Finnegan's Take

EU Commissioner Maire Geoghegan-Quinn has promised to relinquish her Irish government pensions worth around €108,000 while she serves in her €243,000 a year Brussels post.

MGQ has been at the centre of a blistering public debate in Ireland where she has served in several ministerial positions over whether she should be drawing a state pension while working as Commissioner.

Pressure has been mounting in recent days, reaching fever pitch today (26 April) when several senior government ministers called for her to ‘do the right thing’ by returning the generous pension she has been receiving.

Tonight, she moved to defuse the row by calling Ireland’s Finance Minister Brian Lenihan and telling him she would ‘gift’ her pension to the state for the duration of her tenure as EU Commissioner.

Bad timing

The Commissioner fell foul of public sentiment against the financial and political elite who are perceived as having caused Ireland’s current financial woes – but who often seem untouched by the cutbacks and tax hikes endured by most people in Ireland.

Last week, a public outcry led the Chief Executive of Bank of Ireland to pass up his right to retire at 55 – effectively handing back a pension worth over €1 million. The bank, now benefiting from considerable support from the taxpayer, could not force its top executive to give back the pension rights. Nor could the government. But ministers piled pressure on the bank chief, saying it would help with public perceptions if bankers were not enjoying generous bonsuses.

MGQ under pressure

Last Friday, the attention turned to politicians, some of whom receive multiple pensions including, in MGQ’s case, whlie continuing to draw a top dollar-salary. She faced down questions from an RTE reporter in Dublin on Friday – subsequently cancelling a scheduled in-studio radio interview – and kept a low profile over the weekend while the storm refused to die down.

Under other circumstances – or in times gone by – a politician may well have succeeded in riding out the criticism but the mood in Dublin left little option: everyone must be seen to take the pain – no exceptions.

Pain all round

It should be noted that Irish TDs (members of parliament) have now taken considerable pay cuts – as well as voting through deep cuts for public sector workers – and have passed legislation to ensure the kind of situation from which MGQ benefited could not arise in future.

Having promised not to take the pension until she retires (sounds obvious when put like that, doesn’t it?) MGQ might have nipped this mini-scandal in the bud. Although, she should surely now wonder why she spent four days allowing this disease to fester before finally giving in to public pressure.

So, are there any other EU Commissioners currently claiming a state pension while collecting a handsome salary paid for by European taxes?

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