattern here, and it is maddening, especially when we, the ordinary tax payers, have to pay for it. 

At least we know the salary of the Irish rail boss. Last week, it was reported that Coillte, the forestry board, was refusing to divulge the salary of its acting head, Gerry Britchfield, on the basis that he was not yet formally appointed. The reality is that Britchfield’s predecessor, David Gunning, for example, got an incredible 375,000 in 2012 from our forestry authority, and more in previous years. After the Government moved to impose mandatory salary caps across the semi state sector in 2011, then Coillte Chairman Brendan McKenna expressed concern that Coillte would not be able to attract ‘high calibre candidates’ in the future.

Such high salaries abound in the semi state sector. The current CEO of the ESB is on 318,000.  It is, mind you, a good deal less than the 750,000 that his predecessor Padraig MacManus made, with bonuses, in 2009! And you wonder why the country went broke? Always remember: the high salaries at ESB, from the CEO right down to the average ESB worker, is one of the reasons why we, as customers, have had to pay so much for our electricity bills. And yet we tolerate this.

Just as we seem to accept paying these whopping State salaries. For example, John Corrigan, the head of NTMA, earned 416,000 in 2012 and 2013 (490,000 in 2011) while his equivalent in Germany is reportedly paid about 250,000. No wonder they are not broke: we could learn a lot from the Germans. Meantime, despite the protests from our judiciary at what cutbacks there have been, the reality is that our judges are still among the best paid in Europe, especially at a senior level (such as the Chief Justice). It is the same with the executive salaries for almost all of our commercial state companies, such as Electric Ireland, Bord Na Mona, Bord Gais etc. And now Irish Water is apparently to be the same. Nothing has been learned.

The CEO of the FAI, John Delaney, used to be on a salary which was 100,000 more than the combined salaries of his counterparts at the Spanish and Italian football associations. It is now come down, to a mere 360,000, which is pretty amazing sum really given the FAI’s substantial debts. But at least Delaney has told us his salary. The forestry authority, Coillte, declines to do so for its acting chief executive – and he is being paid directly by the State!

But it is not just at CEO level that salaries are so generous. Average salaries at most commercial State companies are in excess of almost all other European countries – 77,000 at Eirgrid, for example, and 76,000 at the Railway Procurement Agency. Even though no new rail projects are being procured! And, as for RTE, despite all its cutbacks, it was still employing over 80 people on over 100,000 last year. Better the RTE brass cut the services that we pay a licence for, it seems, than that they bring down their own high salaries.

So, despite all the cutbacks and austerity, it seems that those at the top of our State authorities (and many of those in the middle) are still doing very much alright. Meanwhile, the rest of us suffer the injustice of having to pay higher taxes to pay for all this. And there’s damn all that this Government can do about it.

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