Judges looked for special deal on retirement packages saying their pensions were anything but “gold-plated or platinum”

JUDGES pleaded to government for a special deal on pensions as part of the public service pay talks saying their retirement packages were anything but “gold-plated or platinum”.

The judiciary told Minister Paschal Donohoe that no other group of people had been hit with as many different pay cuts and other budgetary measures during the financial crisis.

In a series of letters, the Association of Judges in Ireland (AJI) expressed concern that they were going to be penalised again, this time for their “accelerated” pensions.

Like soldiers and gardai, the pensions of members of the judiciary build up much more quickly than is the case with other public servants.

Under government public pay plans, these fast-track pensions are to be hit with far higher levies to reflect the fact they can become lucrative faster.

However, judges complained they should not be lumped in with other groups in receipt of “accelerated” pensions and that their circumstances were unique.

In a letter to the Department of Public Expenditure, Association President George Birmingham wrote: “I do not believe that the position of judges can be equated with others in the public service such as gardai and the Defence Forces who receive a pension after less than forty years service.

“In the cases of gardai and the Defence Forces, this happens because they are required to retire early. The position of judges, on the other hand, is quite different in that, far from having an early retirement age, most judges retire at 70.”

The letter said it was difficult for a judge to accumulate extremely long service because they normally had to practice as a solicitor or a barrister for so long first.

The judges also insisted that because many solicitors and barristers had invested in private pensions before joining the judiciary, they were often hit on the double by tax.

Mr Birmingham said that if the combination of their public and personal retirement funds exceeded the pension threshold of €2 million then the excess was subject to “punitive taxation”.

He wrote: “The effect of all this is that the pension regime for judges is far less attractive than might appear at first sight.”

The Association said that excluding judges from public pay provisions planned to reduce the impact of the pension levy on wages would be “quite unfair”.

The judges also pointed out that most of the judiciary had been appointed at a time when there was an “unqualified constitutional guarantee” that their pay could not be cut.

However, that provision had been removed in the referendum in 2011 when an overwhelming majority of the public voted to allow government reduce their salaries.

In their letter, the judges said: “That [decision] simply provides for a derogation from the general and as the country emerges from the financial emergency judges look to see a restoration of their terms and conditions of service.”

The association had asked to meet directly with Paschal Donohoe to discuss their concerns.

The minister did not make himself available to meet him and asked officials to attend instead. He did promise however, to keep himself “fully apprised of developments”.

In an earlier letter, the association pleaded their case saying no other group of workers in state service had been “impacted by quite the same range of measures”.

They said their members had been “impacted upon in a very severe way indeed” and that excluding them from mooted changes to the pension levy “would be greeted with dismay”.

A third letter said judges who had both a public and private pension were being hit with “punitive, confiscatory taxation”.

The letter said: “References to judges having gold-plated or platinum pensions are very wide of the mark indeed.”

Asked about the letters, the association said: “The AJI does not wish to comment on the matters that you raise save to say that we have no issue with the level of engagement with us by Minister Donohoe or his department.”

The Department of Public Expenditure said the correspondence had been received in the context of pay talks that had resulted in the Public Service Stability Agreement.

They said: “The Agreement has yet to be ratified by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.

“The Minister was not available to meet with the AJI on the occasion in question, and as is normal practice in such circumstances, requested his officials to arrange a meeting to address any relevant matters.”

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