"Greed is good", especially in Ireland it seems with pillars of society on the take


Dr. Rhona Mahony, the master of the National Maternity Hospital in Dublin
Dr. Rhona Mahony, the master of the National Maternity Hospital in Dublin

Greed is good, Gordon Gekko said in the movie "Wall Street."

Well, Gordon sure has a lot of followers in today's Ireland.  Because over the past few weeks here we have seen examples of greed that would make even Gekko blush. 

One thing you can say about real people who resemble the fictional Gekko is that at least they take risks in the financial markets and make their money that way.  They may be capitalists who are red in tooth and claw, but they don't pretend to be anything else.

What we have seen here in the past couple of weeks, however, is a different kind of greed.  It's greed by the “top people” in senior positions in “official Ireland” who are regarded as pillars of our society, and it's greed that frequently feeds off state money.  In that sense it's more despicable and sickening than anything the real life Gekkos get up to.

Over the past four or five years here, the austerity regime enforced by the IMF and the European Central Bank has hit the living standard of people at all levels in the private sector hard.

Unemployment has soared, pay has been cut and private company pensions have collapsed as companies have struggled to survive or have gone under. 

The state sector has also taken some pain, but nothing like that which has been suffered in the private sector.  We have ended up in a situation where state workers on average earn far more than their private sector counterparts and where their generous pensions have survived, even if trimmed a little.

It's obviously unfair, but nothing has been done about it because it goes on under the radar. 

In the last few weeks, however, we have seen several examples which have enraged people in the private sector who were under the impression that the burden was being shared equally, at least to some degree.

One of the measures that has been in place here for a while now is a cap on state sector pay.  This is supposed to mean that the top earners in the state sector have had their pay capped to mirror the pain in the private sector. 

But instead of accepting this and being grateful that they still have big salaries and fat pensions, some of the top people involved have sidestepped the cap.   

The most high profile example of what has been going on is the case of Dr. Rhona Mahony, the master of the National Maternity Hospital in Dublin (it's the biggest maternity hospital in the country with around 10,000 babies a year born there). 

Because she is young, attractive and a woman in a profession dominated by men – and also because she played a starring role in the parliamentary committee hearings that preceded the abortion legislation here – Mahony has been the pin-up girl for the media here, and that made the revelations about her pay all the more shocking. 

As head of the hospital, Mahony is paid a state salary of €236,000 ($321,000), far more than her equivalent in other European countries would earn.

That's not unusual here – professional salaries in Ireland are way out of line.  But what came to light in the last few weeks is that she is also getting a €45,000 ($61,200) addition (or “top-up”) to her salary, which was not publicly known.

At a time when state spending on health is being slashed and ordinary workers have been hit hard by austerity, this kind of secret “top-up” is disgusting, particularly since it is on top of such a very high salary, a salary that ultimately comes from the ordinary taxpayer.  As such, it is clearly a breach of the public sector pay cap. 

Mahony denies this and says that her top-up actually came from fees from her private patients.  She has yet to explain how those fees added up to such a neat figure as €45,000. 

The wider question, of course, is whether someone like her in such a demanding role should be seeing private patients at all.  Since she's on such a huge salary from the state, surely she should be giving all her time to public patients?