Bertie Ahern: no legal action

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has said he is prepared to give up his ministerial pension, at a potential cost of more than €150,000 a year, if asked to do so by the government.

A spokeswoman for Ahern also confirmed that he won't be launching a legal challenge to the decision, although such a move had been thought highly unlikely given the political sensitivities involved.

In his budget speech earlier this month, Brian Lenihan announced that the arrangement "whereby former ministers are paid ministerial pensions while they are still members of the Oireachtas will be discontinued".

However, it has since emerged that Ahern may be offered a reprieve under a deal whereby pensions would be halved for still-serving former taoisigh. Ahern is the only such individual in the Houses of the Oireachtas.

His spokeswoman told the Sunday Tribune that he had already decided to forgo some €38,000 in pay increases to which he was entitled to following a recommendation from the Review Body on Higher Remuneration in 2007.

Ahern had previously strongly defended this pay rise but, following significant political pressure, opted to postpone its implementation for a year, by which time he had left office.

His pension payments amounted to €111,000 last year alone, although the true value of the pension is thought to be more than €150,000 over a full year, as these payments only date from the time he resigned his position in May 2008.

"Bertie Ahern is going to comply with whatever the government asks of him," his spokeswoman said. "He'll be taking no legal action."

The issue of ministerial
pensions, and the separate if not unrelated question of incremental payments to long-serving politicians, has provoked considerable confusion in political circles since Lenihan announced the move in his budget.

Speaking in Tullamore last Thursday, Taoiseach Brian Cowen confirmed that the government would be seeking legal advice to determine if the decisions announced in the budget to cut seniority increments for TDs, as well as ministerial pensions for sitting Oireachtas members, can be applied retrospectively. He acknowledged that there was an issue relating to Oireachtas members who were already in receipt of ministerial pensions.

He said the necessary legislation would be prepared in the coming weeks following consultation with Attorney General Paul Gallagher.

Additonal reporting:
Fenna Wächter