Fiach Kelly Political Correspondent Irish Independent, Thursday 22nd December 2011
THREE cabinet ministers responsible for introducing savage cuts in the Budget are holding on to their right to a teacher’s pension when they leave office.
Finance Minister Michael Noonan, Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin and Social Protection Minister Joan Burton last night refused to say if they would give up pension entitlements built up during teaching careers.
All will receive generous ‘Rolls-Royce’ political pensions worth almost €100,000 and funded by the taxpayer after they retire from politics.
But the three frontline ministers are also entitled to teaching pensions, which the taxpayer is also paying towards.
Last night, they declined to say if they would give up their rights to these additional pensions, despite a decision by Taoiseach Enda Kenny to give up a teaching pension from his time in the classroom.
Mr Howlin and Ms Burton could not give details of what their education pensions are worth. Mr Noonan is entitled to a pension of €10,000 a year from his time as a teacher.
The revelations come after Mr Howlin cut pension payments to ministers — and amid controversy over Budget cuts to disadvantaged schools.
Mr Kenny completely gave up his entitlement to an estimated €30,000-a-year teaching pension and a retirement lump sum worth as much as €100,000 during the general election.
He worked as a teacher for just four years before being elected to the Dail in 1975, but continued paying into his pension fund for almost 30 years.
At the time he gave it up, Mr Kenny said: “I will not be accepting any pension from teaching and I hope those who are, and those (who) at 50 years of age run away from Dail Eireann on pensions of €100,000 for the rest of their lives think about what they are doing.”
Mr Howlin still hasn’t officially waived his right to a pension from his teaching years, despite saying he has no intention of drawing it.
Mr Noonan has officially given his annual teacher’s pension of around €10,000 a year back to the State for the duration of his time in Cabinet.
However, his spokesman could not say if Mr Noonan will reclaim this entitlement to a teaching pension once he steps down as a minister and TD.
Mr Howlin, who was a teacher for nine years before resigning his position, has not yet drawn his pension or teaching lump sum.
He refused to say how long he had paid into his teaching pension, and how long he had done so while sitting as a TD.
When asked on at least five occasions by this newspaper if he had formally given his pension entitlement up, Mr Howlin’s spokeswoman said the “issue does not arise”.
“The position remains as was stated by Mr Howlin before the election, he has not drawn down any pension or lump sum from being a teacher and does not intend to draw one down.”
In order to gift their pensions back to the public purse, teacher TDs have to formally write to the Department of Education asking to hand it back.
One of Mr Howlin’s Labour Party colleagues, new junior minister Joe Costello, has gifted his teaching pension back to the State. So has Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin — but he may also draw a teaching pension when he leaves the Dail.
When asked about his pension before the election, Mr Howlin said: “I don’t think it’s right that someone should accrue a second pension while they’re also accruing a single pension,” he said. “I would have no problem with it being legislatively abolished.”
Ms Burton is also entitled to a lecturer’s pension when she leaves the Oireachtas. She took a leave of absence from her post as senior lecturer in accounting at the Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) between 2002 and 2011 to take up her Dail seat.
“She accumulated no additional pension rights in that time,” a spokeswoman for Ms Burton said.